In grade school, carrying a lunch box with the latest cartoon action figure or teenage pop idol was a sure way to assert your coolness and keep your snacks in line. Now, a new eatery near UNLV is capitalizing on the nostalgic allure of the portable lunch with an atmosphere and menu straight out of your grade school cafeteria.
The Lunch Box opened its doors Monday to college students and university-area frequenters, offering a simple menu with what owner Joseph Moore refers to as "elementary" food items like hot dogs, sandwiches and salads served with a side choice of chips, coleslaw or fruit cup. With the highest-priced option on the menu a $4.95 salad special, even the prices are in keeping with cafeteria fare.
However, the tiny restaurant nestled next to Yayo Taco has at least one menu item you're not likely to find on local lunch trays: Chicago-style hot dogs. Individually served for $2.99, even broke college students can afford all fixins'.
"The Chicago style [comes on a] steamed poppy seed bun, and the toppings are yellow mustard, neon green relish, onions, tomatoes, a pickle spear and hot peppers with a dash of celery salt on top," describes Moore of his dogs, which also are offered in a soy version upon request.
The Lunch Box was inspired by Moore's own college experiences trying to track down good food without having to dole out a lot of cash.
"When I was in college, you just wanted cheap prices for a great value and that's something I wanted to bring. I thought the college crowd would be a great place for that because you get sick of dorm food and orange chicken and cheeseburgers."
- The Lunch Box
- 4632 S. Maryland Pkwy, Suite 20
Although modest on the outside, the decor of The Lunch Box is where the trip down memory lane really begins. Vintage lunch boxes fill the shelves, featuring old cartoons, board games and music heroes from Moore's personal collection of classic pails.
"I didn't start until within the past few years, but the one that I had that I don't own anymore was the GI Joe [lunch box]. If I could get that again that'd be it," says Moore, who's also accepting lunch box donations. "I was able to get some from 1983, the Care Bears and the Rambo one."
Though the eatery has been open only a couple of days, but Moore says he has already seen customers relate to the childhood cafeteria staples.
"We've had customers come in and point and say, 'Yeah I had that!' It's fun to see something light up their eyes."
The lunch boxes aren't the only things in the restaurant that stir up memories. The vintage concept is executed throughout the menu, too, right down to the drinks and desserts.
"We're trying to push a lot of the glass-bottle drinks to go with the nostalgia feel, and we're trying to push for pure sugar cane sodas as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup," Moore says.
The sweets come from Bread Merchant, the same local bakery where Moore gets his buns: "The cupcakes... if you went to school with a lunchbox maybe you'd get one of the Hostess ones, only this is extremely better. It's the best cupcake. There's nothing mechanically done or any additives. It's straight-up chocolate and eggs and the filling is delicious."
While it may be a slight disappointment to discover the meals themselves don't come served inside an actual lunch box, Moore assures he's already contemplated the idea, and possibly sees it in the restaurant's future. One Chicago hot dog, please, in the Transformers lunch box.