Healthy Restaurant Roundup

A critic's breakdown of Dallas' new crop of healthy restaurants

A critic's breakdown of Dallas' new crop of healthy restaurants

salads, Start restaurant
Start is a healthier alternative to fast-food. Photo courtesy of Start
LYFE Kitchen, beef tips, Tal's Grain Bowl
LYFE Kitchen lists its nutritional information. Photo by Marc Lee
True Food Kitchen Spaghetti Squash
True Food Kitchen is a pretty place to be. Photo by David Fox
Modmarket salad
Modmarket welcomes all dietary plans. Photo courtesy of modmarket
Seasons 52 Copper River Salmon dish
Seasons 52 is like a healthy version of Houston's. Seasons 52/Facebook
salads, Start restaurant
LYFE Kitchen, beef tips, Tal's Grain Bowl
True Food Kitchen Spaghetti Squash
Modmarket salad
Seasons 52 Copper River Salmon dish

With Dallas-Fort Worth ruling the world as the capital of healthy restaurant chains, and with a branch of Modmarket finally open in Dallas proper, the time has come to pit these concepts against each other.

Modmarket, Seasons 52, True Food Kitchen and LYFE Kitchen are among the big players who've set up shop in DFW. Seasons 52 came first, in 2010. True Food Kitchen opened in Preston Center in fall 2013.

LYFE Kitchen opened its first local branch in Plano in June 2014, and Modmarket debuted in Flower Mound in September 2014. Start, our home-grown "healthy" fast-food chain, premiered in 2012. All of these restaurants have menus that push the healthy angle and feature sit-down facilities (versus takeout concepts like My Fit Foods).

Calling a restaurant 'healthy' is easy. And each has its own definition. But regardless of dietary preferences or fads, there are truths we hold dear: Healthy eating generally begins with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limits fat, sugar and sodium.

We're not about to analyze every dish, but we will try to separate the gluten from the wheat. Here's our healthy restaurant breakdown:

LYFE Kitchen
This fast-casual concept was launched by food industry veterans Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, and former McDonald's executives Michael Donahue and Mike Roberts. Everything on the menu is 600 calories or less.

What's good: The health claims are authentic. They use no butter, cream, white sugar, white flour, HFCS, trans fats or additives. Instead, they use gourmet ingredients and seasonings imaginatively, like in the farmers market salad with arugula, blackberries, goat cheese and spiced pecans, which you can order as is or top it with salmon, grilled chicken, mahi mahi or garlic-lime tofu.

Calories and sodium are marked clearly on the menu, and prices are cheap (though not quite fast-food cheap).

Modmarket
The mantra for this Colorado-based fast-casual chain is simple, whole, unprocessed foods — "and don't eat a ton of them." The broad menu makes room for vegan, celiac, Paleo, raw, South Beach, high carb, low carb, low GCI and many other eating plans.

What's good: Food quality and execution at Modmarket are tops. Options range from entrées like roasted chicken or sesame tofu with choice of sides such as mashed red potatoes or arugula and blue cheese salad. Pizza is notably good, with an exceptional whole-grain dough made in-house and toppings such as prosciutto and Gorgonzola. Half portions are available, and prices are cheap, including $2 wine by the glass.

Seasons 52
Healthy fine-dining concept from Darden Restaurants wisely underplays its healthy angle, instead emphasizing a seasonal menu. But nearly every dish is 475 calories or less.

What's good: Restaurant takes its cue from the hugely successful Houston's, with a broad and inventive menu, ambitious wine program, and sophisticated atmosphere. Calories are discreetly marked on each dish, be it a roasted half chicken with vegetables and Yukon gold mashed potatoes at 460 calories or a 220-calorie watercress salad with Gorgonzola cheese and pine nuts.

Start
Local fast-food chain from Dallas mom Erin McKool offers customers their favorite foods but "smarter," i.e., organic, fair-trade and "sustainable." Too bad the packaging and utensils are plastic, although some of that is biodegradable.

What's good: If fast-food drive-through is your only considered dining option, then Start is definitely better than the competition, with whole grain muffins in place of white flour and a veggie burger next to the beef. It's a baby step toward healthful eating, and the nutritional information is printed on the menu, which puts it above some other restaurants on this list.

True Food Kitchen
Arizona-based "eco-chic" chain describes its food as "honest" and claims to have an anti-inflammatory focus, following the bible of co-founder and supplement vendor Dr. Andrew Weil.

What's good: TFK is "North Dallas healthy," with $6 juice spritzers, pretty dining room and fresh produce on display. Some makes it onto the plate, such as the bountiful crudite platter with tzatziki and black olive dips. But they don't share nutritional info, and nearly everything's loaded with dairy, one of the most inflammatory food groups, rendering the primary claim empty. It sure looks good, though.