Every once in a very long while I like to make believe I have a little something called willpower. And like most other folks on this planet, I get a surge of confidence in my nonexistent willpower right around January 1.
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Now, I have this thing that tends to ruin most of my plans for healthy eating: zero patience for non-delicious food. Hence I have coined the term "disappointing salad" for those times I attempt to be "good" and order a salad at a restaurant, but end up a hungry, sad bitch after I push around Mount Arugula and shriveled currants around with my fork for 20 minutes. (I'm talking to you, SWIG.) But do I give up? Never. And thus for the year 2013 I've found you a solid baker's dozen of places in town to score a healthy lunch that still tastes great, for days when the words "New Year's resolution" don't taste like acid in your mouth. Oh, and they're all $12 or less.
13. Start Sure, the menu at this Greenville Avenue "slow food served fast" drive-through or sit-down joint can pack a few disappointment land mines, but the quinoa salad and the burger tend to be solid choices for those of us on a calorie budget.
12. Dream Cafe Good ol' Dream Cafe has a healthier option called the Square Meal that I can count on to keep me full with its tasty tahini sauce. And with brown rice, grilled veggies and choice of lean protein, you can leave without wanting to hang yourself from the cafe's monkey bars.
11. Greenz Greenz makes salads, soups and sandwiches using fresh, healthy ingredients, but I'm most impressed by their 400-calorie meals. Combine a cup of one of their lighter soups (I'm a big fan of the turkey chili with its three bean combo and heavy-handed spice) with a smaller portion of salad (my faves include the chicken riviera and the grilled steak salad) with a side of fruit for under 400 calories.
10. Fullosophie For the ultimate in lazy resolutions, make your healthy food come to you. Order up a meal or six of Fullosophie's weekly clean, healthy choices, available vegetarian or even gluten free. This week the girls have a red beet whole wheat pasta with sunflower seeds and goat cheese dish that sounds delightful.
9. Nazca Kitchen The very new South American spot on the block, Nazca features lighter fare like fish tacos wrapped in butter lettuce leaves, colorful ceviche and a broccoli-filled quinoa salad that'll keep you full and happy.
8. Salata Don't be fooled by the mediocre likes of Snappy (crappy!) Salads, Sweet (rotten!) Tomatoes or heaven forbid, Souper (pooper!) Salad (shudder), a salad bar-based restaurant can be both healthy, delicious, and yes, even classy. When customization is a priority, head to Salata, where someone will fill a giant shiny metal bowl with a number of quality ingredients of your choosing until it becomes your perfect salad. Just do your best to skip the delicious breads and get your dressing on the side and you'll have a feast fit for a rabbit king.
7. The Gem Juicing is a fucking mess. I know this because I own a juicer that I use precisely once a month when I'm feeling particularly resolute. But when I'm feeling slightly less resolute, but still resolute enough to drink juice instead of eating, I like to head to The Gem, where they juice things all day for you, without the mess. One special bonus? You can shop for home goods while you sip. Double bonus? They also have solid food. Their menu changes often and you can get a trio of healthy treats (think kale salad, green pea hummus and quinoa) for around $12.
6. Le Jus Le Jus is kind of like The Gem only much more French and much more gorgeous. Oh, and they serve incredible coffee. If you like your lunch sans carbs, dairy-free and served with a side of incredible beauty, Le Jus is por vous. I particularly recommend sampling the sampler plate ($18), and am particularly fond of the Coco soup and egg salad. Oui.
5. Urban Taco There's this lovely salad I like to order at Urban Taco called the Romi. I get it with grilled snapper on top and call it a day. It has slices of creamy avocado, pepitas and a lovely vinaigrette. Just try to resist the cojito, Urban Taco's seductive coconut mojito.
4. Velvet Taco A healthy taco? You lie! But it's true; the taco place with the terrible name I can't say without thinking of a desperate housewife in a Juicy tracksuit serves one heck of a lettuce-wrapped gem called the Ahi Poke. Asian in persuasion, this taco is spicy, crunchy and light. Plus, it doesn't really go with anything else on the menu, so I recommend ordering a couple and getting out of there before the elotes find you.
3. Zoe's Kitchen Chock full of families, Zoe makes lunch and dinner items with a Greek slant and fresh disposition. I'm a big fan of the "gruben", a sandwich featuring turkey, delicious feta slaw, spicy mustard and Swiss cheese on grilled rye. I recommend pairing it with their braised white beans. Part soup, part side dish, these healthy beans will warm you through and through.
2. Company Cafe Company Cafe has plenty for vegetarians, gluten haters and those who prefer their eggs from uncaged chickens. But the cafe also happens to serve my favorite non-disappointing salad. The tomato burrata salad comes as a pile of organic greens topped with Lemley's tomatoes, pesto, balsamic reduction and a soft round of creamy burrata.
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SHOW ME HOW
1. DIVE Coastal Cuisine If you can handle the hustle and bustle of Highland Park moms and their nannies, make your way to DIVE for their ahi tuna wrap, which is an incredible way to grab a protein-filled, healthy lunch. A spinach tortilla envelops coconut rice, seared tuna and delicious slaw. Enjoy it dipped in a sweet chile sauce or vinegar-laden soy and thank me later. Lighten up even more and save half for dinner.
Those babies should get you started on your merry way to Resolution Town. Enjoy, and may you never have to settle for a disappointing salad again, my friends. Happy New Year.