Cheap Eats: Philly’s Most Serious Salads
This week on Foobooz, we’re publishing our guide to Philly’s new world of cheap eats: upscale quick cuisine that’s as exciting as a meal at Vetri — at a fraction of the price. Today, we’re all about serious salads that can stand on their own as hearty, filling meals. Below, check out 21 of our favorites in the city and ‘burbs. Or pick up the October issue of Philly Mag, on newsstands this week, to see all our Cheap Eats goodness in one place.
Daily Salads, $6
Malvern Buttery’s shtick is that they cook a bunch of stuff in the morning, and you come in and grab what looks good throughout the day. While this might make those who thrive on routine uneasy, it’s heaven for those who want the best-tasting food. And here, that means gourmet salads with interesting touches like roasted squash, fennel fronds and chunks of blue cheese. 233 East King Street, Malvern.
Raw Rainbow Salad, $7.99; with Almond-Crusted Chicken $3.99
It’s hard to explain the awesomeness of Snap Kitchen to the uninitiated. Healthy food that’s all packaged to go, that’s seriously good? This Austin-based concept, which recently took Philly by storm, now has mix-and-match salads: Pick your bowl base (the Raw Rainbow has pomegranate seeds, edamame and a carrot-miso dressing) and then grab your protein mix-ins (chicken with an almond crust, or maybe grilled steak), for a super-quick, super-fresh experience. Multiple locations.
Real Plates, $8.95 and up
This Rittenhouse newcomer makes cafeteria-style lunch cool again with this plate deal, in which you choose one protein to go over greens or grains and two sides. With clean, simply cooked options like grass-fed sirloin and salmon and sides like roasted carrot fries and a simple avocado half, the second part of your workday is sure to be productive, not sluggish. 207 South 16th Street, Rittenhouse.
Tempeh and Kale Salad, $9
If you manage to dodge the cookie counter, slip past the cured meats and pass on the heirloom tomato mac-and-cheese, you’ll be rewarded with this protein-packed vegan salad (marinated tempeh, edamame) that has a dynamite spicy miso dressing. 208 West Washington Square, Washington Square West.
Custom Salad, $8.99
This Snap is a homegrown mini-chain (there are two suburban locations and one in the city … for now) that made its name on custom pizza. But while that pizza line grows, you should be well on your way to salad bliss. Try the spicy broccoli (it’s better than Sweetgreen’s) and tangy tomatoes. And say yes when they offer to sprinkle in salt and pepper. Multiple locations.
Cobb Salad, $10.45
It’s not like we’re recluses or anything, but the fact that we can order a salad any way we want, or tweak one of the existing salads on the HG menu (by adding more veggies to the stellar Cobb, or lightening up on the dressing) without having to talk to anyone is rather appealing. Plus, using the Wawa-like touchscreen ordering is just plain fun. Multiple locations.
Build-A-Plate, $7.87 and up
There are four steps to making a deeply flavored feel-good lunch here. Begin with your base (try the Himalayan rice), add a protein (maybe grilled jerk chicken), toss on two sides (Spruce side salad and sweet-potato mash), and top it all off with a sauce (walnut coriander, perhaps). Turns out lunch can be filling, healthy and tasty. Who knew? 3601 Market Street, University City.
Chef Salad, $14
Thanks to the way the cooks at High Street do a chef’s salad — house-roasted tender-as-hell turkey, creamy feta, a soft-boiled egg, sprouted chickpeas — this dish finally deserves the moniker it has. 308 Market Street, Old City.
Make-Your-Own, $5 and up
The snaking salad line during the lunch rush might give you pause, but don’t bail to the premade sandwiches, because the team of preppers who work the 40-plus ingredient canisters move like an acrobatic squad. (Note: Do some mental ingredient-picking before it’s your turn, and watch out, because the cost adds up quickly.) Trendsetters, you’ll be happy to see kale as a salad base. 1801 Market Street, Center City.
The Tasting Plate, $8.75 and up
The folks at this neighborhood stalwart have long known how to do veggies, so you’ll be plenty happy with the Cobb or Caesar. But good veggies don’t have to come in a bowl, which is why you should get the three-item plate (think pan-seared chicken with prosciutto, grilled asparagus and portabella mushrooms) atop greens, drizzled with dressing. 1 West Court Street, Doylestown.
Make-Your-Own, $5.95 and up
With no sign outside and no official Web presence, the first-floor, open-to-the- public cafeteria at the law firm Duane Morris improbably remains a secret you have to be let in on. (You’re welcome.) While the ingredient selection isn’t the most extensive in town, the greens-and-five-topping standard salad is fresh and fast and a good value for the money. 30 South 17th Street, Center City.
Palermo Salad, $10.50
With a massive mount of grilled vegetables, olives, figs and almonds on top of baby kale, this salad is a steal at $10.50. Add a protein, like bacon or Niçoise tuna, and you’ll be full for days. Multiple locations.
Salad Bar, $8.99/lb.
What with the meatballs at Little Nonna’s and the tacos at Lolita, it’s easy to forget that Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran also run their own high-end bodega. And its ever-changing salad bar, with offerings like couscous, grilled corn and roasted beets, means you can have a little taste of everything. 101 South 13th Street, Midtown Village.
Burmese Papaya Salad, $9.50
This supremely healthy salad isn’t for the meek. The chilies will make you sweat, and the tangy papaya-and-cabbage base will dance on your tongue. Worth it. Pro tip: Day-old salads are half-price, and here, that’s still fresher than almost anywhere else. 119 South 21st Street, Rittenhouse.
Udon Noodle Salad, $9.15
Sweet, sour, chewy, crunchy with carrots, arugula and sprouts — this has all the components that make a great salad. But think bigger: At HipCity, any sandwich (massaman tofu, anyone?) can be placed on a delicious bed of greens, too. 214 South 40th Street, University City, and 127 South 18th Street, Rittenhouse.
Spicy Sabzi, $8.60
All those people waiting in line? They aren’t crazy. This chain has fans for a reason: It revolutionized the quick-toss salad world by offering well-prepped ingredients and sticking to its mission of clean eating. Oh, plus, the salads — like this one with quinoa and raw beets — are always delish. If you’re in a rush, order takeout through the app and grab your bowl from the racks up front. Multiple locations.
Signature Salad, $7.99
If you like your salads on the sweeter end, here’s your new fave. Bryn & Dane’s, the local fast-growing, healthy chain, offers this toppings-packed mix of blueberries, grapes, raisins and greens, topped off with cheat-worthy crispy chicken. Multiple locations.
Chicken Salad, $8 and up
The chalkboard sign noting the quiche of the day will cause a dilemma, but you’ll never regret going with the chicken salad. Sourced from Bryn Mawr’s Bakery House, it’s not too mayo-y, not too-celery-y—not too anything that chicken salads can so often be. Eating it in this adorable flower shop/home store/cafe makes it all the tastier. Eagle Village Shops, 503 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne.
Carrot Asada Salad, $11
Only Rich Landau could elevate the lowly carrot into something crave-able. In this case, he chars the most flavor-packed carrots you’ve had and lays them on a bed of cabbage and lettuce mixed with corn, avocado and spicy pumpkin seeds. It’s all the flavors of the powerhouse Mexican staple with none of the meat. 126 South 19th Street, Rittenhouse.
Santorini, $6.49 and up
Baked falafel, quinoa, chickpeas, feta, tomatoes and toasted almonds in a lemon vinaigrette — it’s hard to believe this salad is vegetarian and gluten-free. On the go? Large salads here are also available as wraps. 102 Rector Street, Manayunk, and 31 West Gay Street, West Chester.
Couscous and Veggie Salad, $6.97
This bakery outlet was one of the first quick-serve cafes to care about quality, and for years the sandwiches have been light and tasty. But sitting on the counter are takeout containers of fluffy couscous topped with heaps of grilled vegetables tossed in a harissa dressing, served at room temp, which makes your meal all the quicker to eat. 129 South 18th Street, Rittenhouse.
This article first appeared as part of the Cheap Eats package in Philadelphia magazine’s October 2016 issue.