Going out to eat while keeping an eye on your caloric intake can be pure torture. Everyone else is ordering fried deep-dish pasta truffles... why can’t you??? While you may not be able to indulge like that if you’re trying to keep up with your resolution for a fitter, healthier you, you can still enjoy a dinner out without blowing up your Fitbit. Whether you're trying to go vegan or gluten-free to cut back, or you simply want healthier options without having to change your entire diet, there are plenty of Philly restaurants that use local ingredients and fresh produce to create delicious and healthy dinners (which may or may not be plant based). Take a look at the restaurants that will help kick off 2017 the right way.
Spruce Hill & Rittenhouse
HipCityVeg opened with the goal to make fast-casual food that tastes indulgent despite being 100 percent plant based. This means vegan takes on burgers, fries, chicken, cookies, and breakfast options. The initial location in Spruce Hill was so popular that HipCityVeg opened a second location just recently in Rittenhouse, the shop in high-demand from more than just Philly’s large vegan population. If another one of your resolutions is to save the planet, then you’ll also be doing your part by using your meal’s 100 percent compostable packaging.
This is another vegan spot, but the vibe is full extravagance with its dim lighting, tufted chairs, and strong cocktails to sip alongside your plant-based small plates. The ricotta and pasta dishes are perfectly satisfying to any carb-loving, dairy-loving carnivore, and the avocado toast will make you a believer in an otherwise overplayed healthy choice option.
The Mediterranean BYOB sits on the lively corner of 20th & Spruce Streets, offering outdoor seating when it's nice enough, an open kitchen, and plenty of healthy menu items without staking itself firmly in vegetarian or vegan territory. Flatbreads incorporate seasonal ingredients and hummus, while small plates include heartier options like butternut squash risotto and grilled octopus with feta. Grilled salmon and roasted chicken make for perfectly seasoned entrees without being heavy and calorie-laden.
University City & Other Locations
White Dog was one of the earliest farm-to-table restaurants in Philly to get major attention, and it continues to deliver with hyper-seasonal menus designed to satisfy but not be so filling that you'll have to be rolled out the door when you're finished eating. Stop by for dinner for hummus plates, the yellowfin tuna burger, or salmon with lobster curry; but don't miss the brunch, a menu utilizing cage-free eggs in dishes like the egg white omelet with avocado and cilantro.
Washington Square West
Talula’s is the perfect solution for whatever you're in the mood for, whether it's a mid-day grab-n-go meal from its market or an all-out, multi-course dinner in a gorgeous setting. Tuna ceviche, chestnut pasta with apple fondue, and orange scented duck cocotte all make for creative entrees that won’t make you need to unbutton your pants afterward.
Every item on Harvest’s seasonal, locally supplied menu falls under 500 calories, making for pages and pages of safe menu items. This means you can opt to order from the street tacos menu, or a bigger main dish like the steak & wedge, the stuffed pork chops, or the many vegetarian versions of pasta and stir fry without your calorie tracker getting angry at you. Plus, if you head here on a weekend night, you can burn even more calories on the dance floor that pops up post-happy hour on the second level.
Zahav has repeatedly been heralded as one of the very best restaurants Philly has to offer, and somehow it manages to secure this title while offering a vast selection of healthier plates to choose from. The restaurant specializes in modern Israeli cuisine, which means fresh, fluffy hummus, protein skewers grilled over hardwood charcoal, and small plates of seasoned Brussels sprouts, grilled duck hearts, and haloumi.
Pumpkin is another farm-to-table mainstay that was early in bringing the concept to Philly. Today, it still supplies the best local ingredients to make fresh and seasonal menus, like this month’s lamb soup and monkfish with mushrooms and turnips. The five-course prix fixe menu is $45 a person and BYO, so it’s kind on your wallet, too.
This bistro and cafe may have a lengthy pizza menu, but it’s also one of the healthier eating out options in the neighborhood thanks to a gratuitous selection of vegetarian and gluten-free items, as well as wraps, grilled sandwiches, other bites to satisfy any need for meat or bread without going overboard. The organic quinoa salad with basil pesto and toasted almond, or the portabella burger with fresh mozzarella are just two of many great options for vegetarians and gluten-free folks at Couch Tomato. Plus, if you do want to indulge in a little pizza, there are ways to ante up your choice with gluten-free crust, vegan cheese, and veggie toppings.
When your go-to happy food is tacos, find solace in the myriad of at least moderately healthy ways to enjoy them. Bar Bombon is one such option. Every dish at this Latin eatery is veggie based, so enjoy the restaurant’s takes on guacamole, fish tacos, and Cubano "sandwich" stuffed with chick'n and tempeh with ease and a celebratory margarita.
This ain't just another vegetable restaurant -- Vedge consistently vies for the title of best restaurant in Philly, period. Chefs and owners and husband-wife duo Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby have proven time and time again that eating vegetarian doesn't have to be a dull, dreary affair. Even the pastry menu here is James Beard-approved. Don't sleep on the two other restos from Landau and Jacoby, VStreet and the more recent WizKid, both which serves up fresh vegan takes on street and classic comfort foods, respectively.
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1. HipCityVeg127 S 18th St, Philadelphia
2. Charlie was a sinner.131 S 13th St, Philadelphia
3. Audrey Claire276 S 20th St, Philadelphia
4. White Dog Cafe3420 Sansom St, Philadelphia
5. Talula's Garden210 W Washington Sq, Philadelphia
6. Harvest200 South 40th St, Philadelphia
7. Zahav237 St. James Pl, Philadelphia
8. Pumpkin1713 South St, Philadelphia
9. The Couch Tomato Café102 Rector St, Philadelphia
10. Bar Bombón133 S 18th St, Philadelphia
11. Vedge1221 Locust St, Philadelphia
HipCityVeg is a fresher, cleaner way to get your fast-food fix in Philly. In the time it might take you to polish off a monstrous Big Mac, you can eat a legitimately tasty (and probably a-hundred-times better-for-you) veggie burger (the Ziggy) or sandwich (HipCity ranch). You should also treat yo' self to the green lemonade and side of sweet potato fries, because really, you can't have fast food without fries, even when you're looking out for that thing called "your health."
Charlie certainly was a sinner, and a glutenous one at that. Despite a mostly vegan menu, Charlie's knocks it out of the park with decadent small plates and seemingly whimsical cocktails that hit you fast. Dark wood-paneled walls and plush velvet booths create a warm, intimate interior that's perfect for a date night. Take a seat at one of the candlelit tables and indulge in the always mysterious Charlie's Punch.
Large French windows open onto the sidewalk at this Mediterranean BYOB in Rittenhouse, letting passersby glimpse into the sophisticated, white-walled bistro where seafood-centric dishes like potato-crusted ahi tuna and Spanish-style octopus have been impressing diners for over a decade. Seating at Audrey Claire can get a bit tight, but you'll forgive a crowded dining room for a simple and elegant meal.
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering White Dog Café is its pleasant warmth and undeniable homey-ness. The University City restaurant spans a trio of Victorian brownstones, and in a show of true Philadelphia utilitarianism, White Dog maximizes its space by providing a variety of eclectic dining rooms cheek by jowl like rooms in a dollhouse. The den is ostensibly a gallery of canine portraits (the pups all look down with big, sad eyes at the food you're eating), while the porch boasts reclaimed wood and delicate birdhouses. Most importantly, though, White Dog sources its ingredients from nearby farms, and though the food program changes monthly, you can trust that certain staples will endure: artisan cheese boards, a seasonal hummus trio with soft pita, Kennett Square mushroom soup, and, of course, heated French rolls served with honey butter.
Tucked between two commercial buildings, Talula's Garden is an oasis of greenery with a latticework of potted plants climbing the patio walls. The greenhouse-inspired interior is brimming with flowers, nature-themed cylindrical lamps, and pressed leaf artwork in light wooden frames. Decor aside, Talula’s main event is weekend brunch. The right way to brunch here is to order the Little Ricotta Doughnuts when you're seated and snack on them as you await more substantial dishes like an omelet with whipped goat cheese and roasted broccoli, and French toast stuffed with maple cream cheese and pears. Your meal will leave you irrevocably full, but we guarantee you won't regret a single bite.
We’re not sure how Harvest does it, but the University City restaurant manages to serve a menu consisting almost entirely of under-500-calorie dishes. Instead of what you're expecting (rabbit food), the seasonal selections include flatbreads, brick-oven pizzas, sandwiches, composed salads, and entrees like macadamia nut-crusted halibut and three-bean turkey chili. However, the best is saved for last: shrunken-down portions of chocolate salted caramel mousse, zucchini bread cake, and peanut butter cups are all standout desserts.
The interior of this modern Israeli restaurant is designed to resemble Jerusalem's network of hidden courtyards, with floors and walls built of gold limestone and tables hand-carved in dark wood. Zahav's food is equally reminiscent of the promised land: fresh laffa bread is baked to order in a wood-fired oven and lamb skewers are roasted over hardwood charcoal. The menu's true star is its hummus, a silky spread in which the key ingredients, chickpeas and tahini, share the flavor spotlight equally and aren't overshadowed by garlic, lemon, or olive oil -- though those three ingredients are surely present. The lengthy wine list includes a full section for wines with Israeli or Palestinian origins, and house cocktails incorporate Mediterranean notes like za'atar and pumpernickel-infused whiskey.
Pumpkin is a longstanding BYOB escape on South Street for elegant dishes that are updated regularly. The space is intimate and rustic with distressed barn-plank walls and tin accents above, but the thoughtful dishes are contemporary and plated as such: duck egg with farrow is secured in a nest of maitake mushrooms and butternut squash, while a disc of pig head torchon gets balanced on a mound of cranberry beans and cabbage over a dramatic smudge of black garlic. Dim-lighting during the evenings make the mood just right for a romantic one-on-one (this pumpkin won’t turn into a carriage though, lovers).
The Couch Tomato is more than your ordinary neighborhood pizzeria. The Manayunk café offers homemade soups and gourmet sandwiches like the Dirty Bird made with all-natural chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper, balsamic dressing, and roasted red pepper spread. Pizzas, available by the slice or pie, take on colorful guises like the American Pie with grana padano, locally sourced honey, mozzarella, ricotta, roasted garlic spread, rosemary, and tomato. Deciding between a sandwich or pizza has never been harder.
Latin American dishes gets a vegan twist at Bar Bombon, which is helmed by the same team behind health food havens HipCityVeg and Charlie Was a Sinner. The plant-based dishes are so deliciously disguised here that even a meat eater can happily indulge. Tacos are filled with seitan or buffalo cauliflower, while empanadas are stuffed with a medley of mushrooms, leeks, currants, and pickled plantains. If you're on the go, stop by the take-out window for the same good food and Stumptown Coffee.
A laser focus is put on seasonal vegetables at Vedge, and the refined, entirely meat-free menu is creative enough to attract even the most ardent of meat-eaters, if the wait for a table is any indicator. When chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby opened their restaurant in this historic building on Locust St in 2011, the city hadn't seen anything like it: a changing vegetarian menu served in a fine dining setting with a hyper-contemporary sensibility. Anywhere from three to five of the sharing plates can make a meal, from salt-baked beets with cured tofu that's topped with whipped cucumber to seared maitake mushroom with celery root fritters. Desserts like a Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with blood orange gel and bergamot dust are impossibly light while cocktails mixed with housemade syrups make use of healthful juices like grapefruit and lemongrass. In short: skip the veggie burger and make a reservation at Vedge.