The Historian’s Lunch

Congratulations, readers: you’ve made it to spring break! This post is written for everyone about to embark on short archival research trips (but that doesn’t mean you have to skip over it if you’re stuck in one place). I’ve always found that while I’m researching, it’s nice to have an idea of what food places are nearby for those lunchtime moments when I emerge, ravenous, from manuscript rooms around the country.

Austin, TX

If you’re by campus…

Head to Hai Ky Cafe for noodle-y goodness. I’d tell you how the various dishes are, but I always get the #96. If it’s pho that you’re after, go to Pho Thaison just next door. Now, I know that it’s already getting warm in Texas, but you’re going to have to go ahead and trust me when I say that a steaming hot bowl of soup, garnished with heaps of Thai basil and a few jalapeño peppers, will make you feel cooler once you head back outside. If you’re hell-bent on getting something cold, Oishi Japanese Fushion, located across the street and inside of Dobie Mall, offers surprisingly good sushi at decent prices.

Up the street from Dobie Mall is Fricano’s Deli—some people swear by their sandwiches. I myself tend to wind up at Foodheads, which is a bit further away. Their daily sandwiches are always interesting, and their pickled cucumber salad keeps me coming back. Of course while you’re there, you can also check out Salvation Pizza next door, which makes a mean Hawaiian pizza.

Just north of campus, Crown and Anchor has reliably good burgers (I hear their veggie burgers are good, too), and lots of interesting beers on tap. Check out their daily beer specials.

If you’re up for a longer lunch break, head to Clay Pit if you think you can keep your eyes open in the archives after downing a full helping (or three) of Indian buffet. Up on North Lamar, Titaya’s Thai Cuisine has some of the best-priced lunch specials. Last time I was in Austin they were closed for construction, so make sure you call to see if they’ve reopened. If they have, let me know so that I can live vicariously through you when you order their Pad Kee Mao and homemade ginger tea. Alternately, you can go to Trudy’s and get their baked avocado stuffed with chicken—not recommended if you’re watching your weight—or to Tacodeli, which makes really great pork mole tacos (as well as delicious breakfast tacos).

Finish up lunch with some of the strongest iced coffee you’ve ever had from Cafe Medici, and then head back into the archives.

Boston, MA

If you’re doing research at the Massachusetts Historical Society, do yourself a favor and head to Pho Basil. Scratch that. If you’re anywhere near Boston, do yourself a favor and head to the MHS so that you then have an excuse to go to Pho Basil for lunch. Once you get there, order the Bo Kho, a spicy beef lemongrass soup, and leave feeling calmly content about everything—even the state of your research progress.

If Thai food isn’t your thing (and it should be clear by now that I’m a little obsessed, so apologies for that bias), you can always check out the fare on offer at the Whole Foods cafe nearby. Or, you can pick up a sandwich-on-a-bagel from Pavement Coffee House, and head over to the MHS for one of their brown bag lunches. If you’re staying further afield, make a stop at Dave’s Fresh Pasta before heading into the archives, and break for one of the world’s best sandwiches come lunchtime.

London, UK

If you’re going to the British Library for research, you’re already in luck because their café offers reasonably-priced sandwiches (the eggplant and the curried chicken salad choices are good options), as well as delightfully-named cookies called jammy dodgers. London has also become increasingly adept at providing delicious coffee options, and the espresso on offer in the café will get the job done.

To be honest, because London is so expensive I tend to relegate my eating out to dinner. So let’s pretend that you’ve had an astounding day of research and are now in need of some serious refreshment.

If you’re feeling indecisive, walk to Goodge Street, where the array of options should set your mind at ease. Signor Grilli provides very good thin-crust pizza. If you’ve always thought you hated anchovies, give them a try here and see if they don’t change your mind. If you’ve received good news about a fellowship, or just need a reason to celebrate something, head down the street to the Salt Yard. Their charcuterie options are delicious, and I still think about the time they convinced me to order their flourless chocolate cake paired with Pedro Ximenez.

If you’re in London and skip out on Indian food, you’ll have committed a major crime. For cheap eats, venture just around the corner from Signor Grilli to Sagar, where you should be able to eat a full vegetarian dinner for under £10—no mean feat in that city. If you’re feeling as though you want meat, take a bit of a walk to Salaam Namaste, order yourself any combination of lamb and eggplant, and go to bed with a stomach that thanks you.

I have nothing helpful to say about the food on offer near the National Archives (or the PRO, in old school terms). Resign yourself to food that’s not so great.

Salve your sadness on Sunday, the universal day off when all the archives are closed, by working up a big appetite. Take a walk along the Thames, go hang out at the Tate Modern, and then make sure you end up in Chinatown before about 3 p.m. Let your feet carry you to the Golden Dragon, where you should unashamedly order as much dim sum as you think you can eat. The siu mai are particularly good, as are the xiao long bao (or soup dumplings).

New Haven, CT

If you’ve arrived in New Haven and are spending some time at the Beinecke—first things first, send me an email and say hello.

Then, prepare yourself to contend with the debate over the pizza here. Perhaps attempt to solve this problem by staying long enough to sample all the options, including the mashed potato pizza at Bar and my favorite, a pizza from Pepe’s topped with garlic, and then half pepperoni and half anchovies.

Once you’ve sampled those options, you can go to Caseus, New Haven’s cheese shop, for lunch, where any and all of their lunch specials will serve you well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the delicious options, the mussels are always a good back-up plan. If you’d like to try an interesting take on falafel and shwarma, go to Mamoun’s; the food won’t disappoint, though service can be a bit slow. Post-archives, Anna Liffey’s makes a decent burger, and there’s trivia on Tuesday nights.

New York

I always get stuck trying to talk about food in New York, because as a New Yorker I tend to know the food from my neighborhoods the best (which have been nowhere near the NYPL). So let’s pull a London again here, and talk about your options for once you’re done researching for the day.

Get yourself up to 106th street on the west side and go to East Dumpling House. Skip all options except the dumplings, and prepare yourself to burp dumpling burps for approximately the next six hours. Worth it.

While you’re in the area, check out Taqueria y Fonda for really great Mexican food that slaked my cravings while I lived away from Austin. If you ask, they’ll even let you buy some of their in-house-made tortilla chips.

If you need a snack, stop in at one of several Gray’s Papaya hot dog locations and order a Recession Special—two dogs and a juice. The piña colada is particularly good.

Philadelphia

First off, if you’re going to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, make sure you check their list of temporarily unavailable collections to make sure you’re not visiting at a bad time. Too late? At least you can comfort yourself with the delicious food nearby while you work on a back-up plan.

The xiao long bao at Dim Sum Garden are some of the best I’ve ever had. They’re on the menu as “juicy buns.” Get the pork and the pork and crab options, but skip the fried option as the soup inside dries up too much. Smokin’ Betty’s will provide you with pretty good barbecue, and their specials are always worth checking out.

If you’re headed to Van Pelt, near Penn, to look at special collections there, make sure you sample the array of food trucks in University City. There’s a set of them behind the gym, and another group up on 38th street. My favorites are Koja, the Korean food truck, where I get their spicy beef stir fry with rice, and Tacos Don Memo, where you can order 3 tacos for $7.

It’s also worth checking the Twitter feed for @PitrucoPizza. They’ve got a pretty impressive wood-fired pizza oven hitched up to a food truck, and they update their location by lunchtime. Everyone will be jealous if you bring your pizza to a brown bag at the McNeil Center.

Richmond, VA

Doing research at the state archives? Check out Pho So 1.

Savannah, GA

David Shields has already covered the options for the SEA conference blog, here.

Washington Crossing, PA

Get really good pizza from Gabriel’s, and for your mid-afternoon or post-archival snack, take a drive to Newtown, where you can find coffee, ice cream, and baked goods at the Zebra Striped Whale.

Washington, DC

If you’re at the Library of Congress, you can always check out the options at one of the Congressional cafeterias. There’s also a respectable Thai place nearby, called Thai Roma. DC also offers a plethora of delicious Ethiopian food. I like Meskerem, but if you change your mind once you get there you can always go across the street to Amsterdam Falafel.

This list is by no means comprehensive, so please feel free to add additional suggestions in the comments. Happy eating, and happy researching!

6 comments on “The Historian’s Lunch

  1. My favorite archival food discovery is about a mile and a half from the Library of Congress. One evening, I took a foot trip through Chinatown and, on a whim, ended up in a shop called Wok and Roll, a Chinese-Japanese fusion restaurant at 604 H Street NW. The food was good, but what was really fun was noticing a historical marker as I entered. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of the Mary Surratt Boardinghouse.

  2. Some great suggestions here, Rachel.

    A few more for those doing research in Center City Philadelphia, especially near the Library Company and HSP.

    I’ve long been partial to Minar Palace, an Indian restaurant with a nice lunch buffet just a block away from LCP/HSP on Walnut St. Santa Fe Burrito on 11th (btwn Locust and Walnut) is good, as is More Than Just Ice Cream on Locust. For coffee, you could try Cafe Twelve (guess which street!). Tons of other good places, but I’d add those to the list.

    In Washington Crossing, there’s also fantastic ice cream, tomato pies, and fried chicken at It’s Nutts!, which is just across the rickety bridge (make a left on NJ Rt. 29). [Special hint: I also usually get gas at a station right at the traffic light from the bridge at 29 because it's 30-40 cents cheaper than Pennsylvania gas.]

  3. PCH says:

    How could you forget the Clements Library in Ann Arbor? Lots of good food in that town, if you get away from campus over to Main Street.

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