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Lunchtime in Boulder is a sacred thing. Will you pedal around the Rez and back? Will you hoof it up Sanitas? How will you spend your blessed midday hour (OK, maybe two)?
Among the many activities competing for your time is, of course, eating, and there is no shortage of award-winning fine dining (with ridiculous west-facing views, to boot) in Boulder. But you shouldn’t have to pay dinnertime prices at lunch when speed and efficiency matter more than nursing a three-course meal or browsing a leather-bound cocktail menu. For fast-casual experiences that don’t sacrifice on quality, look no further. Below, our eight favorite lunch specials in Boulder.
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Curry n Kebob
If this eatery was an appetizer, it’d be a samosa: far tastier than its nondescript exterior suggests. Tucked in a strip mall behind the Movement climbing gym on 28th and Valmont, Curry n Kebob dishes up entrées like tandoori chicken, shrimp and roasted kobacha pumpkin, and chana saag (chickpeas stewed in a spinach sauce) with a heaping pile of basmati rice, four quarters of buttery naan, an onion baji (fritter), and a daily dessert special—all for $11.50 at lunchtime. Order one of 10 entrées at the front, choose a spice level (ranging from mild to extra-hot), then pick a table where your overflowing thali will meet you shortly. 3050 28th St., Boulder
My Neighbor Felix
It’s like a Panera you-pick-two, but way better. At My Neighbor Felix on west Pearl, select a starter (like a Mexican Caesar salad or bowl of green chile) and an entrée off the eatery’s dinner menu for just $14. A popular option is the Americano tacos—ground beef, three cheeses, salsa roja, shredded lettuce, avocado, and cilantro in a flour tortilla—but you also can’t go wrong with the jalapeño and chayote Aztec bowl or chorizo and green chile flautas. (Editor’s note: Last time I dined at My Neighbor Felix for lunch, I spied Deion Sanders. Epic fail: I did not ask him what he ordered.) 901 Pearl St., Boulder
The homemade pastas and bright antipasti aren’t the only things exceedingly buono at Il Pastaio on Arapahoe. So is the lunch special: For $13, select an entrée (there are always three lasagna dishes and a ravioli option, but others switch in and out) and a side dish like garlicky Brussels sprouts or scalloped potatoes, which are served alongside a freshly baked roll and a green salad topped with warm beans. The in-house pastas and sauces are available to buy in bulk, too—should you want to recreate pranzo in your own kitchen. 3075 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
You’ll wish all lunch was served in boxes after tasting Japango’s $14 bento—one of the best deals on Pearl Street. Only available from noon to 2 p.m., it features a daily entrée like Japanese shrimp dumplings with a four-piece California sushi roll, mound of vegetable tempura, miso soup, green salad, and a cup of white rice. For only $2 to $3 more, you can swap the main for a meat or salmon teriyaki. Draw your lunch out if you can—happy hour starts every day at 3 p.m. 1136 Pearl St., Boulder
Score food truck prices when you visit this truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant at lunchtime. For less than $12, you’ll nab any taco duo of your choice, plus rice and beans. Narrowing down your selection to two is the hardest part: Verde’s traditional menu of al pastor, carne asada, and carnitas fillings runs deep, but inventive options like ahi tuna (served on a wonton shell with cukes, radishes, bok choy, and ponzu sauce) or creamed corn and kale (with Tajín seasoning and queso fresco) are hard to pass up. Find Verde only a few doors north of Curry n Kebob. 3070 28th St., Boulder
Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage
You can’t have traditional New York–style pizza—thin-crust round pies made from dough that’s proofed for three days—without a lunch special for slices. At Audrey Jane’s, just a hop, jump, and a skip north of Pearl on 13th and Alpine, $12 nets you a signature slice, salad, and drink. The Spicy Pig variation and its medley of meat and roasted jalapeños is lauded, but you can’t go wrong with any of the classic flavors like margherita or amatriciana. Eat on the patio or, for the true New York experience, fold your ’za into a taco and nosh on the go. 2675 13th St., Boulder
Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar
Let your lunchtime roll right into 2 p.m. happy hour at Hapa on Pearl Street. A midday menu includes a mix of Japanese- and Hawaiian-inspired bowls and sushi specials starting at $16, and each entrée comes with miso soup, rice, greens, and sautéed vegetables. It’s the best of both worlds: You get the fresh fish, upscale ambience and downtown experience Hapa is known for—without the blaring electronic dance music and general din characteristic of the restaurant at dinnertime. Lunch at Hapa is pleasantly chill. 1117 Pearl St., Boulder
Pica’s Mexican Taqueria
No, this deceivingly spacious east Boulder strip-mall restaurant doesn’t have a traditional “lunch special” like others on this list. But what Pica’s lacks in midday deals it more than makes up for with easy rush-hour parking, a bright interior, a cute backyard patio, and an array of reasonably priced Mexican eats—plus an all-day Monday happy hour. Order zesty taco dishes like Baja fish (beer-battered, deep-fried cod with creamy lime cabbage, chipotle salsa, tomatoes, and cilantro) or al pastor (achiote-marinated pork that’s roasted with pineapple and onion and topped with white onion, cilantro, and tomatillo-avocado salsa), which are served with rice and beans and delivered quickly to your table (there’s always room). Most taco entrées start at $13. 5360 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder