Since it’s the third week of January, those of us who’ve (once again) made the resolution to eat healthy should have an idea of how we’re doing so far. While meal-prepping and keeping a food diary are great ways to keep ourselves on track, they take up a lot of time. Many of us get caught up in both our professional and personal duties, which makes the trip to Wingstop for dinner all the more tempting. However, as much as our county is dominated by new age donut shops and hamburgers with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in them, we also have plenty of restaurants serving healthy meals (for an affordable price, too!)
10. Urban Cactus (Orange)
If you love tacos but don’t want to feel the guilt, try Urban Cactus. It’s a Mexican restaurant that cooks low-fat recipes using gluten-free, organic tortillas. Not only are their tacos are better for you but they taste really good as well. Here’s more on that from Gustavo:
As with anything involving Mexicans, you have to move past the stereotypes. Fact is, Urban Cactus is magnificent, a place that does reach for loftier heights than your run-of-the-mill taquerías—and why shouldn’t Mexis aim up instead of at one another? It’s paisa to its soul. I’ve never seen any restaurant in OC, for instance, that lists a burrito de nopales on its regular menu, yet here it is: unapologetic strips of cactus, cooked so they imbue their wonderful vegetal essence. Here also is a taco de queso de rajas, something allmamís cook around the Lenten season, but that rarely pops up in taquerías. All the meats are marinated so you can close your eyes and imagine grilling them with los primos in Montebello on a Sunday afternoon. And for dessert, the prepackaged arroz con leche is perfect: not too sweet—barely sweet at all, actually—but becoming more and more addictive until you find the hefty serving gone within minutes.
3070 W. Chapman Ave. Suite C, Orange, (714) 978-3000, urbancactus.net; facebook.com/urbancactus
9. True Seasons Organic Kitchen (Anaheim)
Hot pot doesn’t seem that bad for you, but some styles include processed ingredients and heavy oils. That’s where True Seasons Organic Kitchen comes in, a hot pot concept revolving around locally sourced, organic, and non-GMO produce and light oils. How it works: a simmering metal pot is set in the middle of your table and you’re responsible for adding fresh meats, seafood, and vegetables into it. 5675 E La Palma Ave, Anaheim, (714) 462-9223; trueseasonskitchen.com; facebook.com/trueseasonskitchen
8. Chixy Natural (Costa Mesa)
If you’re avoiding carbs and sugars, look no further than Chixy Natural, a restaurant in a Costa Mesa strip mall specializing in rotisserie chicken and paleolithic meals. Try the paleo bowl—a mix of broccoli, carrots, chicken, and caramelized onions—or the paleo house salad of Romaine lettuce, dates, walnuts, cucumbers, sundried tomatoes, and berries. The chicken, which is slightly crispy and perfectly moist, should be tried with one of Chixy Natural’s many sauces. 488 E 17th St b104, Costa Mesa; (949) 631-3449; chixynatural.com; facebook.com/chixynatural
7. Kech Café
Don’t be hesitant that this café is in a gas station—it’s a good gas station cafe. Located inside the Circle K in the corner of Brookhurst and Talbert in Fountain Valley, it serves Mediterrean food—mostly wraps made with thin and aromatic lavash that comes with sides like baba ganoush and hummus. The wraps here are huge, and by the fact that you COULD probably split it into two meals makes the price worth it. They also serve fresh lavender lemonade made with fresh lavender so that the taste is subtle. 17966 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley; 714-968-1122; kechcafe.com.
6. Avocado Café (Irvine)
With a name like Avocado Café, you already know what the restaurant is all about. Here’s more on it from Anne Marie:
We drove past a sign for Avocado Cafe on Jamboree. The actual storefront is hidden behind highrises, so unless you know the ‘hood, it’s disorienting. Location #1 is inside the Newport Beach Athletic Club; this #2 opened last month, and a third spot is scheduled for February in Huntington Beach. That’s ambitious for a cafe we didn’t know existed a week ago.
If you are an avocado lover, look no further. It’s in all but one of their sandwiches and salads, plus the hot breakfast. Per their mission statement, “Avocado Cafe strives to provide new and devoted customers with fresh, nutritious meals, hand crafted beers and biodynamic wines that nurture the body and mind.” Works for us!
6060 Scholarship, Irvine, (949) 752-0523, avocadocafeirvine.com; facebook.com/AvocadoCafeIrvine
5. Green Tomato Grill (Orange)
Like Chipotle, Green Tomato Grill in downtown Orange and Brea has a simple menu that emphasizes customization. You can ask for stews, salads, bowls, and wraps without whatever you’re allergic to and control how much protein you want in your meal. Each dish, such as the fried green tomatoes with crunchy panko crusts, goes well with the restaurant’s many sauces. 1419 N Tustin St, Orange, (714) 532-1220; 796 N Brea Blvd., Brea, (714) 987-3766; greentomatogrill.com; facebook.com/greentomatooc
4. Secret Spot (Huntington Beach)
This spot isn’t so much a secret as it is hidden. Located in a strip mall behind a gas station, Secret Spot is a gem for chilling out and laid-back vibes (surfer-style, of course). Notable dishes are curry burritos and mango blueberry pancakes, but of course all of their other vegetarian-friendly dishes—burritos, tacos, wraps, and salads-are great too. 3801 Warner Ave, Ste B, Huntington Beach, (562) 592-4494
3. Crave Restaurant and Café (Santa Ana)
Crave Restaurant aims to prepare healthy meals for a reasonable price. They source from local farmers, use healthy fats, and make almost everything from scratch daily. Here’s what Edwin has said about it before:
As word gets around that Crave is Café Chiarini resurrected, the lunch-time queue will only get longer. From what I can tell, the menu is cribbed crumb-for-crumb from Café Chiarini’s menu. Sourdough is the basis for almost all that you consume—this is bread for the ages. Baked by Fleenor and supplied in excess, it has a crunchy outer crust mottled golden, shiny as though it were buffed with Turtle Wax; the tangy interior fluff is as moist as cake. Wherever you sit, you will be given a basket of it with butter. Order a soup, and you get at least two more crusty hunks to rip and dip into the liquid. And, of course, there are the sandwiches, which—because the loaf is hand-sliced—can be comically oversized.
Yet no matter how lopsided the ratio of bread to filling may appear, you need every millimeter of this sourdough, especially for the tri-tip dip.
410 W 4th St, Santa Ana, (714) 907-0063; crave410.com; facebook.com/crave410
2. Greenleaf Chopshop (Costa Mesa)
Greenleaf Chopshop is where you go to feel so good about yourself you might as well start a fitness Instagram. Conveniently, the place looks like a cabin built for hipsters—which makes for a fitting backdrop, by the way—that happens to make amazing lemongrass chicken salads. While many of the dishes here are vegan, some aren’t. Everything, however, is made with local artisan products. 234 E 17th St, Costa Mesa, (949) 200-3950; 3321 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa, (714) 862-2480; greenleafchopshop.com; Instagram: @greenleafchopshop
1, Freesoulcaffe (Tustin)
Maybe you’ll agree that the best vegan restaurants are those don’t focus too much on fake meat and, instead, creating the best plant-based recipes.One prime example of that is Freesoulcaffe—here’s what we’ve said about it before:
Freesoulcaffe in Tustin started off as a teahouse, but has quickly become one of the better vegan restaurants in Orange County. There’s no reason in the world a sandwich, soup and salad place couldn’t cater to vegans, and Freesoulcaffe (yes, all one word) does it well. Toasty panini that don’t rely overmuch on fake meat, great salads, and soups worth dragging the carnivores in for compete with the coffees that started the business. For caffeine junkies who don’t care for the jitteriness of a certain coffee chain’s latte—or that burnt-java smell that clings to your clothing every time you visit—Freesoulcaffé is a welcome way to start the day in a decidedly cosmopolitan way. Drink some tea, order a green-tea or pumpkin waffle (complete with syrup and vegan butter), pull out your favorite book, and bring some balance to your life. Once you’re done, you’re in for the happy discovery that desserts are the best thing here.
191 E Main St #1b, Tustin, (714) 371-0976; freesoulcaffe.com; Instagram: @freesoulcaffe