According to Healthline, health experts believe 2019 is the year of the plant protein due to environmental, ethical, and health concerns. Dr. Mindy Haar, associate dean of undergraduate affairs at the New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions, said in an online article, “We will see more plant-based options such as bean pastas and soy, tofu, or quinoa burgers on the market. Recent food trends have increased the consumption of avocado, kale, and quinoa; all wonderful nutrient-dense foods … . This year, dandelion greens, rainbow carrots, beets and amaranth are the popular new kids on the block.”
FOOD FOR MODERN EATERS
A newcomer to Union Street that focuses specifically on fresh, healthful dining is Little Gem, the second location for the wildly successful Hayes Valley restaurant. It serves what it calls a “thoughtful menu” of soups, salads, small bites, bowls, and main courses for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Chef David Cruz uses seasonal ingredients from local purveyors, and his dishes encourage sharing. While there are vegan items on the menu, and there is no gluten or refined sugar in anything Little Gem serves, Cruz feels strongly about making the restaurant for everyone: omnivores, herbivores, and everything in between.
The 70-seat restaurant features lush greenery, light, natural materials, and a white marble bar, highlighted by brilliant blue tile by Ann Sacks. Tables and shelves are crafted from a single Douglas Fir tree grown in Napa. Menu highlights include King of Hayes — king salmon, spring vegetables, pea tendrils, yellow lentils, pearl onions, and parsley broth ($28); bowls like Asian-style beef short ribs with cauliflower, onions, broccoli, romanesco, sesame seeds, and jasmine rice ($17); salads and broths; and small bites that include hummus with “non” bread (gluten-free, for $9.75), and fish tacos with sea bass and veggies ($16). Beverages include wine, beer on tap, and nonalcoholic options: house-made kombucha, several juices, and a variety of teas and coffees. Like many newer cafes, Little Gem has a small “pantry,” where it sells some of its condiments and packaged versions of its signature ingredients like bacon-coconut crumble and cashew butter. Little Gem, 2184 Union Street, 415-896-4552, littlegem.restaurant.
BUILD YOUR OWN LUNCHBOX
Asian street-food-inspired Asian Box is another relative newcomer to the neighborhood. All of its ingredients are gluten free, and its dishes are authentic and made with farm-to-box, locally sourced, hormone-free produce and proteins. This growing chain promises that all of its packaging is compostable, and its stores are built with 35 percent reclaimed materials and FSA-certified wood.
You can select from a chef-created signature box, or create your own. Popular boxes include The Workout, with chicken, brown rice, steamed veggies, bean sprouts, and pickled veggies with a tamarind vinaigrette ($12); or The Miss Jones, featuring lemongrass pork, chilled noodles, sauce-tossed veggies, caramel egg, toppings such as lime, fresh herbs, shallots, and chopped peanuts ($13). Building your own box requires you to select a base of brown or jasmine rice, Asian salad, or chilled rice noodles, add a protein like seven-spice chicken, garlic-and soy-glazed beef, or coconut curry, and continue with toppings and a choice of sauce. There are sides and snacks like tofu and shrimp spring rolls, and salads. Fresh lemonade and Vietnamese iced coffee are also available. The restaurant does a brisk delivery and catering business, and was featured as one of the Food Network’s top freshest fast-food spots. Asian Box, 2031 Chestnut Street, 415-288-3688, asianbox.com
Dabba is Hindi for lunchbox and was inspired by a food-delivery system in Mumbai operated by a network of delivery workers called “dabbawalas” who ferry hot, home-cooked lunches from kitchens to customers’ office doorsteps and back. Dabba features organic and sustainable ingredients from local farms to create tacos, burritos, wraps, salads, and gluten-free bowls with Indian flavors and spices. Favorites include the lamb curry bowl with slow-roasted American lamb and curry sauce with seasonal basmati rice, garbanzo beans, pickled carrots, and tangy tamarind ($13), and the veggie bowl with seasonal fruit and spicy herb chutneys. Its hummus wrap includes a mix of hummus, greens, quinoa, seasonal fruit, and toasted nuts ($12). Diners can choose from house-made mango lassi — a yogurt drink — organic chai, sodas, tea, cold-brew matcha, and beer and wine. Dabba, 2240 Chestnut Street, 415-236-3984, dabba.com
Neighborhood restaurants serving health-conscious dishes like kale salads and vegan burgers include Causwells, Super Duper Burgers, and Roam Artisan Burgers on Fillmore Street, and Sessions in the Presidio.
Like it or leave it, expect to see more healthful, meatless dishes appear on menus all over town.
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