Skip the fast food and make lunch a fulfilling dining experience.
Ditch the fast food chains for lunch. There are so many restaurants in and around Worcester that are fast, cheap and offer plenty of variety. With so many wonderful places so close, why waste a meal on generic fast food? Just because it’s lunch, doesn’t mean you can’t have a fulfilling dining experience.
372 Chandler Street, Worcester (508) 752-8899
The entranceway of Nancy Chang is lined with glass cases displaying house-brand “Health-full Cooking Oil” and various low fat cookbooks. The restaurant specializes in healthy Asian cuisine. Nancy Chang offers a lunch buffet for only $7.95 Monday through Friday and $8.95 on weekends.
Sit on the patio under an expansive umbrella or dine inside, where exposed brick walls, tile floors and terracotta color-scheme impart the feel of an Italian kitchen rather than an Asian restaurant. However, the restaurant does possess the hallmark of Asian dining — a fish tank. The atmosphere at Nancy Chang is clean and comfortable.
One would expect the steaming buffet to produce piping hot food, but most dishes were tepid. Try a crisp and flaky Spring Roll to start, but avoid the gelatinous and under spiced Hot and Sour Soup. The main dishes that simply combine a meat and vegetable are the best option. The Pork and String Beans, Beef and Zucchini and Buddha’s Delight were all brimful of al dente veggies – certainly not the average soggy broccoli floret or limp snow pea we’ve come to expect from most Asian restaurants.
On your tour of the buffet, conserve plate space by skipping over the briny freezer-case shrimp. Instead, try a few pieces of the General Chow’s Chicken cooked with whole red chilis. During your meal, sip on one of the many Polynesian drink specialties. What could be more relaxing in the middle of a hectic work day than a fruity drink with a little umbrella in it?
Elsa’s Bushel ‘N Peck
643 Chandler Street, Worcester – (508) 799-6305
17 East Mountain Street, Worcester – (508) 856-0516
For a quick, fresh and inexpensive sandwich, stop in at Elsa’s Bushel ‘N Peck where they serve up over 100 varieties of grinders, in addition to an overwhelming selection of deli sandwiches. On Elsa’s eclectic menu, the virtuous Spinach Pocket is listed just above the sinful Superman, a combination of ham, turkey, roast beef, provolone, American and Swiss, all loaded onto Italian bread. Elsa’s also offers a variety of prepared foods from buttery quiches to tangy Orzo Salad.
Although mainly a take-out establishment, Elsa’s has scrupulously clean counters and a few tables for those who wish to nosh on a classic grilled Rueben before the sauerkraut sops the toasty rye bread. All of Elsa’s sandwiches are generous in portion and flavor and for under $6 it beats Subway or D’Angelos any day.
84 Boston Turnpike (Route 9), Shrewbury – (508) 754-2200
Lunch buffet 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
If you can judge an Indian restaurant by the quality of its naan, then the warm, chewy flat bread at the India Café holds promises of good things to come.
The $6.99 lunch buffet at India Café features a taste of all the classics. Start with a plate of Dahi Papri. This selection of cold appetizers includes Samosas, naan, Chick Pea Salad and various dipping sauces such as Palak Panir and Raita. Enjoy the authentic Indian music and jewel studded paintings while you munch and then head for the hot entrees. Leave your plates on the table and before you return they will be whisked away by your courteous, unobtrusive server.
Skip the soup and instead try the smooth and mellow spices of the Chana Masala or the tender mixed vegetables. The Chicken Curry is a good choice for the under twelve crowd, but could be a bit lack luster for a seasoned Indian gastronome. The basmati rice was well flavored with plenty of saffron and cumin seeds, but it was on the dry side — a problem quickly remedied by ladling on a helping of any entrée.
War of the Wieners
Frankly speaking, every now and then we all need a fast food fix. When your’s hits, say no way to “BK” and instead grab a hot dog. The question in Worcester is which wiener?
Hot Dog Express and Grille
281 Park Ave, Worcester – (508) 755-3333
The nostalgic red shack that sits roadside on Park Ave is home to the Hot Dog Express and Grille. Serving everything from fried clams to the popular chili dog, the Grille serves it up hot, fast and cheap. Hot dogs and sausages will set you back between a buck fifty and $3. You can choose to have your dog slippery and plump out of the steamer or crackling off the grill. The mesquite chili was slightly tinny, but the onion rings were crunchy and gloriously greasy. Plus, something about eating at a picnic table just makes a hot dog taste better.
George’s Coney Island Hot Dogs
158 Southbridge Street, Worcester – (508) 753-4362
A cafeteria style restaurant, George’s Coney Island Hot Dogs, is probably best known for its colorful 60-foot sign. In keeping with the vintage flair, customers dine off Formica-topped tables, play music on the juke box and are urged by numerous signs to switch off their cell phones. The secret recipe chili deliciously soaked the doughy bun, but the dog itself was flimsy and lacked that seventh-inning flavor.