Fast Food that Will Still Respect You in the Morning
Now that Thanksgiving is over, many of us are feeling guilty about overeating and we're starting to sweat the next month. My philosophy is to go ahead and enjoy the food when it is a special event, like Christmas Eve. What you really have to watch are the little unhealthy habits that the season brings - mindless cookie munching in the breakroom, triple-macchiattos to keep your energy up, and fast food meals eaten on-the-run as you rush from store to store. Luckily, there are a few chains that will keep the guilt factor down while still getting you out the door quickly.
I am convinced the entire infrastructure of the Eastside would completely collapse without Zankou Chicken. It is the culinary glue that is keeping us all together. Now Zankou is finally starting to move in on the Westside and Valley.
Zankou's spit-roasted chicken has the perfect combination of crispy skin and moist, garlicky meat. The wings often dry up, yet somehow the flavor of the remaining crunchy bits is just that much more concentrated. The tri-tip shawerma wrap has stolen my heart away from the healthier roast chicken, although the similar chicken tarna has not really enchanted me. The falafel is crunchy, dense, flavorful and nongreasy.
Not only is it the most delicious food in the universe, it's fast and it's healthy. According to the website: Our food is 100% natural and we have made a commitment to keep it that way. It is prepared fresh every day in our kitchens by using only the finest ingredients. We will never use cans, freezers, microwave ovens, preservatives, or artificial ingredients. We use only all natural Foster Farms chicken, which is delivered to us daily, direct from the farm. Our beef is 100% USDA Choice and of the finest quality.
They don't provide nutritional information, but the meat is all grilled or roasted. The falafel is fried in peanut oil, but if you are going for falafel you probably avoid red meat and don't have to worry that much about fat. Similarly, the ambrosia known as Tahini is chock full of sesame seeds and oil, but it's the good kind of fat. I will warn you however, their famous garlic sauce is solid at room temperature and looks very much like Crisco, so use sparingly.
Low-Fat Friendly: YES
Low-Carb Friendly: YES
Vegetarian Friendly: YES
Chipotle is highly focused on humane, sustainable farming, organic beans and hormone-free sour cream (well, 25% organic beans. It's better than nothing). Let me put it this way - their website suggests that you read Fast Food Nation.
One of the most striking things about Chipotle is that they are built for speed. They are faster than fast, with a Subway-style assembly line. You pick the item, meat, then toppings, and WHAM - it's ready before you can fish for your wallet.
The other striking thing about Chipotle is the heat. It is shocking to get such spicy food in a chain. All of the meats - the flavorful shredded beef, steak (barbacoa) and chicken are heavily seasoned. Only the moist, tender carnitas are made without anything spicy. Even the pinto beans are spicy and the guacamole contains jalapenos, so if you have anyone sensitive to heat with you, get them something with carnitas, black beans and no guacamole. The salsas are fantastic, authentic, and caliente. The salsa fresca is not quite as hot, but the delicious corn salsa, and the multilayered flavors of the red and green salsas will have you dying for a beer. Luckily they serve - beer. Not very healthy, I know, but what the hell. It's going to be a long winter.
The options fit any dietary plan, with bowls for low-carb diets (but tell them you don't want rice, quickly, because that is the one thing they spoon in without asking). They have a choice of lard-free pinto or black beans, and can go vegetarian in a number of ways. They use a cheese made with an animal-free rennet, and it is clear what is and is not vegetarian. None of their foods contain nuts. They are even able to adapt the menu for vegans, since only the sour cream and cheese contain dairy. It almost seems redundant for me to describe the food when they have a superfun interactive online menu.
Low-Fat Friendly Not so much.
Low-Carb Friendly YES
Vegetarian Friendly YES
One of my favorite chains is The Habit, not to be confused with Hamburger Hamlet. They emphasize fresh ingredients and offer various grilled sandwiches and salads. I usually hit the one on Glendale Avenue in the shopping center with the Nordstrom rack. Then I hit Whole Foods on the way home and feel really, really pious.
The healthy grilled albacore is addictive (430 calories, 16 grams fat and 41 carbs). They also have a veggie burger with sprouts, which is your best bet (370 calories, only 12 grams of fat and 57 carbs). Plus, it has sprouts - now that's got to make you feel good about yourself. But they do not certify it as vegetarian, and admit it may have trace amounts of animal products (probably from being cooked on the same grill).
I love their charburgers and the grilled chicken sandwiches. Sadly, it turns out the charburger is still no bargain, with 480 calories and chock full of fat. The chicken sandwich is deceptive, weighing in at a surprising 730 calories, 37 grams of fat and 52 carbs. I hate to say it, but you are probably safest with a salad and a kid's size burger. Luckily, they have a wide array of interesting salads.
Low-Fat friendly YES
Low-Carb Friendly Somewhat
Vegetarian-friendly Not if you are strict