Manchester's Most Underrated Lunch

Lala's Hungarian Pastry may have the best deal in town

The beef goulash lunch at Lala's Hungarian Pastry

Tucked away on Elm Street amid flashier joints like Thirsty Moose Taphouse and Queen City Cupcakes, there sits a small cafe with a secret: they might just have the best lunch deal in Manchester.

Lala's Hungarian Pastry has been serving up Eastern European specialties and a mouthwatering spate of desserts since 1997. You may have discovered their pastry counter during their two-decade run, but, despite their sweets-centric name, Lala's savory dishes are just as worthy of your time — especially if you're thrifty.

The full-meal menu is always affordable, with dinner plates hovering at around $10, but their real budget star is their $5 lunch menu. As the title suggests, this menu (offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) consists of a few classic dishes sized down for lunch and priced at just $5 a pop. Not only is this one of the cheapest meals you'll find on Manchester's main drag; it's also one of the heartiest. Though smaller than the dinner portions, these are full plates loaded with food, including both a main dish and sides. You can find sandwiches in the downtown lunch rush that will cost twice as much as these meals for half as much food. Sure, goulash and stuffed cabbage may be a little heavy to eat every day, but, as we head into winter, this low-cost comfort food should absolutely be added to your Queen City dining roster.

On my recent visit, I opted for the beef goulash. Lala's does the Hungarian favorite to perfection, with tasty egg noodles, sizable helpings of rice and carrots, and paprika-spiced beef so tender it practically fell apart at first forkful. The meal was just what the doctor ordered on a dreary Wednesday afternoon, and I left the cafe thrilled that I'd paid so little for a meal that left me totally full.

That "I can't believe what a steal this is" attitude drew me to the pastry counter on my way out, where I ordered a box full of sweets so I could toss a bit more well-deserved money into the Lala's coffers.

The Dobos torte and beigli poppy roll, both Hungarian recipes, were interesting new additions to the cake and ice cream-heavy dessert offerings downtown. The Dobos (that's DO-bosh) is certainly decadent, with its towering layers and glossy caramel finish, but still not overly sweet; the beigli, meanwhile, is unlike any pastry I've ever had, with a near cookie-like pastry and complex poppy seed filling. My favorite dessert, though, was the raspberry square — massive, buttery, and loaded with enough tangy berries to surely sneak in a full serving or two of fruit into my pastry binge. 

Lala's staff, with mild Eastern European accents, are diverse in their offerings. I stuck to Hungarian dishes this time to honor the eatery's name, but several more nations are represented at Lala's, both on the menu and in the decor. Maybe on my next visit, I'll trade Budapest for Vienna and Bucharest with Austrian schnitzel and a chocolatey Romanian amandine.

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