Eat to live—6 places where eating out is almost as healthy as making it from scratch

By Maryse Chevriere

So often, going out to eat means sacrificing—not just on cost, but on clean and smart choices, too. This free pass that we allow ourselves can certainly reap deliciously indulgent culinary rewards, but it sometimes comes with a hefty trade-off. In the spirit of treating your body as well as you treat your palette, here are six awesome restaurants and cafes around the Bay Area where eating out—and eating well—is almost as clean as dining at home.

Little Gem
Sustainable, seasonal, local. These are the guiding principles behind today’s back-to-the-roots-driven culinary landscape, and they’re certainly at the heart of this young, fast-casual Hayes Valley spot. Founded by some serious industry players (including two Thomas Keller alums), Little Gem has made it a goal to bring counter service dining up a notch, with tasty, healthy food that supports the producers as well as the environment. Everything on the menu is gluten-, dairy-, and refined sugar–free. What’s more, whether you come for lunch or dinner (or breakfast on the weekends), a meal here won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You can get a Tuscan pork flatbread with pickled carrots, cucumber, and fennel mustard for $9.50, or a rice bowl with heirloom beans and grilled trumpet mushrooms for $11. And at dinner, the plate of grilled king salmon over quinoa and kalamata olives steals the show for $23 (pictured below).

Embracing healthier habits while eating out doesn’t mean you have to be shackled to a boring simple salad or a sad side of veggies. Over at Gather in Berkeley, chef Charis Wahl is celebrating wholesome, sustainable dining with a menu driven by whole heritage animal and heirloom vegetable cookery. Think farm egg with cranberry bean tomato ragout; steamed mussels in shiitake dashi; snap peas with cashew hummus and harissa; and cauliflower pizza with shaved sunchokes. The menu also lists which items are gluten-free and vegan, and which ones can be made so on request.

Cha-Ya Vegetarian Japanese Cuisine
Unless you're scarfing down a big bowl of porky ramen with a side of karaage (hey, no judgment), Japanese cuisine is usually a great option for healthy dining out. But, if you're going strictly vegetarian, Cha-ya in the Mission is your spot, with a roster of delicious bites that go well above and beyond the standard avocado cucumber roll.

Seed + Salt
This Marina breakfast and lunch café checks all the “healthy” food boxes: vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free, no cane sugar. If this list makes you wonder, “what’s left?” the answer, surprisingly, is quite a lot. Look for start-your-day-off-right, power breakfast options like Wondercrunch granola and savory chickpea frittatas, or hearty lunch options like the popular beet burger and eggplant BLT (pictured above).

Green Heart Foods
This local, sustainable, healthy eating mini-empire has been taking the Bay Area by storm—first with a catering business and eventually also with a take-away Mission café. The hearty, textured salads—think quinoa and shaved asparagus with corona beans, or grilled broccoli and farro salad with radicchio and pine nuts—are the go-to move, but be sure to also look out for the rotating blue plate specials (lamb meatballs with tabbouleh and tzatziki, anyone?) for a nice upgrade to your usual desk-side dish.

Souley Vegan
Southern comfort food is high on most folks’ list of guilty pleasure eating, but at least one place in the East Bay is working to remove the guilt from that equation. Specializing in vegan variations of soul food classics, this cozy place makes for an especially great Sunday brunch option, with items like candied yam tots, sourdough French toast, and seitan chick’n’waffles.

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