*Image above slightly misleading since we rarely have pasta for lunch in these parts, but I did find a picture of my favorite pasta dish served alongside my favorite vegetable, broccoli rabe, and it made my mouth water.
I really love reading Grubstreet’s Food Diaries, in which celebrities and “food people” share what they eat over the course of a week. It’s a surprisingly substantive kind of memoir-writing, in that you learn a lot about people by virtue of the seemingly benign prompt: “What did you eat this week?” I’m always intrigued by the lunch picks. For many years, lunch and breakfast were “throwaway meals” for me. During that time, I usually skipped breakfast and would then eat a salad or sandwich lunch quickly, at my desk. I love salads and sandwiches (still do) but they were usually attained by means of convenience or repetition rather than forethought around what would be satisfying to me. I am still not a big breakfast person, as I never feel hungry in the morning. At most, breakfast means an English muffin, a small bowl of yogurt with granola, or fruit (especially bananas, which feel pleasantly starchy and less acidic than many fruity counterparts). But lunch. Now, lunch! This has been a site of transformation for me. As you might anticipate, Mr. Magpie played a starring role in this evolution. For Mr. Magpie, every meal counts. He genuinely runs his life so that every single thing he eats brings him pleasure. He would rather wait two hours in agonizing hunger for something to be delivered, or for a table at the restaurant he wants, than settle for “whatever’s here and convenient.” I wrote about this at some length recently, but I find this orientation tremendously attractive, albeit occasionally impractical. The way he thinks about food reminds me of that Mary Oliver quote we all love so very much: “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” As in: carpe diem! Eat on the good china, wear your finest, live it up!
Anyway, lunch has now become a high point of my daily routine. He and I coordinate on lunch in the morning, and sometimes several days in advance. Whereas he cooks nearly everything we eat at night, we often order in or carry out for lunch, and it is a delicious extravagance. We are pretty strategic on that front, though, and will usually order twice a week, with enough food to carry us through two days of lunches apiece, and will then eat dinner leftovers, thaw soup, or — his least favorite — assemble sandwiches on the other days of the week. A few of the meals in our regular lunchtime rotation:
DUMPLINGS AND SPICY BEEF NOODLE SOUP OR DAN DAN NOODLES — WE ORDER FROM FAHRENHEIT (MCLEAN, VA) IN BETHESDA; IN NYC, WE LOVED VANESSA’S AND SUPERTASTE
HAM AND CHEESE BAGUETTE — WE ORDER FROM FRESH BAGUETTE OR PRALINE IN BETHESDA
PHO — WE GET DELIVERY FROM PHO NOM NOM OR EAT AT PHO 75; THIS VIETNAMESE SOUP IS PURE MEMORY AND COMFORT FOR ME, AS MR. MAGPIE TOOK ME ON HUNDREDS OF WEEKEND “PHO FIX” DATES AT PHO75 IN ARLINGTON WHEN WE WERE DATING/ENGAGED/MARRIED; IF YOU LIVE IN CHICAGO, GO TO TANK NOODLE IN UPTOWN AREA!!!
PORK VERMICELLI BUNS — ALSO VIETNAMESE; WE GET FROM RICE PADDIES IN BETHESDA, WHICH IS SOLID BUT WE HATE THAT THEY CUT THEIR NOODLES INTO PIECES, OR PHO NOM NOM, WHICH IS FABULOUS
NEOPOLITAN STYLE PIZZA — WE LIKE ALATRI BROTHERS, PIZZA PARADISO, PUPATELLA (ARLINGTON); IN NYC, MOTORINO; IN CHICAGO, COALFIRE
JAMON SERRANO/QUESO MOLLETES AND/OR GAZPACHO AND/OR PATATAS BRAVAS — FROM SPANISH DINER IN BETHESDA; LOVE THESE DISHES AND THIS SPOT IN GENERAL
RAMEN — WE LIKE JINYA RAMEN HERE; IN NYC, WE LOVED TOTTO AND IPPUDO; IN CHICAGO, WASABI
BURGERS AND FRIES — WE ARE BIG SHAKE SHACK FANS; WE DON’T OFTEN HAVE BURGERS FOR LUNCH BUT WHEN WE DO, IT’S FAST FOOD STYLE…BURGERS FOR DINNER, HOWEVER, ARE A WHOLE DIFFERENT FOOD CATEGORY! THE BEST WE’VE EVER HAD IS THE BURGER AT OWEN AND ENGINE IN CHICAGO, WITH MAYBE RED HOOK TAVERN IN BROOKLYN AS A RUNNER UP, BUT AGAIN, THOSE ARE DINNER BURGERS, NOT LUNCH ONES!
FANCY SANDWICHES — WE LOVE TATTE BAKERY AND BREAD FURST HERE; IN NYC, DAILY PROVISIONS AND I REALLY LIKED BOTH BREADS BAKERY AND ORWASHERS, THOUGH MR. MAGPIE WAS NOT AS BIG OF A FAN OF THOSE TWO
KABOBS — RAVI KABOB IN ARLINGTON (WOW)
FALAFEL — WE HAVEN’T FOUND A GREAT SPOT IN DC AREA YET, BUT ATE AT MAMOUN’S IN NYC LIKE ONCE A WEEK; HERE IN BETHESDA, WE SOMETIMES ORDER FROM MOBY DICK FOR THIS CUISINE BUT I DON’T THINK IT’S ON THE SAME PAR AS OTHER SPOTS
TACOS — MR. MAGPIE WILL TALK ALL DAY AND NIGHT ABOUT EL CHARRITO CAMINANTE IN ARLINGTON
PERUVIAN CHICKEN — POLLO RICO IN ARLINGTON; THE UNRELENTING BEST IN THIS CATEGORY; HAVE NEVER TASTED ANYTHING REMOTELY SIMILAR IN ANY OTHER CITY I’VE LIVED IN
FRIED RICE — CHIKO IN BETHESDA; HAN DYNASTY IN NYC
ITALIAN SUBS — ITALIAN STORE IN ARLINGTON OR VACE IN BETHESDA
GREEK SALAD — THE BIG GREEK CAFE IN BETHESDA; BREADS BAKERY IN NYC — I REALLY LOVE A GREEK SALAD, BUT MR. MAGPIE USUALLY ORDERS SOMETHING ELSE OFF THESE MENUS WHEN I HAVE A HANKERING
KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN — CHICK CHICK IN NYC; HAVEN’T FOUND ANYTHING COMPARABLE IN THESE PARTS
BAGELS — OH I MISS NYC BAGELS…WE LOVED THE ONES FROM BARNEY GREENGRASS AND I ALSO APPRECIATED ORWASHER’S
PASTRAMI — THIS DOES NOT EXIST AS THE SAME THING OUTSIDE NYC…PASTRAMI QUEEN IS MAGIC AND WE SPENT A SMALL FORTUNE ON THEIR $26 PASTRAMIS ON RYE
I know I’m missing many great spots on this list and I can absolutely guarantee you that I will be running retractions/edits once Mr. Magpie reviews (ha!) but these are some tried-and-true, heavy-rotation cuisines, dishes, and restaurants we love at the lunch hour. Please share your own additions to this list, whether local or not, because it might inspire some additions for us!
+BBQ shrimp recipe you must try.
+A simple weeknight meal.
+Thoughts on organizing a fantastic date night at home.
+My favorite potato salad recipe.
+Great food storage gear.
+Unrelated, but is love a hunch?
+Also unrelated, but musings on becoming different people as we age…
+Ordering this gingham top. I LOVE the smocking at the neck. So sophisticated! Will look amazing beneath overalls or paired with white denim for spring.
+The gingham top reminded me of this handbag in my closet — I cannot wait to wear all spring long! I like mixing it with other patterns/prints. Would look gorgeous with this!
+Oo! Another great gingham top here.
+And one last gingham PSA: these popular $15 bolster pillows were just restocked in the blue! So perfect for a boy’s room.
+Fun rattan hoops.
+Just the chicest mirror.
+Cute Easter placemats, especially for little ones.
+I love these spring napkins!
+This cashmere pullover looks like a dream.
+How great are these star-print pajamas for a little? (At time of writing, $15!)
+These wide-leg trousers are so fresh for spring! Such fun colors! More bright finds here.
+If you’re still very much in cold weather and not ready to think about pastels, how great is this houndstooth shacket? Would look great with winter white denim or brown kick flares.
+And just a reminder that there are still a handful of my favorite super-cold-weather boot on sale here.
+LOVE this sport hot pink one-piece — very throwback!
+These ruffle cord overalls are too cute.
+So into these Gucci loafers. Such a great color pattern!
+A great quilted coat on sale.
+Fun card case! We have been loving this lightweight backpack from the same brand for my son — perfect size, weighs next to nothing, and fits his lunchbox!
+More punchy, affordable finds!
+My current favorite things.
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30 thoughts on “What Do You Eat for Lunch?”
Somehow the idea of ordering in lunch has never really occurred to me (?!), but here are some DC favorites that I’d love to order in lunch from now that I think about it:
El Cielo Rojo, Mi Cuba, Your Only Friend (temporarily closed but coming back soon), Compliments Only, 2Fifty Texas BBQ, Cane, Muchas Gracias and Melange.
Some non lunch faves for addition to your DC list: the burger at Reverie, pizza from Martha Dear, Oyster Oyster and Albi.
OK, now I’m starving!
Thank you for this amazing list — lots of new-to-me names!
We used to never order lunch, either. The habit took hold in Chicago and then went out of control in NYC and now there’s no turning back.
My favorite lunch to take to work is a big green salad with roasted delicata squash, goat cheese, currants and nuts, mustard and shallot vinaigrette, and a baked sweet potato. Healthy enough, keeps me feeling full all day, and I never get tired of it! I loved reading about all of your delicious meals! Xo
YUM. This sounds delicious!
I am impressed by all of these lunch options you mentioned in addition to what fellow Magpies have commented. Since I work out of my office, I have a little less flexibility and prefer to save my restaurant budget for meals I’ll have time to savor and experience.
I pack pretty much the same thing everyday for lunch.
4 hard boiled egg whites, 1 whole avocado (I cut it at work and mix with the egg whites and TJ’s Green Goddess dressing). I also bring fruit- berries, an apple or whatever looks best on my Sunday grocery run.
To drink, I bring a Spindrift and fill my large Simple Modern tumbler with ice cold water throughout the day. I don’t drink coffee and hardly ever have caffeine to keep my sleep routine consistent.
While breakfast food is my favorite food, I don’t wake up hungry, so I don’t eat breakfast.
Sounds like a healthy and satisfying lunch! I love the combo of egg and avocado. Yum!
I am half kidding but when I saw that you go to Pho 75 it makes me trust all your other DC area places so much because I feel Pho 75 is the best pho in the area!! I no longer live in DC but when I lived in Arlington I felt this was the BEST Vietnamese place. My mom (who lives in NJ) always asked to go here when she visited me, too.
It is a CLASSIC! Absolutely delicious!! So glad there is so much agreement on this front!
I was wondering if you were going to mention moby dick! Please try the koobideh, my father in law is from tehran and in NC we have all yet to find good Persian food! So envious.
As for lunches I am often a fan of using up leftovers for lunches vs dinner. I do not mind a simple sandwich or even some instant ramen that I will add veggies and an egg too. Sometimes an egg sandwich or whatever I’ve come up with. I don’t like to do the same thing day after day
Hi! I will try the koobideh — thanks for the tip! I also like to mix it up with lunch. Fun to have different cuisines, proteins, etc!
Since my daughter started back in school I have since reclaimed lunch as my own. Despite our best intentions/efforts my 4 year old has been in a long phase of picky eating, and it has felt so good to make something according to my own tastes/preferences.
“He genuinely runs his life so that every single thing he eats brings him pleasure” — YES. I love this mindset! I generally approach food this way too, however I can’t say I do it 100% of the time. When I do though, I feel far more nourished, and not just on a physical level.
Occasionally I’ll treat myself to takeout — sushi, chirashi, poke bowl, banh mi… but more often than not I’ll cook my own lunch. I’ve figured out a formula that is satisfying but not food-coma inducing — for some reason I had been experiencing this slump between 2-3 pm (which is when I have to pick her up) , and I always felt I needed a nap.
So what I do is — I cook a small batch of brown jasmine rice the day before (I like the chewy texture of brown rice) and make fried brown rice with a ton of vegetables and an egg, either fried with crisp and lacy edges, or scrambled. I use a lot more vegetables and maybe a 1/2 cup of rice to avoid the aforementioned food coma. I probably use at least 2 cups of chopped vegetables. I vary the flavor profiles so I don’t get bored. I love spice, so I often add kimchi or gochujang at the end, or I would saute some Thai green or red curry paste (Mae Ploy brand, always) in the beginning with the aromatics then add the veg, rice, and herbs like mint, cilantro, basil. On other days I’ll take the Japanese route and top it with togarashi and dried seaweed flakes. I try to make it as colorful as possible with different veggies (sweet bell peppers, broccoli, red cabbage etc), but sometimes I just go with a “clear out the crisper drawer” mindset. Not quite so colorful, but sometimes I use seared mushrooms as well. It might sound time consuming for a weekday lunch but as I’ve gotten used to it, it doesn’t feel that way. I haven’t quite gotten to the routine of chopping vegetables the night before, which I’m sure would help time-wise. In a pinch I use frozen mixed vegetables!
Some days I’ll make a salad instead — I’ve been loving arugula, shaved fennel bulb, orange and grapefruit segments, avocado, and pistachios and a lemon-shallot vinaigrette; on other days if I want something heartier I’ll do roasted sweet potatoes or other roasted vegetables from dinner the night before with some black lentils or French green lentils and sweet and spicy candied nuts (which I either make in big batches, or get the ones from Trader Joe’s in a pinch). But of course there are days when none of these happen, and I have last night’s lentil soup or Indian dal and basmati rice (we make a lot of Indian food), which is satisfying as well.
Ah it’s only 10 am for me and now I want lunch. 🙂
Mia, you’re an inspiration!!! Planning to mix up my usual veggie omelet routine for your fried rice.
Co-sign! Very inspired by Mia’s lunch routine!
WOW! I love this! I am totally inspired/motivated, too! I am going to try this out!
Yesssss please keep the local recs coming! My husband and I miss NYC food so much and have yet to find our spots here for the most part. We do love Bacchus of Lebanon for weeknight delivery dinner and have been pretty happy with Bethesda Bagels. Can’t wait to try some of your picks!
Oh yay! Hadn’t heard of Bacchus before! Thank you!
Wow, your lunches sound so exciting! I’m pretty sure I almost always eat leftovers, although my lunches are not exciting enough for me to remember a single one from the past week. Sometimes I just have chips and salsa, or I make a yogurt parfait if the kids are eating yogurt and I have granola in the pantry. I am much more excited about breakfast, even though I usually just have toast with almond butter or marmalade, and coffee. Still my favorite meal of the day, though!
Hi! I do love toast (especially English muffins) with marmalade for breakfast. Our friends gave us a Bonne Maman Advent calendar this year with a different tiny jam for each day of Advent, and it had the COOLEST flavors! We are still working our way through the options, but there are things like rose/rhubarb/strawberry, lychee, passionfruit, etc! I do look forward to testing those on my English muffins/toast.
We like Akira better than Jinya for ramen. Also Call Your Mother’s bagels, Bethesda Trolley location is one of our go-to’s to bring in lunch (I’m partial to the Mountain View). We also enjoy take away from Pescadeli. When the weather warms
up, try a lunch (or dinner!) on the front patio at Chercher right next to Fresh Baguette – lovely family owned Ethiopian restaurant, excellent food. This is inspiring me to bring in lunch today – usually I eat leftovers or make a salad. Happy Monday!
Hi Dena! Oo I will definitely try Akira — we get either pho or ramen at least once a week, so this will be an easy addition to the rotation :). Thank you! I also didn’t know about Chercher! Merci!
I am a three square meals a day type of person, and usually wake up pretty hungry. A big breakfast after a workout is one of my favorite things. I am jealous of your lunch routine, though! 9 times out of 10, I am just eating dinner leftovers for lunch. In college, I lived within walking distance of Pete’s Apizza on Wisconsin Ave and was there sometimes several times per week. One of my favorite pizza places! 2Amys was also pretty big at the time, but I always kind of felt it was overhyped.
Having a good pizza spot in walking distance is SO amazing. Motorino was just around the corner from us in NYC and it was so easy to call in an order, dash out around the corner, and be back with a delicious pizza in under 10 minutes. Yum! I like 2Amy’s actually!! I haven’t been in awhile since it’s a bit of a hike for us and there are closer options but thanks for the reminder!
Putting in a plug for the small plates at 2Amys and the suppli! Half the time I go I don’t even order pizza, their small plates are so divine.
Yum – I’m so hungry revisiting this post!
Just saved a few of these DC area recommendations to try! I second a lot of your recommendations. On the days when I go into the office for work, I have to hold myself back from eating lunch at the nearby Tatte Bakery every day. It’s so good!
Funny story about Pho 75: some friends of ours went to Vietnam a few years ago, and they swear that Pho 75 is still their favorite pho!
Hi Megan! I so agree with Tatte. I have loved everything I’ve had there! Delicious!
I believe you on the Pho75!! It’s just the best.
In DC, try Pearl’s Bagels!
Thank you! Had not heard of this, but I took a look on Yelp and have to say I’m won over by the distribution of everything seasoning alone in the photos. I like a heavy hand 🙂
Your approach to lunch and dinner sounds exactly what I’d like… in fact my days tend to skip both breakfast and lunch, and I end up drinking about five cups of tea with a biscotti on the side, then snack on something around 3:30, in a rush. On red-letter days I bake my favorite wheaten bread with my toddler and have slices of that for the rest of the week, spread with Kerrygold butter.
I do take my time with dinner and make something delicious and filling. I’m leaning heavily into pies lately–shepherd’s pie, hachis parmentier, chicken tarragon pie; steak and ale pie. Warm and filling on winter’s nights.
Kerrygold is THE BEST! I do agree in general with your take on lunch v. dinner — dinner is always a more elaborate affair, and I like to eat it at a leisurely pace, with a glass of wine, enjoying every minute!