Evenings for Two

Your guide to romance, fine dining and fun in the Triangle, NC.

Lunch for Two for Under $20


So it’s November. You’re busy, you’re shopping, you’re working and you’re trying to figure out how to keep the credit card from going “TILT” over the holidays. We recommend beating the stress by taking a break for lunch with a friend. But of course you don’t want to stretch your wallet even more. So we went looking for a few local restaurants that have good food and even better value. Here’s what we found:

Fiesta Grill
You might have heard people talk about Fiesta Grill, but have you ever been? It’s more or less outside of Carrboro (but somehow has a Chapel Hill address) and has super fresh Mexican food. In fact, it’s caught the eye of more than one travel writer and appeared in a national magazine or two.
It’s located in a tiny square of a building and you can guess that this might not be the typical Mexican place by the interesting parking lot mix—think pick-ups, priuses and the occasional BMW. Inside, you can order take out (I know someone who won’t make tacos unless they pick up the tortillas from Fiesta Grill) or sit down at one of the six or seven tables. If you sit, you’re immediately rewarded with warm tortilla chips and freshly made salsa.
The menu is actually pretty extensive and includes tacos, burritos, tostadas, chimichangas, fajitas and more. We asked for advice in ordering and apparently one of the most popular items on the menu are the fajitas ($10.95). And now we know why. The tortillas were soft and warm, the meat was perfectly seasoned and the veggies were fresh. We were also recommended the burrito de chile verde ($7.25). When served, the thing was as big as my head; it easily could have been two lunches. For those who want something lighter, try the a la carte menu. It’s a great deal – the list includes items like a taco for $2.50, an enchilada for $3, and a chile relleno for $3. If you’re up to spending a few bucks more, it all washes down very nicely with Mexican beer.

Thai Palace
This place has been in Chapel Hill for 20 years, but only very recently has it been open for lunch. It’s located on E. 54 next to the brand new Fresh Market in Chapel Hill. Inside, the Thai themed décor and white tablecloths belie the strip-mall exterior. The food was very good—a little on the Americanized side, which many diners appreciate—and the day we went most of the tables were full. I had the pad Thai and my dining companion had the seafood noodle soup. Both were extremely generous portions. As a side note, the service was very friendly and we were not rushed at all as we lingered over our rare lunch out. The check came in with tax and tip at $19 and change.

Sarah’s Empanadas
This place is a hang out for the RTP crowd, judging by all the programmer/scientist types populating the tables around us. You could just feel the patentable ideas bouncing off the walls. Anyway, this is another place that celebrated a 20-year anniversary in 2008. And judging by the people lining up to get in, I think they’ll stay in business another 20.
In case you were wondering, empanadas are pastry crescents filled with savory stuff like meat, cheese and vegetables. Technically, Sarah’s are Bolivian empanadas but I have to admit that I’m not educated enough to differentiate among global empanadas. What I can tell you is that the pastry is flakey, hot and baked. They are stuffed with nine melty filling options like chicken and cheese, beef and cheese and spinach with cheese. There’s a fresh salsa that’s served as a condiment with all. Order two with a side to fill you up ($7.50). And if for some reason it doesn’t, they’ve got dessert empanadas too.

Red Lotus
This article was almost called “Strip-Mall Surprise” since three of the four restaurants happen to be located in one. Red Lotus is tucked into the one off Elliott road on the side near the intersection of 15-501. The cool thing about this place is that every single item on the menu is available as a lunch special. You get whatever your heart desires with your choice of soup or egg roll for $7.50. Add a soft drink or your favorite hot tea and add a buck to the total. In addition to Chinese restaurant classics like General Tso’s Chicken, sweet & sour chicken or pork and moo goo gai pan, the menu also includes pan-Asian favorites like red, yellow and green curry dishes, Thai basil and a number of noodle dishes. The restaurant has a long bar at the front and serves beer and wine. Another bonus if you eat at Red Lotus – you can stop off at LocoPops for dessert.

More Info

Fiesta Grill
3307 Hwy 54 West
(at the intersection of White Cross Road, 5 miles west of Carrboro)
Closed Mondays

Thai Palace
1206 Raleigh Road
(across from the Glen Lennox shopping center in Chapel Hill)
(919) 967-5805

Sarah’s Empanadas
5410 NC Hwy 55
(Greenwood Shopping Center in Durham)
M-F from 11-2pm

Red Lotus
239 S. Elliott Road

This article was originally published in the November 2008 issue of Southern Neighbor.

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