While some of us have already succumbed to that sweater-weather bod, others of us are trying, as best we can, to keep those inevitable and fast-approaching holiday LB's from creeping up on us. Given Chicago’s love affair with hot dogs, pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and brunch, it’s not always easy to stay svelte when dining out in the city. From a fast-expanding poke concept to a Peruvian favorite, here are seven places where eating healthy is easy, accessible, and genuinely delicious.
Take what you know about salad-focused eateries and strike it -- this DC-based chain may serve calorie-conscious eats, but it’s anything but boring. If you’re staying the greens route, try the 440-calorie spicy sabzi, which features organic baby spinach and shredded kale tossed with roasted sesame tofu, spicy broccoli, raw beets, organic carrots, spicy quinoa, bean sprouts, basil, red chili, and a carrot-chili vinaigrette. Or, if you’re craving something hearty, try the guilt-free harvest bowl with organic wild rice, shredded kale, apples, sweet potatoes, roasted chicken, local goat cheese, toasted almonds, and balsamic vinaigrette.
The Mediterranean Diet exists for a reason, people: it’s an effective weight-loss plan (allegedly), and it tastes delicious. No, chef CJ Jacobson’s (former chef-in-residence at Intro) California-influenced Mediterranean concept isn’t a poster child for the popular diet, but it does spotlight cheffy-yet-healthful preparations of diet-approved dishes that deliver big on flavor. Explore spreads like spicy hummus blended with marinated fresno and sweet-roasted chilies, avocado and sweet pea, and toasted almond and garlic, a variety of greens and ancient grains-based dishes, tuna crudo that’s as pretty as it is delicious, and grilled chicken kebabs. End your meal with frozen Greek yogurt drizzled with California olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.
Whether you’re a longtime vegetarian or just trying it out for one meal just to see how it feels, this vegetarian-friendly spot is great for an upscale dining experience that won’t damage your waistline. The current five-course chef’s tasting menu includes blistered shishito peppers with tatsoi, scallion greens, kochukaru, and Chinese mustard vinaigrette, squash risotto “beggars purse,” and an orange chiffon cake made complemented by blueberry frozen yogurt, hazelnut streusel, orange caramel, and whipped goat cheese.
Lakeview (& Other Locations)
The best part about Chicago’s seemingly relentless poke craze is that, provided you aren’t dousing your build-your-own bowl with spicy aioli, it’s actually a really nutritious meal. This booming local favorite offers bases like brown rice or mixed greens, sashimi-grade ahi tuna or salmon, and nutrient-packed ingredients like cucumber, pickled ginger, Maui onion, seaweed, edamame, avocado, and sesame oil.
OK, we’ll concede that this Peruvian resto isn’t exactly marketed as a “healthy restaurant,” but it’s so easy to eat healthy here that we’d be remiss to not include it. To eat light without feeling like you’re sacrificing anything, try the ahi tuna tiradito with passion fruit leche de tigre, honey, and sesame oil emulsion, octopus skewers with chimichurri, crispy garlic, and olive sauce, cebiches, quinoa salad, and grilled duck breast with huancaina, cilantro rice, and avocado-radish salad.
Few places are easier to eat healthy on the go than this rapidly expanding fast-casual chain, where customizable Mediterranean fare is the name of the game. Load up a salad with veggies, healthy grains like couscous and quinoa, and chicken roti, and team it with tahini and falafel made with organic chickpeas on the side.
Logan Square, Lincoln Park
Once you get past the excessively hipster ring to “chef-driven juice apothecary,” this unique establishment is actually a health nut’s dream-come-true. Choose from a selection of juices, ranging from greens-based and root-based to fruity, nutty, and savory. If liquid meals aren’t your thing, check out the cashew yogurt bowl with coconut milk, banana, chia seeds, orange and grapefruit supremes, and sesame brittle, or the sweet potato noodle salad with homemade kimchi, fried almond, grapes, cilantro, and a lime wedge.
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Based in DC, Sweetgreen is known for its customizable salads and grain bowls topped with locally-sourced ingredients. The fast-casual chain changes its menu seasonally, but signatures like the wild rice- and kale-based Harvest Bowl and mesculin Guacamole Greens are always available, as is the option to create your own bowl from scratch. Your order is prepared assembly line-style behind a glass counter, and you can usually see greens being washed and vegetables being chopped in the open kitchen. The Chicago outpost marks Sweetgreen's 50th location and its first foray into the Midwest.
California-based chef CJ Jacobsen is helming the kitchen at Ema, a Mediterranean small plates restaurant in River North whose name comes from the Hebrew word for mother. Ema combines the hallmarks of Mediterranean food -- spreads like hummus and charred eggplant, hot & cold mezze, kebabs -- with his West Coast sensibility to seasonal ingredients. Many of the signatures are house-made, like the bread that falls somewhere between naan and pita, the Greek yogurt used in the tzatziki, and the stracciatella served with tomatoes and herb salad.
Noble Square’s Green Zebra practices the art of vegetarianism as a sensory experience, parading small plates whose presentations are as unique as the locally produced seasonal fruits and vegetables that unite them. Asian influence abounds on the menu with items like spring rolls, pot stickers, Szechuan green beans, and soba noodles, and the dining room has a complementary zen-like vibe with dark green booths punctuated by bamboo sticks and palm fronds.
After a successful start in French Market, Aloha Poke Co opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Lakeview. The menu is entirely customizable, letting you choose your protein (tuna, salmon, or tofu), base (white rice, brown rice, or mixed greens), add-ons (pineapple, tobiko, avocado, etc), and sauces (yuzu ranch, wasabi, sesame oil, etc). There are a few counter seats but otherwise, seating is limited.
Tanta celebrates Peru’s diverse culture by injecting Japanese and Spanish flare into an otherwise Peruvian street-food-centric menu. In addition to traditional street anticuchos (skewers), there's a selection of ceviche, nigiri, and causitas, or whipped potatoes fused with seafood. The restaurant's lively atmosphere -- and creative menu -- tempts you to indulge in fruity, colorful cocktails made with pisco brandy made in the wine regions of Peru.
You are the architect of your own meal at Roti, a fast-casual chain where Mediterranean food gets the customizable, Chipotle-like treatment. You start by choosing a foundation -- be it a pita sandwich, laffa wrap, basmati and wild rice plate, or mixed green salad -- then add proteins (chicken kebob, falafel, salmon), vegetable sides (quinoa cauliflower tabbouleh, cous cous, cabbage slaw), and sauces (tahini, roasted red pepper dressing). Roti's sheer amount of dish combinations will have you singing the praises of a Mediterranean diet after just one meal.
Dark and industrial, Owen + Alchemy is a handsome juice bar that serves bottled juices, nut milks, and smoothies, plus solids like yogurt bowls and salads that are a health nut's dream. Beyond the sleek bottles of cold-pressed, plant-based juices, there are standout items like a cashew yogurt bowl with coconut milk, banana, chia seeds, and sesame brittle, and a sweet potato noodle salad with homemade kimchi. You can grab-and-go or take a seat at O+A's long, communal wooden table.