Are you in the lunchtime rut? Sitting at your desk, trying desperately to keep yourself from doing another pass in the McDonald’s drive-through or settling for another Wawa Shorti?
It need not be that way. And I mean, if you’ve got a favorite pizza place or chain restaurant that comforts you when you’re hungry, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if today is maybe that warm, optimistic, TGIF kind of day and you’re feeling like this could be the day you break out of the routine, here are four (actually five) ideas that could help you finally do it.
Aryana Kabab and Grill/Afghan Grill (Hamilton)
I first wrote about these Route 33 places when I wrote about falafel, but in the years since I have come to appreciate most their chicken tikka, tender marinated chunks of chicken cooked on skewers and served over Afghan rice. If you like the Indian version, you have got to try these. Slightly cheaper at Afghan Kabob and Grill ($9.99) than Aryana ($10.99). You can’t go wrong at either restaurant, and although I haven’t tried them, word has it they also serve outstanding gyros.
Me, I would go to Aryana Kebab and Grill just for the stewed chickpeas side dish ($3.99, or complimentary with your platter). And if you have a friend who just won’t try new things, they have cheesesteaks and things too.
La Taqueria (Lawrence)
If you think you know what tacos carnitas is — and you think tacos carnitas = barbecued pulled pork in a tortilla — then you have been sadly misled by Chipotle and even some locally owned places that serve the dish that way.
I’d always heard that carnitas was a crispy delight, and that never made sense because I had never once had crispy carnitas. Until I started going to places that make it right, like La Taqueria, the teensy yet popular spot on Route 206 in Lawrence, hard by Tastee Sub Shop. No offense to Tastee, where I have gotten many a good sandwich, but if you’re about to pop in there and you are like, What about this taco place that guy mentioned? Then it’s time to try it.
Authentic carnitas is crispy, to the point where it’s almost, but not quite, hard. It’s something you have to be prepared for, and when you’re not you could think it’s overdone. It’s not. It’s delicious and perfect. Served traditionally and simply with onion and cilantro, but you can get it americano style if you ask. Three tacos (no sides) is $8.99. Monday through Thursday they also have generous lunch specials for $5.99: quesadillas (Monday), tacos (Tuesday), nachos (Wednesday) and burritos (Thursday).
The Pho Spot (Princeton)
Out of nowhere Tom Le’s Pho Spot opened up in Princeton Shopping Center on Harrison Street in 2018, and quickly became a go-to spot for people looking for a taste of Vietnamese tradition. Although there are two traditions Le has bucked with his otherwise authentic hearty rice noodle soups: one, he says there is no MSG in his broth; and two, he has a variety of vegetarian options, including vegetarian broth, which is basically unheard of in Vietnam.
The Pho Spot serves one thing: pho. (Well, pho and spring rolls.) Regular bowl is $10, large is $13. Get it with steak, brisket, chicken, shrimp, tofu, or mushrooms, or for $3 more try short ribs.
Rozmaryn Restaurant (Trenton)
Pierogies? Kielbasa? In the mood for some borscht or bigos (hunter’s stew)? Chances are you have not stopped in to Rozmaryn Restaurant at 925 N. Olden Ave. in Trenton, but there’s only one person who is missing out in that case, and it is you. Well, and me, because I have not yet been there either.
We both owe it to ourselves to give Rozmaryn a try. With a 4-and-a-half-star rating on Yelp, and reviewed by The New York Times, Rozmaryn is clocking in as one of the best reviewed restaurants in the county. And you’ve got to love a restaurant who cares enough to post this warning on its menu listing for beef tripe soup ($6.50): “While this spicy soup is very tasty and has lots of dedicated fans, if you have never tried it you may prefer our other delicious selections.”
Like perhaps the bigos ($12) — sauerkraut, pork, beef and Polish kielbasa simmered with spices, mushrooms and prunes — or the pierogies ($11), which you can get stuffed with potato and cheese, meat, or sauerkraut and mushrooms.
It’s not in the greatest area in the world, and you have to park on the street, but if you can get past those mental obstacles, you’re certain to have an experience that falls somewhere outside that you can get from a slice of pizza or a hoagie. This is your day to try something new.
Or let’s just say, it could be. Whether it’s one of these restaurants or just someplace else you’ve been meaning to go, make today your day to break out of the doldrums. Eat something new for lunch.