Maybe you got a news notification on your phone this morning claiming that scientists have linked eating pizza more than twice a week to health problems. Or maybe you’re just feeling a little under the weather from all of the late night fast food you consumed last weekend. Either way, you’ve decided it’s time eat a little better.
Welcome to the club - a club full of people who want to eat healthy, but aren’t committed to the cause enough to purchase one of those pyramid-scheme meal delivery subscriptions or force down a bowl of raw kale. Here are our favorite spots in Philly to get a lighter meal that tastes good and will give you a better shot of making it to retirement age, according to “scientists.”
If you’ve lived in Philly for longer than 10 seconds, you already know about Vedge and how great it is. You probably also know that it’s vegan, and every dish here is built around vegetables. That makes it the perfect place to go when you’re craving something light, but also want to go out for a nice meal where you don’t have to avoid entire sections of the menu. All of the food here is good, but the mushroom carpaccio, seared maitake mushroom, and wood-roasted carrot are where you should start.
There’s nothing wrong with build-your-own salad places, per se. But sometimes you’re just craving a dinner that has a little more substance to it. That’s when Honeygrow is particularly useful. You can make your own salad here, but they also have off-menu items at the test kitchen that they don’t at other locations, like a buffalo blue stir fry that you should go out of your way for, even if you live down the street from one of their other locations.
Most tasting menus are tough to commit to when you’re trying to eat healthy. You might get a small salad for one course, but then it’s followed up by six pastas and a piece of steak fried in duck fat. Fortunately, you kind of know what you’re getting when you go to Little Fish. Their tasting menu changes daily, but it’s always seafood-focused and generally pretty light.
Green Soul used to just be a little all-day cafe in the suburbs, but when it moved to the city, it opened in a huge space in Spring Garden with a full bar. Now, they do their take on “healthy comfort food,” which means that, besides tricking you into thinking things like tacos and BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches are good for you, they also have a bunch of actually healthy things. Our favorites are the turkey jambalaya and the cajun salmon BLT. As an added bonus, they have live jazz shows that take place almost every night.
V Street is owned by the same people as Vedge, and in a few ways, they’re very similar. They both serve vegetable-heavy vegan food and everything you eat here will be delicious. In every other way, though, V Street couldn’t be more different. It’s super casual, you can walk in at pretty much any time and grab a seat, and it feels much more like a bar than a restaurant. Basically, it should be on the top of your list for a place to meet a couple of friends for dinner when you’re trying to be healthy, but don’t want to be the annoying one that tells everyone that they’re trying to be healthy.
You probably follow someone on Instagram who is constantly bragging about how “healthy” and “happy” they are since they cut alcohol out of their diet. And while you’re super happy for them and their new lifestyle, the thought of going out to dinner on a Friday without a couple of cocktails sounds like a life you’re just not ready to live. Try Charlie Was A Sinner, a cocktail bar in Midtown Village that makes their drinks with fresh fruit juice and organic liquor. This place also serves a completely vegan menu of small plates that’ll make you feel better about your life choices without giving up your weekend activities.
Goldie is the fast-casual falafel shop from the people behind Zahav and Federal Donuts, and it’s a good go-to for an early weeknight dinner when you don’t have the energy to make too many decisions or sit down for a full, multi-course meal. They have a pretty short menu, but that’s because they do one thing really well - falafel. It’s flavorful and crispy, and you can get it with a few different sauces, but the harissa is our favorite. If you’re still hungry when you’re finished, their tehina milkshakes are so good that you’ll find a way to convince yourself that they’re somewhat healthy.
Aksum is a Mediterranean BYOB in West Philly with things like a vegetable tagine served over couscous that’s one of our favorite vegetarian dishes in the city, and an especially large lemon caper chicken dish for when you’re extra hungry. It’s super versatile and affordable, so you can use it for everything from a casual weeknight date to dinner with your in-laws.
Good Spoon Soupery is a small cafe on Front Street in Fishtown that’s one of our favorite places to go during the winter when we need something more nutritious than our usual ramen order, but also don’t want to spend the whole day standing over a crock pot. They make about five different kinds of soup each day, but they also have good, healthy sides, like grilled beets and honey-chipotle quinoa salad.
Audrey Claire is a classic and it’s worth a visit whether or not you’re trying to eat better. Their healthy options are just as good as their not-so-healthy options, so it’s the perfect spot to recommend for your next date night when you want to get something light, but your significant other has made it clear that he or she wants a plate of pasta. Split a few of their Mediterranean small plates and if you’re still hungry, there’s a whole grilled branzino on the menu that’ll help make sure you don’t “save any room for dessert.”
The Rock said in an interview once that sushi is his favorite “cheat meal.” If that’s true, we have absolutely no interest in having dinner with him. For the rest of us, sushi is a perfectly acceptable option when we’re trying to eat something on the healthier side, and Umai Umai is one of the best places in the city for it - especially if you’re looking for creative rolls that aren’t deep fried and covered in aioli.
Isot is where you go when you can’t get into Zahav, sure. But this Turkish spot in Society Hill also has a lot of things - healthier things - that Zahav doesn’t, like plates of grilled chicken and lamb kebabs served with sides of vegetables and about five different Mediterranean salads. This place gives you a ton of food, so you can reheat the rest the next night and delay cooking the salmon filet that’s been in your freezer for the past two weeks.
While the name sounds like something your mom might come up with if she was opening a vegetarian place that she wanted to attract “cool youngsters” to, this fast casual spot in Rittenhouse actually has very solid vegan food. If you want something on the lighter side, their udon noodle salad with spicy glazed “chick’n” is excellent, but the best thing here is their chipotle fajita wrap, which comes with blackened chick’n, veggies, pico de gallo, avocado, and chipotle crema.
If being healthy to you means knowing that your food comes from a potato farm out in Lancaster that has exactly 54 chickens and no running water, Talula’s Garden should be your first choice. They’ve been doing farm-to-table since way before it was the standard, and most of the menu is both healthy and delicious. Find someone else who is trying to eat a little better and split the Mediterranean sea bass and bourbon-glazed chicken with the.
There are a few pho places in the city that everyone flocks to, but Ngon Ngon queitly keeps to itself in Queen Village. Their menu is similar to most other pho places, with things like vermicelli noodles, rice bowls, and beef/chicken pho, but Ngon Ngon’s vegetarian pho is the best we’ve found in the city. It comes with tofu and mixed vegetables and is a solid lunch or dinner option for when you want something light and healthy, but still warm.