There are somewhere around 4,349 perks to living in Austin. Number one is the food. But that perk can also be a challenge when you’re trying to maintain even a remote semblance of health. You can only live in your bubble of delusion for so long - the BBQ brisket and endless bowls of queso will catch up to you eventually.
But there’s good news. You live in a city that not only has the best brisket and queso, but also some pretty great kind-of-healthy places. And no, we’re not talking about the spots selling juice cleanses or only raw food (though Austin definitely has those too) - we’re talking about ones where you can eat some vegetables, a big salad, or some simple chicken. When you need that type of food, here’s where to go.
There are True Food Kitchen locations all over, but somehow this place manages not to feel like a soulless health food chain - it’s actually a nice place to have a meal pretty much any time of day. Their menu accommodates the highest-maintenance eaters (lots of gluten free/sugar free/dairy free/everything free options) while also serving more low-key healthy things, like a turkey burger. Get the pesto sauce and smother everything in it.
One of the unspoken requirements for calling yourself an Austinite is dabbling in veganism (or at least vegetarianism) for a day or two. And if you or any of your friends have fulfilled that requirement, you’ve probably eaten at Bouldin Creek Café. But this place isn’t just great for hardcore health people - their spins on the classics (like the “Wanna-BLT”) are actually pretty tasty for meat-enjoying people as well. It’s hard to go wrong here, so if you can’t make a choice, just close your eyes and point.
Vinaigrette is waging war on the sad salad stereotype. These people know how to make a bowl of green things you’ll actually be excited to eat - in part because it tastes good, and in part because you get to enjoy it on a beautiful, oak tree-covered patio. If you just can’t get on board with a salad, their heartier soups and sandwiches are also tasty. Go ahead and live a little - try the Ginger-Turmeric tonic on the side.
You’ll probably want to come here for the outdoor area alone. But just because it has a hang-all-day kind of patio, that doesn’t mean you have to overdo it. Instead, try the salads, like the salmon provencal or the kale caesar. For brunch, there’s chia seed pudding, which is creamy with a touch of honey rather than reminiscent of the solution you used to make for your Chia Pet. This place looks like it came straight from a Williams-Sonoma catalog, and the crowd is usually slightly dressed up - so either change out of your gym clothes or try to forget you’re wearing them. Try to forget about the famous chocolate chip cookies here, too.
These guys make it easy to eat healthy. You can build a a mix-and-match plate, combining any protein you want with vegetables like yuzu brussels sprouts and Indian-spiced cauliflower. The Thai cashew quinoa bowl and other grain bowls all are made with bright-tasting spices and sauces, and inside, it’s a casual spot with plenty of seating - inviting enough to seal the deal if you’re wavering on your healthy resolution.
You’ll find all the healthy buzzwords at this casual spot, and you may even need to Google a few of them to confirm you aren’t eating astronaut food. For breakfast you can get a cup of butter coffee (but maybe just get regular coffee), vegan blueberry pancakes, or chorizo and egg tacos on grain-free tortillas. At dinner there’s a rainbow chopped salad with vegetables like radicchio and broccolini (or, for something more substantial, try the lamb chops with roasted vegetables). Throw any and all dietary preferences at this menu - whatever you end up eating will still taste good.
We know it’s hard to skip the queso, but just about everything else on the menu can be deemed good for you at Fresa’s, in the right portion. Their go-to rotisserie chicken is the protein you want, and there are plenty of salad and non-fried vegetable sides to fill your plate. Bowl-wise, the Power Bol is solid choice with lots of vegetables and chicken. Plus, on a sunny day, just one margarita on the patio is healthy for the soul.
This kind-of-healthy dinner spot on the East Side was the original place to bring your friend who had a bunch of dietary restrictions. If you’re the one ordering the black bean salad and drinking herbal tea, you’ll want to come here even more. We like the seared ahi sashimi tuna steak, and the hummus and taboule platter is great if everyone needs something to snack on besides their leans meats and vegetables. Inside, it looks a little like a French bakery (with big loaves of bread on display at the counter), and the shady patio is a great place to hang out while you eat a salad.
This classic Mexican food spot serves the best rotisserie chicken in town. Eat it with their house salsa, and you might even forget about those enchiladas you passed up. The steamed zucchini or the chicken and vegetable soup on a cold day are also satisfying. Julio’s has been around for more than three decades, so they don’t need to change up their menu to serve trendy super herbs or boycott soy-based products. They just continue to be themselves and serve real food.
Josephine House is one of our favorite restaurants in town, whether we intend to eat a salad or a stack of pancakes. Inside, it’s intimate enough that you’ll feel like you’re eating dinner at a friend’s house - or you can sit on the patio under the twinkly lights for an even more low-key feel. The rice bowl served at brunch belongs in the Kind-Of-Healthy Hall Of Fame.
Just because a place has avocado toast on the menu doesn’t mean it’s healthy. But Forthright (which absolutely serves avocado toast, in this case with an egg on top) is actually a healthy restaurant. Their superfood bowl is full of colorful sliced beets, radishes, and carrots - and while we almost always insist on a real burger instead of a veggie burger, the vegetable option here is also good. The downtown location makes this an easy option for the workday (your coworkers can always opt for the waffle-based menu items instead).
Casa de Luz was serving healthy food back when “master cleanse” was something we’d say to describe a car wash. This peaceful place to eat a lot of vegetables is hidden away in a little house near Zilker Park, and it’s a real taste of authentic Austin. For just $12, you get soup, salad, and a vegan entree, which you can eat at one of the communal tables. The menu changes daily, so you could end up with vegan tacos, quinoa with onions, almonds, and raisins, or something else entirely.
99.9% of the time we opt for a meal of things you can chew instead of juice or a smoothie, but sometimes you’re just overdue for a lot of ground-up fruits and vegetables. Try Jugo when you want to feel like a whole new healthy you who definitely doesn’t have 15 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the trunk of your car. They serve things like bone broth and made-to-order juices of carrot, ginger, beet, and lemon. There’s also some premade food, like cauliflower with olives or a Cobb salad. Just don’t come starving - when you eat a dozen avocado deviled eggs, they’re not really healthy anymore.
The choose-your-ingredients salad restaurant can be a great ally in your plan to eat healthier for the next year/month/day/30 minutes. Especially if said restaurant has fresh ingredients, and doesn’t charge as much as you’d pay for a small steak dinner somewhere else. The bowls of leaves (and toppings) at Mad Greens are surprisingly filling, and the prices are also fair considering the large portions. But the lines can be long, so order online for pick-up. Waiting for barbecue is one thing, but salad is just not a line-worthy food.