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Hillcrest is a centrally located neighborhood with a lot of local color. It may be a small neighborhood, but it has a very trendy and affluent feel, with plenty of walkable areas, lots of outdoor seating at local businesses and plenty of options for those seeking a good meal.

With summer on the way, most people are worried about swimsuit season these days. Thankfully, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for health in this area. There are plenty of restaurants that offer dishes that are healthy and tasty. One simple go-to for many people focusing on their health is the salad.

Although there are salads that don’t include many (or any) vegetables, like chicken salad or macaroni salad, these aren’t what you should order when you’re looking to reduce your waistline. Instead, you should seek out salads that feature healthful greens, such as arugula, baby spinach or even kale.

While iceberg lettuce was the go-to for many decades, it has very little to offer in the way of nutrition. Darker and firmer greens have more vitamins and minerals, meaning you get more benefit per bite. The base of the salad is only the start, however.

The salads at some places, such as fast food restaurants, can have as many calories as some fried foods. Look for salads with a variety of colors from vegetables and fruits, such as reds/purples, oranges and yellow, in addition to green. More importantly, consider the dressing carefully. We’ve tracked down four places with salads so good you’ll forget you’re trying to focus on swimsuit season.

Fig Tree Cafe

Location: 416 University Avenue, Suite 100 (map)
Hours: Seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Price: $$

Fig Tree Cafe bills itself as a Californian eatery. That definitely comes through in their menu. This increasingly popular restaurant now has three locations, with a presence in Pacific Beach and Liberty Station in addition to the featured location here in Hillcrest.

As you may have guessed from the business hours, Fig Tree Cafe only offers breakfast and lunch, no dinner. However, this place is perfect when you want to grab a salad for lunch at work that won’t make you feel like you’re on a diet.

Photo by figtreecafesd

Their menu has a half dozen tasty salads. Their shrimp and mango salad is made with a bed of mixed greens, avocado, red bell pepper, shaved coconut and a citrus cilantro dressing. Their Sapphire Salad is also made with mixed greens, as well as goat cheese, walnuts, chicken, goat cheese and a lemon poppy seed dressing.

Their Baby Kale salad starts with organic baby kale and then adds roasted butternut squash, candied walnuts, Granny Smith apples, dried cranberries, goat cheese and lemon poppy seed dressing. If you want something simpler, consider their Greek or Caesar salads.

Other options on their menu include sandwiches flatbreads, garlic or truffle fries and even soups. They serve coffee, beer and wine as well.

The Deli Llama

Location: 3702 5th Avenue (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Closed Sunday
Price: $

If you love fresh food and puns, you’re sure to love the Deli Llama. One of the great things about this deli is that they make fresh soup daily. Their offerings rotate, but you can find soups like veggie posole and chicken pot pie.

The Deli Llama also makes fresh sandwiches featuring Boars Head meats. Some of their sandwiches are toasted on a Panini grill. There’s no question that this place has excellent sandwiches. However, the salads here really stand out.

Photo by mac4life

The Pear & Pomegranate Salad starts with a mix of spinach and spring greens, which are topped with blue cheese, pear slices, pecans, pomegranate seeds and homemade Champagne Vinaigrette. They have a special take on the classic Cobb salad as well, which they call The Getty Museum Cobb. It features Granny Smith apples, roasted chicken, blue cheese, bacon, pecans, cranberries and rosemary dressing on a bed of Romaine lettuce and mixed greens.

Their Veggie Delight is perfect for those who don’t do meat. It has a bed of spinach and mixed greens topped with tomatoes, avocados, sprouts, cucumbers, red peppers, pepperoncini, red onion and croutons, all with a buttermilk ranch dressing. Other options include a chopped Italian salad with salami and a Chef’s Salad with ham, turkey, eggs and bacon.


Location: 1220 Cleveland Avenue, Suite 101 (map)
Hours: Seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price: $$

When it comes to fresh and fast, few ethnic cuisines do it as well as Greek or Mediterranean food. Aladdin, a Lebanese restaurant, offers flavors from all over the Middle East. They pride themselves on offering foods that look as beautiful as they taste, In fact, they claim on their website that their salads are “as colorful as they are fresh.”

Photo by angieeela

Those looking for energy and a filling meal would be wise to consider the Tabouleh salad. The base in this salad is bulgur wheat, which is cooked and mixed with freshly chopped tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, mint leaves, parsley and olive oil. It is typically served chilled and is full of flavor and quite filling.

If you’re looking for more protein and less carbohydrates, their chicken or chopped chicken salads are good options. The chicken salad starts with romaine lettuce, which is topped with broiled chicken breast, feta cheese, tomatoes, pistachios and cilantro, along with homemade dressing.

The chopped chicken salad starts with iceberg lettuce and adds cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, pistachios and chopped, broiled chicken breast, all tossing in homemade Greek dressing and topped with carrots. They also make shrimp salad, Greek salad and Fattoush, which features toasted pita bread, tomatoes, parsley, radishes, onion, cucumber, romaine lettuce and herbs.

Veganic Thai Cafe

Location: 1417 University Avenue (map)
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: $$

If you’re tired of the same old salads, why not try something a little less common? A visit to Veganic Thai Cafe will present you with unusual salad options you won’t find at American or European eateries. As the name implies, this eatery focuses on fresh Thai food.

The salad ingredients reflect the Asian influence. That means no boring chopped veggies on iceberg here! However, those with severe nut or peanut allergies may not want to eat at this establishment. Even their House Salad is unique. It starts with green veggies, which they then top with cucumbers, tomatoes, crispy tofu, fried wonton skins and finally, a peanut dressing.

Photo by shanalmoore

Their Som Tom salad features strips of green papaya, carrots, green beans, peanuts and tomatoes topped with a spicy tamarind lime dressing. The Yum Woon Sen has a glass noodle base, topped with crispy tofu, tomatoes, celery, green onions, crispy tofu and spicy lime dressing.

Their Green Apple salad is made with shredded green apples, carrots, tomatoes and red onions with the housemade lime tamarind dressing. It also has vegetarian Abalone and cashews. The mushroom salad features three kinds of mushrooms while the Venanic Salad features your choice of faux meat: mock duck, mock abalone or tofu, all with a spicy coconut lime dressing.