What constitutes healthy eating is up for debate. For some, it’s cutting back on carbs, while others prefer to skimp on red meat and dairy. Still, no matter the diet, it’s easier than ever to find healthy and tasty options in New York.
Here now, some Eater NY editors define eating healthy and offer up their go-to dishes.
My idea of healthy is light dishes with fewer calories that incorporate vegetables and beans, but also not eschewing carbs — which furnish energy with less heft than proteins.
Mung bean at Madam Zhu’s Kitchen
One of my favorite light dishes can be found in Tibetan, Sichuan, and Northern Chinese restaurants, sometimes going by the name of mung bean jelly, sometimes green bean noodles. It consists of planks of opaque white mung bean starch heaped with chile oil, fermented bean paste, and scallions. I encountered a version I loved not too long ago at Madam Zhu’s Kitchen.
Sabich sandwich at Taim
Middle Eastern and North African food are often heavy with vegetables and beans without being high in calories. The fiber is an added plus. A pita sandwich loaded with eggplant and hummus is a good example of this approach, an opulent version of which is the sabich sandwich found at Taim. There’s nothing tame about it.
Embarrassingly, about 80 percent of my vegetable intake probably comes from the Sweetgreen Earth Bowl. Which is to say, I never eat enough vegetables, so healthy is any time I eat a meal where there’s a critical mass of vegetables that isn’t fried or covered in cheese. Tart, vinegary dishes, a basic garlic stir-fry, or a leafy-green vegetable are also go-tos. Mostly I just try to practice portion control of the rich foods that I favor.
Peruvian chicken and quinoa kale salad at Baby Brasa
Peruvian restaurant Baby Brasa is best known for chef/owner/model Franco Noriega’s propensity for being shirtless. It’s easy to dismiss the restaurant because of this — after all, the male model stereotype is that they lack other skills — but the rotisserie chicken here is quite delicious. It’s fresh and juicy, and it’s spiced without being overly salty. It’s also the perfect complement to the restaurant’s truly fantastic kale and quinoa salad, which has avocado, pickled watermelon radish, and caramelized bananas. It’s also photogenic, perfect for both the actually healthy person and the one who just wants to look healthy on Instagram. Sorry I’m not sorry for liking it.
Cauliflower sandwich at Breads Bakery
A particularly garlicky vegan pesto coats both sides of the sandwich, and the roasted cauliflower inside is typically cooked to the ideal al dente. What really makes the sandwich delicious is the bouncy, sourdough bread. Sometimes the olive oil makes it a bit messy to eat at the computer, but it’s usually worth it.
When I’m looking for a healthy meal or dish, I [annoyingly] look for buzzwords like gluten-free, not a lot of dairy or meat, and veggie-loaded (I think people say this); but a lot of times, eating healthy for me often just means eating less. These dishes always satisfy without my having to unbutton my overalls.
Green falafel, whole wheat sandwich at Taim
Like my colleague Robert, Taim is one of my go-tos for when I want a healthier meal. At Taim I opt to load my whole wheat pita with crunchy green falafel. Everything on the menu here is gluten free and 100% vegan, so I never feel guilty about eating a falafel sandwich. It’s loaded with veggies, hummus, good carbs, and great fats. And according to some website, it’s only about 400 calories.
Moroccan couscous at Cafe Gitane
When I have managed to find a friend who also wants to “eat something light,” I try to convince them to eat split Cafe Gitane’s Moroccan couscous with me. The dish is a wonderful, warming heap of red peppers, potatoes, raisins, toasted pine nuts, hummus, and eggplant. You can also add chicken or sausage (I go with chicken) for some extra protein.
Deli salads at Dudley’s
Not long after moving to the Lower East Side, I noticed the deli window on the side of Dudley’s. Each time I go they are offering a new selection of fresh vegetable salads. Past favorites include roasted carrots with salsa verde; squash with yogurt and hazelnuts; and whatever they decide to do with cauliflower. You can pick three veggies for under $20 and it’s easily enough for the next day’s lunch or dinner.
My healthy dishes include lots of vegetables and no cheese. Fat, carbs, meat are all fine in moderation, which (aside from fat) translates to palm-sized portions on a smallish hand.
Roasted half-chicken at Rico Pollo #1
You cannot miss the sign at Rico Pollo #1, with a rainbow of neon-colored lights announcing itself on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood. There’s often a line out the door, as customers wait for some of the better rotisserie chicken in the neighborhood, served with a too-small container of addictive pepper vinegar. The side of rice and beans is pretty satisfying, but probably not on the super-healthy list, if only for the sheer quantity.
The white sweet potato at Superiority Burger
When I was writing restaurant criticism for Newsday over the past year, on days off, I’d visit Superiority Burger in the East Village for vegetables so striking it was as if they’re sourced from some celestial farmer. The chicories, for example, wear dappled color worthy of a painting. Less stunning yet quite delicious is the white sweet potato that’s on the menu every once in awhile. It’s one per order, roasted until soft, then served in a cup —like a sundae— dressed with salt and olive oil, labneh, pickles, and scallions. It’s one of those delicious dishes that commands full attention.
Pho from Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen
Despite that it’s not the more traditional beef or chicken stock, the vegetarian broth at Lucy’s in Bushwick is surprisingly satisfying. Simmered with mushrooms, star anise, cinnamon, charred shallots, and ginger, it’s the base for the rice noodle soup that includes shiitake mushrooms and bok choy. Last choice is whether to keep it vegetarian or to add lemongrass chicken. A flavorful 14-hour smoked brisket is another tempting option, but it’s not the healthiest decision.