TNT Diner

A fast lunch without greasy regret. Here’s where to dine when you’ve got little time

A Temple salad with an Energy Bowl on the side at Garden's Gourmet Salads in East Tacoma.
A Temple salad with an Energy Bowl on the side at Garden's Gourmet Salads in East Tacoma.

Eat your vegetables.

It’s not just the mantra from moms everywhere, it’s something we all should be doing.

With the new year here, the conversation naturally shifts to diet improvement.

What thwarts my ability to eat healthier is time — or, a lack of it.

My solution: Fast salads. They spare me from drive-thrus.

Here’s a look at three cafes that make fast-and-terrific salads that will fit nicely into your “eat more vegetables” regimen.

The best part is that you can fit these restaurants easily into your lunch hour and without that side of greasy regret.

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Golden Olive Salad at Happy Belly Restaurant + Juice Bar in downtown Tacoma. On the side is glass of wheat grass with fresh pineapple. Peter Haley


1122 Market St., Tacoma; 253-365-6706,

Salads are as pretty as they are tasty at Happy Belly, a downtown Tacoma restaurant and juice cafe that opened in 2014.

Owner Jennifer Johnson caters to diners of all kinds: Meat eaters, vegans, gluten-free diners and everyone in between. The cafe with a high ceiling and cushy chairs carries a funky, charming vibe.

Order at the counter and take a seat or get a fast lunch to go. A grab-and-go case holds wraps or burritos ($3.25-$5.50), plus packaged house-made salads ($4.50) and veggie snack packs ($3.75).

Much of the menu changes week-to-week, which is why salads described here no longer are on the menu. Consider this destination a solid choice for salads interesting in flavor and texture. (Or try a wrap, taco, rice bowl or smoothie. The menu is quite diverse).

I couldn’t believe the size of the garbanzo feta salad ($8.95, vegan/gluten-free) on December’s menu. A deep, square bowl held a bed of arugula topped with a copious helping of garbanzo beans, parsley and chopped tomatoes. A light sprinkle of feta added flavor but not much fat. A tasty herb vinaigrette was generously applied.

A half-sized portion of hummus salad also was built on a bed of arugula and came with punchy house pickled peppers, squash and carrots ($4.50). I couldn’t believe how little I paid for the towering salad with an oregano-heavy lemon vinaigrette, plus a creamy mountain of hummus that carried a hint of turmeric.

I paired it with a bowl of vegan kale and red pepper soup that packed a hefty punch of spice and a rich, robust flavor ($3.75).

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Dion Cooper makes a Temple salad while business partner Nyesha Jones does prep at Garden's Gourmet Salads in East Tacoma. Peter Haley


1623 E. 72nd St., Tacoma; 253-433-3736;

Garden’s Gourmet Salads is the result of chef Nyesha Jones trying to get her partner-in-business-and-life, Dion Cooper, to eat a little better. Cooper, an electrician, often complained about his dine-out options for lunch. Jones came up with a solution of interesting, nutrient-dense salads.

Those salads now comprise the menu at the East Tacoma cafe that is tucked into a strip mall next to a Thai restaurant and Starbucks. The restaurant is casual with fewer than 20 seats, an order-at-the-counter protocol and quick service.

Jones and Cooper, who works a few days a week in the cafe, expanded the menu recently to include vegan soups.

Like Happy Belly, Garden’s Gourmet Salads caters to vegans, gluten-free diners and those in search of lean protein (chicken, turkey, salmon).

Salads are visually appealing and well assembled. Vegetables are uniformly chopped and distributed, and dressing is evenly layered throughout the bowl, which negates the irritating chore of mixing up a big salad to get flavor in every bite.

The entree-sized Washington apple salad came layered with mixed greens, freshly diced apples, roasted beets, chopped celery, plus modest portions of blue cheese, bacon and sliced turkey breast, drizzled with a creamy apple cider vinaigrette ($11.95). A half size is a better choice at lunch ($6.49).

The Temple salad also was built with the same foundation of mixed greens, plus red and yellow bell peppers, edamame, broccoli, sesame seeds, almonds, sliced chicken breast and a ginger-sesame dressing ($11.95/$6.49).

If it’s on the menu, don’t miss the vegetable barley stew ($4.89/$6.89).

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Some of the fresh, organic ingredients available at the salad bar at Marlene's Natural Foods Market in Tacoma. Besides the fresh vegetables being loaded on this customer's plate, there are prepared salads like the pea-and-cheese and Greek, top left. Drew Perine Staff file, 2016


2951 S. 38th St, Tacoma; 253-472-4080,

Salad bars are tough to find anymore. Marlene’s Natural Foods Market and Deli has one of the best in the region.

Find a huge array of organic, vegan and gluten-free ingredients with the freshest vegetables I found for my 2016 tour of local salad bars.

About 30-40 percent of Marlene’s offerings are organic. Considering the salad bar is priced $8.99 a pound, that’s a bargain.

Build the salad in the deli and pay at the front registers. For dining on site, a good-sized seating area flanks the cash registers.

On a December visit, I counted more than 50 salad bar items, including three prepared salads. Get the red potato salad or the mushroom-tortellini salad (if available), plus the corkscrew pasta with a basil dressing and any salad made with quinoa.

More than 20 vegetables include green leaf lettuce, mixed greens, spinach or kale, plus a rainbow of fresh vegetables. Beans include edamame, garbanzo and pinto, plus there’s lean protein in the form of turkey breast. Cubed tofu also is offered, as is cheese and chopped boiled eggs.

Salad dressings number eight, with ingredients listed (look on top of the salad bar) to discern which are safe for vegans or gluten-free diners.