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Travel the World on the Charm City Circulator Purple Route

Thai Yum
Thai Yum - Steve Ruark
It was a cold Wednesday in November. I packed up my tote bag and umbrella, crossing my fingers that the wind wouldn’t pick me up and blow me away.
I was heading out to tour the ethnic eats on the Charm City Circulator Purple Route
As you may recall, I braved a 100-degree summer day to sample everything from Cajun food to crab in Locust Point and the Inner Harbor on the Banner Route. Once again undeterred by the weather, my journey this time took me on the Charm City Circulator Purple Route. It travels the North Charles Street corridor up to Penn Station and down through Light Street to Federal Hill, offering more international restaurants than the other lines. You can call it the United Nations of the Charm City Circulator routes. [For a complete list of eateries, see the sidebar.]
I hopped on the bus at North Charles and Pleasant Street and surveyed my options: Indian at Lumbini Restaurant; Turkish at Cazbar; Irish at Mick O’Shea's; Thai at Ban Thai; and, Italian at Sotto Sopra. Walk a couple blocks west and get a bowl of Pho at Mekong Delta Cafe at 105 W. Saratoga St. Note that they are cash only and closed on Mondays. But it is a damn fine bowl of Pho, a Vietnamese noodle dish with either beef or chicken, plus fresh herbs, thinly sliced onions and bean sprouts.
Just past the monument the culinary world gets bigger with numerous Indian, Pakistanian, Tibetan, Nepalese, and Himalayan luncheon buffets at Akbar Restaurant, Kumari Restaurant & Bar, Mughal Garden and Indigma for around $11.
If you yen for some Zen, there are five Japanese restaurants serving sushi in NOLO — North of Lombard — and the same goes for SOLO — South of Lombard. Most of the restaurants offer luncheon special with bento boxes, sushi or teriyaki. Alas, my foray further north was put on hold due to the busted water main break at Charles and North Avenue. 
  If you yen for some Zen, there are five Japanese restaurants serving sushi in NOLO � North of Lombard.
I’ve been curious as to how many locals ride the free buses for lunch.  Charm City Circulator bus driver Dartagnan Douglas said there are a handful of riders every day who use the circulator bus for their lunchtime culinary forays. When I asked Dartagnan, where he would like to have lunch on the Purple Route, his response was “Bill’s.” It turns out that he is referring to Bill Tien’s Matsuri, a popular sushi spot in Federal Hill.  I used to go there a gazillion years ago for soup and sushi when I worked nearby.
I also learned that that during the summer months, bus riders are approximately 30 percent tourists and that percentage drops in half during the winter.
Either way,  “riders are very appreciative,” Douglas says.
At the Light Street and Conway stop we switched drivers. It was but a few more stops to Light and Ostend Streets. I walked up to Cross Street and Light Streets, where more ethnic eats await: Maria D’s, a pizza and sub shop that sells some Greek items; Kiku Sushi and Wok & Roll for Asian cuisine; Byblos Lebanese Cuisine; and, Mexican eateries Elvis Sandwich Shop, No Way Jose Café and Blue Agave
Let me highlight Blue Agave’s lunch special of two courses for $8, which starts at 11 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m. It is open seven days a week. Choose soup or salad for your first course and an entrée of jalapeno beef sliders, pulled pork sliders, chicken tacos, black bean tacos, and chicken or bean enchiladas.
I decided on Thai, however, and flipped a coin to decide between Thai Arroy and Thai Yum Restaurant. Thai Yum won the flip. Lunch runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., except on Tuesdays when they are closed. Owner Tom Chungkasoon played host that Wednesday, and lunch was delicious, tasty and served in a timely fashion. 
The steaming hot bowl of Chicken Tom Yum soup erased the raw weather waiting outside its doors. My second course was the Lad-Na with jumbo shrimp; sautéed rice noodles and mixed vegetables in a garlic ginger soy gravy for $11.50. 

There are many fine restaurants on the Charm City Circulator Purple Route that don't offer lunch or ethnic cuisine. There's the Prime Rib, Ryleigh's Oyster, B&O American Brasserie, Sascha's, Bluegrass Tavern, the Rowhouse Grille, Langermann's on Light, the Brewer's Art, City Cafe and many others. 
While the weather gods weren’t kind to me, the food gods were. I hope you find the same and discover your own ethnic culinary treasures. Happy eating!
Dara Bunjon has a passion for food – its origins, preparation and consumption. Her passion became her business Dara Does It. Her rants, raves, reviews, reminiscences, and recipes can be found regularly on her Dining Dish and Dara Does It blogs. 

All photographs by STEVE RUARK
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