Your Guide to Being Better at Lunch in 2023

The corned beef sandwich at Famous 4th Street / Photograph by Theresa Regan

Our daily midday meal has completely changed since the pandemic. We used to scarf it down at our desks, grab something with co-workers, or even have — gasp! — lunch dates. Now, lunch is just another chore. Get off the struggle bus. From delivery gems to coffee shops with great menus to chefs’ tips for elevating home-pantry standbys, your lunch game is about to get a whole lot better. — Edited by Regan Fletcher Stephens

The Case for a Better Lunch

Since March of 2020, when COVID-19 uprooted a swath of America’s labor force from office buildings to WFH, lunch has been a mixed bag. Whatever traditions were in place pre-pandemic — maybe dining with co-workers at a coffee shop, or wolfing down microwaved leftovers at your desk — have been upended. While workers are trickling back to the office, at least for a few days a week, the numbers haven’t fully rebounded. As of September, Philadelphia’s downtown foot traffic had bounced back to 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent report by the Center City District, but only 57 percent of office workers had returned.

In a very unscientific survey I conducted of Philadelphians who now work from home, more than 76 percent reported that their lunchtime rituals have changed since the pandemic. Some reported that they now use the midday break to squeeze in household chores that would have been impossible to do from the office, like laundry, while others say they exercise, run a short errand, read, nap, or help with childcare. And while more than half of my respondents report liking their new lunch situation more — the freedom and flexibility, the savings from skipping $14 takeout salads — some long for the old traditions. Keep reading here.

 Coffee Shops With Standout Lunch Menus

Càphê Roasters / Photograph by Ted Nghiem

If the coffee shop is your new office, pick one with a standout lunch. Here are eight destinations with solid sustenance (and reliable wi-fi). Keep reading here.

Anything But a Boring Salad

Kati roll from Masala Kitchen / Photography by Nell Hoving

Out of food? Out of ideas? These spots will remedy your midday blues and they all deliver. Keep reading here.

The New Power Lunch

Middle Child / Photograph by Ian Shiver

The power lunch as we knew it is dead. The term may still conjure visions of pinstriped suits and porterhouse steaks in an era when connections were forged and deals were finalized over the starched white tablecloths of Palm and Le Bec-Fin. But while these hallmarks feel dated, the ritual hasn’t gone away — it just looks different. These days, meetings happen in more casual, accessible spaces, free of the old-school gatekeeper vibe. And even in swankier spots, menus are often more wholesome, with midday martinis replaced by pressed juices and matcha lattes. Keep reading here.

Elevate your WFH Lunch

We asked, they answered. Six pros give your sad midday meal a boost with ingredients already stocked in your kitchen. Keep reading here.

Dear Famous 4th Street Deli, Don’t Ever Change

The dining room at Famous 4th Street / Photograph by Theresa Regan

One of the details I adore about Famous 4th Street deli is how far the dining room juts out into the sidewalk. It leaves just a few feet of concrete to traverse, which must be done single file. It’s a subtle reminder of how long this deli has been around — it was cemented into the city before zoning laws.

When I moved to Queen Village in 2007, it didn’t take long for me to become a regular. For a Jewish girl with New York roots, walking through the door feels like home. The deli smells like my Nana’s kitchen on Passover — and with the Art Deco pendant lights, tiles slick with a century of schmaltz, and immaculate countertops, it kind of looks like it, too. Pea soup and stuffed cabbage are my family’s love language, and I was relieved to discover how much the versions here taste like my mom’s. (Shockingly, she agrees.) I felt triumphant when I turned my gentile husband into a fan; while he’s never going to get excited about kugel, he now loves chopped liver. As a non-practicing Jew, I know a meal here is possibly the only connection my kids will have to my childhood culture. Keep reading here.

Published as “The Lunch Revolution Begins Now” in the December 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.