Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Where to Eat: Healthy Restaurants in the District

Four weeks ago, many hungover denizens of D.C. welcomed the new year with hopeful determination to improve themselves in one way or another.  For a lot of us, that meant eating better to boost our health or to drop a couple of pounds.

2013 is the year I eat like a disciplined adult instead of a frat boy, we declared.  No more Jumbo Slice at 3:00 A.M.  No more stuffing my face with Cheese-Its while watching The Biggest Loser.  I am going to eat my fruits and vegetables, damn it.   

But even the most valiant healthy eating efforts can be deterred by frequent dining out.  Because, let's face it- many of D.C.'s beloved culinary establishments boast menus that would horrify Michelle Obama in all their calorie-laden, saturated-fat-swimming, cheese-covered glory.

But no one wants to skip a delicious meal out with friends to eat a sad salad at home.  Except for maybe the stock image ladies of Women Laughing Alone With Salad.

And here's the good news -- you don't have to.  There are actually lots of venues that offer healthy, delicious options that would make even FLOTUS proud.  Here are some of the best choices for tasty, wholesome meals that won't do a number on your waistline.


Protein Bar - Protein Bar has three D.C. area locations that aim to provide active, on-the-go people with healthy, flavorful choices.  You'll find blended drinks, salads, lunch bowls, and more, including their signature "bar-ritos", which have half the calories of typical burritos since they replace rice with organic quinoa and use whole wheat wraps, house-made sauces, and organic or all-natural chicken, beef, and tofu.

FreshiiSimilar to Protein Bar, Freshii offers a menu of salads, burritos, wraps, rice bowls, yogurts, breakfast and soups made with high-quality, fresh ingredients. All salads, bowls, wraps, etc. are customizable and can be topped with your choice of protein.  Why suffer through another boring salad when you could go to Freshii and choose from interesting options like the "Teriyaki Twist," or "The Mediterranean Life"? 

Mr. Chen's RestaurantI know what you're thinking- how can Chinese food be healthy? Well, Mr. Chen's uses organic, fresh vegetables along with a health-conscious cooking style to prepare cuisine that won't pack on the pounds. Most dishes can be steamed on request, brown rice can be substituted for white, and entrees are offered in two sizes so you don't wind up with more food than you really need. There's even a light menu to make healthy dining as foolproof as possible.


Teaismthe four D.C.-area locations of Teaism are crosses between quaint tea houses and modern Asian-inspired restaurants that serve Bento boxes from Japan, curries from Thailand, tandoor breads from India, and of course, an array of tea. From the salmon bento box to the seitan stir fry, healthful options abound. You can even go for brunch; the Irish oatmeal and cilantro scrambled tofu will help you start your day off on a healthy foot.  And what's a trip to Teaism without an addicting salty oat cookie? Hey, everything in moderation.  

Cafe Ole- Cafe Ole is a Mediterranean bistro in Tenleytown that offers a variety of mezze and tapas,  including polenta with truffle oil from Italy, lamb tagine from Morocco, gazpacho from Spain, grilled skewers from Turkey, hummus from Lebanon, and nicoise salad from France.  The large patio outside is perfect for warmer months, but for now, huddle inside and try the delicious tomato basil or lentil soup to warm you up.  Don't forget a glass of red wine to go with it -- for the antioxidants, of course.

Le Pain QuotidienLe Pain Quotidien is an international chain of Belgian cafes with nine locations in the D.C. area. The interior is quaint and sort of rustic, with plentiful seating that includes a trademark communal table in each restaurant, and service that is polite and prompt. Le Pain Quotidien prides itself on using organic and farm-fresh ingredients whenever possible, and you'll have no trouble finding something tasty on the healthy menu that features lots of soups, salads, tartines, and more.


Cava Mezze- A Greek restaurant that serves up tapas style dining in its three D.C. area locations, Cava Mezze is usually packed to the brim, especially on the weekends.  Why?  Because the food is delicious, reasonably priced, and offers something for everyone.  Those looking for waistline-friendly options will not be disappointed by the array of tasty salads and healthy mezze options that include white bean ragout, lamb bolognese, chicken souvlak, shrimp mikrolimano, and more. Cava is dimly lit but still festive, making it suitable for both a date or dinner with friends. Those looking for something quicker should check out Cava Grill, the casual spin-off of Cava Mezze that brings the flavors of Cava to those with a limited schedule or budget.

Mama Ayesha's A family-run Middle Eastern restaurant conveniently located on Calvert Street in Adams Morgan, Mama Aysha's offers extensive small and large plates that are heavy on the veggies and healthy protein.  Don't be fooled by the rather plain exterior; inside you'll find a warm and inviting atmosphere and courteous staff that can answer any questions you may have about the menu.

Indique- Indique serves up modern Indian dishes that are high in flavor and low in guilt, relying on heart-healthy spices and veggies in lieu of diet foes like excess sodium and saturated fat.  A sure sign that the food is stellar: eggplant is by far my least favorite vegetable, but even I can't resist Indique's baingan bhartha, tandoor roasted eggplant that's cooked with onions, tomato and spices.  It really is that good.  And you can even order your bread whole wheat, choosing from roti or paratha rather than the white flour naan.    


Restaurant Nora - America's first certified organic restaurant, Restaurant Nora offers wholesome food that caters to a sustainable, health-focused lifestyle and is anything but dull.  Diners can order à la carte or from the tasting menu (standard or vegetarian), which changes with the seasons.  Right now, you'll find delectable options like the Maine crab and avocado salad, grilled lamb chops, roasted wild mushroom risotto, and bittersweet molten chocolate cake.    

ZaytinyaA Jose Andres restaurant that serves Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese cuisine, Zaytinya has an extensive menu that provides numerous healthy options, including nearly a full page of vegetarian dishes. The plates are small and encourage sharing, so be careful not to fill up on the warm, puffy bread brought out by the attentive servers before the meal- it's deliciously addicting.

Elizabeth's Gone Raw- DC's only upscale raw restaurant, Elizabeth's Gone Raw is situated in a townhouse-style space that is impressive both inside and out. Open only on Fridays, it gets quite busy and you must have reservations to get in. A prix fixe, six course tasting menu is offered each week and you can opt for a wine pairing for an additional cost. Check online to see the week's offerings -- this Friday, for example, you'll find sunchoke gnocchi, butternut squash cannelloni, carrot cake crème brulee, and more.

Happy healthy eating,


  1. Great post! PS, Protein Bar Ballston (800 N. Glebe Road) will open tomorrow (January 30) at 11:00 a.m. and will give food away to the first 50 customers.

    1. Ohh, excellent, thanks for the tip! Wish I worked nearby and could take advantage!

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