Kale. There was so much kale. It wasn't marinated with lemon juice to weaken the thick, nearly-impossible-to-chew leaves, and the sprinkling of quinoa, edamame, carrot shreds, and almonds was pretty much lost in the intimidating mound of it. But I was undeterred—I was on a mission to tackle that salad—so I chewed. And chewed. And chewed some more. Yes, my jaw hurt afterward, and, yes, kale was stuck in my teeth for hours, but was it good? Indeed, it was.
Aside from the problematic kale-to- anything-else ratio, the worst part of the salad, served up at Evergreens (evergreens-salad.com), the new salad place downtown, was the name—Dooon't Stop... Be Veeegan. Oh, how I loathe "cute" menu names. Unfortunately, quite a few of the salads at Evergreens have them: the Cobbsby Show, with chicken, avocado, and bacon; Pearly Legal, with Gorgonzola and pear; and Blazin' Asian, with baby oranges, edamame, and sesame sticks.
But dumb names be damned: Evergreens is a refreshing addition to downtown Seattle's lunch options. The herbed-mint vinaigrette that attempted to cover Kale Mountain was flavorful—the shop takes pride in their house-made dressings that come in flavors like blueberry sriracha, roasted tomato, and orange ginger—and it was pretty cool to watch Evergreens' salad makers chop the ingredients with the double mezzaluna knife, a moon-shaped blade that rocked back and forth on the counter, cutting everything down to size.
If you're not a kale fan, there's something for you, too. Paul Constant tried the Walk the Flank and My Little Skinny Greek Salad (ugh, right?) and says both were good. He added, however, that neither could top the lime peanut salad at Seattle Salads (Madison Valley, seattlesalads.com), which is his favorite salad in the city.
And that's how The Stranger's salad discussion began.
Despite the fact that I've been a vegetarian for more than half my life, it wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I finally started paying attention to the salad section on menus. I thoughtlessly shunned it as a collection of non-meals that existed only for trophy wives who needed something to pick at while their dates talked about stock options. Then I had the fried green tomato salad at Alligator Soul, a now-defunct Creole restaurant in Everett.
Holy shit, that salad was wonderful.
A bed of greens topped with thick slices of corn-fried green tomatoes, all covered in perfectly spicy rémoulade—I miss that salad so much that sometimes my heart aches.
But after the heartbreak, I found the ability to love other salads. Many of them, in fact. Seattle is silly with wonderful salads!
The house salad at La Isla (Ballard and Redmond, laislacuisine.com) is simple, but so delicious—greens, carrots, green onions, and hunks of fresh mango all tossed with the restaurant's balsamic vinaigrette (or, if you'd like, rum dressing made with real rum). Get that with an empanadilla (I recommend the papa, with mashed potatoes and cheese!) or the gandules dip, and you're set.
And the Veggie Grill (South Lake Union and University Village, veggiegrill.com) is generally overpriced, but its Baja Fiesta salad, with papaya and avocado for $8.95, is worth it, and especially filling if you get it with grilled tempeh.
My colleagues and I are also quite taken with the taco salad at Rancho Bravo (Capitol Hill, facebook.com/ranchobravotacos), or, as Cienna Madrid calls it, the "salad trough." For about five bucks, you get a large, but not overwhelmingly so, pile of chopped romaine leaves, your choice of black or pinto beans, your choice of meat or veggie mixture, tomatoes, onions, a sprinkling of cotija cheese, and tortilla strips. They'll throw some avocado on there, too, for a dollar extra. It is worth it.
While I've yet to sample it myself, Dominic Holden says the "best salad in the universe" is the brown rice, tofu, and avocado salad at the Sunlight Cafe (Roosevelt, sunlightcafevegetarian.com), which, he says, comes with tahini dressing that "is made of god particles." Bethany Jean Clement is not shy about her feelings for the salade verte at Cafe Presse—she wrote a love letter to it in The Stranger a few years back ("The toasty nuttiness of your hazelnuts is all that your pretty, sweet leaves want; there's no argument, no dramatics, no longing for something imagined to be better... Here is the secret of your dressing that nobody knows: reduced orange juice").
Shockingly, Capitol Hill's Unicorn (unicornseattle.com), a palace of deep-fried wonders, also has a worthy contender in the city's salad game—it involves mixed greens, quinoa, and candied pecans, and Brendan Kiley eats it all the time.
Salads aren't just for herbivores, either. Anna Minard says the duck confit salad at the Latona Pub (Green Lake, 3pubs.com/latona.html)—it comes with a large serving of Mt. Townsend Creamery's Seastack cheese—is "worth killing over." Bait Shop (Capitol Hill, baitshopseattle.com) recently redid their fried chicken salad, so now it is "fucking awesome," says Christopher Frizzelle. And the next time you go to Pestle Rock (Ballard, pestlerock.com), get the yum larb isan, with pork and chicken, because Cienna Madrid says it's amazing.
I've come to love salads so much that sometimes at Pagliacci (everywhere, pagliacci.com), I skip the pizza and get a big bowl of the Pagliaccio salad, with garbanzo beans (a tragically underused ingredient), red pepper, kasseri cheese, and, if you'd like, salami. I even go to the Cheesecake Factory (downtown, thecheesecakefactory.com)—I know, I know!—to get the barbecue ranch chicken salad (hold the chicken), made with what appears to be a whole head of romaine chopped up with black beans, roasted corn, cucumber, avocado, tomatoes, fried onion strings, and a sweet barbecue ranch dressing. It might not be the best in town, but it's certainly the biggest, and, frankly, it's still a better deal than Whole Foods' "firstborn child per pound" salad bar.