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.
"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.
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 meatloaf.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 9-inch long Zombie banh mi to be found, too.
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.
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 dishes like grilled or baked fish, seared scallops, pickled shrimp salad and a lentil soup with pickled apricots.
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.
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.
The red beet and lobster risotto is tough to resist here. But it's equally easy to keep it light with equally delicious dishes like the signature ceviches, shrimp cocktails, tiraditos and seared yellowfin tuna over lentils and nopales.
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.
While it's tremendously tough to pass up Paulie's housemade pastas, stick with its dishes like grilled vegetables, roasted salmon, gazpacho and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.