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Go crazy for Salad To-go-go

Expect a big salads-only menu at new Hillcrest spot

A "modern nicoise" with seared ahi, olive, green beans, potatoes, charred cherry tomatoes, and hard boiled eggs
A "modern nicoise" with seared ahi, olive, green beans, potatoes, charred cherry tomatoes, and hard boiled eggs

In my years covering local restaurants, I’ve witnessed San Diego foodies get excited about restaurants specializing in cheeseburgers, tacos, carne asada fries, ramen, sushi burritos, Neapolitan pizza, fried chicken, cupcakes, bone marrow, vegan brunch, and donuts. I can’t recall a single time when anyone got excited about a salad spot.

Place

Salad To-go-go

1023 University Ave., San Diego

Then again, I haven’t come across a salad spot like Salad To-go-go.

The new shop recently opened in the Hillcrest storefront previously operated by the Cohn Restaurant Group’s charitable taco shop, Tacos Libertad. As it happens, the space has been taken over by a different, longstanding local restaurant group: Mo’s Universe, best known for gay-friendly establishments including Urban Mo’s, Gossip Grill, and the inimitable Baja Betty’s.

And, to be sure, rainbow flags fly over Salad To-go-go’s storefront. But whereas Mo’s aforementioned businesses bills themselves as lifestyle-centric gathering places, this smaller counter shop plays it straighter. It’s a less about celebrating Hillcrest’s LGBTQ culture, and a more about producing a wide-ranging menu of salads.

Now open on the streets of Hillcrest

I expected to find more of a takeout spot — and it’s understandable the place is billed that way given the way the past year has gone. But in addition to a dining counter inside, it sports a pleasant, shaded dining patio arranged to maximize people watching.

However, I embraced its To-go-go nature, ordering what turned out to be large salads packaged in thin, covered plastic bowls, with — and this is important for take-out salads — dressing on the side.

A little counter shop with a big menu of salads

Choosing the right salads wasn’t as easy as I thought. Most typical restaurants offer two, maybe four salad varieties. Salad To-go-go offers sixteen, plus six additional, vegan versions, most notably featuring plant-based cheeses.

Sometimes, what keeps the first sixteen from being vegan is the cheese, but most of them feature meat, chicken, eggs, or seafood. The Thai Surf and Turf features seared tri-tip and grilled shrimp over romaine lettuce, rice noodles, and a bevy of vegetables ($16.50). The Modern Niçoise elevates the French salad concept with three kinds of peppercorn-crusting seared ahi tuna ($16.50). While the Tako salad adds thinly sliced octopus to a Vietnamese-style salad flavored with lime, soy, lemongrass, mint, and fish sauce ($15.50).

The Baja ranchero, loaded with vegetables and a spicy, charred jalapeño

Most of the salads feature so many different ingredients, I don’t have the word count to include them all. For example, the description of my Baja Ranchero ($14) reads: “chili rubbed breast of chicken, enchilada “croutons”, shredded napa and romaine lettuce with grilled Mexican zucchini, red bell peppers and purple onions, charred sweet corn, charred grape tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, cotija cheese and baja ranch with a charred jalapeño garnish.”

The leafy greens are crisp and all the other vegetables likewise fresh and firm. The website contends all the vegetables are organic or otherwise sustainably raised, including a few from the chef’s home garden.

Maybe San Diego diners will never make salads a craze, but I’m pretty excited that a place has shown up to prove you can make friends with salad, and that an all-salad concept can be done right. And part of doing it right is that every salad is made to order, so if you’re looking for take-out, place your order online about 15-20 minutes in advance. If you’re looking to enjoy a meal out on the sidewalk of University Avenue in Hillcrest, make it healthy, and make it a big salad.

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A "modern nicoise" with seared ahi, olive, green beans, potatoes, charred cherry tomatoes, and hard boiled eggs
A "modern nicoise" with seared ahi, olive, green beans, potatoes, charred cherry tomatoes, and hard boiled eggs

In my years covering local restaurants, I’ve witnessed San Diego foodies get excited about restaurants specializing in cheeseburgers, tacos, carne asada fries, ramen, sushi burritos, Neapolitan pizza, fried chicken, cupcakes, bone marrow, vegan brunch, and donuts. I can’t recall a single time when anyone got excited about a salad spot.

Place

Salad To-go-go

1023 University Ave., San Diego

Then again, I haven’t come across a salad spot like Salad To-go-go.

The new shop recently opened in the Hillcrest storefront previously operated by the Cohn Restaurant Group’s charitable taco shop, Tacos Libertad. As it happens, the space has been taken over by a different, longstanding local restaurant group: Mo’s Universe, best known for gay-friendly establishments including Urban Mo’s, Gossip Grill, and the inimitable Baja Betty’s.

And, to be sure, rainbow flags fly over Salad To-go-go’s storefront. But whereas Mo’s aforementioned businesses bills themselves as lifestyle-centric gathering places, this smaller counter shop plays it straighter. It’s a less about celebrating Hillcrest’s LGBTQ culture, and a more about producing a wide-ranging menu of salads.

Now open on the streets of Hillcrest

I expected to find more of a takeout spot — and it’s understandable the place is billed that way given the way the past year has gone. But in addition to a dining counter inside, it sports a pleasant, shaded dining patio arranged to maximize people watching.

However, I embraced its To-go-go nature, ordering what turned out to be large salads packaged in thin, covered plastic bowls, with — and this is important for take-out salads — dressing on the side.

A little counter shop with a big menu of salads

Choosing the right salads wasn’t as easy as I thought. Most typical restaurants offer two, maybe four salad varieties. Salad To-go-go offers sixteen, plus six additional, vegan versions, most notably featuring plant-based cheeses.

Sometimes, what keeps the first sixteen from being vegan is the cheese, but most of them feature meat, chicken, eggs, or seafood. The Thai Surf and Turf features seared tri-tip and grilled shrimp over romaine lettuce, rice noodles, and a bevy of vegetables ($16.50). The Modern Niçoise elevates the French salad concept with three kinds of peppercorn-crusting seared ahi tuna ($16.50). While the Tako salad adds thinly sliced octopus to a Vietnamese-style salad flavored with lime, soy, lemongrass, mint, and fish sauce ($15.50).

The Baja ranchero, loaded with vegetables and a spicy, charred jalapeño

Most of the salads feature so many different ingredients, I don’t have the word count to include them all. For example, the description of my Baja Ranchero ($14) reads: “chili rubbed breast of chicken, enchilada “croutons”, shredded napa and romaine lettuce with grilled Mexican zucchini, red bell peppers and purple onions, charred sweet corn, charred grape tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, cotija cheese and baja ranch with a charred jalapeño garnish.”

The leafy greens are crisp and all the other vegetables likewise fresh and firm. The website contends all the vegetables are organic or otherwise sustainably raised, including a few from the chef’s home garden.

Maybe San Diego diners will never make salads a craze, but I’m pretty excited that a place has shown up to prove you can make friends with salad, and that an all-salad concept can be done right. And part of doing it right is that every salad is made to order, so if you’re looking for take-out, place your order online about 15-20 minutes in advance. If you’re looking to enjoy a meal out on the sidewalk of University Avenue in Hillcrest, make it healthy, and make it a big salad.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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