The stock market's wobbly, my 401(k) has shrunk to a 1K, and as for the housing market . . . well, let’s just say a major tsunami would have left more San Diego homes above water. To all of which I say: “Let’s eat!”
Our budgets these days may be suited more to beer and carnations than wine and roses, but that’s no reason to start bringing a sack lunch to work. Grab a few colleagues, leave those cubicles behind, and discover two eateries where dwindling dollars get you an awesome alternative to a tuna on rye.
Who knew San Diegans could get so excited about salad? In a city with a fast-food burger or taco joint on every corner, Tender Greens is suddenly the talk of the town. Based on a winning concept in which spinach, butter lettuce and arugula rule the roost, this branch of an L.A.-based franchise is drawing lines out the door. So far, Point Loma’s Liberty Station is the only local option; we hope they’ll soon be popping up like porcini after a rain.
Pram-pushing parents, ladies who lunch and gaggles of coworkers make up the eager crowds queuing at the register where you place your order. This is no do-it-yourself salad bar strewn with wilted leaves and faux bacon bits. Instead, you move down a counter, watching as your meal is expertly assembled by the staff.
And what an assemblage it is, based on fine, fresh ingredients: gorgeous mixed greens and spinach leaves, not a brown edge in the batch. A still life of roasted vegetables, with gleaming golden beets and Japanese eggplant, toasted Brussels sprouts and baby onions. Fragrant free-range chicken, rare Angus beef and fresh caught albacore, each grilled throughout the day, as needed. Talk about working up an appetite.
At the end of the counter, you pick up your finished order and pay, choose a table in the cheery yellow dining room or on the patio, and sit down to a meal that could easily have cost twice as much.
Main-dish salads, 10 in all at $10 apiece, play starring roles here, ably supported by house-made dressings of every stripe. That grilled albacore, gently brushed with olive oil and lemon and briefly seared, is generously served in an updated tuna niçoise glossed with sherry vinaigrette. The tender chicken meat (from organic, antibiotic- free birds) appears in a variety of surroundings, including a classic cobb (garnished with particularly good bacon) and a feisty chipotle barbecue number drizzled with cilantro lime dressing.
Beef ’n’ beets team up in the flank steak salad, a colorful combo of sweet red and gold beets, peppery little radishes and a snappy horseradish vinaigrette. And the aforementioned roasted vegetables, which vary according to the season, are set off by a roasted-tomato dressing that brings out all their smoky, rustic charm.
Craving more than salad? Order any of the meats or the roasted veggies as a sandwich, made with local bakery Con Pane’s ciabatta, or as part of a platter with buttery mashed spuds. Either option is $10, and comes with a side salad of your choice. Soups (including a delicious purée of butternut squash and onions, $4) and homey desserts like cupcakes and pies ($3 per serving) round out the menu.
Tender Greens serves lunch and dinner daily at 2400 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station, Point Loma, 619-226-6254.