When we’re on the road, we try to make it a point not to eat anything resembling fast food or the cheese-drowned mystery stuff most casual chain restaurants pass off as lunch or dinner. Those restaurants aren’t exactly in the business of promoting health, and, for all their calorie-busting decadence, the recipes aren’t even flavorful enough to remember after the fork has come to rest on the plate. We’d long ago sworn off restaurant franchises, so imagine our surprise when, on a recent trip to Atlanta, we can across True Food Kitchen, the country’s first healthy-eating casual chain restaurant.
True Food Kitchen was founded by restaurateur Sam Fox and Dr. Andrew Weil —yes, that Dr. Andrew Weil, longtime holistic-health guru—who wanted to develop a restaurant with great-tasting food that just happens to also be good for you. To that end, True Food Kitchen uses simple, fresh, mostly organic ingredients, with an emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. There are plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free choices, as well as some creative takes on traditional meat options—with nary a deep fryer or a microwave in sight (no kidding!). Since the founders also wanted their restaurants to focus on environmental awareness, each outpost has been built with greenness in mind, including high-efficiency kitchen equipment, LED lighting, and reclaimed wood floors.
That’s all well and good, but let’s talk food. Once we learned that True Food Kitchen was a franchise, we were a little skeptical going in. Sure, the interior was light, welcoming, and cheery, with its splashes of lemon yellow and apple green, but would this be just another restaurant that had a great design concept without the good(ie)s to back it up?
Turns out all of the dishes served at True Food Kitchen are influenced by Mediterranean, Asian, and Californian cuisine, and follow the principles of Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet. Here’s a peek at his anti-inflammatory food pyramid:
So far, so good. (Hey, how many food pyramids include chocolate?) We couldn’t resist the homemade soda, so we tried the Medicine Man, a refreshing yet not sugary-sweet, antioxidant-rich combo of sea buckthorn, pomegranate, and cranberry. The Kale and Avocado Dip sounds, well, off-putting, what with its mix of pink grapefruit, poblano peppers, kale, avocado, and cotija cheese, but it was surprisingly light and didn’t taste overly green, as some raw-kale preparations are prone to do. The chopped salads are some of True Food Kitchen’s most popular dishes, but we made a left turn and headed for the Street Tacos (grilled striped bass, avocado, Anasazi beans, tomatillo salsa, and cotija cheese) and Andy’s Favorite “TLT” (barbecue tempeh, lettuce, tomato, and thick slabs of avocado on toasted whole-grain bread). The latter—stacked high with strips of tempeh and thick slabs of avocado—came with sides of sweet potato hash and a nicely dressed raw kale salad, so we never even missed the fries or chips.
We were pleasantly—but not overly—full after our meal and opted to skip dessert, but we kinda wish we hadn’t. We later ran into some locals who raved about the Banana Chocolate Tart, so that’s at the top of our list for our next visit to True Food Kitchen.
Our only complaint with True Food Kitchen? That there are just 10 locations nationwide at the moment. If you’re in big cities like Houston, Denver, Phoenix, and San Diego, you’re in luck, but the rest of us will just have to wait patiently for our own version.