Going out to eat can be one of life’s great pleasures. When we eat at a restaurant, we can sit down with friends or family and pay attention to them, rather what’s simmering on our stove. We enjoy food prepared by people who are trained professionals who often create wonders we would have never imagined. We bask in the attention of wait staff, and leave feeling pampered and special. And some of us look better in dim restaurant lighting.
But the greatest restaurant benefit is convenience. There’s nothing better than a home-cooked meal–unless you’re the one cooking it. In that case–unless you have grocery store time, prep time, cooking time and cleanup time–you might think there has to be something better.
Well, you’ve come to the right place, my friend. Yes, restaurant dining can be expensive and unhealthy. But if we do it right, it can be a wonderful option, facilitating our pursuit of a simple, beautiful life.
In this post, I’ll talk about lunch. To me, it’s the most challenging meal of the day. Breakfast is kind of easy to prepare at home. When you’ve returned in the evening from work or school you have a bit more time to give attention to dinner. But lunch? Lunch is a rushed mess, a bouncing buoy in a sea of churning work. We try to remember to prepare it for the next day, and then forget to take it to work in the morning. When we do remember to take it, all too often it involves leftovers from last night’s dinner that don’t taste nearly as good warmed over in the company microwave.
What’s worse, lunch is almost always unhealthy. In America, lunch=sandwich. And as we learned in the post How To Eat, dining on a tiny slice of protein trapped between slabs of processed carbohydrate is not the best idea for our long-term health. The fact that sandwiches and obesity are equally ubiquitous is probably not an coincidence. Of course, no one is saying they’re the entire cause of our dietary woes, but they definitely aren’t helping.
And there are so many better options. Here are three, available almost anywhere in the country.
Somewhere under that lettuce lies an amazingly delicious, complete meal. It’s from Chipotle, which continues to be one of the most reliable places to find a wholesome, satisfying lunch. More about Chipotle later in another post.
Yes, you should skip the burrito. Instead opt for the tortilla-free burrito bowl. I chose a little brown rice, black beans, carnitas and chicken (1/2 portion of each), salsa, a little cheese and lettuce for mine. I always add a dollop of their excellent guacamole. It’s a marvelous combination of textures and flavors, and far better than it has any right to be.
This meal is from Eureka, a California gastropub, but it typifies an option available at restaurants all across the land. If you enjoy hamburgers, you don’t have avoid them just because you don’t want the food coma-inducing mounds of carbohydrate surrounding the protein. Just ask for the “no bun” option. Almost every restaurant will bring out a burger like the one above. This particular meal is one of my lunch favorites. It’s a hormone-free patty topped by a bone marrow and porcini mushroom butter, served with mustard aioli and an oven-roasted tomato. It’s even better than it sounds.
Finally, there’s the salad you see in the featured image. I used to hate salads, but that was only because I’d never had a good one. Most salads at cheap places are cold, indifferent iceberg lettuce afterthoughts. Generally, if you find a restaurant that serves thoughtfully prepared vegetables and salads, you’ve found a keeper. So this one, featured at The Back Abbey in Claremont, California, reflects the restaurant’s overall attention to detail. There’s warm, savory grilled tenderloin, mixed greens, peppadew peppers, sliced onions and feta cheese enhanced by homemade sundried tomato vinaigrette. See if a restaurant near you serves a similar one. If you find one, why don’t you tell me about it in the comments!