By Mark G. McLaughlin for SpeakEasy

Anyone who works or finds themselves in downtown Boston at mid-day is usually too pressed for time to partake, or let alone enjoy, a traditional “lunch hour.” Whether they are stealing time from their job, studies, family responsibilities or activities, they are lucky to have half an hour (and often less) free for a meal. They want somewhere where the service is quick and the food is fast, but is not “fast food.” For those who want something more than the colonel, the clown or the king have to offer, here are just five of the Best Spots for a Quick Lunch in Downtown Boston.

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Piperi Mediterranean Grill
One Beacon St.
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 227-7471

There are few restaurants that can boast of having chefs with the credentials of those at Piperi on Beacon Street. Fewer still also offer such a unique, delicious, affordable luncheon menu – let alone one that is tailored for those who have only a short time to enjoy it. Chef Thomas John is a world-class master of the culinary arts as well as a leader in the movement to help restaurants offer healthier food choices. The staff he has trained work with assembly line speed and efficiency to prepare meals to take out, or take to one of their tables, yet somehow manage to do so without sacrificing quality. Piperi offers “create your meal” options for customized salads, sandwiches or rice dishes, which can be built on the fly or ahead of time online or by phone. The menu is composed of dishes and ingredients from all over the Mediterranean, from Moroccan carrots and Kalamata Olives, to falafel and feta cheese, any of which can be added to a salad, sandwich or rice along with steak, chicken or roasted vegetables.

Sam LaGrassa’s
44 Province St.
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 357-6861

Hailed by food critics from so many magazines, newspapers and television stations as the best deli in Boston, Sam LaGrassa’s does its darnedest every day to stay worthy of such praise. This is a rush-in, rush-out kind of sandwich place of the kind found in the movies, complete with a cast of characters behind and in front of the counter. The sandwiches are massive and truly piled high with fresh deli meats, vegetables and all the fixings. Their specialty and signature sandwiches include such delights as Grilled Honey Peppered Chicken, “Fresh from the Pot” Corned Beef and, of course, the Famous Rumanian Pastrami (and that is Rumanian not Romanian), which is indeed famous, and so much so that the deli has a trademark for it. It takes longer to peruse the menu than it does to get served here, although fans know that for a real quick lunch it is best to choose – and dream – long before lunch time.

Central Bistro
34 Summer St.
Boston, MA 02110
(617) 737-1777

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Bistro means “quickly” in Russian – and many cafes in Paris adopted that name when the Tsar’s troops occupied the French capitol at the end of the Napoleonic wars two centuries ago. Central Bistro at Arch and Summer Streets is more than worthy of that name, for it is both a little slice of Paris in downtown Boston, and prides itself on being quick to serve its customers. There is a lovely lunch and dinner menu for those who can sit and savor their wonderful cuisine, but for mid-day their Express Lunch selection is a wonderful compromise that doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Where else can anyone get an express order of beef bourguignon, green pea risotto or shrimp Rockefeller? There is nothing ordinary about their menu, even on the express side. Patrons who come here for a fast lunch very often return for a full dinner service.
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jm Curley
21 Temple Place
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 338-5333

A liquid lunch can be the fastest and most satisfying, and jm Curley offers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of that (along with solid food), including wonderful mixed drinks. Their cocktails include such tongue-in-cheek concoctions as “Dude, She’s Nuts” and “Teenage Wedding.” They go down well while waiting for the Chef’s Backyard BBQ Salad, the Cast Iron Mac and Cheese, the Duck Poutine or one of their burgers. The Pumpkin Patch Deviled Eggs are bizarre, but are much better than they sound (and are enough for a fast, light lunch on their own, or with a salad).

15 West St.
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 423-3600

This authentic Mexican tequila bar and restaurant really knows how to move customers in and out at lunch time, without making them feel rushed. With locations in both South Boston and Somerville as well as downtown, they have the core area of the city well covered – which is especially good as they have dedicated patrons in each of those areas. The enchiladas, flautas, quesadillas, tacos and burritos are far better than fast food taco or burrito joints, and the menu also includes many other hearty items, including short ribs, salmon fillet and the torta abobado (made with seared pork).

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