POINT LOMA, UTC, and DOWNTOWN (new!). Is there a restaurant that makes delicious food on an assembly line? Yes, and it is called Tender Greens. Born in Los Angeles, the Tender Greens empire has spread to San Diego with two locations – Liberty Station and the UTC Mall. It is vegan friendly, so meat eaters and the plant based crowd can mingle in harmony.
Tender Greens has two vegan salad options: the “Happy Vegan” and the “Salad in the Raw.” Tender Greens proves a simple truth: it is not the number of vegan options available at a restaurant but rather the quality of those options that matter. Salad in the Raw – a mix of farmers market vegetables and lemon vinaigrette dressing – is very satisfying. As for the Happy Vegan, it is my favorite salad. Ever.
In the past, I shied away from ordering salads as meals, because I didn’t feel full. The Happy Vegan, however, solves this problem. The mixed greens – although delicious in a light, lemon vinaigrette – yield the stage to a bold quartet of tabbouleh, farro, quinoa, and herb hummus. Further, the farro pops with cranberries and toasted hazelnuts, and the quinoa mixes with cucumber and beets. Bottom line, the salad offers a variety of flavors and keeps the stomach full.
My love for this salad prompted a search for the recipes of the component ingredients. Luckily, someone out there had the good sense to post the recipes online: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/14/food/la-fo-sos-vegansalad-20120414
Inside Tender Greens, you watch the salad – or any dish – being made. You order at the front of the assembly line, and the staff jumps into action. Behind the glass, hands throw greens into stainless steel bowls with dressing. The greens land on a plate, which is sent on down the line, where new hands scoop perfect spheres of hummus, tabbouleh, farro, and quinoa onto the plate. As you walk to the cash register, your salad follows, finding a toasted piece of bread along the way – if that is your wish. A smiling face waits at the end of the line, and you can add beverages or desserts, which scream for attention from strategically placed platters. I do not know if the baked goods are vegan. I don’t ask, because I am afraid of the answer. Tender Greens also has teas, lemonade, wine, and beer.
I am more often at the Liberty Station location. (Liberty Station is an old Naval facility that is laid out like a college campus, with quads, green lawns, and fountains). Tender Greens is nestled (some would say hidden!) off Historic Decatur near the Postal Annex. There is both inside seating and an outside patio (a great place to bring dogs!) with space heaters.
As a warning, the line can be long—especially during the weekday lunch hour. If you are hoping to pick up a quick lunch, call ahead, as there is a special pick up area by the cashier.
Note: menus at different locations are not identical. Happily, however, the Happy Vegan is available at all of the San Diego locations.
4545 La Jolla Village Drive
San Diego, CA 92122
2400 Historic Decatur Road
San Diego, CA 92106
110 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101