Founded by Dr. Andrew Weil and restaurateur Sam Fox, True Food Kitchen has only become more popular with time. The first restaurant opened in Phoenix, Ariz. on Oct. 27, 2008. At present there are six restaurants: two in Arizona, three in California and one in Colorado. The success of these six will likely indicate more openings in the future.
Items at True Food Kitchen are based on Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, meant “... to take popular trends in cuisine and pair them with healthy living.” They use local produce where possible, giving each restaurant its own unique healthy food source.
Testing the claims
The closest True Food Kitchen, in San Diego’s Fashion Valley Mall, is a mere 15-20 minutes drive from Santee. A recent trip there led to investigating the claims of True Food Kitchen. Was the food truly healthy, tasty and worth all the hype? Was the restaurant itself environmentally designed?
The closer you got to the restaurant, the larger the crowd grew. People milled around by the door, the sidewalk and the benches nearby. The seating areas outdoors were almost filled to capacity. No wonder the lines were so long.
After 25 minutes an indoor table was ready. The interior of the restaurant was simple and streamlined. Efficient lighting gave it a warm glow. Recycled wood lined the floor and ceiling. The chairs and tables had a country home feel.
Despite this simplicity, the restaurant was buzzing. Customers were happy and comfortable and the resulting noise reflected that contentment. With such a wide interior, the noise built up tremendously and it was difficult to handle. Even sitting in the corner didn’t mean an escape from distractions.
The bathrooms were clean yet puzzling. Sinks for men and women were communal and separate from the bathrooms. But why were there only three sinks for such a high quantity of customers? The last thing customers want is to have to stand in line to wash their hands. Truly, this aspect of the restaurant was poorly designed.
After a fairly long but understandable wait, lunch arrived. The selection consisted of chicken chopped salad, margherita pizza and the chicken teriyaki brown rice bowl. Hot items were hot and cold items were cold. A good start.
The chicken chopped salad was a rich and colorful dish. The cranberries were tart, the manchego cheese was sharp and the almonds were perfectly crunchy. The problem? Too much vinaigrette dressing; it was dripping in sauce. Even though the rest of the salad was good, the dressing took it down several notches. Why should salad have to be sloppy?
Next up was the chicken teriyaki brown rice bowl. The first bite left a bitter taste. Something was definitely not working in this dish. But what? The chicken was soft and tasty and the snow peas were delightfully sweet. The avocado was placed on top in a clump, but it was easy enough to break apart. The brown rice was al dente, which was fine, but the flavor and texture did not suit the dish. And the sauce, yes, that was the main problem. The sauce was highly dense and overpowering, very acrid and bitter. Once again there was a dish with too much sauce.
The margherita pizza was a pleasant surprise. Although it was practically devoid of cheese, (a little would have been nice) the crust was perfectly crisp, the sauce was delicious and the basil was divine. It was by far the best dish of the meal. More would have been appreciated though. Why was the pizza so small?
Overall, the restaurant was worth a visit but not completely worth all the hype. It is wonderful that a local restaurant is so focused on healthy food and environmentally efficient features, but with menu items sometimes overpriced and not always appetizing, and a tremendous amount of noise and customers, True Food Kitchen is not the best place in the world. Take it or leave it, the quest goes on.