During the past year, wellness has been on our minds even more than normal. It’s been a challenge to stay safe and stay well, and many of us — I’ll speak for myself, anyway — have used lockdown as an excuse to, perhaps, eat a little less than healthily. Comfort foods have reigned in our kitchen, for example. But as we begin to finally come out of the pandemic, we should regain focus and maybe stride to eat better. Here are some terrific local restaurants that are happy to help in that wellness quest.
Zest Kitchen & Bar
Zest Kitchen & Bar is a plant-based, gluten-free and vegan restaurant with a full-service bar, catering to guests 21 and over. Owner Casey Staker and his team describe their mission this way: “At Zest Kitchen & Bar, we value the health and welfare of people, animals, and our planet. By eating healthy, plant-based, organic foods, we can combat issues of factory farming one plate at a time!”
Tasty treats from Zest range from homemade “cheese” biscuits and Cuban tacos made with jackfruit, to a crispy polenta skillet with marinara, squash, greens, onions, broccolini and local mushrooms. And how could you pass up an inventive antioxi drink made with organic green juice, local gin and green chartreuse?
Three years ago, owner Omar Abou-Ismail moved his Rawtopia restaurant from Salt Lake City to the Olympus Hills Shopping Center in Millcreek, and added some meats and cooked foods to the array of raw food items at his eatery, along with some alcoholic beverages. It’s been a good move, and even during the pandemic, Rawtopia is open seven days a week with dine-in seating plus takeout and delivery.
At Rawtopia, you’ll find high-quality organically grown, sustainable, gluten-free, non-GMO products. According to the owner, he uses exclusively “low-temperature” techniques to preserve all the vital enzymes and nutrients, leaving your body, mind, and soul feeling satiated with health and vigor.” From labneh pizza, egusi African stew, and a beanless tostada, to the bison burger and cauliflower delight, there’s something delicious for every palate at Rawtopia.
When Ian and Kelsey Brandt created the Greens Vegetarian Food Cart in 1988, they probably never thought the concept would ultimately morph into Vertical Diner restaurants in SLC and Portland, Oregon. Following the success of Ian Brandt’s Sage’s Cafe, Vertical Diner opened in 2007 in an old 1950s diner serving affordable vegan cuisine, including all-day breakfast.
The award-winning eatery serves up delicious dishes ranging from gluten-free pancakes and breakfast burritos to their famous mushroom stroganoff, Jamaican jerk chicken, tacos with mesquit jackfruit, and much more, including a vast selection of cocktails, wine, beer, cider, teas and such.
City Cakes & Cafe
Nanete Wessels’ dream to have her own cake shop was realized in 2010 when she opened City Cakes & Cafe, specializing in vegan and gluten-free baked goods. Now, I’m neither vegan nor gluten-free, but I’d walk a mile to indulge in City Cakes’ triple chocolate brownies, the scrumptious lemon-coconut donuts, vegan and gluten-free cinnamon rolls, and the English-style vegan scones which come in both savory and sweet flavors.
Located in downtown SLC, Buds has been serving entirely plant-based sandwiches since 2012. They are made with sauces prepared in-house daily and fresh-cut veggies — healthy, tasty twists on classic sandwiches like a Cheesesteak prepared with veggie steak, and the Pesto Sub made with veggie chicken, walnut-basil pesto, and all the fixings on a toasted sourdough hoagie. Be sure to try the zucchini chocolate chip cookies for dessert, with maybe an Arnold Palmer to sip alongside.
Cottonwood Heights’ Root’d Cafe is called that because it’s “root’d between the canyons.” Now open for COVID-conscious dine-in, patio dining and curbside pickup, Root’d Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, and offers an extensive selection of menu items including soups, salads, sandwiches, tacos, starters, beer and wine. I find the brunch menu especially appealing with dishes like a vegan tofu bowl, spinach and avocado Bene, tempeh BLT, and the Cottonwood Cobb Salad.
In the heart of Sugar House, where Shawarma King was previously located, is Lil Lotus. It’s an eatery that serves up plant-based comfort foods like burgers, nachos, tacos and hot dogs.
Among the menu items that keep customers coming back are Nachos Sin Carne with walnut & chickpea chorizo or BBQ jackfruit; Late Night Navajo Tacos; Southwest Green Chile Mac ‘n Cheese; a Crab-less Seafood Roll, Chili-Cheese Fries, and others. It’s all served up in an eclectic atmosphere combining Buddhist symbols and tie-dye art with a modified Star Wars admonition: “May The Plant Force Be With You.”
This ain’t your daddy’s comfort food joint.