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Less burgers and more healthy restaurants please

Raleigh could use a healthy restaurant like California-based Tender Greens. The fast-casual lifestyle concept focuses on fare created from healthy and fresh ingredients.
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Raleigh and the Triangle has become home to an onslaught of burger restaurants recently. And with the recent announcement of a new Triangle location of Burger 21, a nascent fast-casual burger chain, I am really pondering if we have reached the saturation point with burgers.

I really hate to be that person, but I will be. Burgers, of course, are delicious. But for a person trying to diligently eat more healthily, eating burgers can become quickly unappealing.

The idea of eating out and healthy is not always synonymous. Eating out usually means entrees laden with fat, salt, sugar—all ingredients that make food taste good and relatively economical for restaurants chefs to execute.

But, healthy options should go beyond frustrating caloric tabulations, grilled chicken breasts and chopped salads. In fact, the recent explosive success of so-called lifestyle restaurants that focus on healthy and flavorful foods are proving that diners are clamoring for more diversified and healthier options.

Julia Moksin of The New York Times recently wrote an article touting the fast-paced success of regional fast-casual chains like Tender Greens and LYFE Kitchen that incorporate locally-sourced ingredients into their entrees.

Though slightly more expensive, places like Tender Greens and LYFE commit to using premium ingredients—ingredients that are not as processed and that also give customers an idea of their origin story—a type of consciousness severely lacking in other quick-service establishments.

Moksin notes that “these chains set a higher standard for fast food” and there is not a reason that Raleigh cannot also become a home to one of these healthy chain restaurants that tend to disrupt the old, bland status quo. The recent success of healthier chains in their prospective regions seems to indicate that expansion into alluring markets like that of Raleigh may not be too far away in the future.

In fact, the National Restaurant News recently named LYFE Kitchen as a 2014 Hot Concept winner. And its recent ties to wealthy investors like the Carlisle Group may be a good prognosticator that the the fast-casual restaurant is positioning itself for national growth.

Locally, in Raleigh, a stronger focus on wholesome and healthy fare may be becoming increasingly popular as evidenced by the recent downtown opening of Happy + Hale. The healthy food restaurant concept evolved from a roving food cart to a brick-and-mortar store in downtown Raleigh. Started by two N.C. State University graduates, the fast-casual restaurant serves salads made from premium ingredients and bottled cold-pressed juices.

So while the idea of a greasy, juicy meat patty smothered by a slice of a cheese tucked under a brioche bun is unequivocally appealing, I’d argue that the menu from Tender Greens is more tantalizing when my body is craving a meal that healthier and ultimately more satisfying. I challenge you to imagine this sample entrée from Tender Greens: Braised Duck Leg Adobo, Bulgur Wheat Salad, Mizuna and Tatsoi, Oranges and Lemon Vinaigrette and not be inclined to pass on the burger once in a while.