The Dish List: Tender Greens

Courtesy of the LA Times

Courtesy of the LA Times

Nothing screams Southern California dining like fresh and healthy food and a large outdoor patio. In January, the healthy grub and hip atmosphere of Tender Greens, a popular restaurant chain in the LA and San Diego area, arrived in Orange County with a new location at the Irvine Spectrum. Complete with flavorful salads and entrees, green tables and green chairs, Tender Greens more than lives up to its name.

Irvine Spectrum was certainly lacking in inexpensive, healthy food before the arrival of Tender Greens. The Cheesecake Factory’s extensive menu certainly provides some decent salad options, Yardhouse’s gourmet burgers are divine and of course, there’s always cheap Chipotle burritos. Yet with the new addition of Tender Greens, the healthy and affordable come together, offering a chance for Anteaters to satisfy their appetites at a tasty, healthy and reasonably priced greenery located across from Edwards Cinemas.

Tender Greens serves its food cafeteria style — order on one side, pick up your meal and pay on the other. Watch through the glass windows between these two stops as your meal is assembled like a product in a factory. Delicious finished products include large salads, small salads, soups, meat or veggie sandwiches and entrees complete with meat, potatoes and fresh greens, and are ready in minutes. Desserts are also available.

“The majority of our lettuces come fresh picked daily from Scarborough Farms in Oxnard, where Ann Stein and the rest of the family grows things naturally,” boasts the restaurant’s menu.

Piled high on ceramic plates, all salads include a carefully selected type of greens, ranging from kale to baby arugula. The Harvest, one of the most popular salads, also includes organic fruit, artisan cheese, local nuts and a shower of golden balsamic vinaigrette. Big Salads includes more familiar dishes as well, such as the Chinese Chicken Salad and the Tuna Nicoise.

For meat eaters, Greens offers five grilled meat choices and five corresponding meal combination options. Choose from Backyard Marinated Steak (medium rare), Salt and Pepper Chicken, Chipotle Barbeque Chicken, Fried Chicken or Herb Brushed Albacore, and eat it on a sandwich, as a “Hot Plate” with mashed potatoes and veggies, on a “Simple Salad,” on a “Big Salad” or as a side.

I highly recommend the Salt and Pepper Chicken as a sandwich — white and dark meat grilled to perfection and placed on a toasted and diagonally sliced loaf of ciabatta covered in a creamy garlic aioli and soft red bell peppers. Melts in your mouth. Try the tender greens or butter lettuce simple salads as sides for this mouthwatering creation.

Tender Greens offers a variety of exotic menu items to complement a fresh and delicious meal. Special drinks, priced affordably at $2.50, include house made mint lemonade and a lightly sweetened hibiscus tea.

For Anteaters of age, the menu also includes a selection of red and white wines, as well as craft beers on tap, and the typical assortment of fountain drinks.

“Simple Salads” include interesting concoctions such as one with baby spinach, goat cheese, hazelnuts and cabernet vinaigrette, and another with kale, Parmesan and a roasted garlic dressing. “Comfort Soups” include Roasted Roma Tomato and Rustic Chicken.

As any place that calls itself Tender Greens must, the restaurant’s menu also features plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on its menu, such as the Happy Vegan salad — wheat with cranberry and hazelnuts, quinoa with cucumber and beets, green hummus, tabbouleh and, of course, “tender greens.” The restaurant appropriately makes use of green technology, printing its menus on recycled paper.

“We have a bunch of regulars who are vegan and vegetarian,” says a friendly busboy dressed in green. “We get asked that a lot.”

Whether vegetarian, vegan or meat-eater, Tender Greens truly has something delicious to offer any guest, at a decent price. I highly recommend going for lunch, as the outdoor patio is as large as the indoor seating area, making for plenty of space to sit and enjoy the southern California sunlight.