When it comes to a decently priced and/or relatively health lunch selection, the world between the fast-food drive-through and the steakhouse has certainly seen a lot of growth in the last decade.
More and more, people I know and who are in a similar financial position (trying to be careful with their money), are turning to these lunch chains for a fast, simple, inexpensive, and many times, very healthy meal during work hours.
While our goal is to have dinner at home with the family every night, these chains also come in handy when we want a less expensive dinner out, by choice or because we just don’t have anything to eat in the fridge.
Here are some of my favorites and a short description of what they serve up:
- Panera Bread: I’m a card-carrying member at Panera, in part because of its proximity to my office, but also because of the wide variety they offer for any meal of the day (their breakfast sandwiches and pastries are delicious). Lunch can include anything from a hot panini to a seasonal soup to a tasty salad. You can mix & match most items on the menu if you can’t decide.
- Chipotle: This is a Mexican joint known for its use of natural and local ingredients in all of their food. Their recent expansion across the country is, ironically, largely due to investments made by McDonald’s. They offer the typical Mexican fare, including burritos, tacos and rice bowls, made with your choice of meat and toppings. Their braised pork “carnitas” and fresh-made guacamole top my list.
- Pei Wei: This is P.F. Chang’s “fast food” arm, serving up Asian dishes that are extremely tasty and made on the spot. Most main plates come over rice or pasta, and can be topped with your choice of protein, including shrimp and a sliced/fried tofu that’s out of this world. I also recommend many of the appetizers, which include items like classic spring rolls and lettuce wraps.
- Five Guys: A burger joint with flare, Five Guys primarily serves up delicious burgers and fresh-made fries, custom-made with your choice of any or all toppings. Their assembly-line style slows down your burger production a bit, but the meal is well-worth the wait. They also set out peanuts in case you get hungry while you wait.
- Jimmy John’s: My wife introduced me to this sandwich chain, whose shtick is “freaky fast delivery.” They are equally fast in the store and offer such unusual sandwich toppings as alfalfa sprouts. Part of the appeal are the interesting lists and quotes that line the walls, and of course, their delicious sandwiches.
- Sweet Tomatoes: Also known as Souplantation in some markets, this is essentially an all-you-can-eat soup and salad joint, with the added benefit of a dessert and ice cream station, fresh breads and pastas, and a baked potato station. They often have coupon deals if you come with friends or family that knock a few bucks off the bill.
Are you looking for a new place to call home during lunch hour? See if one of these places is nearby and see if you like them as much as I do! Cheers!