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Clean Plates NYC: 5 healthy, tasty meals under $25

By Kate Appleton
January 12, 2022
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Courtesy Clean Plates NYC

A slim new guide to Manhattan restaurants makes the case that eating organic, locally-sourced food—prepared in ways that respect the environment—isn't just trendy, but affordable and easy, too.

Nutritionist Jared Koch and food critic Alex Van Buren ate their way through 125 restaurants to refine their selection. They deducted points for no-nos like hormone-injected meats, too many artificial sweeteners, unfiltered water, too many fake soy products, and an overemphasis on dairy, shellfish, veal, and foie gras.

The appendices list the restaurants in categories like flexitarian spots (good for mixed groups of carnivores and vegetarians), brunch spots, and power lunches. Clean Plates NYC also includes practical tips for customizing your own healthy diet and a glossary explaining just what buzz phrases like grass-fed, biodynamic, and raw foodist mean.

Use promo code "btravel" to get a 10 percent discount off the book ($13.95) if you purchase it from cleanplatesnyc.com by Monday, May 11.

And read on for Alex's five favorite New York meals under $25—excerpts of her reviews of Back Forty, Dirty Bird To-Go, Hangawi, Lupa, and Sacred Chow…

Back Forty Brightly lit, with nods to the so-called "haute barnyard" movement that has stormed the city—crisp white mantles laden with china, sturdy wooden farmhouse-style tables and a simple back patio strung with bobbing lights—the restaurant serves up seasonal American fare that is almost all organic or local. So take a bite of that juicy, antibiotic-free burger covered with slabs of heritage bacon, and relax: You're eating pretty close to home here, since owner Peter Hoffman sources within the tri-state region as often as possible. 190 Ave. B at 12th St., 212/388-1990.

Dirty Bird To-Go Only in New York can you snag an order "to go" from a tiny, nondescript fried chicken joint and realize—probably after sinking your teeth into a crisp-skinned, slow-roasted rotisserie bird or an astoundingly juicy fried drumstick—that this is grub from a haute cuisine veteran and a James Beard Award (the Oscars of food) winner. Every Dirty Bird sent out the door is hormone- and antibiotic-free and locally raised. And if you have to go for the fried stuff, the oil they use for frying is recycled for biodiesel fuel. 204 W. 14th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., 212/620-4836.

Hangawi The zenlike effect of the space—glowing orange walls, modern low-lit lighting fixtures, ornate Korean art—is that of an upscale yoga studio. The all-vegan fare possesses equally sedative properties: A slim all-organic menu comes tucked into a "regular" menu. Among its wide-ranging offerings were a delicious dandelion and avocado salad with a peanuty wasabi sauce in which nutty dressing and buttery fruit nicely counter the bite of super-salubrious dandelion greens. We stuck to this menu as much as possible, and were equally impressed by its entrees. 12 E. 32nd St., between 5th and Madison Aves., 212/213-0077.

Lupa The West Village restaurant co-owned by Mario Batali has been churning out excellent Old World fare for many years. Don't let its hubbub dissuade you from eating there. Make a reservation or arrive early as a walk-in; you can always linger at the bar to admire the exposed brick interior and European feel of the place over a glass of vino selected from the extensive wine list. To cut the wait, consider the long wooden communal table by the front: There's plenty of elbow room, and a chance to ask a neighbor about those beets drizzled with cream sauce and speckled with pistachios (they're worth it) or the roast summer squash aromatic with thyme and mint (even better). 170 Thompson St., between Houston and Bleecker Sts., 212/982-5089.

Sacred Chow The hippie vibe is on the premises in a major way: Gargantuan faux-Japanese lanterns dangle overhead; the logo is of a mellow-looking cartoon cow practicing yoga; our waiter was über-friendly despite being the only one working his shift. Cynical Gothamites will have to bite their tongues at the sincerity of it all. But the delicious, 95% organic food will get them talking again. Curried tofu scramble—so egglike we experienced momentary disorientation—was served with a side of addictively smoky new potatoes that count among the best we've eaten at brunch. Spying a waffle made with spelt and oats, we ordered it and braced ourselves (spelt, though healthy, is tricky to make tasty) only to be wowed by its plushness. 227 Sullivan St., between Bleecker and W. 3rd St., 212/337-0863.

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