DINING OUT:

Once in a while, you come across a restaurant you want to tell all your friends about. Lunchbox is just such a place. It’s a casual little restaurant tucked away in the alley behind the Exchange near the bronze Ben Franklin statue, so it’s no surprise that, even though it’s been there since June, I just found it. I recommend you find it too.

The food is great and the prices are even better. Their motto at Lunchbox is “darn good food.” And they speak the truth. The sandwiches and pizzas are made with locally baked bread, freshly sliced ingredients and sauces made from scratch, all with a “Middle Eastern twist.”

It may sound like a common enough recipe for a successful restaurant, but at Lunchbox there’s more to the story. The popular spot is run by husband-and-wife team Nadine Kalindjian and Sassoun Ashoghian. Every day, Nadine’s brother makes an incredible Lebanese flatbread at his bakery in Pasadena (Panos Bakery).

Normally, it’s used for a Lebanese breakfast specialty called Meneish (toasted bread with olive oil and herb topping). Meneish is good, but Nadine and Sassoun thought the delicious bread had more potential. So they created more than 20 sandwiches and 10 pizzas using the round flatbread as a base.

Every day, a delivery of half-baked bread arrives, and they get to work compiling and oven-toasting customers’ orders. They also offer delicious salads, homemade soups and good-looking pastas. Here’s the unbelievable part — any entree is only $6, including tax!

My husband is a huge fan of this place and would go every day if it were closer to his work. Therefore, we went back a few times and tried a number of items. Here are our favorites.

The Philly cheese steak sandwich is awesome, with thinly sliced steak, roasted green peppers and a creamy sauce folded up inside the flatbread and oven-toasted. Also great is the roast beef and Swiss with lettuce, red onion and horseradish mayo.

I loved the smokin’ Soujoukh sandwich featuring slices of a spicy, dense, Middle Eastern sausage along with slices of dill pickle and tomato — totally unique and delicious. Their bestselling Italian trio and turkey and Swiss with pesto sandwiches are definitely tasty with freshly sliced meats and veggies, but nothing extraordinary.

For extraordinary, try the Pizza No. 2 with basil and fresh mozzarella. The homemade sauce is fantastic. Also the barbecue chicken pizza is the best I’ve had. In fact, all the barbecue chicken choices (salad, pizza, sandwich) are excellent and hugely popular.

With so many choices, it’s hard to decide what to get. I recommend getting the half and half, which comes with your choice of any two — half a sandwich (plenty!), small salad or cup of soup. Then go back regularly for different combinations.

At Lunchbox, they have a frequent-diner program where after you buy nine entrees, the 10th one is free. Participants can keep their frequent-diner cards pinned to a bulletin board in the restaurant so they never lose it. It seems that a lot of local workers take advantage of this.

Their clientele is mostly 30-something urban professionals with cell phones on their belts. It’s an easy place to go for lunch because you order and pay at the counter. Then the food is brought to you at your indoor or outdoor table with bright-green molded plastic chairs.

FYI to the folks who already know about Lunchbox: Recently their menu was expanded. They offer all the old favorites plus a few new sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and salads.

A word must be said about their soups (regular $3.25, large $4.50). They are made from scratch each day and are rich and satisfying. The cream of broccoli has deep essences of broccoli in a creamy but light broth — none of that cheese-clogged stuff you get elsewhere. And their corn chowder is famous for its full-bodied, roasted corn and green pepper flavor with a touch of spice.

The folks at Lunchbox are friendly, the food is homemade and delicious, and you can’t get this bread at any other restaurant. The graphic look of the place is cool, and the menu selection is just what you want in a casual lunch/dinner place.

During the lunch rush, you might have to wait 10 minutes or so for your food, but you can enjoy a soda in the sunlight. You can also call, fax or e-mail in your order in advance. They even deliver in Glendale with a $10 order. And keep in mind, between 4 and 7 p.m. the price of entrees goes down to $5, tax included.


 LISA DUPUY enjoys cooking and eating foods from all over the world.

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