“Eat, Drink and Be Healthy” for Pasadena Magazine

Local eateries help patrons watch their waistlines by dishing up full menus of calorie-conscious, good-for-you fare.

October 2008

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult enough without worrying what lies in wait at most restaurants. Nutrition facts from many local chains reveal appetizers and entrees topping out at more than 1,000 calories—the recommended daily allowance is between 2,000 and 2,500—and amounts of fat and other elements also nearing or exceeding the RDA. Read on to discover local restaurants that put thought–not fillers and other unwholesome fluff–into their food.

Pasadena

Contrary to the raucous nightclub scene at The Ice House directly next door, Aun Deli Café is a small, six table restaurant that feels like someone’s home. Though the décor is minimal, the food’s taste and appearance is anything but bland.

Aun Deli Café offers authentic, Japanese home-style main plates like the popular Chan Chan salmon or Aun style teriyaki chicken with brown rice, miso soup and choice of two deli items. But instead of being stocked with stereotypically decadent fare, this deli case is filled with fresh salads and other wholesome items. The miso soup is white and soothing, with chopped carrots and potatoes, and the moist teriyaki chicken also bucks American convention.

“Japanese food is not usually healthy in American Japanese restaurants,” says friendly owner Yuki Komada. “They pour sauce on top but we cook the sauce and sauté it with the chicken. We make all the sauces here.”

Sides of avocado fruit salad—chopped avocado, mango, tomato and onions—and couscous and grilled vegetable salad are refreshing and bursting with color and flavor. Though the majority of Aun Deli Café’s ingredients are organic and from local farmers markets, the prices are still very reasonable. 

Surrounded by KFC, McDonald’s and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Pasadena’s Orean’s Health Express is a vegetarian fast-food sanctuary serving soy versions of favorites like burgers, burritos and shakes.

The veggie chicken burger in particular–generously topped with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, sprouts, vegenaise and barbecue sauce–tastes no different from a non-veg variety. One customer even brought his carnivore friend for “hot-o-dogs,” who proclaimed it tasted “just like meat.”

Orean’s non-fried air fries are also delish.

“The calories in our food might be affected but there is no cholesterol,” says owner Orean Thomas, who earned a seal of approval from the American Heart Association for his small drive-through restaurant with a few outside tables.

Arcadia

Arcadia’s Natural Selection is a small, impeccably clean eatery perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

“A lot of restaurants give you what is going to be cheap and easy to make and a lot of preservatives,” says Marco Rodriguez, co-owner with his mother, Conchis. “I wanted somewhere you can trust.”

Not only can customers trust Natural Selection’s variety of homemade items like sandwiches, rice bowls or Thai, Mediterranean and chipotle wraps, but they can also bank on the fresh organic ingredients, homemade dressings and fast service.

The Mediterranean wrap is a scrumptious  combination of tender chicken, feta cheese, hummus, and crunchy cucumbers and baby greens topped with an olive oil-based dressing. A lunch special of a wrap or chicken or tuna salad sandwich and 16-ounce fruit water—like watered-down juice with a little pulp—is $7.95 and will leave you full and refreshed. “Smart juices” are $5 for 16 ounces of thirst-quenching deliciousness specially designed for immunity, energy and cleansing.

San Gabriel

Green Zone Fine Organic Cuisine is a pearl in the sea of San Gabriel’s small, Asian restaurants with its calming atmosphere—one brick wall, subtle lighting and another backlit wall with reeds—and organic, MSG-free, made-to-order dishes. Owner Jillian Cam calls her creations “Asian fusion” since she was born in Vietnam to two Chinese parents and has integrated a variety of Asian cuisines into the menu. Fresh squeezed juices from a local farmers market or organic loose-leaf tea are an invigorating start.

The homemade wonton and dumpling soups provide a yummy counterpoint to the main course but are hearty enough to be enjoyed on their own. A vegetarian option is the rice-accompanied sukiyaki in a large, sturdy pot filled with vegetable broth, soft colorful carrots, broccoli, squash and zucchini and topped with a fried egg.

Eagle Rock

Another local eatery serving organic and vegetarian ingredients from an Asian-inspired menu is Eagle Rock’s Blue Hen Vietnamese Kitchen. The funky atmosphere includes light yellow walls, unique orange ceiling lamps and children’s drawings pinned to a clothesline along two walls.

“We have a small menu but the dishes are all different and unusual,” says Vietnamese owner Que Dang, whose mom serves as chef. “We want simple home cooking using organic and local ingredients.”

Blue Hen accomplishes that by using about 75 percent organic ingredients from local farmers markets and making everything to order, from scratch and without MSG.

While typical Vietnamese menus have mostly beef and pork dishes, Blue Hen has mainly organic chicken and tofu and makes a beef soup special using high-quality grass fed Niman Ranch beef.

Other daily specials include crispy shrimp summer rolls: thin, soft rice paper enveloping crispy wonton-wrapped shrimp that adds a savory, slightly rich element to balance the fresh rice, lettuce and carrots. A sweet dipping sauce is the perfect complement to this light yet satisfying appetizer.

Montrose

Gourmet a go go in Montrose lives up to its slogan of “fresh food fast” but is also a place where locals can linger for breakfast, lunch or dinner in the small shop with one brick wall, exposed-beam ceilings and charming back patio with twinkle lights. Though their striking house-made dishes like macaroni and cheese and Tuscan chicken lasagna are not for the health-conscious, their low-calorie spa menu is wholesome and delicious.

“Our spa cuisine is calorie-controlled and salt-controlled and we work with a nutritionist and local boot camp,” says owner Gail Connell.

The 300-400 calorie dishes like Szechwan shrimp with noodles or turkey and chicken meatballs are anything but flavor-controlled and, while they may look miniscule in their microwave containers, are filling, balanced meals that taste anything but low-cal. Customers can dine in or take their spa dish to-go and microwave it for about three minutes at their home or office.

Highland Park

Vegetarian Mexican food may sound like a laughable feat, but the Cano family at Cinnamon Vegetarian Restaurant create hearty, meat-free dishes.

The jumping shrimp cocktail is a mandatory start to any Cinnamon meal. A goblet is filled with a mixture of gazpacho and cocktail sauce topped with chopped cucumber and cilantro. The soy shrimp are a clone of regular shrimp in their look, taste and texture.

Chicken mole also resembles the real thing and is extremely tender and moist with a cinnamon-accented sauce, while the Guatemalan tamales are savory, soft and presented beautifully on a large green leaf.

Cinnamon’s chorizo is juicy but not greasy and is delicious on sopes—two soft, fried, corn-based pastries topped with refried beans, guacamole, and lettuce. Even a local who frequents authentic taco trucks was impressed.

“This area is mostly Mexican and it is possible to get the same food but more healthy,” says Colombian co-owner Esperanza Cano.

While everyone defines health differently based on individual dietary needs and beliefs, hopefully some of these establishments can help you breathe—and eat—a little easier next time you go out for a meal.

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