It’s January, which means it’s the solitary month when we’re all morally obligated—or at least feeling peer pressure—to dine on a higher-than-average number of salads. Maybe, for you, that higher-than-average number is only one. Maybe you are among the virtuous few who enjoy a daily bowl of produce. Regardless, your veggie fix should go beyond the limp iceberg lettuce of sneeze-guarded salad bars of the past. In fact, at most of these pioneering fast, casual, customizable-salad spots, sneeze guards aren’t even necessary—there’s someone else building the salad for you. Pile on the greens, ramp up the protein, even get your grain on at one of these exquisite havens where salads are the main event.
Sprout’s Top Cobb salad: a step above the usual
This local shop next to Smith Tower sells salads, wraps and frozen yogurt, hitting most of the buzziest health food trends of the past few years. It might look as though it was trying too hard if it weren’t for serving just the sort of thing we like to eat for lunch: big bowls of colorful, filling ingredients offered in a variety of ways on the menu or as a choose-your-own-adventure (and ingredients) meal, Most of them are less than 500 calories, and available to order online from your office desk to avoid the risk of last-minute temptation.
Our pick: The Top Cobb ($10.50) is a step above the usual cobb salad; you’ll get turkey, eggs, avocado and tomatoes, of course, but also pea sprouts, pickled onions and pumpkin seeds for a little variety. That requisite blue cheese funk comes in the form of a yogurt Gorgonzola dressing. Pioneer Square, 512 Second Ave.; 206.973.3766; sprout-salads.com
Evergreen’s University Village location: Try the El Sombrero
Shopping at University Village calls for adequate fueling, which sometimes means giving in to the siren song of Din Tai Fung, followed by a double scoop at Molly Moon’s. But for times of restraint, this clean, bright salad shop (with three other locations, two downtown and one in South Lake Union) manages to be both fast and casual without feeling like just another fast-casual concept.
Our pick: The salads are chopped to order, although the menu gets it right, particularly with El Sombrero ($8–$9): Grape tomatoes, corn, half an avocado, black beans, Beecher’s cheese crumbles, jalapeños, and a few crunchy tortilla chips are combined with romaine lettuce for a salad that hits salty, sweet, crunchy and creamy all at once. Multiple locations, including University Village, 4609 Village Terrace NE; 206.524.0741; evergreens.com
If you manage to stroll by the other good food on offer in the Via building—breakfast sandwiches at Assembly Hall, dumpling bento boxes at TanakaSan—to reach Tom Douglas’ Home Remedy, with its pay-by-the-pound ($8.99 per pound), self-service salad bar with T.D.-level options, you deserve a reward. Or at least a cookie from the display case near the register.
Our pick: You’re the boss here, although we strongly recommend starting with a base of the Caesar-y Lacinato kale salad peppered with Calabrian chiles. Where you go from there depends on whether you favor traditional (hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, marinated beets) or contemporary (Thai couscous salad, edamame, and other options). Belltown, 2121 Sixth Ave.; 206.812.8407; tdhomeremedy.com
Best known for its customizable thin-crusted pizzas, this local chain also makes a mean salad—and even a salad on a pizza crust (OK, so that kind of defeats the purpose). Any combo of toppings results in the same flat fee, so you needn’t worry about tipping the scales with heavy ingredients.
Our pick: The Deluxe—chicken, salami, bell peppers, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, olives, Parmesan and greens—is a solid bet. We particularly like it tossed with both balsamic vinaigrette and ranch dressing ($5.27 small, $11.27 large). Multiple locations; modpizza.com
Going Old School
The Best Throwback Salad Bar
Salad at a Brazilian steak place? Oddly, yes, even if it might be used as a distraction technique to fill you up on items less expensive than beef. At more than $30 for the salad bar alone (meat is extra), it’s still not cheap, but you can plan a special occasion at either the Bellevue or Lake Union location of this white-linen-tablecloth restaurant and know that the health-conscious in your party won’t go hungry.
Our pick: The salad bar, a do-it-yourselfer’s dream, is the focal point of the dining room, offering a farm’s worth of fresh veggies, deviled eggs, cooked salmon, charcuterie and cheeses, and many, many prepared salads, bread and other items.
Lake Union, 901 Fairview Ave. N, 206.494.3375; Bellevue, 12405 SE 38th St., 425.603.1111; novilhos.com
These grocery-store salad bars are the best of the local bunch
PCC Natural Markets
Don’t miss: The meat-free prepared salads, particularly the Perfect Protein salad with spelt berries, garbanzo beans and diced veggies in a light, herby dressing.
Know Before You Go: Only the Green Lake Village, Fremont, Bothell and Columbia City stores have salad bars (although you’ll find a small assortment of prepackaged salads at the others). Multiple locations; pccnaturalmarkets.com
Don’t miss: The tabbouleh, falafel patties and crumbled feta, which turn any salad into a Greek salad.
Know Before You Go: Not one to pass up a trend, the market offers a poke bar as well, although it’s nearly twice the price of the regular salad bar. Multiple locations; metropolitan-market.com
365 by Whole Foods Market
$10 for a large (24-ounce) container
Don’t miss: You’ll find really good shredded chicken and three varieties of tofu to top your produce, plus about a dozen assorted nuts and seeds to keep you full.
Know Before You Go: Parking at the new Bellevue Square market is 90 minutes, so you have time to run into Uniqlo and buy a new jacket, too. Bellevue, 10200 NE Fourth St.; 425.453.4708; 365bywfm.com