It's April and, let's face it, the thought of wearing that bikini in your closet makes you more than a little nauseated. With summer rapidly approaching, and some of us (um, me) sporting Not Ready For Prime Summertime Bodies, losing weight is high on the agenda. But I certainly don't want to stop eating out. So, my current goal is rather simple: Eat mindfully (read: healthy salads) at my favorite venues, and enjoy the springtime weather while doing so. Who knew eating al dente greens alfresco could be this tasty?
Vapiano: A relative newcomer to the Mockingbird Station scene, Vapiano offers Italian "fast" fare, hence its name. At this casual chain, you receive a "chip card" to swipe at various stations. Feel like pasta? Order it from the cook and swipe your card. At the end of the meal, you present the card to the greeter at the door and pay. It seems like a convoluted concept; good thing the food is straightforward. For a recent weekday lunch, I decided to give the sautéed shrimp salad a go. Once outside, I settled into my seat on the restaurant's covered patio. Despite the cacophony coming from nearby Central Expressway, I enjoyed an amazing salad. The shrimp, sautéed in olive oil, were spicy. Nestled amid romaine hearts, I also found large chunks of pepperoni and chewy-crunchy croutons. The salad, bathed in a pesto vinaigrette, hit all the right notes, and its textures were spot-on. No mushy greens here. The urban setting and food almost transported me to a sun-strewn street in Florence. 5319 E. Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, 214-887-1557, vapianointernational.com
Spiral Diner: On a recent weekday at lunch, the dining room at Spiral Diner was filled. That was all the impetus I needed to order my All Raw Salad and bring it to my favorite picnic spot, the Botanic Garden. Call it Fort Worth's version of raw nature. Under glorious skies and mid-70s temps, I enjoyed this taste sensation of salad greens with zucchini, carrots, red bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers, apples, raw nuts and raisins with raw walnut dressing. The nuts added satisfying crunch and earthiness, but the walnut dressing was a little bland -- next time I may ask for ranch. All in all, this salad came closest to mimicking its surroundings. It was tasty but a tad one-note. 1314 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-332-8834, spiraldiner.com
Flying Fish: Until recently, I had fallen into an ordering rut at Flying Fish. I like grilled salmon about as much as the next girl (which is not much), but I know all about its health merits and usually take one for the team, as they say. The grilled salmon salad here is dependable. But for this story, I knew I was looking for something more accomplished. A friend swears by the restaurant's Mas Shrimp Salad, so one night I gladly deviated from my same-old game plan. Glad I did: Large shrimp are grilled to peppery perfection and then mixed with mesclun greens, capers all in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette dressing. The latter two lend a Provençal touch to the salad. The vinaigrette adds acid and sweetness. As we sit on the patio, a chill is in the air and my baby daughter is crying. But fueled by this tasty salad, I am doing just fine. 2913 Montgomery St., Fort Worth, 817-989-2277,
Fuzzy's Taco Shop: With eight locations and three more slated to open in the near future, Fuzzy's is becoming near-legendary. Their queso is velvety, and the tempura tacos rock, but when you're feeling virtuous, the chain's Big Salads do the trick. A variety of proteins are on the menu, but I like the fajita beef the best. Romaine and iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and feta and shredded Cheddar complete this stainless-steel bowl of goodness. Just a small amount of the garlic-loaded vinaigrette and some habanero sauce are all the salad needs to be dressed. The original Fuzzy's outpost has a few tables outside, but the ambiance they provide hardly registers. Berry Street sure is busy these days. 2917 W. Berry St., Fort Worth, 817-924-7943, www.fuzzystacoshop.com
George's Specialty Foods: Nick Phiripes and his son Theo run this eclectic Greek restaurant/imported foods store, and it's certainly one of a kind. Posters of the Greek islands hover over shelves of canned olives and grape leaves and bottles of tahini dressing. Inedible tchotchkes compete for counter space with delicious Greek phyllo-laden pastries such as kataifi and baklava. During the warm (but not too warm) months, Nick likes to raise the garage-door wall, happily exposing his patrons to the view across the street of the Trinity River bluff and greenbelt. As for the greens themselves, they're deliciously tasty: iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, feta and olives mingle with the vinegary dressing. Pita bread comes with the salad, and it's perfect for mopping up the leftover dressing. The fresh food and scenic environment at George's reminds you of summer. But not so much that you think of getting into that bikini. 4424 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817-737-0414