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Keep Those Resolutions

20 terrific restaurants for eating healthy while staying social.

For Your Health

For me — and, I imagine, for a lot of people — the toughest part about dieting is when you're confronted with eating out. Unless you're dining in a chain restaurant, it's tough to count calories or know what the sodium or fat content of any given dish is. And I can pretty much guarantee you that neither your server nor the cooks know, either.

Yet dining out is often unavoidable. We've turned restaurants into entertainment venues, and that's where we meet up with friends instead of entertaining at home. We entertain clients and conduct business meetings over lunches and dinners. We eat out for sport in Houston. And it's tough to turn down a dinner invitation in many social situations.

Chicken salad at benjy's.
Troy Fields
Chicken salad at benjy's.
Down House pleases all palates.
Troy Fields
Down House pleases all palates.
Quinoa and black bean burger at Adair Kitchen.
Katharine Shilcutt
Quinoa and black bean burger at Adair Kitchen.
Tuna-on-tuna at Michiru Sushi, one of the chef's own creations.
Katharine Shilcutt
Tuna-on-tuna at Michiru Sushi, one of the chef's own creations.

"Dieting?" your friends or boss will scoff. "Order a salad!" But you don't want a salad at every meal. Or perhaps you've wised up to the fact that salads aren't nearly as healthy as the advertising industry has tricked us into believing. Regardless of the reason, no one wants to get stuck eating lettuce leaves at a restaurant while everyone around them is gnawing on steaks and sucking down wine.

Fortunately, there are plenty of Houston restaurants that accommodate both parties: the dieters and the non-dieters alike. Below is a list of 20 restaurants where you can find good, thoughtful, delicious meals — healthy or not.

Adair Kitchen

At breakfast, have a bowl of steel-cut oats with fruit or build your own egg-white omelet. At lunch or dinner, look for light items such as a grilled chicken quinoa bowl with mixed greens, black bean-quinoa burgers, grilled pesto salmon and lean turkey meat loaf.

Backstreet Cafe / Hugo's

Although it's tempting to feast at both of chef Hugo Ortega's restaurants, there are healthier dishes to be found here. Backstreet features separate thoughtfully composed menus for both vegetarians and gluten-free diners. And Hugo's also has a vegetarian menu alongside such vibrant dishes as smoky grilled chicken in an ancho chile sauce and traditional grilled huachinango (red snapper) with roasted vegetables.

Barnaby's

The Lebanese chicken fattoush salad at Barnaby's is one of the greatest salads in existence, but you can also stay healthy with a selection of four different veggie burgers, grilled salmon and grilled chicken. For breakfast, Bob's Healthy Plate with six egg whites and apple-chicken sausages is practically legendary. For anyone who wants to do the opposite of diet: blue cheese waffle fries.

Becks Prime

Look under the "Hot Plates" section of the menu to find grilled favorites such as mesquite-grilled chicken and vegetables, chicken with wild rice and seared ahi tuna. Still craving a burger? Try the "burger in a bowl" dishes like The Kitchen Sink, The Volcano and the Luv Ya Blue.

benjy's

Sure, there's the comforting, crunchy chicken with gratin potatoes that beckons each time. But just as good are dishes such as grilled salmon with root vegetables and a cauliflower-olive salad or the Milton's Warm 10 Vegetable Salad with grilled chicken.

Cafe TH

The vegan section of this Vietnamese menu isn't the only place you'll find healthy food. Cafe TH has partnered with Washington Gym to create specific paleo-friendly dishes like spaghetti squash topped with chargrilled beef and vegetables that's a noodle-free version of bun. But there are still gut-busting dishes like the nine-inch-long Zombie banh mi to be found, too.

The Counter

Since The Counter allows you to endlessly customize your burger, you can hold the bun entirely, make it a turkey or vegan patty, and top it with an array of vegetables from roasted green chiles to marinated artichokes while your dining buddy sucks down a cheeseburger and shake.

Down House

Shrimp and grits, a kimchi burger with a fried egg, or crispy pork belly — all options for your non-dieting friends. For you, there's a tasty selection of dishes like grilled or baked fish, seared scallops, pickled shrimp salad and a lentil soup with pickled apricots.

Gratifi

Hummus made with edamame, grilled fish tacos, buffalo burgers and an indulgent spinach-artichoke dip that's served with cucumbers — these are for you. Bacon-and-caramelized onion pizzas, cheesesteaks and stuffed meat loaf — these are for your friends.

Hobbit Cafe

While it used to be that only crunchy hippie types ate here, the Hobbit Cafe has greatly expanded its menu and become a beloved Houston institution. These days, you can get jalapeño poppers and bacon cheeseburgers. But you can still find the classic sandwiches like my favorite, the Thorin Oakenshield (tabbouleh and mushrooms, hold the cheese), and that old standby, the Valinor (steamed veggies on a mountain of black beans and brown rice).

La Fisheria

The red beet and lobster risotto is tough to resist here. But it's equally easy to keep it light with delicious dishes like the signature ceviches, shrimp cocktails, tiraditos and seared yellowfin tuna over lentils and nopales.

Niko Niko's

A comforting plate of roasted chicken with a huge, crispy Greek salad on the side is an easy pick for healthy dining, but don't overlook the equally tasty Turulu Turulu, a Greek vegetable stew of zucchini, squash, eggplant, onion, parsley, tomato and garlic. Meanwhile, let your friends pig out on spanakopita and moussaka.

Paulie's

While it's tremendously tough to pass up Paulie's housemade pastas, stick with its dishes like grilled vegetables, roasted salmon, gazpacho and its wide array of salads (just go easy on the meat and cheese found in most of them). The summer salad with arugula, pickled tomatoes and cucumber tossed in olive oil and lemon with a side of ripe melon is a personal favorite.

Pondicheri

Indulge in crispy goat-filled fried samosas and butter chicken, or keep it healthy with an all-veg Yogi Thali and grilled fish marinated in a fragrant blend of turmeric, amchur and ajwain with a side of sautéed greens and raita.

RDG + Bar Annie

It's said you can never be too rich or too thin. I happen to disagree, but it makes sense that the concentration of wealth found at RDG + Bar Annie would demand delicious, low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat dishes alongside the New York strip steaks and Cobb salads. RDG delivers with roasted rainbow trout, grilled salmon, grilled redfish, a roasted Gulf crab and seared avocado salad, ahi tuna with roasted beets and much, much more.

Roost

Go nuts with lamb heart tartare and cured foie gras, or keep it simple with lean-and-mean dishes like a quinoa- and spinach-stuffed poblano pepper with red beet mash and baked Patagonia salmon.

Roots Bistro / Roots Juice

Your friends can tear into a skillet of coppa mac 'n' cheese or salami flatbread from the wood-fired oven while you can enjoy smoked fish with vegetables, raw beet ravioli, half a smoked chicken or a creamy kale-and-avocado salad.

Ruggles Green

Perhaps one of the best places in town for healthy eaters to take their friends, and vice versa, Ruggles Green offers a color-coded menu showing which items are dairy-free, vegetarian and gluten-free. Try the quinoa mac 'n' cheese for a serious indulgence, or grab a lean buffalo burger.

Sammy's Wild Game Grill

As at Cafe TH, it's easy to adhere to a paleo diet (if that's your thing) at Sammy's thanks to the prevalence of paleo-approved wild game on the menu. You've had a salad topped with grilled chicken, but what about grilled kangaroo, llama, antelope or ostrich? For everyone else, the Sammy's Wild Fries (topped with a fried egg) and wild-game hot dogs are surefire wins.

Vinoteca Poscol

The finger sandwiches (tramezzini) are a fun, light way to indulge in pairings like smoked salmon and robiola, but the real draw here for healthy eaters is Poscol's terrific verdura menu of vegetables for only $6 each: roasted parsnips and carrots with a sprinkling of salty reggiano cheese, for example, or beets roasted in cartoccio. For something more substantial, there's baked cod and braised calamari in a red wine sauce.
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On the Menu

Tuna on Tuna
First look at Michiru Sushi in Greenway Plaza.

Katharine Shilcutt

Michiru Sushi is the other high-profile sushi restaurant which opened recently, not to be confused with Chris Kinjo's MF Sushi on Westheimer. I haven't been to MF Sushi yet, and I'm keen to dine there. Although reviews so far have been mixed, one thing has been noted across the board: MF Sushi is quite pricey.

So it was with great relief that I found myself indulging in high-quality fare for far less money at Michiru Sushi this past Sunday night, including a dish which I've been raving about like a madwoman for a few days now: tuna dumplings.

As soon as our server — a warm, bubbly woman who knew the menu inside and out — explained the concept of the tuna dumpling, I was sold. Spicy tuna belly, shrimp, "crunch" and avocado inside a huge dumpling made of...wait for it...more tuna. It looked like the beautiful bastard offspring of a crunch roll and a soup dumpling, and I was smitten. We were given spoons to tear the dumplings apart with, and I couldn't believe how easily the paper-thin tuna parted to reveal the contents inside.

Michiru Sushi doesn't make claims as an authentic Japanese sushi restaurant. It's owned, after all, by Chinese — like nearly every other sushi place in town. But what it does do is offer a very good selection of traditional Japanese favorites like sigh-inducing fresh uni and Japanese red snapper alongside Americanized rolls and a short menu of house specialties that — like those tuna dumplings — make Michiru stand out from the crowd.

Michiru's owners also run the popular restaurant of the same name in Webster, and the Greenway Plaza spot is their second location. The menu is the same, although the atmosphere is slightly more upscale. And at the Green­way Plaza location, you'll find Oichi-san — a Chinese sushi chef who trained in Japan for a decade and in New York City for almost two.

There's a lot of art to what Oichi-san does, from the simple roses he creates out of curled pieces of barely pink snapper to the bowls made out of ice in which the seaweed and sashimi salads are served. And although techniques such as these are by no means unique to Michiru, they lend a gentle touch of luxury to an otherwise simple, inexpensive meal.

That snapper was a special of the night, as was a limited supply of uni. And what terrific little bites they both were: the snapper still crunchy and warmed by a very light drizzle of spicy ponzu sauce, the uni buttery and briny-sweet. It was my dining companion's first taste of the sea urchin roe, and I warned him: "You're getting spoiled tonight. Most uni in Houston isn't this good."

His eyes widened at the way the uni looked on its fat bulwark of rice and seaweed — like a stack of bright orange tongues, complete with tiny tastebuds, plucked from the mouths of some mythical creatures — but he was surprised to find the roe so creamy and so sweet.

Just as quickly, however, he was on to two of Michiru's enormous American-style rolls (although he admitted later he couldn't decide which he'd liked best — the uni or the rolls). One, a nightly special, was full of Dungeness crab for $13. The other was a "Texas roll," one of those interesting specialty rolls that are offered at sushi restaurants across the state (and even outside our borders) but that differ entirely from place to place.

Here at Michiru, the only thing Texan about the $12 Texas roll is its topper of thinly sliced jalapeños. "The chef will put serrano peppers on top if you ask," our server noted. The rest of the roll is filled out with spicy tuna — perhaps in a further attempt to appeal to the Texan palate for spice — and avocado, then covered with torched salmon, yellowtail, white tuna and more of that "crunch," which I'm not sure has a proper name despite its ubiquity on sushi menus. Both rolls were huge and well worth their price.

In fact, everything at Michiru was surprisingly well-priced, given the area and the lovely setting inside, where a wall of water trickles gently down taut wire in a floor-to-ceiling wooden enclosure that separates the blue-hued bar from the rest of the mahogany-toned restaurant.

Those savory bites of uni weren't even the most expensive thing we ordered that night — they were only $12. The tuna dumplings at $14 and the Japanese snapper at $16 were the priciest, and I honestly could have finished a meal with just those two items. Along with the two rolls, the uni, and a sprightly salad of sashimi, seaweed and pickled vegetables, we completely over-ordered and were faced with a mountain of fish.

Luckily, we had all night to spend at the utterly relaxed sushi bar, eating and watching the show: me watching Oichi-san and his two chefs cleave fish quietly and with contented, relaxed concentration, my dining companion watching the NFL game on a flat-screen that hung nearly silent on one wall and polishing off a bottle of nigori sake. I couldn't have asked for a better close to a hectic weekend than this.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
New hours and a juicy blind item.

Katharine Shilcutt

It was a bit of a boring week around the city as far as either openings or closings were concerned. There was a break-in at Reef — the most recent of several — earlier this week, and a conspiracy theory worthy of Ancient Aliens popped up in our comments section regarding the motives behind the crimes. And that, friends, was the most exciting thing that happened this week.

However, if you read to the end of this week's rather short Openings and Closings article, I have a juicy blind item that should hold you ravenous beasts over for at least a few days.

As discussed a few weeks ago, Tintos closed last week and reopened immediately as PESCA: World Seafood. Meanwhile, plenty of restaurants changed their hours — specifically their lunch hours — so read on for all the titillating details.

There's also news from the Heights that Ken Bridge (of Pink's Pizza, Lola, Shepherd Park Draught House and Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co.) is opening a new cantina concept in the old Heights Sports and Social Lounge space on White Oak at Studewood. Bridge has been referring to it as "El Camino," but that's no guarantee the name will stick around.

Kiran's is no longer open for lunch. Dinner is now served all week long starting at 5 p.m. Afternoon tea still runs on the second Saturday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m.

Aura Brasserie is now open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Cuchara is now open for lunch as well. Lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through ­Fridays.

Lastly, La Fisheria has extended its hours and is now open between lunch and dinner, serving bar bites and offering happy hour prices from 3 to 7 p.m. each day. The new bar bites menu has some old favorites like the red snapper croquettes along with new items such as Chiltepin oyster flatbread, flautas de barbacoa and tortitas (little tortas) de cochinita pibil.

On to the blind item: What longtime Montrose restaurant will soon be closing to make way for a young new owner with a vision for similar food but with a vastly more authentic and modern touch? Guess away, dear hearts. This is a good one.

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