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Microsoft cafés dish up world-class dining choices

When it's time to eat, the only hard part is trying to decide

A busy morning eases toward the noon hour, and a steaming bowl of pho is calling your name. Or maybe it’s the fresh Lummi Island salmon, or that unforgettable burger covered in Guajillo cream cheese and bacon, a choice that might be a little indulgent — but totally worth it.

Wait, today there are kimchi tostadas with marinated tofu?

Lunch at Microsoft: It’s never an easy decision.

Nearly two dozen dining venues on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, offer so many culinary choices that soggy sandwiches are often “forgotten” in the fridge at home. And the food’s only half of it. Do you want to dine in the setting of an upscale restaurant or a woodsy lodge? On a sunny patio or at the edge of a stream?

Here are our top five places that draw big crowds daily and the reasons why.

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The Commons, and its centerpiece, the Mixer, offer a way to get a few errands out of the way and make your belly happy at the same time: It’s a bustling hub of retail shops and services. Sometimes, there’s even live entertainment. Pick up something delicious from one of the many restaurants and score a table outside.

Favorites here are the Lunchbox Lab’s James West Burger — the aforementioned cream cheese and bacon temptation, which also has a cowboy steak rub, BBQ sauce and onion rings on it — and Post Alley’s house-made pastries, along with the pho noodle soup at Typhoon!, the banana pudding at Chandy’s Natural Café and the California burrito at Acapulco Fresh.

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Sometimes you just need the comfort of a hearty farmer’s breakfast, even if morning has come and gone. You can get eggs, pepper bacon, handcrafted sausage and hash browns, or other rotating breakfast specials, until 2 p.m. at Café 121. There are also plenty of healthy options, from a nutritious smoothie from Evolution Fresh to a made-to-order salad topped with fresh-roasted meat or vegetarian options. Still, the most popular item here is the all-American burger. The turkey club sub is another favorite.

Building 121’s dining area also has several new stations that make it stand out from the rest: Palate serves up banquet-style global cuisine such as leg of lamb, beef stroganoff and pork carnitas; Urban Kitchen’s rotating guest chefs dream up all sorts of tasty treats (braised short ribs and truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, anyone?) and Flatbread serves up daily varieties of this distinctive style of pizza.

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The Café in the Red West F building is designed to have a forest lodge feel, with wide eating areas to dine alone or with a dozen of your closest colleagues. The most popular lunch picks are the cuisine at Adobe Flats, which serves up carne asada, chipotle grilled chicken and more, as well as House of Yoshi’s sushi and Napoli’s made-to-order pizza. Other choices abound, including Indian and Thai food, burgers, a Chef’s Spotlight that changes daily and a giant salad bar.

The coffee shop upstairs serves Starbucks Reserve coffees — billed as rare, distinctive coffees roasted in small batches in Seattle — using the Clover brewing system that some coffee aficionados seek out. As you can probably tell, coffee is serious business here. Take a cup to one of the café’s patio tables overlooking a lush landscape with a soothing stream.

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Microsoft’s newest Redmond café has a large patio and a mouth-watering array of food choices, including three concepts that aren’t found anywhere else on campus: Northwest Dock has seasonal and local fresh seafood, such as Lummi Island salmon, and chowders made from scratch. The Coop’s specialty is free-range Draper Valley Farms chicken, and Above the Bread uses local cheeses and house-roasted meats to make open-faced artisan sandwiches.

Other occasional options in Café 83 include the “big kid” grilled cheese – a cheddar, pepper jack, tomato and avocado sandwich that comes with or without pork belly – and a spicy soba noodle and tofu salad. The most popular lunch is The Coop’s deluxe spicy chicken sandwich, though the top selling item among Microsoft’s caffeine-loving employees is the Americano.

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At Building 34, there’s always something tempting to try. The popular street food trend takes on some creative flair at Street Eats, where ever-changing offerings include mini bánh mì sandwiches, poutine, kimchi tostadas and sushi. In other stations, specialty pizzas, a huge salad bar and Evergreen Plate’s locally sourced options may complicate your decision. Each station has vegetarian or vegan picks each day, along with some lower-calorie items.

Café 34 is also where you’ll find Microsoft’s first full-service restaurant in the Pacific Northwest, in.gredient. It’s as fancy as the lower-case and stylishly punctuated name would suggest, offering a rotating three-course rotating menu. All of this yumminess is attached to the building where many Microsoft execs work, but the sleek dining areas are for all employees.