110 W. Broadway, Downtown San Diego
2400 Historic Decatur Road, Point Loma
One of the many things to like about growing fast-casual chain Tender Greens is that each location features its own executive chef. So while you’ll find a lot of similarities between menus — chicken, steak and fish served as plate, salad, or sandwich — you’ll find differences, too.
For example, if you’ve eaten at the Tender Greens in Liberty Station, you haven’t tried the fried chicken served at the shop downtown. At that location Chef Todd Renner professes a fondness for Southern cooking, so the presence of fried chicken isn’t surprising, even on what reads as a healthy, farm-fresh menu. Considering the free-range, antibiotic-free, and hormone-free chicken the restaurant sources, I guess this rates among the healthiest fried poultry dishes in town.
Hitting this location around lunchtime means braving limited parking and long lines. Just a couple blocks from the courthouse, parking at the lot next door to Tender Greens costs 20 bucks minimum, and when the judges take their lunch break, prospective jurors add to the stream of people pouring out onto the sidewalk waiting in the cafeteria-style line.
But I’ll brave it sometimes, because the chicken’s fantastic. A crispy buttermilk, rosemary, and thyme breading coats tender, boneless meat. If you want a great illustration of the taste concept known as umami, this is it. And you can get it with one of the restaurant’s excellent big salads or stacked on a ciabatta.
I go for the big plate, more for the chance to eat with my hands than the inclusion of two sides. Those are usually salad and mashed potatoes, but grilled seasonal vegetables are usually an option as well as rotating specials that change daily or weekly.
4545 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
A new Tender Greens is due in Mission Valley next year, and I still haven’t tried the one at UTC. Thanks to recent investment by a New York based hospitality group, the chain will soon open locations in New York, Austin, and Chicago and already has locations in San Francisco, Orange County, and its home base of Los Angeles.
Given how much I liked my first experience in Point Loma and how I’ve added a new favorite with downtown’s fried chicken, I can see myself visiting all the San Diego locations to try something new. But I won’t be visiting the locations in all those other cities. As much as I like Tender Greens, it’s not a foodie destination, it’s fast food. It just happens to be the best fast food we’ve got.