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Long-distance Dining

Four good excuses for a really long lunch

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unch should be fun. Eating over the computer's keyboard in the name of parsimony and corporate efficiency--regardless of what any employer may say--is not fun. Going out to the same tired restaurants, the four or five cheap eats within a mile of the office, eating the same "Speedy Gonzales" lunch special or any random combination from the local Whole Foods salad bar week after week, can become as tedious as the work day.

The long lunch, if you have the luxury, is a necessary escape once in a while. Especially as the weather warms up, and driving away from work in the middle of a sunny day is a sweet, sweet feeling. Some days you just have to break free from the cubicle walls, drive far from the glow of the computer screen, and opt for a long lunch at some distant dive where nobody knows you.

I suggest driving to Sanford for a taco. Yes, Sanford is more than out of the way; for most people in the Triangle it is out of town--50 miles from Durham and 35 miles from either Raleigh or Chapel Hill. Anyway you slice it, a lunch time trip to Sanford in the middle of the work week speaks more to one's job satisfaction than to the quality of a taco. But there are some really good tacos in Sanford, and Enrique's Tacos (1603 Horner Blvd.) is open on weekends. So, if the weather is warm and the company pleasant, Enrique's is a pretty good place to end up.

Enrique's is a family run operation located a couple blocks down from the red brick courthouse on the main stretch of Horner Boulevard (U.S. 421). It's unassuming--a low-lying brown brick building with a handful of tables, a menu posted on the wall and an adjoining pool hall. The food is standard taqueria fare, traditional tacos with soft corn tortillas, light on the cheese, and your choice of filling--chicken, beef, chorizo, lengua (tongue)--all for $1.50 each. They also have enchiladas, sopa, burritos, and killer homemade salsa verde--which, if pressed, they will sell to you in a small Styrofoam cup with a lid. The true gem at Enrique's though is the horchata, a Mexican rice milk drink flavored with cinnamon and sugar. Theirs is the best around. Enrique's daughter makes it fresh by the gallons and it sits next to the register in a massive glass decanter alongside a sweet drink made of blended fresh cantaloupe and sugar, either of which is perfect for dessert.

Enrique's makes (arguably) Sanford's best tacos. La Jalisco Tienda y Taqueria make (arguably) Sanford's second best tacos. La Jalisco is remarkable mainly for its location, tucked into the back of a tiny clothing store in Kendale Plaza, a line of shops on Industrial Drive, not far from Enrique's. Some say that Kendale Plaza was once referred to as "the world's longest strip mall." This was several years ago, clearly, because Kendale Plaza--which measures about .4 miles on the odometer, or 2,112 feet in length--is now bookcased by a discount movie theater and a Save-A-Lot. It has seen better days. La Jalisco, on the other hand, is thriving and walking in past the children's clothes and men's shoes you can hear the TV blaring Spanish-language programming. The TV is in the back of the store, in a small restaurant with pretty good tacos. Plus, La Jalisco is one-stop shopping; you can have the enchiladas suiza and pick up a cowboy hat or a money order on your way out.

For a more upscale, closer and quieter lunch, Hillsborough's Tupelo's (101 Churton St; 643-7722) is an attractive choice. Die hard Elvis fans know that Tupelo, Miss., is the birthplace of Elvis Presley (Jan. 8, 1935, in a two-room house that's now part of the Elvis Presley Museum). But the tupelo is also a flower, one that grows wild in the Florida panhandle and in the other untrammeled corners of the Deep South. In Hillsborough, it marks the front door of this bistro on the busiest corner of this charming town. (For a really long lunch, ask about the new tavern next door.) The chefs at Tupelo's serve their take on deep south Cajun fare with New Orleans style favorites like oyster po' boys, jambalaya, fried green tomatoes, beans and rice, gumbo and muffuletta. There aren't many places to get muffuletta in the Triangle. The spicy mortadella, capicolla and salami sandwich piled on french bread with a olive tapenade is delicious. Most importantly, the french fries are good and there is a full bar for those who need a drink, with Guiness on tap.

Tupelo's is only a 20-minute drive from most parts of Durham, so it is possible for some Triangle residents to eat there and get back to work in an hour and a half. If you're working in Raleigh though, you probably won't be able to make it out to Hillsborough for lunch. Bossman's Diner, on the edge of RTP right inside Durham city limits, may be more in the ballpark.

For a lot of truck drivers--meaning big rigs, tractor trailers--Bossman's Diner (2806 S. Miami Blvd., Durham; 544-8030) is a matter of convenience, as revealed in one brief conversation with a Bossman's patron:

The Indy: Is that your big rig out there?

Bossman's patron: Why? Did I hit you?

Indy: No, I just wondered if you went far out of your way to eat here.

Patron: Nah, if you have a route in this area, it's convenient. I've been coming here off and on for 15 or 20 years. Not many places you can drive in and park a truck like that.

True enough, Bossman's has a wide open parking lot, and on any given day you can see a couple tractor trailer trucks parked off to the side of the one story blue building, alongside sedans from the IBM employees working less than a mile down the road. Convenient as it may be for some, it is the food--allegedly the world's best biscuits--that has kept people coming to this diner for more than 21 years.

Bossman's is open only for breakfast and lunch, 5:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The restaurant consists of one long room with groups of tables and chairs divided by about 15 feet and a television set. The smokers to the left, non-smokers to the right, with an old television set, rabbit ears almost reaching the ceiling, blatantly favoring the smokers. As Chris Brown, son of Tom Brown, the owner, explains it, most of the regulars smoke, and naturally sit and watch the news with their morning coffee. Things pretty much stay that way for the rest of the day. At lunch time, two lines form, customers are divided by two red and white signs reminiscent of a school cafeteria that read "sandwiches" or "plates." The platter line has five meats--fried chicken, barbecue and country-style steak every day--and an assortment of vegetables: corn, mashed potatoes, green beans and others. A veggie plate runs right under $5 and a meat and two veggies is not much more. Every plate is served with either rolls or homemade hushpuppies. For dessert, there's thick cake with chocolate icing--for only $1. In other words, Bossman's serves comfort food, a meal that gives you the warm feeling of a Thursday night chicken dinner at the Civitan Club. It is a feeling most of us rarely find sitting at work.

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