Freebirds, Super Cucas, Cantina, Rosarito and even El Sitio – to most, Isla Vista is synonymous with dirty, greasy, unhealthy Mexican food. If you want healthy food and are afraid of venturing outside the safe confines of I.V., most people immediately think Silvergreens is their only bet. From pizza to hoagies to curry, I.V. doesn’t seem to lend itself to eating healthy. But fear not: It’s absolutely possible. And don’t worry, it doesn’t mean ordering a garden salad from Silvergreens twice a day.
Freebirds is renowned among college students across the country as the über destination for 2:00 a.m. nachos. However, while I agree nothing in the world beats Freebirds after a night of revelry, I also regularly frequent Freebirds for dinner. Believe it or not, they have a whole host of options for people trying to eat healthy. According to Freebirds, the only beans cooked in oil are the refried beans, and they use a very minimal amount to cook their rice. They use lean chicken breast and their steak is USDA Choice, which is leaner than Prime but fattier than Select. They also do not use any oils in their sauces.
So, what do you order if you want to go healthy? Start with a wheat tortilla, get black beans and then rice, if you really want it. Go for the chicken if you want some substance, since it’s lean and a good source of protein. I like to add guacamole for its delectable flavor and health benefits. Then add any sauce of your choice, as spices have been proven to have good nutritional value. Finally, add pico de gallo and lettuce and you are good to go with a very balanced and nutritional meal. The only thing to be wary of is quantity. If you’re a smaller person, an entire burrito is simply too much food.
Freebirds is unique in that all the ingredients are in front of you. The other Mexican restaurants in I.V. are more typical because you order off a menu. However, simply subscribing to the same philosophy detailed above can get you healthy options at the other places as well. Not all of them offer wheat tortillas, however. Also, since Freebirds has such a constant stream of customers, it’s forced to serve very fresh ingredients.
Outside of the Mexican offerings, there are plenty of other places to eat healthy in I.V. Silvergreens makes every effort to promote itself as the healthy alternative to I.V. chow, and for the most part, it is. Silvergreens courageously does not shy from saying not all of its options are healthy. Some good options include the Chicken Grill – on wheat bread, of course – the vegetable harvest soup as well as most of the salads. The only thing to be aware of when choosing your salad is the dressing. For example: Ranch dressing is made of buttermilk or sour cream, mayonnaise and other seasonings, which detracts from the nutritious qualities of any salad you order. Be wary of heavier options like the Alfredo pasta or the French Dip sandwich.
Pita Pit is good because, like Freebirds, they allow you to select your own ingredients. The lone drawback is it often appears like their ingredients aren’t very fresh – i.e. wilted lettuce or dark, soft tomatoes – and their meats appear frozen. They do offer wheat pitas now, though, as well as healthy spreads such as hummus, baba ganoush and avocado. According to their Web site, a wheat pita with chicken breast, hummus, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and tzatziki – yogurt – sauce has 579 calories, with a good distribution of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
Bagel Café offers some healthy choices for breakfast or lunch. Follow the advice offered above. Just be conscious to the fact that bagels are very high in calorie count, and most cheeses are high in saturated fat. But, if you stick to wheat bagels and some of the healthier toppings, you can have a highly nutritious and delicious meal there.
You can also always hit any of the sushi places in I.V. While the white rice is not the healthiest option, fish and vegetables provide a potent combo of nutrients.
There you have it. I left out quite a few places offering a healthy item or two, but in my mind these are the ones with a wealth of healthy choices… by beer-loving, college town standards, at least.