Speed-Testing the Downtown-DC Lunch Spots

Ah, lunch. Lunch is your time. If you’re lucky enough not to be stuck in a suburban office park, you get an hour (if that) to cast off the iron shackles of the office chair and walk freely about the streets of downtown DC.

Your choice of lunch spot is critically important to the quality of your day—and don’t think we don’t know it. To help you get the most out of your hour, we’re rating DC’s downtown lunch options on factors such as speed, cost, stress level, and likeliness to inspire office jealousy.

What are your favorite quickie lunch spots? Let us know in the comments.  

Sherif’s Hot Dog Stand
Connecticut Ave. and L St., NW (behind Wachovia bank)

Lowdown: The half smoke, a jumbo-size, spiced beef or pork dog stuffed, is DC’s unofficial food of choice. You’ve got to try it at least once.
Line time (from the second we enter the line to the moment we step back into the street): 1 minute, 1 second. Speed rules.
Price: $4.25 for one half smoke, one hot dog, and one bottle of Aquafina water
Stress level: Nonexistent. You’ve probably been doing this since you were a kid. Step right up, sonny, and tell the nice man what you’d like on your hot dog.
Office-jealousy index: Um . . . don’t bring a half smoke back to the office. Besides, it will taste much better if you tell the vendor not to wrap it up for you. Sherif keeps his dogs piping hot and his condiments fresh. You can eat your hot dog in two minutes and spend the rest of your break walking off the calories.

Breadline
1751 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-822-8900; thebreadlinedc.blogspot.com

Lowdown: Salads, creative sandwiches, and soups right by the World Bank.
Line time: 1 minute, 31 seconds. Premade sandwiches move fast; tack on an extra two minutes if you’re getting a salad or specialty sandwich.
Price: $9.63 for one grilled chicken sandwich and one bottle of Saratoga water.
Stress level: Moderate. A first-time luncher will have to take a couple of minutes to get oriented amid the chaotic crowds. It’s not clear where to order what you want (there are separate lines for salads, specialty sandwiches, and premade sandwiches), and the gigantic menu display can be overwhelming.
Office-jealousy index: Low. Though the bread is delicious and the fillings are good quality, it’s a sandwich. It’s soup. It’s salads. Many selections on the daily-specials board (venison sausage on brioche, a Cubano), however, will inspire jealous stares.

The Best Sandwich Place

1801 K St., NW; 202-452-8989

Lowdown: Freshly carved turkey breast, warm pita sandwiches, soups, and salads.
Line time: 4 minutes, 23 seconds.
Price: $9.01 for a self-designed sandwich with turkey, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onion plus a bottle of Evian water.
Stress level: Moderate to high. The menu has a confusing layout, but we appreciate the opportunity to dress up our sandwiches however we like. Make sure to bring cash—no credit cards are accepted.
Office-jealousy index: Low to medium. The roasted, carved turkey does smell good, and the name is good for a laugh.

Nooshi Takeout

1120 19th St., NW; 202 293 3138; nooshidc.com

Lowdown: This postwork happy-hour spot also has a next door takeout service  where premade sushi sits in a fridge. If you’re in the mood for noodle or rice dishes, you can order them to go from the restaurant menu, too.
Line time: 6 minutes, 11 seconds. Impressive given that we ordered fresh sushi. It would have been quicker and cheaper had we stuck to the premade rolls.
Price: $23.07 for a sushi platter—with two pieces each of toro, salmon, and scallops plus a California roll—and a Deer Park water. Prepacked sushi runs from $4 to $8.
Stress level: Low. Takeout menus are everywhere, and the line is single file. You walk in, you grab a menu, you order. Why can’t it always be this easy?
Office-jealousy index: Medium. Sushi is intrinsically cool. Just make sure you’re comfortable with chopsticks.

Greek Deli

1120 19th St., NW; 202-296-2111

Lowdown: Greek entrées, falafel, and gyros in a tiny storefront.
Line time: 7 minutes, 13 seconds.
Price: $19.23 for a gyro, moussaka, and an Evian water.
Stress level: Moderate. The line is long but speedy and is filled with regulars who order with intimidating familiarity and speed. But owner Kostas Fostieris is very friendly behind the counter, making newcomers feel welcome.
Office-jealousy index: High. Open up your container of spanakopita and let the aroma drift around the office. Entrées come with orzo, a Caesar salad, and green beans, so you’re going to have plenty of food.

Potbelly

1900 L St., NW; 202-478-0026; potbelly.com; several other downtown locations

Lowdown: Reasonably priced sandwiches make branches of this Chicago-based chain some of DC’s busiest lunch spots.
Line time: 7 minutes, 49 seconds.
Price: $7.87 for a ham-and-Swiss sandwich and a chocolate milkshake.
Stress level: Low. Although lines frequently snake around the store and onto the sidewalk, the menu is clearly posted. Some locations even have live music and a roving order-taker to expedite the process during peak hours.
Office-jealousy index: Minimal. You went to Potbelly. So did everybody else.

Naan and Beyond

1710 L St., NW; 202-466-6404
Lowdown: Tandoori chicken, samosas, and chicken tikka sandwich wraps in the heart of the Farragut Square neighborhood.
Line time: 11 minutes, 45 seconds. The line stretches out the door and often beyond.
Price: $13.78 for four samosas, chicken biryani, and a bottle of Geyser water (enough food for two).
Stress level: Moderate to high. The line takes a long time, but customers are still expected to move quickly. It helps to come in with an idea of what you want.
Office-jealousy index: High. Those samosas are among the best lunch treats we’ve tried. Coworkers will lick their lips as you happily decide which chutney (mango, mint, or hot) to use for your final bites.

What downtown lunch spots should we hit for the next installment? Let us know your go-to lunch spots in the comments.

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