Cheap Eats: $10 (and Under) Finds at North Market Downtown Columbus

  |     |   LifeStyle


Written by Taylor Meredith of Columbus Underground 

I love a farmers market. I walk around slowly, look at everything, sample everything, buy what I don’t need, make small talk with friendly vendors, and smile at people’s dogs.

I also love a food hall. Think Budd Dairy (1086 N. Fourth St.) with its multiple bars, cafeteria-style layout of community tables, and range of cuisine options all under one roof. (Technically one of the bars is on the roof, but you get my point.)

So you can imagine my excitement when worlds collide, when the farmers market meets the food hall in a one-stop-shop experience. Enter the North Market downtown (59 Spruce St.), where food, drinks, fresh produce, poultry, flowers, jewelry, spices, sauces and more are all rolled into one.

I was giddy the first time I stepped inside the North Market and laid eyes on the narrow aisles and neon signs. It was lunchtime on a weekday and people were squeezing by each other and tilting their faces up to read the menus overhead. Businesses sat shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see. This place has spirit, I thought. And food. Lots of food. 

However, where there is excitement over an abundance of options, there’s also an impending sense of FOMO that will rear its ugly head the second you place an order. With such a variety within easy reach, you would not be faulted for looking over your shoulder at what could have been, even while something delicious is being cooked up in front of you.

 

Luckily for those of us in Columbus, a visit to North Market can be a regular occurrence, allowing us one opportunity after another to try everything the market has to offer. Still, it never hurts to have someone ease the burden of decision-making a little. Especially if you’re looking for very affordable options or, as we like to call them, cheap eats. That’s where I come in. 

Our first stop is Lan Viet, a Vietnamese restaurant started by the Le family back in 2010. Their menu includes traditional favorites like phở (a soup dish made with a 24-hour simmered broth, rice noodles, sliced meat, onions and herbs) as well as rice and noodle bowls. 

What really stood out to me, however, were the $8 Vietnamese subs, also known as bánh mì. Choose from several proteins, such as grilled chicken and Vietnamese ham (Chả lụa), or keep it meat-free with their veggie soy ham option.

Each sub comes with pickled daikon (winter radish) and carrot, cucumber, jalapeño and cilantro. I was pleasantly surprised at how the pickled daikon and carrot added a sweetness to an otherwise savory experience. There was also the occasional kick of heat due to the small pieces of jalapeño. Every bite delivered something special, lighting up different areas of my taste buds at once. 

The bánh mì would have been a satisfying lunch on its own, but I noticed egg rolls on the menu and couldn’t resist. I placed an order which came with two for $4. I did not share. 
 

Next up is Hot Chicken Takeover, located on the second floor of the market in its own enclosed corner space with plenty of seating. 

As the name suggests, Hot Chicken Takeover brings the red-hot, spice-coated taste of Nashville hot chicken right to Columbus. You get to choose how hot you want to go, though. Heat levels range from “cold” to “holy” as in “holy [expletive] that’s spicy.” They have wings, drumsticks, thighs and tenders, with good ol’ southern sides such as “ma’s mac” and baked beans. 

Stop by for lunch Monday to Wednesday between 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. to take advantage of their new $10 lunch special. It includes three tenders with fries and your choice of either sweet or unsweet tea. Spicy and I don’t really get along, so I ordered my tenders “cold.” Even then I still noticed a slight kick, but no complaints here. It was just enough to make things interesting. Plus, the meal is served with white bread and pickles to temper the heat a bit.  
 

Now, Lan Viet and Hot Chicken Takeover are, of course, just two of many “cheap eats” options at North Market. There’s also Firdous Express, which has pita sandwiches like gyro shawarma and falafel, all for under $8. Their veggie platters, such as the roasted veggie dish (served with rice, Greek salad and pita), are all just $9.50. 

Willowbeez SoulVeg has brunch items through 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. These include french toast with candied walnuts and bananas ($10), a vegan sausage sandwich with Just Egg and “cheez” ($8), and smoked out “cheezy” grits ($5). 

Want to surrender to your sweet tooth? There’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which needs no introduction. The sweet, nutty smell of their buttercrisp waffle cones have no doubt already demanded your attention on one occasion or another. 

I ended up wandering over to The Pastry Factory, where I got two vegan cupcakes for just $7. There are also cookies, brownies, pies and cakes on the menu, with gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan options available. Their cupcake flavors were particularly eye-catching, which is how I ended up with both elderflower guava and chocolate mint. Choosing between the two of them was just an unfair decision that I refused to make. 
 

North Market has deservedly earned the title of a “Columbus staple,” a place you have to show off to visitors the second they get to town. It’s also the perfect spot to take a group. You won’t be hemming and hawing over which one restaurant has a diverse enough menu to satisfy everyone’s needs. The North Market has, quite literally, something for everyone. Leave your FOMO at the door and place your orders with confidence. The market will be there when you return for round two. 

The North Market is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday, and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

For more information, visit NorthMarket.org.

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