Lunch has changed. People in business attire leaving their desks, lining up to eat at noon and then rushing back to the office isn’t happening anymore.
“There isn’t the lunch rush anymore,” said Elaine Frances, co-owner of Hidden House Market in downtown Vancouver. “It’s like every day is Saturday.”
At her restaurant, lunchtime has moved to 1 or 1:30 p.m. and is taken at a more leisurely pace, Frances said.
“They’re not just coming in and gobbling up their food,” Frances said. “They’re relaxing and enjoying lunch and hanging out for an hour or so.”
Some guests are even sipping a glass of wine or having a beer with their meal.
In this new lunch era, business owners are trying to figure out what people want to eat and when they want to eat it. On a recent lunchtime stroll through downtown Vancouver, I noticed plenty of available parking and a lack of people walking around. Despite a mere trickle of customers, many downtown businesses are open for lunch. To keep up with changes in eating habits and a long list of other pandemic-related challenges, most businesses have shifted from separate lunch and dinner menus to a streamlined all-day menu.
Not so busy
At popular spots, like The Smokin’ Oak and Little Conejo, lunch provides an opportunity to eat coveted dishes without the crowds and wait times typical at dinner time. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, both of these places had plenty of open tables.
Little Conejo (114 W. Sixth St.; 360-718-2633) condensed its lunch and dinner menu into an all-day menu during the pandemic. This long and inclusive list includes snacks like chips and salsa ($3.25-$5.25), rice and beans ($4.50), and crispy potato- and cotija-stuffed tacos dorados ($7); tacos with everything from al pastor to oyster mushrooms ($4.50); and tortas, including the decadent suadero americano ($13), a mashup of the classic American cheeseburger and the Mexican torta with thinly slice beef, griddled onions, iceberg lettuce and melted American cheese.
Like Little Conejo, The Smokin’ Oak (501 Columbia St.; 360-433-2755) offers an all-day menu. Lunchers can savor the Texas Trinity (sliced brisket, spare ribs and sausage, $31) with sides like mac and cheese ($5.50), collard greens ($5.50), and The Smokin’ Oak’s decadent cornbread ($5.50) in a sparsely populated space.
Tried and true
Bleu Door Bakery and Hidden House Market are good options for diners who want to sit down and catch up with friends and co-workers while eating classic lunch food like soups, salads and sandwiches.
Bleu Door Bakery (2411 Main St.; 360-693-2538) recently reopened its indoor dining and welcomed patrons into a larger, new dining area that veers more to Provence than Paris with a large mural filled with sunflowers and rolling hills. The menu features cold sandwiches like applewood ham and havarti ($11.50) and turkey BLTA ($13); hot sandwiches like ham and swiss ($10.75) and tuna melt ($12); soups; and delectable pastries like hazelnut coffee tart and chai-flavored cheesecake. Bleu Door is also known for plant-based options like vegan red velvet cheesecake and the garden veggie sandwich with roasted garlic artichoke spread and roasted veggies on a market wheat deli bread ($10.75).
Hidden House Market (100 W. 13th St.; 360-281-8951) is open for lunch Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Owners David White and Elaine Frances plan on extending hours to the rest of the week when workers return to their downtown offices. The long and varied menu includes interesting sandwiches like the horiatiki wedgewich, a Greek salad inside a wedge of house-baked bread ($12). There’s also classics like a pot roast French dip sandwich ($16) as well as soups ($11) and salad.
Lunch trays give diners a grown-up take on school cafeteria lunch. Trays come with a choice of half a chicken and bacon sandwich ($12) or cheese zombie ($10) and tomato soup. Both options are served on metal trays and include sides like chips, fresh fruit, veggies and dip, along with a small bite of something sweet.
Mighty Bowl, Ingrid’s GoodStreetFood & Paleo Grill, Be Well Juice Bar and Foode Cafe provide healthy choices in a casual environment.
Mighty Bowl recently reopened for indoor dining, offering grain bowls ($12-$16), smoothies ($8-$9.50), acai bowls ($11) and toasts ($7).
Be Well (1012 Washington St.; 360-726-5135) has a similar menu minus the toasts served in a breezy, beachy space with comfy couches and chill music (smoothies from $7.25-$8.25, juices from $7.50-$8.25, smoothie bowls from $9-$9.75).
Ingrid Murphy-Kenny has reopened the indoor space at her uptown cafe at 1701 Broadway (360-921-7802). Ingrid’s GoodStreetFood & Paleo Grill serves bowls ($13-$15), wraps ($13-$14), salads ($7-$14) and items like roasted beet hummus ($8). This off-the-beaten path cafe is known for fresh, healthy and flavorful meals. I recently ate Ingrid’s Mediterranean salad with chicken ($14), a generously portioned mix of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, feta, sweet red onions and Greek olives topped with juicy pieces of grilled chicken drizzled with tangy tzatziki. Friday through Monday, Ingrid’s houses a Funky Fresh Juice Company pop-up featuring smoothies and juices from the popular Vancouver Farmers Market juice truck.
Foode Cafe in the Riverview Tower (900 Washington St.; 360-735-5927) serves sandwiches ($8.49-$11.49), salads ($8.99-$10.49) and flatbread pizzas ($8-$9.49) to eat in the comfy chairs that fill the small cafe and spill into the lobby. This is also a good place for takeout — order ahead or choose from the grab-and-go options on the wall to the side of the register.
Amaro’s Table (1220 Main St.; 360-718-2942) is the perfect place for a birthday lunch or a splurge for co-workers seeing each other again in person. The all-day menu includes starters like fried Brussels sprouts ($9) and salt and pepper calamari ($15); salads like the wild salmon nicoise ($23) or the classic wedge ($11) topped with fried onion and bleu cheese crumbles; burgers ($14-$15) and sandwiches ($13-$17); as well as entrees like classic fried chicken ($23) or flat iron steak served with potato cakes ($34). Patrons, embracing the new lunch ethos, can order a glass of wine ($8-$14) or one of Amaro’s craft cocktails like Groove Is In The Heart ($13) with tequila, Brucato Chaparral Amaro, poblano pineapple, lime, agave, and sage.
Slow Fox Chili in the Columbia Food Park (108 E. Seventh St.; 360-721-0634) provides a low-key open-air experience. The food cart park has covered tables and a bright mural. The menu includes a variety of quick, delicious and deeply satisfying dishes like Louie’s lentils ($8.50-$11.50) with peppers, yam and kale; chili combos like Cincinnati chili (three-, four- or five-way, $7.75-$8.75); and non-chili dishes like Saner spareribs ($11.50), rubbed with Recado and slow cooked.