Where to go for light, refreshing fare when you’re still recovering from the holidays.
The holiday season tends to go hand in hand with rich, heavy meals. But that doesn’t mean you have to fast now that the new year has come. Here are five of the best restaurant options for light, healthy eating in the Bay Area, from quick meals to award-winning fine dining.
Owner and executive chef Aaron London had a crazy idea when he opened his petite restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district: Make meat the side dish. Here, his inventive takes on pristine veggies, fruits, seafood, and grains occupy center stage, and the protein is something patrons can add on in smaller portions. London has the chops to pull it off, too, having starred at famed vegetarian Napa eatery Ubuntu. It’s safe to say he’s getting it right at Al’s Place, which Bon Appétit named the best new restaurant of the year in 2015. alsplacesf.com.
Amy’s Drive Thru
Sometimes you don’t have the time (or money) to splurge on fancy health food. Amy’s Kitchen in Rohnert Park is there to help. Long a favorite with the health-conscious set for its organic, non-GMO canned foods, the North Bay company is targeting the fast-food crowd with its first brick-and-mortar restaurant. The all-vegetarian options include a flavorful, satisfying veggie burger available in single or double patties, burritos, pizza, fries, and salads, plus non-dairy shakes and fresh-squeezed lemonade. It’s organic, it’s affordable, and it comes out fast—and yes, drive-through service is available. amysdrivethru.com.
Longtime Bay Area caterers Mica Talmor and Robert Gott, a husband-and-wife team, put a lot of love into their first Oakland restaurant, and it shows. Executive chef Talmor is from Israel, and her Middle Eastern–influenced fare is both light and wonderfully flavorful. The menu starts with simple, composed salads such as spiced carrots with arugula and sheep’s milk feta, or cauliflower with spinach and shaved Manchego. Diners can then top off their orders with pieces of chicken, salmon, or lamb, or with balls of especially moist falafel. Don’t miss the fantastic hummus, served with ample portions of fresh-baked pita. babiteoakland.com.
This oh-so-Berkeley restaurant first gained prominence thanks to its original chef, Sean Baker, and his inventive spins on vegetables, including his famous vegan “charcuterie.” That dish is long gone, but new chef Tu David Phu continues Baker’s tradition of highlighting the best ingredients from top local purveyors on his vegetable-heavy menu, which changes weekly according to what’s fresh. Pizzas with seasonal toppings and Gather’s burger, made from Five Dot Ranch beef, round out the options. gatherrestaurant.com.
The signature dish says it all: unfried chicken. Is it as satisfying as its naughtier, deep-fried cousin? Well, let’s not get carried away. But the baked version at LYFE (that’s short for Love Your Food Everyday) is totally flavorful, comes with a delicious medley of roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, and clocks in at only 566 calories. In fact, all the menu items except for alcoholic drinks are tagged with exact calorie and sodium counts, so diners know exactly what they’re ingesting. It’s a formula that’s fueled the restaurant’s expansion to nearly 20 locations nationwide since the first Palo Alto eatery opened in 2011. restaurant.lyfekitchen.com.
Photography by Chris Andre Photography (LYFE salmon); Tamara Albaitis (Ba-Bite dishes); courtesy of Gather (mushroom dish); Amy’s Kitchen (salad)
This article was first published in November 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.