Subin Yang

Cheap Lunch!

The Disappearing Food Cart

The Simple Sandwich

Who Makes Portland’s Best Pizza by the Slice?

Cheap Lunches!

In the lull between discussable TV shows, there are two topics of conversation between 9 am and noon in my office: 1) What a bad President we have, and 2) What we are doing for lunch? Both are depressing. The nearby co-op’s salad bar is tiny and wildly inconsistent, often just half a dozen ingredients and a kale salad soaked inexplicably in tahini.

But what are you going to do? You gotta eat. You gotta not die young. You gotta save money. Yet you’re surrounded by temptation: taco trucks, bento boxes, Uber Eats. Salad bars are the altruistic ideal: good for you, but boring as hell because of it—they’re the print newspaper to Postmates’ Buzzfeed.

There’s something perversely risky about the salad bar, too. The gamble on an unusual ingredient (Baby corn today? Sick!), the balancing act of keeping items from touching (I got barbecue chicken on my cottage cheese!), and of course the ongoing guessing game of trying not to assemble a four-pound salad ($30 for lunch!?).

And yes, I know you could make your own lunch, and it could be delicious and nutritious and affordable, but what am I, Giada de Laurentiis? No, I’ll be out here breaking my own heart with a pile of wilted arugula and baby carrots.

Of course, you have options. They basically fall into a few categories.


THE GROCERY STORE

(Standouts: Whole Foods at NE Fremont & 15th, New Seasons Slabtown, World Foods)

It’s the easiest option for many neighborhoods, and is about the same price range as anywhere else ($7.99-8.99/pound), plus you can whip up a small salad and still have money for a grab-and-go sandwich and a piece of fruit.

Why you like it:

• Lots of options
• Lots of happy, healthy people milling around
• One-stop shopping (so you can get cat food)

Why it still makes you sad:

• Those options are probably just the produce that was about to go bad
• Lots of people = more judging eyes on your cardboard box full of baby corn and vegan ranch
• You’re surrounded by reminders that you could make your own lunch at home, if you were a proactive person with a simple learned skill like Sandwich Arts
• Not a burrito


THE DOWNTOWN SALAD BAR

(Sun Salads in Big Pink, Market Street Salad Bar/Cookie Cabana/Wait, what? Cookie Cabana?)

You want to feel like a real big-city businessperson? How about a bustling salad bar watched over by one bored employee with a friendly “hello” and a thumb on the scale? These establishments are a rare breed, for better or worse, and aren’t that much cheaper (if at all) than grocery stores.

Why you like it:

• “New York Style”—i.e., “there’s sushi”
• No one will try to talk to you
• Consistent quality

Why it still makes you sad:

• “New York Style” doesn’t mean “good sushi”
• Patrons blanketed in thick patina of mute numbness to the world
• Constant sound of aggressive food prep in back of house—what are they chopping? Baby carrots?
• Not a cheeseburger


THE PLACE THAT JUST DOES BIG SALADS

(Garden Bar, Crisp)

If the salad’s going to be the whole meal, it might as well be huge. Unfortunately, for places that do mostly raw food, it’s tough to stomach the overcooked gimmicks at these spots. Just look at the sizing: Crisp on North Williams (some ungodly hybrid of a trendy gym and a Cold Stone Creamery) only makes “big” and “bigger” salads, while Garden Bar (nothing says “yummy salads” like cold, minimal, semi-industrial design) serves “bushel” or “basket” sizes, neither of which sounds bigger than the other. You’ll be pushing the upper limit of cheap with any of these, but at least you’ll be full... for a couple of hours.

Why you like it:

• Team of smiling salad professionals makes your salad for you
• Choose one of their menu salads or build your own.
• No distracting junk food

Why it still makes you sad:

• You are basically forcing someone to ask you things like: “Big or Bigger?”
• Go with the build-your-own option and watch in horror as someone else puts together your terrible idea of a salad, enacting your basest instincts
• Vegan cookie is not, as promised, 20 times better than a regular cookie
• Not a slice of pizza


THE STRIP CLUB

(Acropolis)

Acropolis, home of the cheapest lunch of all: $5 for all you can eat, $3.50 for one go-around. To be honest, it’s a surprisingly well-stocked salad bar, and on a recent visit we were told we were lucky we came at shift change, as it had just been restocked with fresh ingredients. Hungrier? Five dollars also gets you a rib plate, and for $7, a steak. Even with a full belly, you can still afford to make it rain.

Why you like it:

• You know why.

Why it still makes you sad:

• You know why.