Not everybody wants a salad. Not every day, anyway.
But sooner or later, even those who seem to have an almost physical aversion to raw vegetables get a craving for something cold and fresh.
A salad is always a good call — choosing one over a cheeseburger for lunch pays dividends during the afternoon’s lull at work, when the meat-eaters start to doze. And when you have a salad for lunch, you can eat whatever you want for the rest of the day.
In the Triad, the salad days run from early spring to the end of the summer, when the greens are at their freshest and new crops of vegetables break at the farmers markets every week.
Our list is by no means extensive — there are thousands of salads to choose from in the Triad. We eschewed chain restaurants for this project, sticking to local restaurants and chefs who arrange their greens in ways both traditional and trendy. And we surely left some favorites out. Let us know what we missed at triad-city-beat.com.
Ahi Tuna Bowl @ Bandito Bodega (GSO)
Ingredients: Sticky rice, miso spinach, pickled ginger, salted radish, Gochujang, Kewpie, nori, bonito (fish) and sesame
The Bandito Burrito food truck now has a brick & mortar near Hungry Howie’s and Mad Hatter on West Friendly Avenue. You can read a full article about Bandito Bodega on the TCB website, but when it comes to salads, head straight for the Ahi Tuna Bowl. Like many of the menu items here, this salad is Asian inspired. At $12, it costs more than most local salads, but it delivers much more, too. The freshness and combination of flavors make it well worth it.
Though it might stray more from the definition of a salad we’re using here, you could also order one of Bandito’s more Mexican-adjacent burritos in a bowl and call it a salad. But if you’re going to cheat and get a burrito, try the General Tso Burrito with fried spicy Sichuan chicken, sushi rice, crispy wontons, broccoli and lemongrass cabbage slaw. There are also first-rate tacos with Thai peanut sauce and Korean soy glaze here, and I’ve been wanting to try the kimchi fried rice balls app. Don’t order anything else if you’re getting the Ahi Tuna Bowl unless you want to share or take home leftovers though, because it’s a force to be reckoned with.
Arugula & Fried Goat Cheese Salad @ Jeffrey Adams (W-S)
Ingredients: Arugula, fried goat cheese, pickled red onions, candied cashews, mandarin orange, dried cranberries
Between arugula, candied cashews and fruit, this salad will satisfy a sweet tooth. It’s served with three lightly fried spheres of goat cheese and pairs nicely with their pomegranate blueberry dressing. If you’re looking for a savory option, the wedge salad features bacon, tomato, egg and onion rings with blue cheese crumbles. Enjoy either on Jeffrey Adam’s sidewalk patio this summer.
Arugula and Grilled Endive @ 1618 Downtown (GSO)
Ingredients: Feta cheese, charred-corn and peanut chutney, shaved carrots and ginger dressing
It’s the corn-peanut chutney that makes this one more than just a brief introduction to the main course. Or maybe it’s the grilled endive, that most noble of greens, able to withstand the wilting heat of the grill, if even for just a minute. Either way, it’s the most interesting salad on the downtown menu right now.
The Arugula Salad @ Mission Pizza Napoletana (W-S)
Ingredients: Arugula, shaved Pecorino Romano cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper
It’s the simplest of things, just five ingredients of the most basic variety, the sort of thing you might throw together from what’s left in your refrigerator or pantry. But it might never come out like this: a near perfect balance of oil and astringency with the lift of lemon and the bite of black pepper, bound together with delicate yet pungent laces of hard cheese. It’s a minimalist’s special, something for the purist or the diner who means it when they say they really want “something simple.”
Baby Kale and Crispy Prosciutto Salad @ River Birch Lodge (W-S)
Ingredients: Baby kale with dried currants, pine nuts, goat cheese and crispy prosciutto with a honey-sherry vinaigrette
The décor of River Birch Lodge made me feel like I’m in an unfamiliar land, like dining in a mountain lodge at a ski resort, a welcome departure from the chain restaurants. The Baby Kale and Crispy Prosciutto Salad here is visually striking, but the crispy prosciutto is what makes this salad stand out. The slight flavor notes from the goat cheese and a touch of sweetness from the honey-sherry vinaigrette fill out the dish nicely.
The Ensalada del Mar @ Café Europa (GSO)
Ingredients: Blackened salmon or tuna with roasted peppers, onion, cucumber, new potatoes and hard-boiled eggs atop mixed greens with a choice of dressing
Pro tip: I go for the sushi-grade tuna, seared but rare, and skip the cucumbers. Wait staff will recommend a balsamic vinaigrette, which is thick and wonderful, but I prefer to take this one without dressing because the other accoutrements do a fine job binding the whole thing together. This has become the only thing I order at Café Europa.
Eggplant Panzanella @ Mozzarella Fellas (W-S)
Ingredients: Roasted eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, sweet basil, balsamic glaze
This vegetable medley with basil and balsamic glaze is a simple twist on a classic Italian dish.
Foule @ Jerusalem Market (GSO)
Ingredients: Chickpeas, fava beans, garlic, lemon juice, hot pepper, extra virgin olive oil
Jerusalem Market takes foule, a classic Middle Eastern comfort food, and repositions it as a refreshing cold salad. The beloved restaurant, with a flagship operation near Sedgefield and a newer downtown location, combines dips and salads on one menu. Most of the options are blended and feature healthy doses of lemon, garlic and olive oil, including hummus (made from chickpeas), tabbouleh (cracked wheat), baba ghanouj (eggplant) and new potatoes.
Fried Goat Cheese Salad @ Liberty Oak (GSO)
Ingredients: Sesame-crusted, lemon-infused herbed Goat Lady cheese rounds, organic greens, brandy-soaked dried cherries, walnuts, fresh herb vinaigrette
Liberty Oak’s lunch menu offers an array of options, but the Fried Goat Cheese Salad featuring rounds of local product from the renowned Goat Lady Dairy is only served at dinnertime. Strong on seafood, the restaurant provides grilled salmon and grilled tuna steak options all day. The Oriental Salad, also served all day, features grilled skewers of beef tenderloin or marinated tofu on sesame noodles and mixed greens with a fantastic vinaigrette made from basil, cilantro, mint and lime. While the combination of ingredients sounds brilliant, the salad’s name leaves something to be desired, and maybe someone should leave the owners a copy of Edward Said’s seminal 1978 work, Orientalism, which skewered stereotypical, essentializing and patronizing attitudes towards Asia and the Middle East.
Fried Rappahannock Oysters @ Willows Bistro (W-S)
Ingredients: Arugula, micro saltwort, pancetta, butternut squash and roasted seeds, charred croutons, pickled shallots, apple cider vinaigrette
You need not be an oyster enthusiast to fall in love with this dish. The bistro’s kitchen receives fresh North Carolina coast oysters every two days and, alongside slightly candied pancetta, sweet arugula balances their savory saltiness. This dish arrives pre-tossed with a simple apple cider vinaigrette. If you’re not feeling quite so adventurous, order your tuna medium rare on the Ahi Tuna & Pineapple Salad.
Fried Oyster Salad @ Bernardin’s (W-S)
Ingredients: Arugula, mascarpone, tomato & bacon pinenut vinaigrette
An Italian cream cheese accompanies these fried oysters on a bed of arugula, topped with a creative vinaigrette. Bernardin’s is more of a fancy dinner place than a quick lunch stop, and this salad pairs well with the restaurant’s personality.
Holly Grove Goat Cheese Salad @ the Iron Hen (GSO)
Ingredients: Crispy goat cheese, pickled beets, oven-roasted sweet potatoes, mixed greens and red-wine tarragon vinaigrette.
Iron Hen is a favorite among those looking for lighter or healthier fare, whether it’s the Gorilla Grains Granola bowl with soymilk and fresh blueberries or the vegan Whole Grain Hash with quinoa, black-eyed peas, braised greens, sweet potato and tofu. I’m partial to the Hopping John Cajun Shrimp for dinner or the smoked salmon omelet with green onions and goat cheese for breakfast.
But if you’re looking for a lighter lunch, try the Holly Grove Goat Cheese Salad, with its crispy orbs of goat cheese, or the Sliced Pear Salad with blue cheese, caramelized pecans and bacon. There’s a separate smoked salmon salad option with dill, cucumber, radish, peppered bacon and mixed greens as well as a salad plate with red delicious chicken salad, fresh fruit and house-made farmer’s cheese. If none of those strikes you, consider the Buffalo Chicken Salad or the Baby Spinach Salad (with chicken skewers, marinated cukes, roasted red peppers and feta) at sister restaurant Four Flocks & Larder.
Peaceful Valley @ Sticks & Stones (GSO)
Ingredients: Organic greens, sprouts, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, toasted pumpkin & flax seeds with a roasted shallot & herb vinaigrette.
This Lindley Park pizza place is known for its array of delicious options, including three specialty salads. The combination of mushrooms, chèvre and honeyed walnuts in the Dance All Night makes for a delicious snack, but it’s hard to beat the vegetable medley in the Peaceful Valley. Keep an eye out for specials, and enjoy and entree-sized salad on the restaurant’s patio.
Spring Superfood Salad @ Traveled Farmer (GSO)
Ingredients: Baby spring lettuce, quinoa, asparagus, almonds, strawberries and ginger-carrot vinaigrette
The Spring Superfood Salad, best enjoyed on the patio on a lazy afternoon after the lunch rush, makes a charming first impression through a balanced interplay of crunch — a layer of almond slices and quinoa on top — and loamy asparagus at the foundation. The asparagus is cooked to perfection, soft but firm, and served room temperature. Thin slices of strawberry — advertised as North Carolina raised — do their part to liven the ensemble, while fresh baby lettuce lightly doused in vinaigrette complete this nutrient-packed, gluten-free salad.
The Spring Superfood Salad isn’t terribly filling, but it’s affordable enough that you can easily augment it with a small plate. I went with a Scotch egg, which if you think about it, is like adding a protein to a vegetarian salad for an upcharge. And the Massey Creek egg comes on a bed of baby kale, with radish slices and carrot slivers, so it’s like getting more salad. The soft yolk pairs perfectly with the fried mixture of bread crumbs and the Giacamo’s sausage encasing the egg.
Strawberry Salad @ Tessa Farm to Fork (GSO)
Ingredients: Field greens, asparagus, goat cheese, avocado, pecan and strawberry vinaigrette
I’m pretty certain this is the same salad that head chef Caleb Smallwood brought into the office in Mason jars when he was an intern at Triad City Beat. He was conducting market research for a salad-to-go concept before he landed at Tessa — I still have the fork because he never retrieved it. That salad was a revelation — it was zesty, fresh and surprisingly filling. Whether I’m right to link Smallwood’s experiment with this menu item, the combination of ingredients — most notably goat cheese, avocado and pecan — in the Strawberry Salad has my attention.
Strawberry Salad @ Blue Denim (GSO)
Ingredients: Strawberries, goat cheese, spiced pecans, and red onion over kale and spinach, with a balsamic vinaigrette
The symbiotic relationship between strawberries and balsamic vinegar mixes it up beautifully with dark greens and goat cheese. It’s tough not to eat the spiced pecans before diving in. The chopped salad — trendy! — would do when the berries are out of season.
Tropical Chicken @ Village Juice Co. (W-S)
Ingredients: Organic Romaine and spinach, chicken, seasonal fruit (mango or peaches), pistachio, organic cilantro and pistachio-dusted goat cheese medallions with cilantro-lime ginger or sriracha dressing
Village Juice Co. is known for its locally sourced organic ingredients, which is most likely why every bite of this salad is delicious. The combination of the cilantro-ginger and the sweetness of mango paired with the goat cheese made for a truly enjoyable experience. The restaurant offers a variety of other health-conscious and trendy items as well, including smoothie bowls.
Tuna Steak Salad @ Hops Burger Bar (GSO)
Ingredients: Grilled yellowfin tuna with mango relish, mandarin oranges, wontons, cucumber, radishes, wasabi, aioli, mixed greens and soy-ginger vinaigrette.
Beloved for its burgers, Hops also offers four fresh salads on its menu — not counting any rotating specials. They’re all well done, but the only one that’s particularly striking is the Tuna Steak Salad, with its mango relish, wontons, and of course, the grilled tuna. You can trust anything coming out of the kitchen at Hops, be it the mushroom cauliflower veggie burger, the bison meat, or one of the salads. If you don’t feel like tuna, try the simple salad or house salad but add the Crabby Patty, which includes not only a fried crab cake but also a mango, onion & jalapeño salsa.
Twisted Chicken Salad @ Fishbones (GSO)
Ingredients: Fried chicken tenders in spicy chili garlic honey sauce, house salad with scallion lemongrass dressing and crispy noodles.
It’s probably kind of ridiculous that I don’t order a salad with seafood at a place called Fishbones. You can get the house or Caesar with ahi tuna steak or wild salmon (either can come grilled or blackened), or with jumbo shrimp if you’d prefer. But the three primary salads at Fishbones — cattycorner to Sticks & Stones and under the same ownership — aren’t seafood oriented.
Last time I went, my friend Maia ordered the SOB Chicken Salad sans meat, enjoying the Southwestern-style salad that comes in a fried tortilla bowl. And the Thai Beef Salad that comes with a creamy peanut dressing sounds pretty good, too. But my favorite salad in the Triad, and the only one I order consistently as an entrée, is Fishbones’ Twisted Chicken Salad. Maybe that isn’t surprising, considering the main craving I harbored during eight years as a vegetarian was for chicken tenders. But it’s the sauces that set this large salad apart, thanks to the sweet and spicy sauce on the chicken strips and the lemongrass dressing on the veggies. The “noodles” — which are more like miniscule breadsticks — provide a nice crunch to the salad, making it all the more satisfying.
Yes, there are more complex and unique salads on this list. But the Twisted Chicken is still my favorite.
Wedge salad: The classic steakhouse wedge salad consists of a magnificent cleave of iceberg lettuce, with bleu cheese and bacon. Variations in the Triad abound, both in and out of the steakhouse.
GSO: Tap Room, Lucky 32, Four Flocks & Larder, Pastabilities, Harper’s Restaurant, Darryl’s Wood-Fired Grill, Iron Hen, the Tap Room, Ruth’s Chris Steak House
W-S: Village Tavern, Bernardin’s, Graze, Jeffrey Adams, Diamondback Grill, the Porch, Spring House Restaurant, Bleu
HP: AP’s Southern Kitchen, Steak Street, Gianno’s, Austin’s
Caesar salad: In the old days the waiter used to make this one tableside, with Romaine lettuce, anchovy paste, coddled egg and croutons that benefit from a bath in the dressing. These days they are everywhere, but they are not all created equally. Here are some favorites:
GSO: Elizabeth’s Pizza, Elm Street Grill, Four Flocks & Larder, Pastabilities, Harper’s Restaurant, Ruth’s Chris Steak House
W-S: Sweet Potatoes, River Birch Lodge, Di Lisio’s Italian Restaurant, the Carving Board, Milner’s American Southern
HP: Chop House Grille, M. Stephen’s, Austin’s, AP’s Southern Kitchen, Steak Street
Cobb salad: Like most salads, a Cobb comes with greens, bacon, tomato and cheese. What makes a Cobb special are the boiled eggs, capers and avocado.
GSO: Traveled Farmer, Southern Lights Bistro, the Tap Room, Café Pasta
W-S: Foothill’s Brewpub, Local 27101, Bernardin’s, Diamondback Grill
HP: Blue Zucchini, Main Street Grill
Salad Nicoise: At its most basic, this French classic consists simply of greens, anchovies or tuna, potatoes, green beans, olives and boiled eggs.
GSO: Liberty Oak, LaRue Elm
W-S: Pane e Vino
HP: Emerywood Fine Foods
Greek salad: Kalamata olives, feta cheese, cucumbers and peppers are required in any traditional Greek salad, with hints of lemon and oregano.
GSO: Sarah’s Kabob Shop, Mythos Grill, the Pavilion, Jack’s Corner Diner, Nazareth Bread Co. Smith Street Diner, Fisher’s Grille, Acropolis
W-S: Athena Greek Taverna, George’s Grecian Corner, the Carving Board, Hutch & Harris
HP: Peppermill Café, Mad Greek Grill, Gianno’s, Jimmy the Greek, Salem Kitchen
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