What if you had time to linger over lunch? To actually sit down and nosh on a hot entrée and chat about art or politics with a dear friend before heading back to the office? Sometimes, we do. But more often than not, we find ourselves in a rush to eat lunch during the work week.
In a perfect world (the one in which I have plenty of time, an unlimited pocketbook, a robust metabolism, and not a care in the world), I would enjoy every nanosecond of an afternoon meal, from the flavor pairings to the color combinations. Until then, though, when I’m not in my own kitchen tossing greens or making black bean and avocado tacos, I’m scouring the city in search of brick-and-mortar restaurants that serve scrumptious lunch offerings — and fast. Here are a few favorites.
East Side King @ Hole in the Wall
If you are anywhere near the UT campus, make your way to this no-frills joint behind one of Austin’s legendary watering holes. Colorful murals adorn the walls of this narrow space that houses a foosball table, pool table and pinball machines. But the draw here is the amazing food by Chef Paul Qui of Top Chef fame. Menu offerings range from Tori Meshi (Thai chicken kara-agé and rice) to Poor Qui’s Buns (roasted pork belly in a steamed bun with hoisin, cucumber kimchi and green onion). We like to sit outside under the shade of an umbrella and listen to snippets of lively debates among students and professors while relishing every bite of the chicken tortilla ramen — chicken and pork dashi and a Tom-Yum base with braised chicken, dried shrimp, avocado, and cilantro.
2538 Guadalupe, 512-363-5365, eskaustin.com
Tacos and Tequila
During the weekdays, we skip the tequila portion of this spot’s name and focus on the better half: the tacos. This fresh taqueria off West Fifth Street is great for a quick bite in a quirky environ. The lively music infuses some energy into the comfortable space while professionals, artists and tech gurus plan out the next millennium. The menu can be a tad overwhelming, but you can’t go wrong with skewers (try the Southwest Veggie served with mango habanero sauce) or the tacos (think barbecued pulled pork with jalapeño relish).
507 Pressler, 512-436-8226, tacos-and-tequila.com
This new spot by restaurateur Shawn Cirkiel (the brains and talent behind parkside, the backspace, and olive and june) offers a killer view of Lady Bird Lake and one of the city’s most innovative menus. The open space designed by Michael Hsu features floor-to-ceiling windows and minimal decor that utilizes a combination of materials such as wood, steel and glass. For faster service during the week (we clocked a recent stop at 30 minutes total dining time), find a spot at the luxuriously cool bar and then order off the full lunch menu, which is built around shareable plates. Offerings include everything from grilled quail en mole and bean and cheese empanadas to oyster taquitos and carne asada flank steak. A chicken tinga torte with pickled red onion and cilantro is a must. Finish with a tall glass of ice water enhanced with freshly squeezed lime, lemon or orange.
111 Cesar Chavez, 512-328-3935, chavez-austin.com
Turf N’ Surf Po-Boy
Culinary talent runs strong in the Gilmore family. Jack Gilmore runs Jack Allen’s Kitchen in South Austin, Jack’s son Bryce is the talent behind Barley Swine, and Ralph Gilmore, Jack’s brother, runs this beloved operation that was once a trailer and now resides inside Lavaca Street Bar. A native of Brownsville, Gilmore’s inspiration is a mix of his roots from South Texas and the cuisine of New Orleans. What’s not to like? Fresh seafood and delicious eats, from the grilled shrimp salad to the buffalo chicken platter. Of course, the po boys are king here — we like the fried shrimp. A perfect quick lunchtime nosh.
407 Lavaca, 512-276-2763, lavacastreet.com/turf-n-surf
Whole Foods Market
We can’t help ourselves. This grocery-turned-hangout spot between is a regular lunch stop. Let’s be honest, the traffic and parking sometimes act as deterrents, but if you can make it inside this mega-flagship store, then your total ordering and eating time is lickety-split (if you know what you want). We find ourselves waffling between the pasta bar and the seafood station, but we’re always game for a smoothie — the El Conquistador with honey, lime, pineapple, strawberry, coconut water and orange juice is one of our favorites — or a barbecue wrap (we like the chopped beef topped with pickles, onions and sauce stuffed inside a homemade flour tortilla). If we have time (and we usually do), we manage to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner.
525 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-542-2200, wholefoodsmarket.com