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Pam Grant: City's best fast (good) food

Christmas shopping can be hungry work, but fast food doesn't have to mean something you would be embarrassed to tell your jogging buddies you ate.

Christmas shopping can be hungry work, but fast food doesn't have to mean something you would be embarrassed to tell your jogging buddies you ate.

The following list offers affordable choices for lunch downtown, in many cases for less than $10 before tax and tip. All have vegetarian options.

Please note that service is quicker if you can avoid the office rush from noon to 1 p.m. and some are open in the evening. Hours and days of operation vary, so please call for details to avoid disappointment.

FOO

Craving Asian street food? Look no further for a selection including potstickers, pakoras and pad Thai loaded with bok choy and tamarind-braised pork and prawns. Butter chicken with steamed jasmine rice and fry bread spiked with a hint of smoked chili and coriander will leave you rejuvenated from the tip of your tongue to your toes. Please note Foo is open evenings from 5 p.m, but lunch is limited to weekdays. 769 Yates St., 250-383-3111.

PHO VUONG

Few things have the restorative power of a bowl of well-made soup, and Vietnamese pho is particularly magical. A bowl of broth loaded with fresh herbs and noodles with steak, meatballs, flank or brisket, and crunchy bean sprouts will keep you full for hours. Chicken pho spicy crab noodle soup will satisfy non-red-meat eaters. Don't like soup? Rice noodles with shredded pork and grilled chicken or a shrimp and papaya salad will fit the bill. 622 Fisgard St., 250-590-7687.

PIG

Good news for fans of the noble pig. Though the team at the original location of this eponymous eatery proved good things come in small packages, the spacious new digs at the corner of Johnson and Blanshard haven't diminished the quality. Sandwiches stuffed with pulled pork, smoked chicken or brisket not enough for you? Try some ribs or fried chicken with cornbread and slaw or beans. 1325 Blanshard St., 250-590-5193.

PUERTO VALLARTA AMIGOS

This colourful truck is parked at the beginning of Yates Street most days. It's strictly take-out, but at six tacos for $6, you can eat as you walk somewhere else for coffee and dessert. Try quesadillas or tacos filled with beans and cheese, tender beef barbacoa, grilled chicken with onions and peppers, pulled pork or soy chorizo marinated in homemade guajillo chili paste, or potato and spinach with tomato salsa. Ay caramba! 500 Yates St., 250-514-5362.

DUTCH BAKERY

If you have a sweet tooth, this is a safe place to beat it into submission. Triple-layer sacher torte, cherry tarts and handmade chocolates are my favourites, but there are myriad baked goods to tempt you. This is also one of the last places to make a real triple-decker clubhouse sandwich, with roast turkey and crisp bacon -- perfect with a cup of soup. For the ultimate comfort food, try veal croquettes with hot mustard. Closed Sunday and Monday. 718 Fort St., 250-385-1012.

AYO EAT

There's a little corner of Indonesia in Market Square. It only has one table and that's outside, but eat here and you won't be thinking about your surroundings for long. Skewers of chicken satay with sweet soya or peanut sauce are perfect walking food, or find a seat below in Market Square and enjoy spectacular coconut-scented beef rendang with rice, spicy hand-cut potato chips and pickled vegetables. Family recipes and food made with love and respect. Closed Tuesdays. Market Square, 140-560 Johnson St., 250-509-4231.

SIDE DISH RESTAURANT

Shake off the winter with some hearty Persian food. Try osh -- a hearty soup with noodles, spinach, lentils, chick peas, kidney beans, parsley, mint and cilantro.

Vegetarian qhymeh with eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and yellow peas in tomato sauce will satisfy, as will gourmeh sabzi, a fragrant stew of beef, leeks and kidney beans perfumed with fenugreek. Closed Mondays. 1008 Langley St., corner of Broughton Street, 250-477-9995

SHIZEN SUSHI

One of Japan's greatest inventions, the bento box is a sensible combo lunch. Choose from chicken or beef teriyaki, tempura, ginger pork, agedashi tofu, chicken karaage or more with rice, miso soup, green salad and a little fresh fruit. A comprehensive list of sushi and sashimi, rice bowls and noodle dishes round out the menu. If the tables are full downstairs, try the more traditional seating on the upper level. 1706 Government St., 250-381-8228.

DEVOUR

The menu changes daily, but expect sandwiches like caramelized green apple and brie, or roast beef with horseradish cream on baguette with salad, or bouillabaisse groaning with ling cod, mussels, sausage and fennel in saffron broth topped with crostini and rouille.

Save a little room for blackberry Cinzano sorbet, cardamom-roasted banana ice milk or pumpkin pie ice cream. 762 Broughton St., 250-590-3231.

AEGEAN CAFE

Duck into the alley just past the corner of Fort and Douglas for a quick trip to the Mediterranean. Soups are freshly made, bread is baked daily and wraps are big enough to make you think twice about eating all of them -- though you will.

Chicken souvlaki is mouthwatering, the tzatziki has a kick, as does the Greek salad with a whisper of chipotle.

Closed Sundays. 731B Fort St., 250-381-3221.

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