Maybe someone ordered pizza for the office all-hands meeting this afternoon, and before that, you raided the supply closet’s stock of mini Twix bars. Maybe your friend has just G-chatted you declaring he or she “just feels a little gross right now and would like to eat something light.”
Either way, when discussing plans for that casual dinner you have on the docket later, you’ve decided you would like to eat something “kind of healthy.” We’re not talking going full vegan or only drinking juices that are green. What we are talking about is potentially eating some salad and maybe a nice piece of fish.
For those nights, here are some suggestions.
West-Bourne is where you go for dinner when you’ve decided that, more than anything else, you want to be alone and eat something with several fresh vegetables in it. It’s counter-service, the space feels like a charming West Village apartment owned by someone who reads hardcover books and sometimes does pilates, and it’s perfect for when you want to eat an exceptional salad or grain bowl while you stare at your phone and try to ignore everyone in your peripheral vision.
Bunna Cafe is an Ethiopian restaurant in Bushwick, and it’s one of our favorite spots for a casual meal in the neighborhood. Everything here is vegetarian, and the best thing to order is something called “The Feast.” It’s a big sampler a bunch of different dishes involving things like kale, collard greens, and red lentils, that you can get as an individual portion or a larger one to share. And if you start feeling a little too healthy at any point, you can add a vegan alcoholic milkshake to your meal.
The moment you walk into Gertie, you feel a little better. Maybe it’s because of the floor-to-ceiling windows or the pastel color scheme that transports you inside of a Sunday morning cartoon. Either way, it’s a pleasant place, and it’s great for when you want to sit at a little table and eat a whole fish or a plate of vegetable sides. This place is also counter-service, so it’s pretty casual, and it doesn’t get too busy due to the fact that it’s mostly known as a breakfast/brunch spot.
If you’re looking for a spot where you can eat a salad with a friend and get out for under $20, Ruby’s is there for you. No matter when you stop by, this Australian cafe will probably be busy, and you’ll probably have to sit next to a few people arguing about whether Taylor or Cole Sprouse would be a more loving father - but it’s inexpensive and reliable. The menu here has everything from grain bowls to pasta, but we usually just go with one of the chicken sandwiches.
None of us will probably ever be as healthy as the Whole Foods-only-diet babies of Park Slope. But if you’re in the area and want to compete with them, get some Israeli mezze plates or some fish at Miriam. It’s walk-in only and gets way more crowded at brunch than it does at dinner. So come with a friend or a date, sit at one of the hightops, and split some roasted cauliflower and hummus.
Made Nice is a counter-service place from the people behind Eleven Madison Park, and they serve the sort of food you’d ideally make at home if you weren’t so busy trying to rebrand yourself. They do things like a smoked salmon salad (with croutons that are actually small hashbrowns) and a bowl of chicken and rice that’s more filling and flavorful than you expect. The space itself kind of feels like a daycare center for 20-somethings, but it’s still a good spot for an easy meal that you won’t regret eating.
Australian restaurants in NYC are very good at being kind of healthy. Banter, for example, has both a quinoa bowl and chia pudding bowl in addition to a burger and a pulled pork sandwich. So you can come by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, take a look at the menu and make a last-minute decision on how healthy you want to be. Banter also happens to be on a nice, quiet block of Greenwich Village, so it’s a solid alternative for when your friend suggests Westville but you need to not eat Westville for the third time this week.
We aren’t sure if vegetarian restaurants are significantly healthier than those that serve meat, but, at least, at abcV you know you have a zero percent chance of accidentally eating a pound of bacon. This is one of our favorite vegetarian restaurants in the city, and the food is stuff like a whole head of cauliflower and a dosa filled with egg or avocado. Everyone you bring here will probably like it, as long as you make a reservation - no one likes eating at 10:30pm.
Atla is the sister restaurant of Cosme, and it’s sort of like the casual, downtown, let’s-get-food-after-exercising version of that place. So it’s actually pretty different. They serve flax-seed chilaquiles and an arctic-char stuffed avocado, and the bright space is good for a daytime meal - although it’s also open for dinner. Plan a lunch meeting here when you don’t want to weigh yourself down for the rest of the day. Or, if you have a stressful morning and the only thing that will help is a sandwich, they have a chorizo one that’s pretty great (add the avocado).
Jajaja is another spot that doesn’t serve meat, although here they don’t even have cheese. This restaurant is fully vegan, and also Mexican - and if you’re wondering how that works, the answer is: surprisingly well. Start with some vegan nachos that may or may not be healthier than non-vegan ones, then move on to some fried squash tacos.
Loring Place is the restaurant you come to for a nice dinner, and as an added bonus you’ll find that it’s easy to eat fairly healthily. The huge menu involves a lot of vegetables, so you could have zucchini fries and some kind of vegetable pizza, or baked ricotta and some whole-wheat pasta. And if you decide you just want a burger, they have one of those too. This restaurant is good for a dinner with your family or a group of friends - as long as you book a table far in advance.
Sonnyboy is owned by the same people as Banter (another healthy place you can find on this guide), and serves a pretty similar menu of Australian cafe things like a plate of falafel, beets, and quinoa, and a salad that involves spicy salmon. But it’s slightly scenier than Banter, in a way that feels like you’d want to spend a late night here drinking a full bottle of wine.
The Peruvian food at Inti is a good reminder that just because you want to be healthy doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to kale salad or mushed up root vegetables. This Hell’s Kitchen spot has virtually no atmosphere to speak of, but the food - like rotisserie chicken and ceviche - is simple and good. You can eat a ton here for under $20, and not many people seem to know it exists, which is great news if you just want to hide after work.
Gohan is a quiet little spot on the LES that specializes in Japanese homestyle cooking. They make things like brown-rice sushi, a few kinds of sashimi, some different soups, and set meals that come with a protein and a few vegetable sides. The food is all pretty uniformly healthy, but not in a way that’ll make you start planning your second dinner halfway through your meal.
First it was a little bit of amateur biking on the weekends, and now it’s full-on vegetarianism and watches that track how many flights of stairs you climb each day. Your family is officially very healthy. If you’re looking to have dinner all together, you should do it at Cookshop. This American restaurant in Chelsea is casual, but nice enough for difficult-to-please parents, and the menu has its own vegetarian section as well as a few different salads and seafood options.
The menu at your average restaurant is 75% unhealthy and 25% healthy, but this one’s the opposite. It’s also perfect for a dinner with friends or even with your parents. So come have some salmon and kale or chickpea hushpuppies. Just don’t order the steamed broccoli. There’s no dignity in that.
You could argue that grilled meat and couscous are both kind of healthy for you and, actually, we’re going to make that argument. Come to Mogador and have some vegetarian couscous or a chicken stew with rice and chickpeas, or a big salad. Your meal will be filling, and you won’t feel bad about yourself. Plus, there’s a pretty atrium/greenhouse in the back where you can eat your dinner, and you’re guaranteed to be surrounded by all of Williamsburg. Hopefully you think that’s a positive.
How bad can vegetables be for you? Pretty bad, probably. But Superiority Burger keeps things mostly healthy. Their vegetarian sloppy joe might not be a part of any lifestyle that’s currently trending, but it must be healthier than the real thing. The veggie burger also tastes like it’s made from real vegetables, and the sides generally won’t do you much damage. Have some burnt broccoli. Just be aware that this is really just a takeout counter and you’re going to need to find somewhere to eat your food.
Zizi Limona is about as useful as a flexible spending account or an ex’s HBO password. And you should be coming here often for excellent and inexpensive Middle Eastern food like hummus and shawarma. If you don’t eat meat, there’s a flame-roasted eggplant dish that has miso puree and pomegranates on it, and it looks like a little vegan mountain. It’s probably the best little vegan mountain we could imagine anyone climbing.
You’ve had dinner on the calendar with your friends for a while now, but after suggesting pizza, someone threw a wrench in the plan and said, “Can we do something that’s anti-pizza tonight please? Sorry!” Shuka is a Middle Eastern spot that’s great for a last-minute anti-pizza group dinner that probably won’t be more than $20-30 per person. Plus, the kebabs, salads, and pink-colored beet hummus are all good enough to satisfy the people who really wanted cheese and bread in the first place.
Olea is a neighborhood restaurant in Fort Greene with a Mediterranean menu and a few quality houseplants. Service is casual, prices are reasonable, and they serve a range of food that should please just about anyone. Stop by and share a bunch of tapas, or have something bigger like a piece of fish with kale and cauliflower puree. Take a walk in the neighborhood after dinner. It’s an objectively nice-looking area.
The house specialty at Soba-ya is, unsurprisingly, soba. They make the buckwheat soba noodles in-house, and there are a bunch of hot and cold varieties to choose from. But we tend to go for their rice bowls. Get one with tuna or salmon sashimi, and it’ll be like that bowl of poke you just had for lunch but without the unnecessary fried onions and spicy mayo all over the top. Soba-ya is in the East Village, it’s casual and reasonably priced, and waits usually aren’t too long on weeknights.
Meme has two locations, and we especially like the one in the West Village. The dining room is a little small, but there’s a good amount of outdoor seating where you can hang out and watch West-Village-residing celebrities walk their dogs. The food here is an affordable mix of the Mediterranean greatest hits and crowd-pleasing dishes like brussels sprouts and mac & cheese. It isn’t going to blow your mind, but the servers are nice, and if you’re looking for a nice little place with some healthy-ish stuff like salad or lemon chicken with vegetables, Meme will do just fine.
Lovely Day has 1950s diner vibes, and the menu is Thai. Don’t expect the best food you’ve ever had, just know that this place is fun, casual, inexpensive, and perfect for an easy night out with friends. Come here and have salmon with brown rice, or some spicy green curry. The menu’s pretty big, and you can pick how healthy you want to be.
If you want to eat healthy at 12 Chairs, the go-to order is a salad. They do a bunch of them, including one with chicken schnitzel. And while that might not be the healthiest choice you could make, you’ll feel better about eating schnitzel when it’s on a bed of chopped salad. Other healthy options include couscous, fish, or shakshouka. There are two 12 Chairs locations and they serve the same affordable Mediterranean menu, but the Williamsburg one is brighter, more spacious, and better for an extended hang with friends.
At Lighthouse, you can very easily eat something healthy without trying to eat something healthy. The menu is made up of filling, interesting vegetable dishes and simple proteins (the roast chicken is phenomenal), all done really well and at reasonable prices. Add in the indoor/outdoor space, the daily oyster happy hour, and the ridiculously good burger on hand in case you decide you can be a little less healthy, and this place is officially our favorite weeknight spot in Williamsburg.
Maybe Lighthouse sounds good to you, but you aren’t in Williamsburg. If you happen to be near Nolita, you can go to Lighthouse Outpost - their tiny space on Mulberry with food as good as the original. If you’re by yourself (or maybe with one other person), come for lunch and eat a chicken bowl with coconut rice and a bunch of fresh herbs that will make you wonder why you don’t eat more herbs. And maybe split a burger with someone. The one here is also really good.
Dudley’s is a Lower East Side restaurant that’s usually filled with very trendy people who own tiny dogs, and it also happens to serve several good salads and a roast chicken. Maybe skip the fries that come with the chicken, or maybe don’t.
Greeks figured out the enjoyable, healthy food thing a long time back. How? They invented the perfect salad that doesn’t even involve lettuce. Kiki’s serves Greek food in Chinatown, and while you can get your food covered in French fries here, there are a lot of ways to eat pretty healthy at Kiki’s - make sure the Horiatiki salad is in your order.
A place where you can feel kind of cool as you eat kind of healthy. The comfortable, below-ground space is a nice place to hide out after a rough Monday, and the menu is made up of satisfying food - salads, proteins, and grains all done nicely.
Seamore’s is entirely built around the idea of a kind of healthy dinner. The star item here is the Reel Deal, which gets you a piece of fish plus three daily market sides. The salads are great too, and we might roll our eyes at the fact that they serve vegan frozen yogurt for dessert, if it weren’t so good.
A full-service restaurant in Tribeca from the people who brought you the acai bowl extravaganza that is Two Hands Cafe in Nolita. Bunch here is typically a highly crowded scene, but dinner is significantly calmer. There’s grilled salmon and braised chicken, plus some more fun appetizers like little shrimp sliders.