Downtown Minneapolis workers heading back to the office this summer are discovering that the price of lunch — like most other things these days — has gone up.

Kira Brown did a double take when she came back from parental leave in April and her lunch of a burger, fries and a drink from Five Guys rang up to almost $20.

"I've definitely noticed the prices have gone up," she said one day after finishing lunch at another eatery.

Before the pandemic, she estimates she spent more like $10 to $11 on lunch most days. So now she tries to bring lunch from home, or she pares back on things like ordering fries when she does eat out.

In the Twin Cities metro, food away from home — in other words, food at restaurants — spiked 8.5% in the past year. That's roughly on par with the overall level of price increases residents are facing on a whole host of prices.

With the inflation in food prices, we hit the skyways in downtown Minneapolis on a recent day to see if we could still find some lunch options for under that traditional sweet spot of $10 — after tax. It wasn't impossible to do, but it was definitely easier to find if you don't add a drink.

Salads at the skyway hotspot Green + The Grain now start at between $11 and $14. And that's before tax. So, that one is definitely not a contender. (Still, it often has lines snaking outside its doors, so most customers don't seem to mind.)

If you just want one slice of pizza, you can get one at Broadway Fast & Fresh at U.S. Bank Plaza for $6.65 with tax. If you wait until after 2 p.m., you can get $1 off a slice, too. So, if that's enough to fill you up, you'd still have room to add a drink and still be under $10.

But if you want one of Broadway Pizza's $9.99 pastas or salads, that rings up to $11.06, not including a drink.

At Jimmy John's next door, a worker said it wasn't easy to stay under $10, but you could do it if you downsized and ordered a "little John," chips and a drink, which rings up to $9.18 with tax. A regular-sized sandwich, though, with chips and drink, comes up to $12.73 with tax.

At Afro Deli, you can get a lamb gyro for $9.49 with tax. And it comes with fries or a salad. If you add a can of soda, it comes to $10.77.

Sorrento's Cucina, a mainstay in the skyways for 30 years, just reopened its location in the CenturyLink building a few months ago. (Its other location in the Northstar Center is closed.) Owner Martino Virgillo said that his prices have risen about 20% while his costs have gone up about 30%.

So, while an average order at his restaurant used to be in the $8-9 range, it's now closer to $11.

"Most people want to stay in the $11 or $12 range," he said. "They don't want to go to $15. But some people do."

His bestseller is his daily special of pasta, which comes with bread, for $9.99 with tax. If you want to add a protein, such as meatballs, it's an extra dollar. If you add a drink, too, the total comes to $13.35 with tax.

"That's a good portion," he added. "When people are hungry, they come here. That's our reputation. We don't skimp."

But he added that he has other options for under $10. He offers half portions for $7, which would still leave you room to add a drink. And you can get a cup of soup for just $4.50, which comes to about $5 with tax.

The buffet at Kadai Indian Kitchen also reopened a few months ago. It's a couple dollars more than before, now coming in at about $15 with tax.

But customers aren't complaining, an employee said, adding that most people are just happy it's reopened.

You won't spend $10 at Walkin' Dog, the only place still open in the ground-floor food court in the Northstar Center.

"Well, you can," owner Dave Magnuson said. "If you get two of the better dogs, chips and a milkshake, that will get you to $10."

But a more typical order, for two dogs and a drink, comes in at around $7.

Magnuson hasn't raised his prices since the onset of the pandemic. (He only closed for about six weeks in the spring of 2020.) That's not because his costs haven't gone up. They have. Some of his customers have even suggested he should raise his prices like so many other places have.

He would have raised prices by a quarter or so, but he didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars to replace his signs and menus with higher prices, especially since he knows he will have to close temporarily when the building is remodeled.

Updating menu prices seems to be an issue that others are facing, too. On a recent day, a couple of other lunch spots downtown had either blacked-out prices on their menu boards or a note to say that updated menus with new prices would be coming soon.

Michael Wyatt, who lives and works downtown, estimates that prices at most skyway lunch places have gone up about a dollar or so.

One of his go-to spots is Sushi Takatsu in the Baker Center. It has a daily sushi bowl special for $7.95. If you get a drink with it, the total comes to $9.96 with tax.

"The sushi bowl is one of the best values — absolutely," Wyatt said on a recent day while waiting for his order.

That's why, he pointed out there's often a line that snakes out about halfway down the corridor at peak times.

It has good prices, and, he added, good sushi.

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