By Frank Sabatini, Jr. / Photo by Lyudmila Zotova
A wellspring of local kitchens has been putting more healthy, organic eats in our mouths than ever before. And we're not talking about flavorless vegetal matter that typically loses out to fatty and sugary meals. At these San Diego restaurants, eating healthy is now a wild attraction, rather than a bland, healthful obligation.
Native Foods Café
127 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas
Get your towering Reubens, smothered nachos and Buffalo wings at Native Foods Café, all without ingesting a molecule of animal fat. The fast-casual vegan café, founded nearly 20 years ago in Palm Springs, relies on housemade seitan and tempeh to mimic the flavors and textures of meat, including the convincing Italian meatball sub, crowned with fresh marinara and tangy nutritional yeast that takes the place of Parmesan.
Seitan, which dates back 2,000 years to Indonesia, is a gluten-free, protein-rich "wheat meat" that Native Foods co-owner Andrea McGinty describes as "tasting like tender-cooked roast with a fine, delicate texture." A Swedish meatball recipe also using seitan is currently in the works. Tempeh, in contrast, is crafted from soybeans and millet, giving consumers a hefty dose of antioxidants and iron in dishes like the chipotle-spiked "Scorpion Burger" or feisty Baja tacos.
For cheese fanatics, the menu obliges with creamy substances culled from nuts and sunflower seeds, appearing in various renditions over basil polenta bites and the seitan steak sandwich.
Since making its local debut in January, the Encinitas café has lured vegans and carnivores alike, as well as Al Gore, who professes that excessive meat consumption is murder to the environment. With 14 locations (and more on the way) operating throughout the U.S., Native Foods is off to a running start towards making the country greener and more fit.
True Food Kitchen
7007 Friars Rd., Fashion Valley Mall
For a radical departure from food-court fare, health-conscious Fashion Valley patrons now pamper their swollen mall feet inside the 9,500-square-foot True Foods Kitchen, where Dr. Andrew Weil's famed anti-inflammatory regime rules the roost.
The veggie-heavy menu is void of pork and processed sugars, which the good doc rates among the biggest offenders for inducing stress and inflammation throughout our bodies. Saturated fats are kept to a minimum in dishes like red chili shrimp, turkey lasagna and the chicken sausage appearing on gluten-free pizza. Burgers are comprised of lean, grass-fed beef or turkey, although locally sourced vegetables dominate most plates.
Brand Chef Michael Stebner, who headed the former Region restaurant in Hillcrest, is readying for spring with seasonal additions like strawberry snap pea salad, asparagus-artichoke pizza and blueberry almond cake.
4505 La Jolla Village Dr., Ste. 4529, UTC Mall
Calorie-counters have it easy at this proliferating, Orlando-based venture boasting 30 locations nationwide.
Nothing on the menu has more than 475 calories, including heavy-hitters like cedar plank salmon, lamb T-bone, filet mignon and the new chicken citron with lemon sauce. On the skinnier end, look no further than the trio of vegetarian tacos (320 calories) or the new yuzu-dressed crab salad (250 calories).
"It's flavor-forward food that happens to be good for you," says chef Steve de Barril, noting that olive, canola or sesame oils are used in the recipes, rather than oft-overused butter. The kitchen's centerpiece is a gas-less wood-fire grill used to cook about 90 percent of the proteins and farm-sourced veggies that de Barril says are "grown for flavor, rather than engineered for shape and color."
bBar Superfood Vitality Bar
2683 Via de la Valle, Ste. L, Del Mar
The "b" in its name stands for "beaming," or how you'll feel after slugging one of bBar's post-workout smoothies or cold-pressed organic juices.
"We're the next generation of juice bars," says CEO Lisa Odenweller, who assembled a national chef team also to create nutritional eats such as kale salad with cashew sauce, and herby zucchini lasagna with sun-dried tomato pesto. Everything is gluten- and dairy-free.
The "beachy, modern" Del Mar location (just across from the Flower Hill Promenade) features two bars and indoor/outdoor seating that encourages consumers of all ages to hang out and explore the ever-changing menu of super-foods aimed at boosting your well-being.
Not So Fast! Paleo Food Truck
No address, it's mobile, yo!
When Bob Montgomery and his girlfriend adopted the no-grain, no-legume, no-dairy Paleo Diet a couple years ago, they couldn't find any local restaurants that met their needs. So they launched a food truck to feed others adhering to this pre-agricultural way of eating.
Now, with two vehicles in operation, they're slinging wild boar burgers and free-range chicken sandwiches wrapped in lettuce, along with bacon-topped sweet potato hash and "primal slaw" with chopped apples - not exactly caveman dishes, but the ingredients correlate to man's hunting-and-gathering days.
The trucks serve at the Pacific Beach Farmers Market from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, and the North Park Farmers Market from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays.
Visit notsofastfoodtruck.com for the daily schedule.
1815-B Main St., Barrio Logan
The absence of desserts in the aforementioned paleo diet is what prompted Nick Hawk and his wife Lee Selman to start baking. Their treats are sold online and from a back door at the Glashaus Warehouse, open Monday through Friday. Four different cookies make up the repertoire, the top seller of which is named the Mustang Bar.
"It has a smooth, creamy texture unlike anything else in the Paleo world," says Hawk, citing almond butter, coconut oil, honey and walnuts in the recipe. With the Paleo Diet hitting mainstream, Hawk says sales have tripled over the past year.
The cookies can be found at Boney's in Coronado, CrossFit Elysium in University Heights, Julian Bakery and aboard the Not So Fast! Paleo Food Truck.