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Great Places For Lunch In Central Massachusetts

deadhorse hill's plate from Worcester's Best Chef Competition in Worcester, MA (Photograph by Erb Photography)

Let’s talk about lunch. Not brunch– often just an excuse to charge more for eggs on weekends by making them sound pretentious. Not breakfastfor lunch, which is fine – good even – but if you want it, go any of the great diners the area offers that are open ‘til 2. And not grab and go – that’s another ever-growing list of choices (from Ed Hyder’s to Living Earth); this isfor lunch, meaning sit down. No, to make this great lunch list, places must offer true lunch menus, be they filled sandwiches, soup, salads, burgers, an entrée or three … whatever floats their creative boats. Oh and it must not just be good but uniquely theirs in some way. This is not the time for Boar’s Head pastrami and bread you can buy at Big Y. Lunch must have a point of view and made to order. It must serve us by serving something that makes you understand why you are there and not just some nameless place that charges half as much. That’s NOT to denigrate any of the good lunch places out there – or the really terrific ones that just missed this list and are alwaysworth a visit like BirtchTree Bread, Lock 50, and simjang – but to elevate the great ones to understand why you might want to bring a client, host a meeting, have a serious discussion, play hooky, or just escape deliciously for a bit on a weekday.

Armsby Abbey

Reveling in the current Worcester restaurant Renaissance and the remarkable rise of the Canal District, it’s easy to forget the place that started it all on Main Street, especially when it comes to lunch. Don’t. When Alec Lopez and Sheri Sadowski and put their stakes down the north end of Main Street, they were rewarded with our praise and love. They have honored that by remaining great for more than ten years and while the menu has evolved and changed, its core and soul remain. Those things are on fine display at lunch without the drinking crowds: Slates of cheese and charcuterie that can feature anything from the unusual (beef heart pastrami) to the easily accessible (serrano ham) or be vegetarian. There’s the legendary Mac n’ Cheese (tip: mix in smoky blue cheese and caramelized onions) and adult grilled cheese, flatbread, and smash burger options that change seasonally. Wash them down with an amazing craft beer on the list that day and you’ll realize the only downside is that when you’re done you feel like curling up like a cat in the sunny windows instead of heading back to work.

Bahnan’s International Marketplace and Café

Most people treat Bahnan’s as a counter for take-out, but it has enough seats to claim a spot on this list. And really we would find a way to include it even if it didn’t have those seats. The beef and chicken shawarma rivals that at the shawarma joints in town. The smoky, silky baba ganoush is the rival of any we have ever had. If you’re lucky enough to be in when they serve eggplant as a dish and there is some still available, don’t hesitate. You need not be a vegetarian to thank us. You’re welcome. Kibbeh, grape leaves, kabobs, falafel, and any of the meat or veggie triangle pies are delectable and expertly prepared. And don’t miss the sides: cucumber salad (with or without feta but go with), rice, pickled veggies, unpickled veggies… what’s not to like? Nothing from the food to the incredible staff and family working the kitchen to the portions, which are simply make a great meal and a great value.

Dacosta’s Pizza Bakery

When Dacosta’s opened, its innocuous section of Millbrook Street was more a cut through road than anything else. There was no Greater Good Imperial Brewing across the street or a Chick-fil-A just down the other. The area was as much a food wasteland as Main Street was when Armsby opened, but the stake was just as important for a section of Worcester that gets little love from foodies. Owner, creator, and chief provocateur Marc Felicio has defied the odds and made Dacosta’s among the best, if not the best pizza in town. The chewy Neapolitan crust loaded with original toppings has its ardent fans and Felicio keeps rotating in new ones. Go for the Uncle Tony’s Roni’s, Mushroom Sally, or Go Fig Yourself – or really try them all, especially his version of the Detroit pizza on Wednesdays. What’s even more surprising is not that Detroit has a pizza history, but that Dacosta’s non-pizza menu rivals its pizza one, including outstanding wood-fired brussels sprouts, delicious Italian wings, and an Italian sandwich that would make Tony Soprano happy. Bonus points for the best game room in town!

deadhorse hill

Are we tired of talking about deadhorse hill yet? Nope. And with good reason. Jared Forman, Robin Clark, Nathan Sanden, and the rest of the team at deadhorse could have just sat back and let the accolades carry them along. They didn’t NEED to keep impressing and evolving. But they did and do for us, which makes this place feel as alive and important as it did when it opened. For lunch, the buzz of the bar and din of the dining room are replaced with a lightness and brightness in the room that makes you feel happy. The list of eight or so sandwiches alone, which have changed on and off since we can remember, are worth eating your way through. One summer visit, a fried green tomato sandwich made you think Worcester was in the south. The fried chicken sandwich is the best in town, and you will never want a regular French Dip again after diving into the open-faced roast beef one here. You can also find versions of dinner mainstays like spätzle. But besides those exceptions, deadhorse is completely different at lunch and that is not just a good thing – it’s a great thing.


With Weintraub’s on the verge of closing, you should know that next door is a pastrami sandwich so good it will make you plotz. And not the lean bullshit pastrami that supermarkets offer from plastic packages but delicious mouth-melting FAT pastrami as G-d intended. God bless you Matt Mahoney and Rachel Coit for making this pastrami love and all your lunch creations available a few days a week. The bahn mi with its Thai-chili bologna and schmear of your chicken liver pate is unexpected and hardly screams Vietnam yet it works. That grief burger may be the best in town. The shrimp and grits definitely is. If we are leaning hard on the meat until that last option, remember Kummerspeck translates to “grief bacon” and the restaurant has a butcher shop in the back with selections of meats (fresh and cured), sausages, and prepared stuff, some of which is on the menu and available to take home so you can do their lunch at home too.

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Vin Bin: Lunch Rejuvenated

Grandma'a Meatball Sandwich from the Vin Bin in Marlborough, MA (Submitted)

Have you ever been sitting at work and dreading the boring lunch you packed yourself? The thought of reheated leftover chicken, or a lazy PB&J is enough to drive you insane. Ok, that may be a bit of hyperbole, but sometimes a changeup for lunch does your psyche good. Let me introduce you to Vin Bin. I think by now it’s clear, I tend to gravitate towards small local establishments that focus on quality and customer service. The Vin Bin fits these criteria, though it hardly fits the “traditional” model of a restaurant. In fact, it may have been the wide selection of craft brewed beer, wine, and artisanal cheese that put Vin Bin on the map, but it was the cafe that stole my heart.

Salad from the Vin Bin in Marlborough, MA (Submitted)
A Seasonal Salad from the Vin Bin in Marlborough, MA (Submitted)

When you walk into the Vin Bin, you will immediately notice a large selection of beer and wine with names you may not recognize. No worries, the staff is plenty knowledgeable and will delight in helping you. Additionally, the Vin Bin hosts beer and wine tastings on a regular basis, which provide customers the chance to expand their own craft brew or vino knowledge. A full list of events can be found on the Vin Bin website, but I wanted to highlight “Burgers, Brew, and Bleus” every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. at their Southborough location. There’s nothing like some good beer and even better burgers to take you to the end of the work week.

Making the Middle East from the Vin Bin in Marlborough, MA (Submitted)
Making the Middle East from the Vin Bin in Marlborough, MA (Submitted)

The Cafe provides a wonderful selection of handcrafted sandwiches, salads, and soups. The Angry Italian comes piled high with Italian meats and cheeses, while the Korean BBQ Pork sandwich arrives doused in gochujang mayo with a spicy daikon pickle. My favorite is Grandma’s Meatball sandwich on ciabatta bread. The tomato sauce is sweet, the meatballs are well seasoned, and the ciabatta bread is perfectly toasted by the panini press. Service is quick and every sandwich is made to order.

Although Vin Bin has three locations (Southborough, Marlborough, Hopkinton), only the Southborough and Marlborough locations have a cafe. Never let a boring lunch let you down again; make your way to the Vin Bin for a great midday pick-me-up or an evening tasting event.