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Cheap, good, fast: Mastering the art of the 5-minute takeout lunch in downtown Tacoma

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm | 3 Comments »
December 8, 2010 3:24 pm
The University Gyros House offers a bargain-priced $3.99 falafel sandwich.

Six bucks and five minutes. Some days, that’s all the commitment I want to give to lunch.

My go-to cheap-and-fast lunch spot long has been Freighthouse Square. With its revolving cast of restaurants, free parking and lunch deals squarely in the $6 range, it’s the ultimate in cheap, fast and (usually) good. The one drawback: don’t get too attached to a restaurant. Maybe it’s because it’s an incubator for tiny businesses, but the restaurant turnover at Freighthouse is exceptionally high.

I’ve been trying to spread out my geography for cheap lunches. I’ve had a few tips from TNT Diner readers, who suggested I dine at two new downtown Tacoma restaurants, University Gyros House and Happy Teriyaki, both located between 19th and 22nd on Pacific. I tried both, and I’m happy to report they were cheap, good, fast.

University Gyros House
Where: 1914 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-572-9737
Parking: Don’t forget to add your lunch parking upcharge. Count on 25 cents for parking.

University Gyros House opened three weeks ago in a cavernous space with tall ceilings and sparse décor. Plenty of seating holds University of Washington Tacoma students and downtown workers.

The menu is typical fast-style Mediterranean fare. Here’s the great part: Gyros and falafel sandwiches are $3.99. Add soup for $1.99 and you have lunch for under $6 (add on that pesky tax, of course). On my visit, I ordered the falafel sandwich on pita ($3.99) and within five minutes (I timed them), I had a foil-wrapped sandwich with warm, soft pita stuffed with fresh green leaf lettuce (for joy! No iceberg here!), diced tomatoes and onions, a drizzle of tzatziki yogurt sauce and four discs of fragrant, creamy falafel heavily goosed with garlic and pepper. I’ve delved into some tragic falafel sandwiches for double the price. This one was good, save for the watery tzatziki. The lentil soup, however, will never give any competition to Infinite Soups (another great destination for an under $6 lunch). The creamy texture of the blended soup held my interest, but an utter lack of seasoning made me foist the soup onto an unsuspecting co-worker (news reporters are not very picky eaters; sports reporters even less so).

Hey, look. Cheap lunch. This teriyaki-gyozo combo only cost me about six bucks.

Happy Teriyaki #4
Where: 2223 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-272-1544
Parking: Free! Park in the lot behind the restaurant

A few blocks away at Happy Teriyaki, a list of $5.99 lunch specials, offered from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., promised cheap and satisfying food. I bit on the basic chicken teriyaki-gyoza combo and within five minutes (yes, I timed them, too), I had a Styrofoam container filled with grilled dark meat, sautéed veggies and four pieces of gyoza. A healthy portion of rice also came on the side.

A note of appreciation: Dear kitchen, thank you for not saucing the chicken. I like my meat sans sauce and I was happy to find two sides of teriyaki in containers and not polluting my chicken with their cloying sweetness. Portion sizes? Really generous. This would feed two moderately hungry people, easily.

The James Bond roll and Mariners roll are $9.95 for both rolls from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Happy Teriyaki's lunch specials menu.

For an investment of a few more bucks at lunch, Happy Teriyaki has exceptional lunch sushi deals: two full-sized rolls for $9.95, offered from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. I’m typically suspicious of teriyaki places that serve sushi, because it’s rarely well crafted, but the rolls here were tight, uniform, fresh tasting and generous. I watched as the sushi chef rolled an 8-piece James Bond, a California roll toped with cooked shrimp and avocado, and drizzled with a sunny citrus sauce. The 10-piece Mariners roll was salmon, cream cheese and avocado wrapped in nori and rice and then tempura battered and fried. A teriyaki sauce drizzle gave it a bit more flavor.

If the name Happy Teriyaki sounds familiar, it may be because the restaurant is a small, local chain with other locations in Puyallup and Lacey.

YOUR TURN: Where’s your go-to $6 or under lunch spot downtown? What do you order? How long does it take? Share with the class, please, by commenting below.

UNIVERSITY GYROS HOUSE MENU:

HAPPY TERIYAKI MENU:

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