Chef's Choice: Healthy Restaurant Dishes

One of the hardest parts of sticking to that resolution and shedding the winter weight is eating out. When you shop at local farmer’s markets and craft homemade meals, you control where your food is coming from and can monitor proper nutritional intake. But let’s be honest, rarely is there enough time in the day to work, workout, run errands and prepare a thoughtful dinner. When your refrigerator is dangerously low and hunger strikes, stay strong and follow our guide to the rightSan Diego restaurants.

You can save time, revive your social life and eat out while slimming down, as long you order smart dishes off local menus that emphasize fresh, organic and nutritious ingredients. To help give you a head start in the New Year, I asked ten San Diego chefs for the Insider scoop on their healthiest menu items. Cut the bad calories and keep all the flavor with savory dishes from Alchemy, Sea Rocket Bistro, C Level, Tender Greens, Beaumont’s, Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, Crush Italian Cuisine, Prepkitchen, Terra and El Bizcocho.

Discover chef’s choice healthy dishes at San Diego restaurants.

The Restaurant: Alchemy in South Park

The Dish: Yellow Tail stuffed with pea tendrils and pan roasted, served with yukon gold potato puree, baby carrots and Carlsbad Aquafarms mussels on “edible sand” with miso oil and micro shiso

Chef Ricardo Heredia dishes on his nutritious entrée: “When I talk about health I like to bring up two points. One is balance, most people try to eliminate certain properties in their diet to promote health. I believe that you must have an understanding of balance with what you eat to maximize the nutrition and most importantly the absorption of these nutrients to the body.

The other factor to me is a healthy planet. The conservation of our oceans and land are a huge impact in the ingredients we use and overall composition of a dish. I chose this dish based on both of those factors. Pacific Yellow Tail is a highly migratory species and thanks to international efforts and conscience fishing methods this species is sustainable. The nutritional factors in both mussels and tuna are beneficial. High in thiamin, riboflavin, omega 3’s, zinc, manganese and selenium as well as B12, this is an ideal protein for health conscience individuals. We serve this dish with potatoes, carrots, miso, seaweed and an interesting version of edible sand, which is a mixture of dried shrimp and a tapioca derivative, to give it a distinct flavor profile and balanced nutritional value. This dish is light yet fulfilling and hopefully nice to look at."

The Restaurant: Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park

The Dish: Uni Shooter or Live Sea Urchin served with lavender sea salt and lemon

Partner and Chef Chad White encourages you to stay healthy by sticking to locally caught seafood. Oh and there are a few other benefits in the bedroom and beyond, too.  “Our Uni Shooter is a fun and healthy dish and a good way to become acquainted with the magic of locally caught sea urchin,” says Chad White. “Fun fact: The edible portion of the urchin is its gonads. I personally think it's a natural aphrodisiac (watch out, oysters). It's fun, it's sexy and all the cool kids are doing it.

Also, it's quite possible the thrill of eating something new (and primal) releases endorphins which, some might say, helps you develop strong malves (man calves) – not on women, though. Sea urchin is low in calories and fat and contains Omega-3 fatty acids. It's low on the food chain, making it healthy not just for our bodies (it contains fewer contaminants than tuna and other fatty ocean fish), but also for the environment. Guests can also order the whole urchin served as it’s saying its goodbyes with lavender salt and a wedge of lemon. Our motto at Sea Rocket Bistro: it don't get no fresher than alive. Don't be nervous; our fresh sea urchin draws people to its blessed altar.”

The Restaurant: Prepkitchen in La Jolla and Little Italy - 2012

The Dish: Escarole and Roasted Squash Salad made with red chili flakes, roasted butternut squash, escarole, spinach, house smoked ham and balsamic vinaigrette 

Whisknladle Hospitality Corporate Chef Sam Burman gives you an inside look at this smart choice: "This salad is the perfect healthy lunch or dinner. Escarole, spinach and squash provide tons of protein and nutrients.  The heartiness of the ingredients will fill you up and while the spice from the chili and smokiness of the ham provide a flavor that doesn't make you feel like you are dieting so you can stick to those resolutions."

The Restaurant: C Level at Island Prime on Harbor Island

The Dish: Healthy Skirts on Fire Salad, a fresh mix of spicy skirt steak, edamame, blue cheese, avocado, arugula, cucumber, red bell peppers, pepitas and garlic croutons, tossed with herb vinaigrette

Chef Deborah Scott dedicates an entire section of her menu to healthy, all-natural dishes designed for realistic diets. The Fuel for a Healthier Lifestyle Menu boasts three dishes and is served all day and night at C Level. But to Chef, this is old news: "We've had this section on our menu for years! The Everything Crusted Ahi & Healthy Skirts are top sellers, sensational. The idea is that they are not as much dietetic as made of healthy, all-natural ingredients. As the mission statement on our menu states, it is part of my goal for a healthier lifestyle. Most ‘diets’ are unrealistic and restrictive, which means that most people will abandon them. This part of the menu gives our guests healthier choices. They still contain calories of course, but they are healthy calories."

The Restaurant: Beaumont’s Eatery in La Jolla

The Dish: Grilled Asparagus & Smoked Albacore Salad made with organic spring mix, baby arugula, hearts of palm, grilled white and green asparagus, grape tomatoes and ricotta, tossed with sherry vinaigrette

Chef Scott Cathcart stands behind this healthy lunch entrée salad: “Light, fresh, local and seasonal were all underlying criteria we wanted to incorporate into the lunch menu. The white and green asparagus, chilled smoked fish and vibrant vinaigrette all showcase these elements, while staying true to the contemporary, straightforward theme of Beaumont's. This dish is light, but very flavorful – I assure you." (main photo)

The Restaurant: Terra American Bistro in La Mesa

The Dish: Organic Farmer’s Salad, a gluten-free blend of organic mixed field greens, fresh veggies, chef’s whim toppings, kaffir and house made lime vinaigrette

Owner and Chef Jeff Rossman explains why this sustainable salad wins, every time: “Our Organic Farmer's Salad is a winner in the way of healthy and delicious. It's a blend of locally-grown (San Diego-grown, in fact) organic mixed field greens and other fresh picks, selected chef's whim, topped with kaffir lime vinaigrette. It's one of several gluten-free options on our menu and, while it's a salad, munching on it is like eating candy. All elements of the salad are locally sourced and contain no pesticides, making it an extremely healthy option for our guests, and the vinaigrette is house made without preservatives. Greens and other produce that are grown locally have the highest health contents, because they're fresher, having traveled less to get to your plate and, subsequently, into your mouth.”

Photo courtesy of Paul Body/Chefs Press  

The Restaurant: Tender Greens at Liberty Station in Point Loma

The Dish: Happy Vegan Salad, a flavorful mix of wheat with cranberry and hazelnuts, quinoa with cucumber and beets, green hummus, tabbouleh and Tender Greens (butter lettuce, freckled romaine, regular romaine) tossed with sherry vinaigrette

Chef Pete Balistreri says to stop counting calories and instead, trust a natural diet: “Eating healthy means eating fresh, great quality ingredients and foods that are natural and organic rather than looking at calories alone. The best way to detox post-holiday is to eat natural and organic foods rather than processed foods.”


The Restaurant: Solace & The Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas

The Dish: Toasted Quinoa with house made fresh ricotta, roasted fall veggies and garlic vinaigrette

Owner and Chef Matt Gordon strives to make healthy food fun at both of his San Diego restaurants, Urban Solace in North Park and his latest, Solace & The Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas. Hear it best straight from the source: “I love this dish because it's packed full of really ‘good for you stuff’ but it really just tastes fantastic! It has a huge variety of flavor and texture, with handmade ricotta to balance the earthiness of the quinoa and sweetness of the roasted veggies, some of which we actually grow ourselves. What could be better than that?"

>The Restaurant: Crush Italian Cuisine & Lounge in Solana Beach

The Dish: Create Your Own Salad, a farm fresh salad built with your choice of 10 ingredients. Lettuce, veggie and topping options include chopped romaine, baby spinach, avocado, roasted baby beets, cucumber, roasted onion, cherry tomato, feta, gorgonzola, spiced pecans, cous cous and more, plus blackened chicken or grilled skirt steak add-ons.

Chef Jason Colabove does the math for you: “With nearly 30 choices to build the perfect salad, Crush offers customers a way to choose their own favorite healthy ingredients. We also have some indulgent options in the mix, but I know the high-quality veggies and protein choices we offer are the freshest available and therefore not just good for you. but will satisfy any health-focused foodie.”


The Restaurant: El Bizcocho at Rancho Bernardo Inn

The Dish: Local Beet and Strawberry Salad, Whipped Chevre, a colorful mix of baby red and gold beets, wild strawberries and whipped fresh goat cheese, garnished with baby arugula and fresh flowers

Chef Nicolas Bour recommends his nutritious farm-fresh dish, and encourages you to stay healthy by making it at home in the New Year. Learn why and save the recipe below: "Our beets are hand-picked from our on-site garden, so the ingredients are as fresh as possible when the salad arrives at your plate, providing the highest level of nutrients but very low in calories, containing only a small amount of fat."

Make Your Own:

12 Baby Red and Gold Beets

12 Wild Strawberries

1 Cup whipped Fresh Goats Cheese

2 TB Orange blossom oil

2 TB Maldon Sea Salt

Pepper Mill

1/4 Cup Finest Quality Olive Oil

1/4 Cup Ground Toasted Pistachio

1 TB Porcini Powder

Assorted Miniature Vegetables For Garnish.

Minature flowers for garnish.

1/4 Cup Wild Baby Arugula For Garnish

Method: Pre heat oven to 350 degrees, separate the red and gold beets and lightly oil each and sprinkle with sea salt, wrap in foil allowing them some breathing room and place in pre-heated oven for approximately 1.5 hours.  Remove and peel while still warm (the skin comes off very easily) lightly oil if necessary and season with pepper and set aside to cool.  Allow goat cheese to come to room temperature so it can be easily spread with an offset spatula. Wash strawberries and cut them in half or cut a bit of the bottom off.  With an offset spatula or medium sized spoon spread the goat cheese across a white plate.  Arrange the beets and strawberries in an artistic pattern on the cheese, garnish with the assorted vegetables and arugula leaves, drizzle with the orange blossom oil and sprinkle a mixture of the pistachio and porcini powder as “dirt” to simulate a growing garden. 

More Healthy Dishes at San Diego Restaurants:

New Tabouli & Quinoa Salad at Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill

New Zen Bowl at Brockton Villa

SuperFoods Menu at Westin Gaslamp Quarter

Vegan Delight Wrap at Lean and Green Café

Discover more local tips and trends in our San Diego dining blog

Main Photo: Grilled Asparagus & Smoked Albacore Salad at Beaumont's



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