The farm-to-table movement swept New York City’s fine dining scene long ago, but that didn’t help make eating during work hours more nutritious. This new trend will.
From Wall Street to Midtown, a new category of food joint is flourishing: healthy fast casual. These grab-and-go spots go beyond Chop’t and Pret A Manger, serve up salads made with locally-sourced produce, organic meat plates, and better grains like quinoa and freekah.
Many of the eight shops included here are opening new locations quickly, and you can expect even more options in the near future—like the West Coast’s Veggie Grill, Franklin Becker’s Little Beet, and Belgian chain Exki. (And we’re not even including juice bars like Juice Press and Liquiteria, which also often stock nutritious lunch options.)
Eating lunch hunched over your computer is still not good for you, but this will help just a bit… —Lisa Elaine Held
Apotheke and Pulqueria owner Heather Tierney opened her healthy food-and-juice cafe, The Butcher’s Daughter, on Kenmare Street last year. It was so successful that she expanded it to include a “market” next door, where Soho fashionistas and artists can grab a Spicy Kale Caesar Salad or Heirloom BLT to go. The tiny space can be a little hectic, though, so pad your lunch run with an extra few minutes if you’ve got an important meeting to get back for. www.thebutchersdaughter.com
Photo: Facebook/The Butcher’s Daughter
As The Pump, it catered to body builders. Those muscly Paleo eaters still stop in (they just do CrossFit now), but vegans and the health-curious also love the creative, seasonal salads, famed roasted brussels sprouts, and spicy meatballs. It’s gotten so popular, the chainlet now has six locations throughout the city. www.diginn.com
Photo: Facebook/Dig Inn
Fresh & Co. is the hipper, seasonal, version of Chop’t. It sources produce from local farms and the Union Square Farmer’s market for its build-your-own salad bar, and also serves quinoa bowls, sandwiches, and paninis. It’s been such a hit that it just opened its ninth New York City location this week. www.freshandconyc.com
Photo: Facebook/Fresh & Co.
Hu Kitchen doesn’t align fully with Paleo diet principles, but its menu of what it calls “human food” definitely leans in that direction. Lots of fresh, whole foods like organic meats and vegetables, very few grains, and an awesome “Mash Bar” for creating snack bowls of coconut cream, chia pudding, and berries, for example. They’ve also got a great selection of snacks like kale chips, dark chocolate, and green juices to grab for later. www.hukitchen.com
Photo: Facebook/Hu Kitchen
Catering company Great Performances, well-known for its 100-mile-menu, creates grab-and-go versions of its farm-fresh cuisine, much of which is made with ingredients from its own farm north of Manhattan. Think grilled shishito peppers, or buckwheat noodles in a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. A full cafe is in operation at Riverdale public garden Wave Hill, and you can also find the prepared items at Sotheby’s, Nespresso, inside Bed, Bath & Beyond on Sixth Avenue, and at Chelsea Piers in Connecticut. www.greatperformances.com
Photo: Amanda Gentile for Great Performances
This Tribeca hotspot was opened last spring by two fitness buffs who spend lots of time at Barry’s Bootcamp and SoulCycle. The menu feels like sexy spa cuisine, and all dishes—from curried freekah to lentil salads—are made with healthy oils and herbs and spices to boost flavor. It also stocks Luli Tonix, a delish brand of bottled fruit-and-veggie blends. www.mulberryandvine.com
Photo: Facebook/Mulberry and Vine
Roti’s taking advantage of the slew of recent research on the Mediterranean Diet’s health benefits, with its plates, salads, and sandwiches filled with chicken kabob, salmon, and grilled vegetables. (Just skip the deep fried falafel and be aware that the meat is not organic.) It now has locations across the country, including two in Manhattan. www.roti.com
Sweetgreen, a shop that has made a name for itself on college campuses around the country, is likely the coolest salad spot you’ll ever go to. You can make your own, but its amazing chef-designed creations make it easier (and more delicious) not to. You can tell care is put into sourcing each ingredient, and at its first New York location in the Nomad, a blackboard tells you which local farms the kale and broccoli are coming from. A second Manhattan shop will open in Tribeca in early 2014. www.sweetgreen.com