Affordable lunch north, around Braker & I-35?
I've tried to do some looking here on CH to see if anyone has any favorites that are relatively close to the area, but haven't come up with much. Been working up here for a while, and as far as I can tell the options are not too great. Being ON 35 tends to be more limiting than helpful, due to the amount of time you have to spend at the associated lights, turnarounds, and the limited east-west roads with access if you decide to strike out latitudinally on anything but a main road.
Anyway, basically looking for recommendations for some new staple destinations. Here's what I've found so far.
Burgers: Ross' Old Town Cafe @ Lamar just north of Braker. Sort of a greasy, down home comfort food cafe. Bottle Caps (sliced, fried jalapenos) and the bacon cheeseburger are personal favorites.
Burger-Tex @ 183 & I-35, northwest corner (technically closer to Georgian Dr). Seems to be asian-run, so they have a few different burgers than your standard fair, including a bulgogi burger. The buns are notably tasty, and you fix the burger yourself at the bar.
Coffee: Teo's @ Parmer & I-35, inside the HEB. I'm a coffee-holic, so I was pretty stoked when they opened up here. Don't know of a single other coffee joint that's not a sbux/Seattle's Best in the area. They also have some pretty smashingly good gelato. Unfortunately they also seem to have some terrifically high churn at the north location, so sometimes the results (especially if you order a blended drink, as my lunch-hour-mate typically does) can be spotty.
Asian: There is at least some decent variety here. For Vietnamese I'll usually go to Pho Saigon @ Lamar, south of Braker in the Chinatown Center. Service is regularly abysmal, but the food is pretty much the same every time, fairly good.
For Chinese I typically go to Wok on Fire in the same center. To my uneducated eye they seem to have a mix of somewhat more traditional dishes as well as a selection of the more Americanized counterparts. As terrible & stereotypical as it is, I'm totally addicted to their orange beef; it's stellar.
I'm not really sure how to categorize this one, but Express Teriyaki & Grill @ Lamar, just north of Rundberg is another frequent stop. Unfortunately they recently increased their prices, so it's not near as good of a deal as it once was. Seems to be owned by a Japanese(?) family. The husband prepares the sushi, which seems to be a bit different than normal. I guess I would say that ti's a bit... larger, and more leisurely packed? It's not really falling apart, just... a bit loose. They do have some original rolls that are ridiculously tasty, and the lunch specials are good as well. The best standard dishes they offer for lunch are their bulgogi.
Unfortunately, neither me nor my lunch-hour-mate are particularly familiar with any of the asian languages, so we'll need at least a barebones explanation of dishes in English - something we learned the hard way at the Mongolian BBQ in the same Chinatown Center.
So far that's about all that I've found. There's of course a slew of chains up in Tech Ridge, which can do in a pinch. What I'd probably like to find the most is some sort of deli. There's of course Subway and Quiznos around here, but it would be nice to have a smaller place with simple, fresh ingredients. And maybe a chicken salad sandwich that's not atrocious.
I haven't been over there in a few months but the wal mart shopping center used to have a pretty good indian vegetarian cafe. On Braker just west of Lamar is a new vietnamese restaurant that was pretty good also. Same center has a thai place but I haven't tried it yet. Also how about Andiamo (italian) at Braker and Rutland? Or Food Shui on Parmer just a half mile or so west of Lamar? It's an asian hybrid but likely better than what's at Tech Ridge. You didn't mention Freebirds at Tech Ridge but you must've found it by now!
The vegetarian indian place is Bombay Express, and it's great for a quick lunch. Get the daily special for $6 something I think.
Also the newer non-vegetarian indian restaurant in the same center is decent but not great. It is called Rangoli Grill.
For really cheap sandwiches, you can go to Lily's or Baguette Express in the Chinatown center. The sandwiches max out around $3.
That may be their dinner menu in the window. It's a little pricey, and the ambience doesn't really warrant that kind of pricing. However, there are things on their lunch menus that are fairly reasonably priced (if you're not ordering drinks, apps, dessert). The few times I had dinner there, I thought the food was good, but not exceptional. The lunch I had there was terrible. I ordered the Pollo Piemontese and the "white wine sauce" was more like a brown roast beef gravy from a cafeteria. One of my dining companions ordered their lasagna special, and said it tasted like Stauffers. The kicker was that our waiter disappeared after dropping off the ticket and never came back. One of the guys in my party had to go hunt down the hostess to run our credit card. Since a couple of us had to get back to work, this was particularly annoying. We haven't been back since that visit. I'd say it's better at dinner time, but still over-priced. You're not missing anything if you can't make it to lunch there.
Oriental Grocery (Braker, just west of I-35)
small buffet with Filipino dishes like roast pork, beef/oxtail soup,
eggplant-pumpkin-bitter-melon stew, and mung beans w/shrimp.
Exotic Thai (Braker, just west of Lamar)--larb (ground pork, cilantro, lime juice), tilapia
First Chinese BBQ--wonton noodle soup, rice plates w/chicken, BBQ pork, roast duck
T&S Seafood Restaurant--Singapore rice noodles
Le Soleil--squid salad
La Parilla--chiles rellenos, costillas (ribs), tortas (sandwiches), horchata
Swad--veggie Indian; thali (sampler plate)w/paratha is usually quite good; huge dosas
Shalimar--hearty Indo-Pak lunch & dinner buffet; meat dishes, incl. goat karahi
Saigon Market--stewed pork w/egg, chicken, greens, melon/squash soups, tofu w/tomato
At Saigon Market, you can get your fill for under $5.
At Exotic Thai, you might go over $10, esp. if you get the delicious thai tea/coffee.
At the other places, you can keep it under $10 at lunch.
Warning: most of these places are grungier than the ones you mentioned!
I work in a similar area (several places along North Lamar between Kramer and Parmer), and though I try to bring my lunch on most days, I treat myself a couple of times a week to local establishments.
For what it's worth, I consider myself a foodie, chowhound, or whatever. I don't necessarily like the distinction, but I feel that good, authentic food does not have to be expensive, and is almost always cheaper than any chain options. Additionally, supporting local, family restaurants is good for everyone...
(I recent days I have started eating meat again after almost 9 years. Thus, I am kinda freaking out about my additional opportunities...)
Chinatown Center -
TC Noodle House - okay. reasonably priced. The veg soups I have ordered there have been good and cheap. I assume they start with a veggie broth, and when you order it they add the vegetables. The veggies have been a little undercooked, but at least they were fresh. A good, filling meal. Good for your head too, if congested. This place is super clean, and has a nice, modern ambiance. The staff is great too. (As a working-class white dude, often wearing paint/grease covered clothes, they are cool and accommodating.)
Lily's Sandwich - as many have said, the appeal of this place is the prices. Unbelievable. Makes one wonder how they make a profit. Seriously, all things considered - labor, food costs, rent, etc. I don't know how they do it. I have had both the veggie and fish sandwiches. I have not eaten here lately because the tofu has been frozen the last few visits and the fish option was not fit for consumption - imagine sardines out of a can covered in MARGARINE, with cilantro, carrots, cucumbers, and soy sauce. I have been making an effort to eat the 'real deal' but I don't get this. I respect the Vietnamese palate, but borderline gross. sorry guys.
Baguette House - Really cool. Clean, modern, and happy vibe. This place is the PERFECT example of a proprietor that wants his joint to succeed. I have been there twice, and he remembered me after only one visit. The first time I had the cajun shrimp sandwich - perfect really - bread was chewy and tender, and still smelled of it's beginnings a few hours before. On my second visit, I got a little more adventurous - I took the owner's advice and ordered the sandwich of vietnamese ham, and pork pate. I just couldn't do it. Can't fully embrace the meat thing. Though I admire the fact they use a home made mayonnaise, it proved too much with the pate.
However, and most importantly, (as described above) this place embodies what EVERY restaurant should be - an owner genuinely interested in the customer, enthusiastic about the menu, and happy to offer advice. Sitting there, I watched him. He was this way with every customer.
Check this place out if you have not done so already. Special.
Korean Grill - I have only been there once. Kinda odd. My lunch hour is late, and I go to these places late. I felt like I was intruding on a family meal among the staff and relatives. Over priced. I sat down, yet they prepared my food to go. Miscommunication I figure. A bunch of little containers of kimchi, etc. Bad vibe. Disclosure - I don't think I like Korean food...
Mal Wort Shopping Center at Parmer and I35.
Byblos - As described above, I have recently gone back to eating meat, but regardless... the falafel at Byblos is the best I have ever had. I have eaten it all over the US and Canada, and their version is amazing. Always fresh, crisp, and delicate. They add pickles to it, and it takes it over the top. I go there mid-afternoon, and I often feel I am bothering their post-lunch break, but the Lebanese woman that makes it is always happy to serve, and makes it with care. Under 5.00. I could eat it every day and not tire of it. Local, family-run, authentic, and made by the same people that have invented and perfected it over hundreds of years. Just a thought.
For the record - the Schlotzky's Mediterranean pizza (I have only had it at the Parmer/35 location a couple times) has been transcendent. I know it probably is the result of a frozen crust, etc. but it is genuinely good. Perfect.