When you live in the South, eating healthy and eating well don’t always go hand in hand. I love cheesy grits, smoked barbecue, fried chicken and butter-slathered biscuits as much as the next person, but I can’t eat like that every day. When it’s time to switch things up with something a bit lighter, it’s good to know we have options for that, too.
When Happy + Hale expanded from Raleigh to Durham a couple years ago, it fulfilled a niche that was lacking in the area: fast-casual and super health-conscious. This beautiful modern space on Ninth Street is connected to Yoga Off East (which is actually transitioning to a new space across the street from Happy + Hale in the former Play House Toy Store in early 2019) and is within close walking distance to Duke University, making it a popular spot with the students.
We love that Happy + Hale salads are fresh and customizable, and the owners continue to listen to customers’ requests, most recently expanding the menu to include add-ons, such as house-made hummus and falafel.
Sometimes, we go to Happy + Hale just to get a healthy boost of antioxidants in the form of a fruit smoothie or bowl, like the acai bowl with bananas, blueberries and coconut shavings on top. You can also find acai on the menu at Jamba Juice on Ninth Street as well as Bull and Bean. Acai bowls are one of my favorite ways to get a jolt of refreshing fruit!
And eating “green” isn’t just about eating leafy greens; it’s also about focusing on items that are fresh, full of nutrients, packed with flavor and satisfying. The Refectory Café is very much in tune with this, as Founder and CEO Laura Hall has a deep appreciation for nutrition and the abundance of great, farm-fresh menu items available in North Carolina, not to mention the fish. “Since opening in 2005, The Refectory Café has focused on ‘clean food’ made from scratch,” Laura says. “No high-fructose corn syrup, no hydrogenated fats and as much local and organic as possible!” No matter your diet or preference, there are so many delicious, healthy options that keep people coming back for more, like seasonal salads, scratch-made soups, salmon filets, vegan tofu coconut curry and Indian dal.
Luna Rotisserie & Empanadas downtown has really hit their stride with vegan and vegetarian dishes, instating “Meatless Martes” (“Tuesday,” in Spanish) to give vegans and vegetarians another night (aside from “Meatless Mondays”) to get unique, chef-driven meals.
Chef and owner Shawn Stokes ate vegetarian for five years and still tries to eat a predominantly plant-based diet, so offering plenty of vegetarian and vegan dishes on Luna’s menu was important to him.
“It also became clear to me when we decided to participate in the Bull City Vegan Challenge in 2016 that there is a large, growing market out there for these foods that hasn’t been fully taken advantage of here in Durham,” he says, which is what compelled him to start “Meatless Martes” in the first place.
Luna’s grain bowls and traditional pollo a la brasa (Peruvian chicken) are the most popular dishes, and many people add one of the rotisserie meats to the Luna salad for a hearty and healthy meal. Luna also offers a flavorful list of vegetarian sides like roasted garlic kale, spicy collard greens and jicama kale slaw.
Another great spot for vegetarians is The Palace International on Broad Street: Vegetable curry, three bean soup, and lentils cooked in curry and coconut milk are perfect hearty, healthy, winter meals. It’s the perfect place to go with a mixed crowd of meat- and plant-eaters.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect it from a bar and music hall, but Parts & Labor at Motorco features quite a few creative vegetarian bites on its menu, such as the sesame udon salad and veggie samosas – two of my favorite items to order there.
Mediterranean food also offers a lot of variety when it comes to healthy options … just look at the sides and spreads available at Saladelia Café and the newly opened Neomonde at The Unscripted Hotel. There is fresh quinoa tabouli, grape leaves, orzo and black bean salad, hummus and plenty more!
Of course, your meal doesn’t have to be strictly vegetarian or vegan to be healthy. Several of the restaurants above feature grilled fish and other proteins that are not encased by crispy fried layers.
Poké bowls are another great way to spice up your standard “salad.” Typically, they have either a rice, salad or quinoa base and are topped with greens, seaweed, mango, edamame, onions and (if you choose) sushi-grade fish. Many offer tofu cubes as a vegetarian alternative. Zenfish is our go-to local poké place on Ninth Street. There is also a new chain called Pokéworks, which opened recently at One City Center, and in south Durham, there is a local spot called Sushiōki, specializing in sushi burritos wrapped with dry seaweed as well as bowls.
Eating healthy has a lot of different meanings today. For some, it’s plant-based meals only; for others, it’s just taking a break from the fryer. However you define it, healthy options are out there and ready for the New Year’s resolutions to begin.