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Many retirees enjoy puttering in the kitchen now that they have the time.  We don’t.  So we devote part of our retirement budget to dining out, which we do about 5-6 days out of 7, mainly for lunch.  

Many plans for eating, at home or wherever, get waylaid sometimes by medical stuff and/or eating preferences.  Ron, a longtime vegetarian,  became a diabetic about 3 weeks after retiring.  Sara can't digest spicy food, and always watches cholesterol.  We crossed out Italian (too many carbs in all that pasta) and cuisines which emphasize spices.  

We find that this leaves us some great choices.   Here’s our rather brief retirement guide to dining in Topeka. 

We had been going to Hunam Chinese long before retiring and are now there 2-3 times a week.  It is truly a family restaurant, and many patrons have been long time customers.  The owners are originally from Hong Kong, and the menu is a pretty eclectic range of good Chinese food.  Sara loves Chinese, having been eating it since she was a very small child (her father was a medical missionary kid born in China).  Mabel works the front in a most sociable and enchanting way; her husband is the chief cook.  This is pretty much Chinese home cooking, not exotic fare.  Sara especially enjoys the 8 Treasures Chicken and the Chicken with Snow Peas;  Ron is heavy on the Buddha’s Delight and the Home Style Bean Cake. We both like Tofu in Black Bean Sauce. Sara gets the Moo Shu sometimes and says the pancakes are perfect.  Ron does some Chow Fun or Egg Foo Young.   It’s all yummy.

 Friends we have been with speak well of the Moo Goo Gai Pan, the Sesame Chicken, Pepper Steak, and General Tso’s Chicken.

We have our meals with tea (Jasmine for Sara and Oolong for Ron); there is beer (no wine or other alcoholic stuff) for those who wish that, and plenty of soft drink choices.
Mabel always stops by the table to chat.  It’s not uncommon to run into friends there.  We usually grab a comfy booth. Lighting is lowered but plenty to see by.  It is simply a very comfortable place. One is made to feel at home.  Mabel gives us kind of a special price, but food there is very inexpensive and portions are huge. Lunches come with  a choice of soup and appetizer as well as the entre. Most lunches seem to be $10 or less, with dinners a bit more. (We almost always carry off a second meal’s worth from dinner portions.)

For Thai food we enjoy Tuptim Thai.  It is a favorite of many for lunch and we get there well before noon to beat the crowd.  Sara’s dining groups regularly go there for lunch and dinner.  We are pretty much regulars there and are greeted warmly when we walk in.  There’s not much turnover among the wait staff there.  We also enjoy talking with the one of the owners, who stops by our table regularly.

Where Hunam is a comfy home feeling, Tuptim has a bit more of an urban feel, at least at lunch.  It is popular, especially for Friday lunch.

Sara generally gets the Tom Kha coconut soup or the Pad Thai; sometimes those are the chicken version, sometimes the tofu.  Ron usually does the Cashew Tofu or the Assorted Veggies.  They have an extensive menu at both lunch and dinner.

It’s often pretty full at lunch but not so much that one cannot have a conversation.  Service in our experience is fast.  When it’s just the two of us, we are not ones to linger over lunches and those who likewise have to get going back to work or wherever like Tuptim because they can get in and out fairly quickly if needed.
Hunam is closed on Tuesdays.  That’s generally our Tuptim day; sometimes Fridays too.  

Tuptim very wisely leaves it to individual customers to choose how hot the food is, running from Mild through Medium, Hot and Thai Hot. Sara gets no seasoning and Ron gets Medium, and those seasonings are accurate when the food comes.  They include a sort of bottomless tea cup, so they’ll refill as often as you want. 
Our lunch for two generally runs around $21, plus tip.

Wednesdays are generally our day for Monsoon Indian Grill.   It is run by a north Indian couple who have other business but started it in part so they could eat all their favorite kind of “home” food.  It is fairly small but quite upscale in atmosphere and gaining in popularity. Monday is the one day that they are closed.

Lunch is mainly a buffet, but customers may also order from the dinner menu. Since spicing is a major part of the cuisine, the owners and their chef have worked with Sara and they make sure she has a good choice from among dishes that can be prepared absolutely mild. Currently she’s alternatinb among Butter Chicken, Chicken Tika Masala or Chicken or Vegetable Biranyi.

The buffet has plenty for vegetarian and carnivore alike and it’s all you can eat.  Ron likes the Veggie Korma, the Dal (lentils) and the Pakora (fried veggies) among other regular offerings.  We really enjoyed the grilled vegetables the one time we ordered them as an appetizer (they did take some extra time to come, since they are done from scratch once ordered).  Sara has recently had the dinner sized grilled vegetables when out to dinner with the ladies, and those were great too. We find the tea rather expensive (priced per small cup’s worth) and we just do ice water.  They have a full bar.  The many varieties of Naan (bread) are terrific. 

Our tab there runs about $27-29 including tax for lunch, depending what Sara orders from the menu.  The buffet itself is $12.95.    

Saturdays for lunch we do Blackbirds, a coffee house/bistro.  Some, like us, come for lunch.  Others nurse a latte for hours and peck away at their computer tablets or phones.  Sara usually goes for one of their wraps or sometimes a Coronado Salad plus side order of flatbread. The flatbread isn’t on the menu board but can be ordered for $1.50, an excellent deal.  Ron is highly predictable:  the Greek Salad.  These are first rate, made to order, and more than ample for lunch.  Sara gets the Skinny Latte (skim milk) and Ron pulls usually a Green tea bag off the rack—it’s Harney tea and pretty good.  Unlimited hot water refills are provided free, and the tea bags last for at least one of those.  
Blackbirds has a wide variety of craft beers, wine and some hard liquor, so there are drinks for all tastes. 

Sara is there after her regular Kansas Humanities Council-funded Topeka Shawnee County Public Library book discussion groups with the gang, and also occasionally with a friend for a mid-day latte. 

It’s a real casual place, a friendly staff and they make a whole lot of cool stuff we can’t/don't eat (giant muffins, large cookies, exotic baked stuff).  But for a lunch which again reminds us of lunches in spots in California and elsewhere, it’s a fine choice. 

Sara also belongs to a ladies dinner group that often meets either at the New City Café or Chez Yasu restaurants.

New City Cafe
has been through a number of owners without losing its special style of food and atmosphere. Sara always enjoys New City’s hard-edged city loft look although it can get fairly noisy. However, since her group always meets at 5:30 pm Tuesday, they usually manage to get the big round table around which they can all make themselves heard. Dinner is table service. The food is pricier than most Topeka places, but still usually comes in at about $40 or less a person, including tip, unless a lot of good wine is included. Definitely worth it!

Lunch at New City is a bit different. Customers pass by what they call their “snazzy retro deli case” to see all the lunch salads and entrees laid out. Soups and sandwiches are also available. A staff member takes the order, which is then brought to the table.  Usual cost, with perhaps a glass of wine – maybe $15.00 a person.

Chez Yasu is the other favorite place frequented by Sara’s two ladies’ eating out groups. Its somewhat unusual name reflects the fact that chef Yasushi Hatasawa cooks classic French, rather than Japanese, cuisine. It’s just off the northwest corner of Washburn University and frequented by many from campus. Prices are about in line with those at Monsoon Grill, so higher end for Topeka, although still quite moderate on any national scale. With a glass of wine, Sara expects to spend about $20 for lunch and something over $40 for dinner. She tends to get one of the salmon dishes, but has enjoyed a number of other menu items, and has never had a clinker. Table service is always outstanding, and the experience generally special.