(credit: Julie Wolfson)

Going out for a meal often means consuming unknown amounts of fats, sugars, and mystery ingredients. Large portions of proteins, hidden butter, and delicious looking fried foods can make ordering a meal in a restaurant a mine field of calories. How do the foodies, food critics, and food writers keep some balance? A recent visit to the new Laurel Hardware led to a tasty experiment. Could a lunch of a kale and totsoi salad be filling enough to satisfy, even when surrounded by plates filled with pork belly, pizzas, burgers, and fries? The answer is… yes.
From bakery cafes, to Koreatown restaurants, new dining destinations and hotels, these lighter plates deliver big flavor without the massive calories counts. Five food writers offered their favorite choices for healthy options to order at Los Angeles restaurants.

(credit: Krista Simmons)

Krista Simmons

Judge Top Chef Masters


“Anyone who follows my Instagram or Twitter can tell you how ridiculously obsessed with kale I am. It’s so L.A. I know, but I have to do something to counter balance all the eating I do. And it’s a health food that doesn’t feel like a punishment. Kale is chock full of fiber, and is the most nutritiously complete veggie on the planet. According to Web MD, just one cup of the leafy green contains just 36 calories, but packs 15% of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, 5 grams of fiber, and 1,020% of vitamin K. It is also a great source of copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. On nights when I get to stay in (which are rare), I make kale salads, braises, and even juice blends. But if I’m out, I go absolutely wild for the kale salad at Public at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The other, more sinful items on their menu — like the house-made charcuterie boards or their juicy burger with hatch chillies and roasted tomato jam — are tempting, but I always go with that dish, and maybe some of their market oysters on the half shell, if I’m looking for some protein. The kale salad is just the right amount of wrong with pancetta breadcrumbs, and I love the little kiss of sweetness that the dried currants add.”

(credit: Diana Hossfeld)

Diana Hossfeld

Diana Takes a Bite


“While Zoe Nathan’s exquisite pastries (the salted caramel is a must!) have received the most attention at Huckleberry Café, my favorite dish at the Westside’s popular brunch spot is actually one of the healthiest. Delicate kernels of quinoa are tossed with farmers market fresh vegetables like kale and caramelized cubes of roasted butternut squash, and then topped with two perfectly fried sunny side up eggs. The luxurious yolk creates an insta-sauce for the heap of healthy seeds and veggies – negating the need for any excess oil or butter. It’s hearty without landing like a brick in the stomach, and offers a great balance of satisfying protein and high-fiber carbohydrates that won’t lead to any blood-sugar spikes later in the day.”

(credit: Julie Wolfson)

Nastassia Johnson

Let Me Eat Cake


“Short Cake is one of my favorite bakeries in town. While it may seem that a trip to Short Cake includes indulging in rich baked goodies from their comte thyme croissant to a slice of chocolate cardamom cake, Short Cake is a great example of how one can order healthy in even the most unassuming of places. While I regularly enjoy a buttercup and ice vanilla bean latte, I also love Short Cake for a healthy lunch. Their Seeds and Sprout salad is my go to healthy dish in LA. Hearty sprouts, alfalfa and pea shoots tossed with a generous serving of pepitas and sunflower seeds, it is surprisingly filling and delicious. The poppy seed vinaigrette take’s this salad over the top. A touch of sweetness from honey balance with champagne vinegar, lemon and a house made aioli, the flavors fold together perfectly. A healthy sprout salad for lunch leaves plenty of room to indulge in dessert!”

(credit: Josh Lurie)

Josh Lurie

Food GPS


“Flavor comes first when ordering at restaurants, but we live in a city that doesn’t rely exclusively on butter, fat and deep frying to achieve the desired effect. One of my favorite lunches is pan-fried fish at one of my favorite Koreatown restaurants, Jun Won. So far, the best choice has been butterflied sea trout, but if you prefer bonier fish with higher fat content, atka mackerel is also great. Better yet, the fish comes with an endless parade of panchan, little dishes of vegetables that might include eggplant, bean sprouts or spinach. The owner has a sister shop in the neighborhood that specializes in panchan, so you know she and her son take these dishes seriously.”

(credit: Jessica Ritz)

Jessica Ritz

Taster Tots


“There’s plenty of rich, satisfying food to be had at the Hungry Cat. I’m usually down for eating sustainably caught seafood cooked with a generous amount of butter — not that I actually notice, because it will taste so good and be perfectly integrated into the other beautiful seasonal ingredients — and other heavy essentials like crème fraîche. But if not, a shared plate of oysters on the half shell and the Hungry Cat’s market salad always hits the spot for a less indulgent meal. The mixture of lettuces with peccorino, avocado, hardboiled egg grated through a sieve (a trick I copy at home), shallots, and a made-on-the-spot lemon dressing tastes super fresh and satisfying. Or the menu always has some other salad featuring a fruit or veggie that’s in peak season, and/or often a small amount of protein, like a grilled octopus, or a marinated fish. Someone at my table inevitably orders a bowl of awesome French fries I can nibble on.”

Related post: Best Brunches For You and the Kids

(credit: Julie Wolfson)

And my most recent find:

Poached eggs with thinly sliced crispy toast layered with wilted spinach and roasted tomatoes are served in the stunning historic room with a view of the luxury shops Beverly Hills . This light breakfast entrée has just enough richness to be hearty with some greens to add more vitamins and fiber to the dish. Walk out on a cloud rather than feeling weighed down by the more typical giant cheese filled omelete or massive French toast at other breakfast joints.

(credit: Julie Wolfson)

At Laurel Hardware the Kale Salad is served with a small amount of feta cheese, quinoa, and their hearty sunflower seed vinaigrette. This colorful dish offers rich flavors and is more filling than one would expect. For a hot day, it was the perfect light lunch option.
Julie Wolfson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She covers travel, lifestyle, art, pop culture, cocktails and food for Cool Hunting and several other media outlets. Most days you’ll find her out and about in Southern California and around the world tracking down stories about talented people doing amazing things.