With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sad City Guide To Downtown Lunch: The Sit Down Spots

So you've moved up a couple rungs in your career and no longer do you have to rely on the Sad City Guide To Quick Downtown Lunch to acquire, consume, and return to work within an hour. No, with a little more time on your hands, you might want to enjoy a nice sit down lunch, that won't break the bank, but will allow for some time with colleagues and friends over more than a sandwich.

You're a little more established, but thoughts of grandiose success and glory have long since retreated with youth. You're body isn't as tight as it once was, but your paychecks have acquired some heft. You drink good wines and expensive whiskeys, but the hangovers are much worse. You're more concerned about taxes and education, but your idealism has faded. You've accepted the fact that the promotion to New York isn't coming and you're going to be grinding it out in the hollowed out husk of downtown Hartford for the duration of your professional career.

It's just the natural order or things. As Phil Simms once said "once my brain figured out what I had to do, my body couldn't do it anymore."

But this is about lunch it Hartford, so without any further ado, we present the latest Sad City Guide:

Salute was opened by a break away faction of the former Hot Tomato's restaurant. There's differing stories of what, why, and who, but they hardly matter for out purposes. Salute is one of the best lunch options available. While paying restaurant prices for pasta dishes is a personal pet peeve, Salute's offerings make it worthwhile. The sandwiches are burgers are always very good. The strawberry salad is excellent for those looking to stay light on their feet the rest of the afternoon.

Check out the Hartford Food Guy's full review here.

Salute is quite popular with the lunch crowd so make a reservation, especially on a Friday. You'll have no chance of getting in without one. The outside patio makes for a perfect people watching spot in warm weather.

Arch Street Tavern:
Arch Street Tavern is an interesing place because you literally have no idea what might be going on there on any given night. Mondays Arch Street features big band swing music, on a weekend night you might find dubstep, the latest hot dj, the Beat City Beauties, or a rock cover band. It's Hartford's entertainment equivalent of buckshot.

We've heard Arch Street was once the spot for power brokers to lunch. It makes sense given the proximity to City Hall and the Federal Court. While the lunch scene no longer attracts the powerful, Arch Street still offers up a solid lunch in a great tavern ambience. The burgers are our favorites.

Vito's By The Park
Vito's has the misfortune on being an Italian spot right next to the much ballyhooed Salute. This makes for a tough and unavoidable comparison. What Vito's does have going for it is some really good pizza and a nice raw bar. That said it's confusing as to why a lunch menu would have an extensive pizza selction, twelve pasta dishes and yet only two sandwiches.

While the inside of Vito's is nice, the atmosphere can feel too old-fashioned, in a stuffy kind of way. We had terrible service last time, but we are pretty sure (or at least hope) it was the dudes first day. Go with the pizza or raw bar.

City Steam Brewery
City Steam would gain bonus points for brewing their own beer. But this is in the lunch category. We don't know about you but we're yet to get so jaded where we need to drink during lunch, so alcohol options do not factor into these ratings.

Where City Steam scores here having a menu that is through and through solid. From salads, to burgers, to pork sandwiches, City Steam is through and through solid. The waffle fries are excellent.
Not too mention the usual lunch hostess is pretty much the best looking female in Hartford. So good looking it makes you think "you must be in the wrong city."

Vaughn's Public House
Vaughn's serves up traditional American pub fare with some Irish dishes thrown in. We've had lunch at Vaughn's a couple times and while we don't have anything to rave about, we certainly don't have anything to complain about. A solid option.

Rio Grill
Rio is a newer entrant in the downtown scene. Rio is different from most in that you pay for your food by the pound. Rio is a South American style grill specializing in meat, lots and lots of meat. While salads and sides are available, the pay by the pound system makes it a losing proposition to stock up at the salad bar. If you like meat, lots and lots of meat, this is the place to sit down and get your carnivore on.

The Tavern Downtown
The Tavern Downtown always seems to fly under the radar. Not the loudest of the fanciest of bars or kitchens, it seems to get forgotten. For us it's the "hidden" gem of downtown. Excellent burgers and sandwiches, killer mac and cheese, great booths. The Tavern Downtown is one of the better lunch options around.

Trumbull Kitchen
For a sit down lunch Trumbull Kitchen is hard to beat. Our favorite dish is the seared tuna salad, but you can't go wrong with anything on the menu. One of Hartford's most popular restaurants, you're best off making a reservation.

Apologies to the places we missed, we can't be everywhere.


  1. Good call. I'm a little disappointed with Vaughan's but it is very true, no complaints but nothing to rave about...EXCEPT THE BAKED POTATO SOUP. By far the best freaking thing on the menu.

  2. Can someone, maybe Hakaan, explain what ever happened to the Hartford Food Guy??

    He stopped writing reviews out of the blue, 7 months ago....has he fallen off the face of the earth?...or maybe he packed up and left for another amazingly exciting Connecticut city like Waterbury, Norwich or Stamford?

  3. Great list! If you guys like sushi, you should also check out Feng. They have some great lunch specials and on different days of the week, they knock a couple bucks off certain bento boxes.

  4. @ #2: HFG said he was taking a break months back and never came back. He's around town as far as we know

    @Tianna: Great call. Didn't even think of Feng for lunch! One of the best happy hours out there

  5. You haven't lunched until you have had lunch at On20, the old Polytechnic Club located on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler Building.



    You will drop an entire paycheck, but it is worth it, at least once in a while. Go with your significant other, or a group. Chef Jeffrey will treat you very well.

  6. Peppercorns Grill has a $12. Daily Lunch Special along with special lunch entrees , regular menu and extensive wine list, free wi-fi, free parking in lot left of restaurant after 2pm and easy on street parking and a lot..private room for business lunches 357 Main St Htfd , a sometimes forgotten gem in Htfd

  7. Dish Bar & Grill has good salads and sandwiches. The sweet potato fries are awesome!

  8. The best bang for the buck is at Bocca Rossa (lunch for about $10). Great panini and their thin crust pizza is the best downtown. When I want to splurge, i go to Feng.

  9. I vote Steam. I am jaded enough to drink the beers at lunch so that puts it on par with Salute and better than TK due t price and the chill crowd that TK lacks.

  10. Eats at The Wadsworth. Where else can you have lunch with Picasso and Monet?