It's called a lunch break for a reason, so break out of your routine and break away from the workplace or the kitchen at least once a week. Step away from that microwavable tray or plastic bag, and step out for something different.
A roundup of in-town and nearby options could fill a sizable directory, which is what Patch compiled here, with five dozen restaurants searchable by cost or cuisine. Today's roundup focuses on diverse picks for budget-friendly mid-day meals. Some selections leave room for a beverage without exceeding $10. Pizza is skipped because there are enough choices for a separate Top 10 list in coming weeks.
1. Mideastern: on South Old Woodward, which lets you order online for advance preparation or takeout, has some lunch items within today's range — including kafta, Lebanese salad and shawarma chicken. on Pierce has seven Mediterranean pita rollups for $4-$5. , which opened late last year on East Maple, has 11 specialty sandwiches under $4. A colorful service counter tucked in a front corner of has falafel, tabbouli, hommous, fatoush salad, grape leaves, chicken kabob, chicken shawarma and Middle Eastern salad. All four sites have outside tables.
2. Mexican: at East Maple and Poppleton offers five types of burritos, five taco varieties, five nachos, four quesadillas, three taco salads, Mexican gumbo and tortilla soup. Outside seating and online ordering available.
3. Asian: Tangy choices are on South Old Woodward for Chinese cuisine, on Hamilton and on North Old Woodward.
4. Italian: on North Old Woodward has an $8 daily pasta special and 11 more pasta choices under $10. Sandwiches include "The Great Muffaletta," with a money-back guarantee if it doesn't satisfy. On South Adams, (locally owned since 1978) has spaghetti, ravioli and lasagna takeout choices.
5. Sushi: on East Maple has a broad sushi and sashimi selection, plus Japanese dishes such as udon, soba noodles, donburi, tempura and teriyakis. Bento box and boat assortments are offered at lunch-friendly rates. The owners are Chris and Ritsuko Sayanthone of Laos and Japan, respectively. Fresh sushi varieties are also rolled daily at and Papa Joe's.
6. Sandwiches: With subs, pitas, paninis, focaccia, wraps, baguettes and crisp ciabata, Birmingham is far from a plain tuna-on-white town. This lunch staple rises beyond ordinary at Phat Sammich (46 choices!), , , , , , , , , , , , Elie's, Papa Joe's, , , and .
Chef Whitney Smith is justly proud of 's fried egg and cheddar sandwich, served with salad, guacamole and salsa. Primo's also makes 10 submarines, including vegetarian.
7. Burgers: earns the first mention as a Birmingham icon with five-decades-long roots. Two picnic tables out front fill up this time of year. Grills also are hot at Dick O'Dow's, Whistle Stop, and other all-American lunch joints with pickles, onions, fries and ketchup. South's version comes with avocado salsa and cilantro sour cream. Even Primo's flips burgers and cheeseburgers to go.
8. Smoothies: At another end of the food chain, enjoy a light, healthful "meal in a cup" at . Fruit and yogurt blends can be jazzed up with papaya nectar, cranberry sauce, orange juice. nuts, honey, cream of coconut, protein powder, wheat germ, ginseng, soy powder or other stuff. Sandwiches and salads also are available, and two small tables are on the sidewalk. Outside seating also is available on Pierce at Elie's, which has eight smoothies and eight raw fruit juices — all at $5. Olga's serves seven flavors of Suncoast Smoothies.
9. Soup: Rotating daily temptations at Cosi, Panera, Toast, Max & Erma's, Zuma, Commonwealth and elsewhere can include cold gazpacho or vichyssoise at a few spots this season. In the Rail District, the Whistle Stop is known for thick chicken noodle soup. On Hamilton Row, serves exquisitely seasoned minestrone and tomato soup.
10. Salad: Available virtually everywhere, with these menus among the most extensive: Max & Erma's has six entree salads, Phat Sammich on Woodward and the upscale Quattro each have five, while South has four within this column's price ceiling.
Other speedy lunch choices include , , , (drive-through option), (takeout only) and Kroger's deli (ditto).
Next time it's too nice to stay in for lunch, try different cuisine or a new spot — maybe even a park bench picnic. And when it's rainy or your turn to plan an office lunch meeting, Eton Market, Primo's, Papa Joe's and What's For Lunch can deliver fresh fare, utensils and napkins.