I used to go on a clean eating binge at the start of every year, sickened from the excesses of the prior season while gearing up for the ultimate excess of Mardi Gras.
I gave this up two years ago when I flipped the practice of a season of vegetable-forward eating to a daily one. I knocked off 20 pounds early on, have kept it off and look and feel exponentially better. I still enjoy small samples of gumbo and remain highly susceptible to the charms of fried chicken, but now I enjoy them more as they’re infrequent treats.
Here are some of my favorite places to enjoy healthy dining options that never feel like a sacrifice.
I love absolutely everything about True Food Kitchen, a bright, inspiring space located on the retail floor of The Julia in the Warehouse District that opened early last autumn. The health-conscious restaurant offers a menu of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options with a smattering of high-quality protein-oriented selections. True Kitchen is heavy on Mediterranean and Asian flavors represented in a plethora of choices for breakfast, starters, salads, pizzas (both traditional and gluten-free) colorful bowls, burgers, sandwiches, entrées and inventive desserts. Dazzling plant- and vegetable-oriented art pops vividly off of a backdrop of natural wood and fiber surfaces and the kitchen uses seasonal, sustainable and organic ingredients that are locally sourced as much as possible. My recommendation for the “not to be missed dish” is the Edamame Dumplings with dashi, white truffle and Asian herbs. I could enjoy this every day. The grilled fish tacos made with Gulf Redfish also impressed with tomatillo avocado salsa, pickled jicama, dried sweet corn and coconut lime crema.
The focus at Sweet Soulfood is on comfort foods familiar to locals. This hotspot was the first spot to cater to the emerging trend of vegan soul food. The colorful cafeteria-style joint turns out fresh takes on New Orleans classics like red beans and rice on Mondays and crispy fried chickpea cakes instead of fried catfish on Fridays. The Mushroom Ragu with Creamy Grits is a personal favorite. The menu changes daily and the portions are hefty, so sharing is the way to go.
I just love the vibe at Good Karma Cafe, a soothing plant-based retreat operated by brothers Goshi and Deshi Berg based on the non-violent principals of Ahimsa, followed by the Hare Krishna community. Most items, all of them bright and fresh, are under $10.
I will admit to being a little weirded out by what must be an extreme process to turn pea protein into something that looks and tastes (at least to me) so much like a real hamburger, but I still find the Impossible Burger at Breads on Oak pretty irresistible. I like the pseudo meat patty, which comes on a beautiful house-made brioche roll, with the optional cheese and avocado.
Located just a block or so from Audubon Park, Maxwell is a favorite spot for a healthy take-out meal to be enjoyed under the oaks. New Orleans native chef Alex Anderson worked the kitchen at NIX, a celebrated New York vegan/vegetarian restaurant, before returning home to take over the kitchen at this cheery corner spot. My menu favorites include a savory sweet potato lasagna made with lentils, walnuts, mushrooms and cashew cheese; miso-glazed eggplant scallops; and the stuffed Sante Fe jerk plantain.
Chris Audler, Stephen Cali and Aaron Vogel, the creative trio behind District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew., have purchased and will soon reopen Seed, a celebrated vegan restaurant in the Lower Garden District. The newly revamped 2,700 square-foot-space with feature an inventive selection of New Orleans-centric vegan and vegetarian menu items that extend beyond the vegan-only dishes formerly offered. Artfully crafted cocktails and mocktails and coffee drinks will be available in the newly expanded bar.
Breads on Oak, 8640 Oak St., 324-8271, BreadsOnOak.com
Maxwell, 6101 Magazine St., 301-0510, MaxwellNewOrleans.com
Seed, 1330 Prytania St., 302-2599, SeedNewOrleans.com
Sweet Soulfood, 1025 N. Broad St., 821-2669, SweetVeganSoulFood.com
True Food Kitchen, 801 St. Charles Ave., 558-3900, TrueFoodKitchen.com
Good Karma Café, 2940 Canal St., 402-4698, GoodKarmaNola.com