Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paleo-style Out on the Town

Okay, so you don't feel like cooking.  Again.  Your choices are:

  1. Visit your local grocery store and probably fall back on that delicious rotisserie chicken, again, for the like the 5th time this week or  
  2. Go through the mental gauntlet of finding something you can eat at a local restaurant without regretting it the next day.  

There is a third choice, but it takes more forethought: buy your paleo goods from paleo vendors online and stock up in case of a cooking-exhaustion emergency.  Here are some excellent choices:

  • Paleokits for packable on-the-go snacks of jerky, dried fruit, and nuts.  You are also supporting a great cause: 
Proceeds from the sales of Paleokits fund Steve’s Club, a non-profit Crossfit affiliate devoted to training youth from Camden, NJ-often touted as the most dangerous crime-infested city in the country. Steve’s Club gives inner-city kids the chance to get away from the drugs and violence that plague their neighborhoods. Paleokits were originally developed to provide the children portable on-the-go nutritious meals they could eat at school and at home. Born to fuel their bodies, Paleokits now fuel the future of many kids looking for a positive place to stay safe and get strong.
  • Paleo Brands frozen meals shipped across the US.  Paleo Brands, Inc. is a joint venture between Joe Cappuccio, owner of Del Mar Seafood’s and John Welbourn, creator of CrossFit Football, owner of CrossFit Balboa, and ten year NFL Football veteran and is endorsed by nutrition guru Robb Wolf and The Paleo Diet author Dr. Loren Cordain.  You can be rest assured you will be eating very well with these meals.  
There are also some local paleo caterers and prepared-food makers scattered amongst us too; look into it if you are interested.

So, we tackled grocery store meals in our last post.  Today, let's figure out how to eat out on the town, paleo-style!  

One big NOTE to begin with: I suggest you avoid the hassle and just use a cheat meal when eating out.  You'll enjoy yourself more and save yourself some stress.  Trying to eat out paleo-style is tough.  You have to be willing to face off with your server to get what you want, aggravate your non-paleo friends/family with your "pickiness," and survive a meal with non-paleo eaters all around you having everything you'd like to eat but can't.  But what if you're a paleo-eater for medical reasons, or you're on vacation without your trusty stove, or you really want to go out but don't want the repercussions?  Restaurant eating IS possible if you make the effort.  I'll show you how!

Here is a list of paleo-style recommendations by restaurant type:

Asian Restaurants

Mongolian BBQ joints are a godsend for paleo eaters. You can choose your meat and veggies and oil and have it cooked on a huge griddle. Of course, you aren’t likely to get organic or grassfed choices, so quality is still a concern, but at least you can choose to avoid sugar, beans, dairy, and grains pretty easily (except the grains feeding the animals from which the meat was taken...sigh).

Most Asian restaurants have stir fries that can fit the paleo bill with some tinkering.  Ditch the rice and noodles for more veggies.  Try to avoid sugary sauces if at all possible.  Sometimes there is a meat salad or meat and veggies option that works perfectly.  

Sushi and Japanese restaurants? Easy-peasy.  Just order sashimi to skip the rice.  There are even some rolls without rice, just ask.  The miso soup is made from legumes, so avoid if you are playing it strict.  The salads usually have a really sweet dressing, so try to switch that out if you desire the challenge.  Think the carbs in salad and soup are negligible, think again: I had a full blown carb drunkenness (you know, just like alcohol where you get giddy and the room takes time to catch up when you turn your head) after just the soup and salad and green tea.  No joke!  The after-effects were a troubled tummy (I had rice with my meal and perhaps wasabi doesn't really agree with me) and carb hangover extraordinaire the next day.  Not fun, but a little funny.  

Greek and Mediterranean Restaurants

Falafel joints usually have a plate salad option, so those are a great go-to for a salad meal (avoiding the actual chickpea falafel of course).  The sauce is usually yogurt based, so if you are off the dairy see if you can exchange it with oil and vinegar or something else benign.  Kabobs are a tasty good bet.  Hummus is legume-based, so try Baba Ghanoush (made with eggplants) instead, but ask for veggies instead of pita if you're dipping.  Tapas are also great for paleo-eaters with their array of small plates.  Most are simple preparations with fresh ingredients, so you are sure to find great seafood, meats, and veggies.  Like buttery steamed mussels, mmmnnn I can almost taste them!

Mexican Restaurants

Yes, it can be done!  You can easily order fajitas or ceviche or meats like carnitas or carne asada and just hold the tortillas, beans, sour cream, and cheese (if forgoing dairy).  Ask for more veggies and guacamole.  Oh, guacamole--how did I ever live without you?  You can even splurge and get the bartender to make you a Norcal Margarita (2 shots gold tequila, juice of 1 lime, and a splash of club soda (optional ice)--halving this and increasing the sparkly water is great too), about as paleo a mixed drink as possible.  How is it paleo you ask?  The tequila is made from gluten-free agave, the lime juice is alkaline to help keep you in acid-base balance and it also slows insulin response to the alcohol, and the bubbly helps get the alcohol to your blood faster, so you drink less with the same effect (thanks Nick for the info!).  You would think it would be really strong on the alcohol side, but surprisingly the lime cuts it and delivers a bolt of flavor.  Delicious!  And beware, they go down real easy!

Other Mexican food ideas?  I used to be a regular at the Burrito Bar at Whole Foods getting grilled veggies instead of rice, meat of my choice, salsa, cilantro, and lime.  Pretty damn good and easy, albeit expensive.  Once they started giving one scoop portions, though, it definitely wasn't worth the price anymore for me.  Perhaps your store is still generous because it takes a lot of veggies to make a fulfilling meal.   

American Restaurants

Buffets are great because you can choose what you want and how much of it you desire, but beware of quality.  Maybe that All You Can Eat Sushi Buffet really is too good to be true.  However, the salad bars are great if nothing else.  You may be surprised to find a "low carb" menu selection replacing that idiotic "low fat" section.  If so, you are in luck!  If not, let's talk options: 

The Meat: Many steak houses are pretty good restaurant options with salad and veggies as sides to steak.  I still can't understand where they get off charging exorbitant prices for grain-fed beef, though.  Perhaps you'll be lucky and find a true meat connoisseur that serves the good stuff.  You can also do well with the chicken entrees, boring as they may seem as after-thoughts relegated to a "healthy" menu section.  Of course seafood often fills this section, too, so that's a safe bet unless it's fried.  If you find a BBQ joint, try smoked meats instead of those heavily sauced.  

The Salad: You can safely choose many salad options at American-style restaurants if you are willing to haggle over dressings, croutons/fried noodles, and the ubiquitous cheese.  Make sure you load up on the meat if your salad is your meal!

The Veggies: Usually these are pretty easy as grilled and steamed veggies are ubiquitous.  It is now en vogue to offer sweet potato fries instead of those Freedom Fries from yesteryear.  Granted, they are still probably battered in grain, but sometimes I try not to think about it.  Restaurant dining is all about knowing when to listen to that little voice inside you steering you away from obvious cheats and when to tell it to shut up and let me eat my sweet potato fries damnit.  

Breakfast: For me, breakfast is a no-brainer for paleo-eating. You can easily choose eggs and forgo the toast or exchange it for fruit or salad.  Since many places serve breakfast well into the afternoon, breakfast can be had for lunch too.  I have heard scary stories about the dreaded carton of liquid egg and omelets containing pancake batter to make them fluffier and probably to cut the amount of eggs needed, so if you want to be safe, order eggs (fried, scrambled, poached, etc.) instead of omelets.  The potatoes are up to you.  I usually have them, but then I usually go out to breakfast after a morning of CrossFit, so to me, at least, I've earned it :)

Fast Food: Yes, it can be done.  Try asking for lettuce wraps instead of bread for sandwiches.  I haven't gone this route yet, but I've heard "protein style" is an option at In-n-Out with a burger served on lettuce.  That is also an option at other burger joints--just forgo the bun and ask for it to be served on a salad or lettuce leaves.   I have heard you can order salads at fast food joints (like grilled chicken salad), but watch the dressing and accoutrements like croutons and cheese.  And don't be fooled by the infamous taco "salad."  Unless you choose the right ingredients, it could end up like this commercial: "a culinary creation that baffles the human mind: a 12,000 calorie salad."  Funny, but sad because it's true... 

Italian and French Restaurants

Grilled items and more lightly sauced dished are present on the menu, you just have to look past the pasta, bread, and creamy risotto screaming from every corner.  Watch out for hidden flour if you are serious about sticking to the plan since even chicken cacciatori with its simple, meaty sauce might have been first floured and fried before stewing.  French is easier than Italian, but there are easy finds on any menu--you just have to look, ask, and be willing to negotiate.  Fondue is also an incredible paleo option.  Try the oil and just dip your meat and veggies in for a delicious meal.  You can even end on dark chocolate fondue with fruit instead of bread or candy.  Yum!  Want to get a little closer to your roots?  Try the carpaccio--simplicity at its most deliciousness!  And go gamey, try organ meats--now is your time to experiment with your paleo tastes!

One of the best dinners I have ever had was at Ristorante Avanti in Santa Cruz eating grass fed Flat Iron Steak with gorgonzola cheese and potato gratin spinach.  Pretty paleo-style (with dairy) and freakin' delicious, albeit I cheated on the appetizer (fried calamari) and dessert (chocolate pot de creme-OMG!).  But I felt better than the time I went whole hog and got the gnocchi, delicious as it was.  It can really make a difference when you choose your cheats wisely: such as part of the meal instead of the entire 3+ course affair.  

Desserts can be a challenge at ANY restaurant, but before you blow your paleo plan on that sticky, gooey, chocolatey delight using the force to change your weak, weak mind, try this: purchase some dark chocolate on the way home for an after dinner snack you'll enjoy much more than overfilling yourself right after dinner.  Better still: walk to the store to enjoy more time with your companions and walk off some of that meal! (and no, I don't mean burn the calories, I just mean to get moving to aid digestion and be more generally active--we spend too much of our lives with our butts glued to chairs...)

Want to search more specifically?  Check Chowhound, Urbanspoon, ZAGAT (for a fee), BooRah (new to me), or Yelp.  If you can, find the menu before you go.  Google searches for paleo restaurants also bring up a slew of results, some with specific reviews for restaurants by city.  Do your homework, stick to your guns, and you can find a great paleo-style meal out on the town!

Bottom line for restaurant dining paleo-style: 
Don't be shy, ask for what you want!  You deserve to enjoy the meal you're paying for! :)

Please post any other ideas to comments to share with the community!


  1. Your bottom line is totally right on. I know I'm totally spoiled because I live in NYC and have lots of great options, but I'm shameless about asking where the meat comes from and asking for substitutions when the steak comes with potatoes. If the restaurant won't give me some green veggies instead, fine. I just won't be coming back because there are plenty of good places that will give me what I want. Honestly I usually get a harder time from my friends, who roll their eyes as I grill the waiter about what non-paleo ingredients might be hiding in each dish on the menu.

  2. That is awesome, Isaac! Way to stand up for your paleo-rights! I agree--why should I feel bad asking about quality and substitutions when I am the one paying them good money for my meal? Any place unwilling to budge just isn't worth my time or money.

  3. Great post.

    I've found eating out to be more and more a disappointing experience since I've changed the way I eat. I guess I'm becoming spoiled by my own (not even that remarkable) cooking (and the high quality ingredients, and knowing exactly what went into it...) We're going on a short road trip later this month, though, which means three days of being at the mercy of restaurants for at least one meal a day.

    Adding on to your dark chocolate dessert suggestion, for those doing some dairy, a little melted dark chocolate stirred into a some to Fage Total full fat Greek yogurt is mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I use roughly an ounce of chocolate to a quarter cup of yogurt, but it's the kind of thing where you have to play around to find just the right balance between chocolate and yogurt for your tastes. It's a small but satisfying treat. (And I'd run and make myself some right now, but I'm trying to stay off dairy for the moment to see if there's a connection to my allergies.)

  4. Very real post. Thanks for making Paleo something that is not so far fetched. Enjoying your stuff.