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The Lunch Box, Oakland CA

Anyone can make a sandwich, but not everyone can cook their own meats.  The Lunch Box is a wondrous find because the quality of the meat is impressive, and the freshness of the produce, breads, and, well, everything, matches.  It is like most deli/sandwich shops in its layout: order at a counter, and either sit at a tinier counter or take your food to go.  But what keeps a steady flow of customers in the small establishment is the consistency in uber-friendly customer service, speed, and the finest ingredients made and used by expert hands.

wrapped to-go, no matter what

wrapped to go, no matter what

To minimize water and energy waste, foods are packaged in biodegradable or recyclable materials.  Whether you choose to stay or go with your food, it will remain piping fresh until you open it, be it sandwich, soup, salad, wrap, or hot plate.

The gumbo soup had a base of a rich and mildly spicy chicken broth, slightly thickened from the okra (the origin of the name of the dish; gumbo is derived from the Bantu word for okra).  The chicken was tender and juicy, and the plentiful vegetables were still somewhat crisp and not at all overcooked or mushy.  Green pepper is one of our least favorite ingredients, but its use in this soup didn’t phase us in the least and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.

baked ham and swiss

baked ham and swiss

On one of the softest french rolls we’ve tried with a thin crispy, crunchy exterior and soft, chewy inside, came the fork-tender baked ham sandwich.  We got it with all the fixings: choice of cheese, mayonnaise, zippy brown mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and choice of homemade tapenade.  Zach always loves a good ham and Swiss, so that was the choice of cheese.  The tapenades included olive & garlic, sweet pepper, and jalapeño carrot.  It was tough choosing among those, but he went with olive & garlic.  He was a little apprehensive that it would overpower the delicate, smoky, delicious oven-baked ham, but the balance was perfect.

classic rueben

classic rueben

Mexican sodas are making their way into the most unexpected places.  This is due in part to increasing awareness of the issues of hyper-processed ingredients, therefore natural sugar sodas instead of American versions with high-fructose corn syrup are being sought out and embraced.  The Mexican Pepsi, not yet as popular as Mexican Coca Cola, was refreshing with the classic Rueben on soft marbled rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, creamy and tangy thousand island, and the shop’s own corned beef.  The meat was extremely tender, so much that we could bite right through without having to tear away.

roasted turkey hot plate

roasted turkey hot plate

And there’s the Mexican Coca Cola, sabroso and great for washing down this giant hot plate.  For about $8, you get thick, moist, abundant roasted turkey, smothered in savory gravy, on a bed of creamy homestyle mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in, plus a hefty house or caesar salad and a hunk of bread.  Add a side of cranberry sauce, and it’s almost Thanksgiving (yes, you can get a side of cranberry sauce if you ask).  With the house salad we chose ranch dressing, which is house made.  It is very creamy as it is made with buttermilk and sour cream.  The herbs come through as a pleasant aftertaste, with dill being the star of the salad show.

There is a paid parking lot right around the corner that’s “never full,” and while the lots’ and meters’ fees might be a tad bit steep, the surprisingly low costs at The Lunch Box help mediate what you pay for your vehicle.  It’s worth it, though, to drive in for lunch, but if you’re already in the area, you have no excuse not to eat here.

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Food at NASCAR Kobalt Tools 400, Las Vegas Motor Speedway

We attended the Kobalt Tools 400 yesterday, held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Matt Kenseth turned 41 AND he won the race, but we only know because we looked it up.  We really don’t know anything about NASCAR, except that its inspiration is the evasion of law enforcement while transporting illegal booze during the Prohibition Era. With that in mind, we thought we’d use this opportunity to highlight the interesting and different foods and beverages offered.

the strip from afar

the strip from afar

The drive to the stadium took us through Nellis Air Force Base.  We got to see some planes (that August knows nothing about but Zach was able to identify).

warthogs

warthogs

b2 bombers

b2 bombers

coming up on the speedway

coming up on the speedway

Our fabulous hostess Joanie at the Tropicana got us amazing seats between Turns 3 and 4 in one of the Grandstands.  We had a great view of the cars coming ’round the bend and the magnitude of the speedway (capacity is 142,000 people!).

imagine all the people...

imagine all the people…

vegas day 2 049vegas day 2 063Now, let’s get to the good stuff: the food!  We were lucky that many, many food stands were near our section.  Well, with as many people as there were, there had to be lots of food available.

kabob shack's caramel apple blossom

kabob shack’s caramel apple blossom

A sliced apple, homemade caramel, white chocolate, and nuts made a delightful, refreshing, and not-so-guilty dessertish item.  August isn’t typically a fan of apples because all too often she picks the mealy ones, but this was a nice, crisp, juicy apple.

kabob shack's gyro

kabob shack’s gyro

We got a traditional gyro (with lamb and beef), also from Kabob Shack like the caramel apple blossom.  The vegetables were very fresh, the pita was light in texture, and the tzatziki sauce was creamy and flavorful.

nameless asian plate

nameless asian plate

We did not anticipate seeing Asian-inspired fare at NASCAR, but here it is.  This stand had no banner, no business cards, no complete descriptions of their items, but Zach wanted to try the fried shrimp combo plate.  Everything was fresh, and it was a nice change to see this competing with burgers, nachos, and corn dogs.

pioneer pop

pioneer pop

There was plenty of beer, water, and soda, but why bother with the standards when this unique gem was here?  We got a mug of Cherry Wine (soda) from this Pioneer Pop stand run by a headstrong high school senior.

"vegas buffet dog"

“vegas buffet dog”

A “grilled all beef hot dog topped with smoked prime rib, caramelized onions, ‘giardiniere‘ vegetables and creamy horseradish” were served as a “taste of NASCAR” from the joint collaboration of Levy Restaurants and the young men at Pi Kappa Alpha.  There were other types of dogs with names like the Atlanta, the Charlotte, and the Kentucky in reference to other speedways, but when you’re in Vegas, go all the way – hence the Vegas Buffet Dog.

sin city street treats self-serve frozen yogurt

sin city street treats self-serve frozen yogurt

The most awesome surprise of the variety of NASCAR food was the frozen yogurt food trailer from Sin City Street Treats.  We were amazed by the 12 flavors and selection of toppings, but we wanted to taste the frozen yogurt unadulterated.  We got apple pie and dulce de leche, and our taste buds’ first impression was “wow.”  Real ingredients are used, so the apple pie actually has the tartness of a true apple, nothing like apple candy like we were expecting.  The dulce de leche had a mild caramel flavor, so combined with the apple pie it mimicked the flavor of streusel crumble sometimes found on pie instead of lattice.

We never thought we’d go to NASCAR, but we did.  And we never thought we’d find anything besides burgers, nachos, and corn dogs, but we did.  It just goes to show that you can get unique food in the most unexpected places.

A Day in Downtown Martinez, Part Three: Luigi’s Deli and Market

Without a car but with hours to spare on foot while waiting for new brakes, a tire rotation, and an oil change, we walked around downtown Martinez in the vicinity of the repair garage.  We thought about other people who might be drawn here for any number of reasons, since it is the county seat, and we figured, why not find the best places to recommend to those who, like us today, are on foot?  Where can someone walk to for great, quick food?  Today we sampled from three restaurants, to provide a spectrum of what’s not just available, but also great quality.

hot corned beef sandwich

hot corned beef sandwich

Luigi’s Deli and Market was the final stop during our day downtown.  It has had a makeover in the last couple of years since we’ve been here.  Outdoor patio seating and lots of indoor tables accommodate all the people that flock for the fresh sandwiches and deli salads, and Zach noted all the salads looked fresh.  To share, we got a hot corned beef sandwich with all the trimmings: Swiss cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing.  It was grilled on a panini press with Semifreddi’s bread, melting the cheese perfectly.  Ninety percent of the cheese and all the meat served here comes from Boar’s Head; the 10% of the cheese that’s not is special order for customers.  The sandwich was everything you could hope for in a hot, traditional style.  From grilling the bread it was nice and crispy on the outside but not too hard at all to pull through.  The highlight of the sandwich was the corned beef, followed closely by the Swiss cheese.  The meat was very lean, fresh, and not too salty and very mild with the pickling spices.  The cheese was strong and sharp but not overwhelming, as it balanced well with the other elements.  Additionally, the meat and cheese are available for you to buy sliced and take home.

soda mecca

soda mecca

If you are a soda fan, you will be left with your jaw on the floor.  There are over 400 different kinds of soda available, and many of them are from small bottlers that have been open for over 100 years!  Even though this picture shows hundreds of them on a shelf, there is also a cold case so don’t worry, not everything is room temperature.  For the sodas that are, they have an ice machine with cups for you to cool your drink in a jiff.  Not pictured also are the six racks of different potato chips, including baked, low-calorie, and kettle.

With a variety of sandwiches for your hunger, and an even bigger multitude of beverages for your thirst, Luigi’s won’t leave you dissatisfied.