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Let's Do Lunch: Great lunchtime deals let you loosen the belt 

click to enlarge All you can possibly, ever eat at Taj Palace.
  • All you can possibly, ever eat at Taj Palace.
All you can possibly, ever eat at Taj Palace.
In lean times, we all find ourselves cutting corners. Dining out-particularly for lunch-is usually among the first casualties of a slashed budget. It's true, it's easy enough to save and grab a slice or a taco at midday or (gasp!) pack a sandwich from home. But sometimes there's business to take care of that's best done over food, or maybe you just want to sit down for a civilized meal at midday. Well, don't sweat the bill. Bend has some excellent options in a variety of flavors for inexpensive lunch, and it's a great way to get your eat-out fix for a fraction of the dinner price. The maximum cost for two at the restaurants below was $16 (without drinks). So treat that potential client, indulge in a hot meal that doesn't come out of a can. As the saying goes, there's no free lunch. But it's pretty impressive what you can get in this town if you're willing to shell out a few bucks.

Toomie's Thai Cuisine

If you can't find something that tickles you among Toomie's 35 lunch specials, you probably just don't like Thai food. With the exception of a few noodle and rice specials that come a la carte (love the Drunken Noodle), lunch consists of a portion of your dish of choice-from red and green curry to stir-fry to sweet and sour-served with Pad Thai, steamed rice, and salad. The deal is hardly a secret, so it may take a minute to be seated and served on busy days. But turnover is fast, and the $6.50-$6.95 price tag makes it worth the usually brief wait. 119 NW Minnesota Ave., 388-5590.

Aloha Café

Aloha Café, specializing in Hawaiian barbecue, might have the cheapest lunch deal in town. For $5 you get your choice of chicken or pork with rice or noodles and potato-macaroni salad or pineapple slaw (until 1 p.m.). But if you happen to be dining with a companion and you aren't afraid of a mountain of delicious meat, don't mess around. Go for Da Big Kahuna. For $12.25, you get all of the above (no either/or, both of everything) plus tri-tip beef, ribs, and two additional kinds of chicken. One order is easily enough to satisfy for two hungry carnivores. Northwest Crossing, 745 Mt. Washington Dr., 318-KONA. Eastside, Crossroads Plaza, 547 NE Bellevue, 382-KONA.

Taj Palace

If you're feeling both ravenous and indecisive, the all-you-can-eat buffet at Taj Palace is the perfect choice. Entrees range from Tandoori chicken and Tikka Masala to vegetarian options like Aloo Saag (potatoes with spinach and spices) and Dal Curry (lentil-based vegetable curry). With a heap of pakora (vegetable fritters) and samosa, Sambar (lentil soup), bins of basmati rice and nan (flatbread), and a variety of chutney and raita (yogurt sauce) to mix and match, there's no appetite this buffet can't vanquish. As it turns out in my case, all-you-can-eat is one plate, but at $7.95 I definitely got my money's worth. 917 NW Wall St., 330-0774.

Kebaba

The self-proclaimed "Sultans of the High Desert" at Kebaba offer an extensive menu at reduced lunch prices, including appetizers, sandwiches, salads, rice bowls, and soups. The hummous ($4) and falafel sandwich ($5.75, add $1.75 for fries or salad and a soft drink) are great deals, as are the mezza combos ($9.25 vegetarian, $9.75 meat), a sampling of Middle Eastern favorites-a kebab or falafel, hummous, babaganouj, taboule, rice pilaf, and pita. But my favorite by far is the chicken schwarma sandwich ($6.25). I'd pay double for that tender meat perfectly spiced, rolled with garlic sauce, pickled onion, and veggies, but I'm glad I don't have to. 1004 NW Newport Ave., 318-6224.

The Downtowner

For inventive soups, salads, and sandwiches, the Downtowner is the place. Nothing on the menu tops $9, and portions are generous across the board. But the best deal is the Half 'N' Half ($8), a mug of soup, a half salad, or a half sandwich (choose two items) served with a house-made herb roll. Soups rotate but the creamy Spicy Tomato, which is almost always an option, and a half Caesar make a great combination. As a bonus, you get to watch the omnipresent crowd of high schoolers and skate punks tooling around out back while you eat. 852 NW Brooks St., 388-2467.

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