Green Light: Build-Your-Own Salad Spots Give Fast-Casual Food a Healthful Hue

Sweetgreen gets ready to join L.A.’s healthy mix with Tender Greens, Mixt Greens, and more

Los Angeles is the birthplace of many things—the Mars Rover, the Zamboni, road rage—but two of our most famous creations come in a bowl. The Cobb and Italian-style chopped salads emerged from L.A. power players (the Brown Derby and La Scala, respectively) during Hollywood’s golden age.

Our leafy pedigree makes sense. Angelenos are notoriously health-conscious, with access to impeccable produce year-round. Still, until recently it’s been challenging to procure a primo version of what Seinfeld ’s Elaine called a “Big Salad” outside of a Suzanne Goin restaurant or a sit-down chain.

“Ten years ago there was no place to get a decent salad at a reasonable price in Los Angeles,” says Erik Oberholtzer, who co-founded Tender Greens in 2006. The company is one of a parade of salad-centric operations—Simply Salad, Mixt Greens, and Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop among them—that are taking over L.A.’s fast-casual marketplace. The basic model: Offer a huge assortment of fresh ingredients prepped on-site, feature specialty salads but emphasize customization, keep waiters out of the equation, and focus heavily on image.

“We wanted to take the idea of healthy eating and build a cool brand around it,” says Nic Jammet of the East Coast giant Sweetgreen, which will soon open two L.A. branches. Eating at one of its bright Manhattan shops is akin to having an organic grain bowl at the Apple Store. Places like Tender Greens play up their farm-to-table sourcing and elevated atmosphere (would you like some wine with your frisée?). In February Greenleaf opened a Hollywood location, with cocktails mixed table-side.

The five-year-old Simply Salad is the most low-key of the bunch, concentrating on affordable grab-and-go options, but its goals are in line with the industry. “When you think about truck stops across the country, there’s McDonald’s, there’s Jack in the Box,” says co-owner Bruce Teichman. “We want to be there too, offering something healthier.”

Go-to Combos at L.A.’s Top Tossers

Mixt Greens
The Siam: A Southeast Asian mix with mango, spicy peanuts, and a Thai lemongrass vinaigrette. Try it with seared tuna.

Tender Greens
Salami & Kale: P. Balisteri salami stars in this salad packed with kale, roasted fennel, fingerling potatoes, and crispy garbanzos.

Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop
Antioxidant Orchard: Add a salmon fillet to the jumble of grapes, berries, apples, and walnuts.

Simply Salad 
The Buff: A heap of lettuce is topped with sports-bar food: buffalo chicken, crispy onions, jalapeños, and blue-cheese dressing, of course.