Just another boring storefront at Liberty Station – a part of your American military heritage.
4545 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego
The first time I encountered Tender Greens I was milling about the UTC mall waiting to catch a movie at the ArcLight. Something to know about me is that I loathe and detest malls, to the point that using both of those words to say so doesn't even feel redundant. But I wanted to check out the ArcLight's 32 channel Atmos surround sound system.
So I braved the dreaded Westfield, and in the food court saw a shockingly long line of people waiting for this "Tender Greens." Chumps, I thought. Further evidence of the greenwashing of America, I thought, that a food court chain could claim to be either tender or green.
110 W. Broadway, San Diego
A few weeks later I spotted one downtown, across from Horton Plaza. It too drew a crowd. Now, when have you ever known a crowd to be made up of tasteful, sensible people? Certainly not at ballgames, or political rallies. Never near a mall. To paraphrase Jesus, this Tender Greens place was laughable, man. Ha haw!
2400 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego
Then a friend dragged me to a third location at Liberty Station one day to actually eat the food, to actually try something before judging it. It kind of put me in my place. This one day I was happy to be a chump.
I want to blame the mall. To me, malls equal corporatization, and that's something I want to keep as far from my gullet as I possibly can. But turns out Tender Greens is exclusive to California, sourcing local and sustainable (though not explicitly organic) ingredients. They even cure their own meats. Turns out, most of the chefs responsible for Tender Greens' food even earned their farm fresh bona fides working with the esteemed chef Jeff Jackson at AR Valentien, one of the most celebrated farm-to-table restaurants on the planet.
In other words, this place is about as far from Sbarro and Hot Dog on a Stick as a fast food chain is ever likely to get.
I say fast food because the turnaround is pretty quick. I opted for a salt and pepper chicken plate, with a side of roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. The vegetables included zucchini, squash, corn, sweet peppers and rainbow carrots. The chicken was juicy, and my hibiscus tea was flavorful without giving in too much to sweetness.
It's plates like this that draw a crowd. Now I get it. Salt'n'pepper chicken, mashed potatoes and roasted veggies. Tender Greens.
I will say the chicken and potatoes were a little salty — not too salty, just noticeably salty, so as healthy as the meal looked and felt, perhaps someone on a low sodium diet should stick to the restaurant's vast array of salads (which look phenomenal by the way). In all, the food was surprisingly well-cooked, especially considering it was all sitting on the cafeteria line before I even walked in.
Having grown up on military bases, even I find the architecture of Liberty Station kind of brusque and boring, and this place is no exception. I still prefer it to going to the mall, though the spot on Broadway is pretty nice to look at and may become my go-to Tender Greens. Because, yes, I'm a convert, proven wrong, and glad to know it's possible for talented, pedigreed chefs to deliver healthy, substantial and ethically sound food at a reasonable price to all we crowds of chumps out there.