Its not easy to find a restaurant that allows you to eat indulgently and feel virtuous at the same time, but Tender Greens manages both quite nicely. Part of a mini-chain with outlets in Liberty Station in Point Loma, and Culver City and West Hollywood in Los Angeles, the quick service cafeteria-style concept serves a menu of meal-sized salads, entrees and desserts made with produce grown on their very own farm, located in Lompoc, CA.
The menu includes seven or eight entree-sized salads - including a Nicoise with seared ahi, a Cobb with romaine, grilled chicken, bleu cheese and chunks of bacon, a Chinese Chicken, a Vegan Couscous, a Chipotle Chicken with a Mexican flair, and a few others. Entree plates feature Rocky's organic chicken, flank steak or fish - and their specials might feature local seafood or other additional options like sandwiches, roast pork and braised beef. A recent special of halibut served over a white bean and bacon ragout with a lemon vinaigrette-dressed salad was by far my favorite of the three meals I've eaten there - easily as good as if not better than many I've been served in far fancier restaurants.
You place your order at the counter when you walk in, and they make the salads in their open kitchen as you watch. (This is where I always have second thoughts, as I watch them build other people's salads with their beautiful produce and other tempting ingredients.) By the time you reach the dessert display at the cash register, your salad is handed to you on a stainless steel sheet pan. Select a beverage and either resist or succumb to the desserts, and you're free to find a table in the open airy dining room or on the patio.
The desserts are made by the mother of one of the owners, and are to. die. for. Let me say that again. To. Die. For. They're homestyle, as you might expect - picture what you would expect the best home baker you know to turn out but a lot more of it. The selection is always different, and usually includes at least one tart made with local fruit, two kinds of cupcakes, some cookies and other assorted delights. Their red velvet cupcake (down below) - though not nearly as cute looking as some I've tried in the past, was unquestionably the best I've ever eaten. This lemon tart was also creamy and refreshing with authentic tart flavor - not too sweet, with a crunchy buttery crust and real whipped cream.
My favorite thing about the place, is that everything has a homemade quality - like what you would make yourself if you had a larder full of the freshest ingredients and the time and ability to brew up a different pot of soup or a batch of cookies every day. Even their soups have that made-by-hand character - they're pureed, but not strained, retaining more of the original flavor and texture of the vegetables they're made from. The tomato soup on one occasion was a little too thick, but the corn soup, pictured below, was one of the finest I've enjoyed anywhere - including some pretty high falutin' restaurants and my own kitchen.
They Twitter their daily specials, which sound so good, you could easily follow them just for the menu inspiration. Case in point: "roasted local golden sand bass, summer corn pudding, point loma farms heirloom tom, large leaf basil, olive oil, micro daikon." or "Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with Chipotle Aioli & Roasted red Peppers. Butternut Squash Soup Pork & summer Shell bean soup." Peach and Raspberry crisp has been making a regular appearance as a dessert special, as have raspberry and blackberry clafoutis, and housemade ice creams. The Twitterfeed also includes the specials at their Los Angeles restaurants in West Hollywood and Culver City, which is handy if you live in LA. If not, it's great exercise for your salivary glands. :-)
(fair warning - the site has sound and lots of flash!)
2400 Historic Decatur Road
Liberty Station, Point Loma 92106
619.226.6254 M-Th 11-9, Fri/Sat 11-10