Name: Tabachines Cocina
Concept: Healthful Mexican food by chef Patricia Zarate, who is also the founder and chef of Homegirl Cafe and Catering, a division of Homeboy Industries (the nonprofit helping former gang members). Lunch is a rotating prix-fixe menu (you can order off the dinner menu if you want to) and the dinner menu includes mole, tortas, cochinita pibil and pozole.
What dish represents the restaurant and why: The entire lunch menu. It's $16 for salad, soup, a rice or pasta, an entree and dessert. This may be the best lunch special in all of downtown L.A. Start by deciding between a house salad (green leaf, jicama, orange, hibiscus sea salt and roasted pumpkin seeds) or the wedge (green leaf, Cotija cheese, roasted poblano dressing). Then choose one of two soups. On Mondays, it's carrot or a tart chicken and lime with rice, peas and jalapeno. At this point in the meal, you will start to get full — but you really need to persevere.
Your roasted poblano rice or penne pasta with zucchini, tomatoes and Cotija cheese will be served alongside your entree. On Thursdays, it's chili chicken or beef brisket. Mondays are two grilled fish tacos with spicy chipotle sauce or grilled chicken (the full menu is available online.) By the time dessert rolls around, which happened to be a plate of mango, plums, cantaloupe, nectarines and green grapes, you'll be happily ready for a nap.
If you can order one more thing, try the roasted corn. It's served off the cob in a creamy lime and chile sauce with crumbled Cotija.
What you're drinking: A tomatillo, apple and mint agua fresca. Or the kale agua fresca made with chia seeds.
Who's at the next table: Ten co-workers are at a long table near the floor-to-ceiling window in the front; two city employees wearing badges, on a lunch break, are talking office gossip over bowls of chicken and lime soup; and a father and son decide to switch plates halfway through lunch so they can both try the fish tacos.
Service: Friendly, knowledgeable, patient — it may take some time to make all those big decisions when ordering lunch — and attentive.
Info: 517 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 489-2950, www.tabachinescocina.com.
My mom insists I'm a good lunch date. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_ .