You could probably eat Sweetgreen for lunch every day. It’s certainly good for you, they make quality salads, and there are locations everywhere. But soon enough, you might forget that there’s a world outside of romaine or kale in plastic containers. And it tastes good.
In fact, Sweetgreen is kind of like The Smith and Westville - two other reliable fallbacks that are always potential answers to your most-asked Text Rex questions, but never the most exciting or original ones.
So just like we did with those two spots, we’ve made you a guide to places that are kind of like Sweetgreen, but not actually Sweetgreen. Next time you want to eat something that’s healthy, quick, and not the exact same thing you already had for lunch three times this week, here are some good options.
While there are plenty of places in Nomad selling bowls of vegetables, this is the only one run by the people behind Eleven Madison Park, and its salads are topped with things like “potato croutons” (i.e. fancy tater tots) and buttermilk vinaigrette. This place also has one of our favorite soft serve sundaes in NYC - something Sweetgreen can’t compete with.
Sometimes you walk out of Sweetgreen with the harvest bowl or kale caesar and you don’t even remember having been inside. Don’t worry, you didn’t black out like Will Ferrell in Old School. You’ve just ordered the same thing too many times. But you won’t be able to do that at Gather, a bright all-day cafe in Park Slope where you build your meal out of market sides. Those sides rotate pretty often, but you can expect things like herbed falafel or Thai curry chicken. And if you really want a kale caesar, they have that here, too.
Smile To Go has a few locations, all of which serve half-sandwiches and sides like beet salad and quinoa. Make a meal out of a few vegetables or salads, or get two sides with the house roast chicken. Everything here is pretty healthy, and service is quick. Just be aware that it’s easy to spend a lot of money if you keep ordering things that look good. As in, more than one thing.
The people behind Lighthouse in Williamsburg also own this tiny spot in Nolita. It’s mostly a to-go business, and everything on the menu is excellent - from the chicken bowl with herbs and coconut rice to the “Big Salad” with all kinds of sliced vegetables. (If you decide to ditch the salad thing altogether, there’s also a great burger.) Stop by and pick up some lunch or dinner the next time you need exceptional takeout in the area.
Tiny’s Giant is a small all-day cafe on the LES best known for big, meat-heavy sandwiches. But you can get salads here, too, featuring many of the sandwich fillings over huge piles of greens. Our go-to is the one that comes with a bunch of different vegetables and cheeses, plus avocado and chickpeas. Add grilled chicken and you’ll have more than enough to share with a friend.
West-Bourne is California-inspired, which essentially just means that it’s bright and good-looking, and you won’t feel bad after eating the food here. You can get something like a lentil falafel bowl with copious amounts of vegetables, or grilled kale over grains with a soft-boiled egg and avocado. They have a little bar area as well as a few tables, and unless you’re in a hurry, you should get your salad to stay.
Gotan is the sort of coffee shop you want in your neighborhood. So if you live or work in Williamsburg, Midtown, or Tribeca, you’re in luck. You can stop into any of this mini-chain’s locations for a salad with tuna, chicken shawarma, or hummus and roasted vegetables - just order at the counter, then either find a table or take your food to-go. You can also get a sandwich here, or all-day breakfast in the form of eggs, avocado feta toast, granola, or oatmeal (among other things).
This small counter-service spot in the West Village is from the people behind Llama Inn in Williamsburg, and the menu ranges from fruit smoothies to a whole rotisserie chicken. The vegetable plates, like one with eggplant and yogurt, are more interesting than DIY salads, and the sandwiches, like one with chicken thigh and pineapple, are also really good.
Like Sweetgreen, Fields Good Chicken is a counter-service spot where you can get a quick meal. Unlike Sweetgreen, this place specializes in - yes - chicken (which you can get in a bowl, on a salad, in a sandwich, or just by itself). So try any of its four locations the next time you want a kind-of-healthy, chicken-centric lunch or dinner.
This quick-service Indian spot in Nomad serves grain and vegetable bowls with toppings like garlic hummus and chopped tomato salad. Also, even though it’s a block from Madison Square Park and it’s a good option for a quick and healthy lunch, the lines are about half a podcast episode shorter than Sweetgreen’s (in case that’s how you like to measure your lunch break).
At this point, there are a million poke places in NYC, but there aren’t too many that serve hot dogs, too. Sons of Thunder does, and they also have soft serve. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for something healthier than a tube of meat on a bun. So get some poke over white rice, brown rice, cauliflower rice, or salad. There are a few different options, like tuna and octopus, and you can also get fish tacos or a salmon tostada.
Abracadabra is a little Turkish cafe in Williamsburg where you can eat a “magic” plate with rice, vegetables, green hummus, and a protein like chicken tikka or lentil-quinoa balls. There are also Turkish burritos made with whole wheat flatbread, smoothies with optional ingredients like flax seeds and turmeric powder, and a bunch of baked goods that are healthier than usual. Take your food to go, or grab a table in the homey little space that looks like something you’d find within walking distance of UC Berkeley.