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

Head Lettuce and the art of the quiet lunch rush

Sealed bags and online ordering bring a virtual salad bar to La Jolla

Crispy turmeric chickpeas top an Italian chopped salad featuring salami, pepperoncini, and kalamata olives.
Crispy turmeric chickpeas top an Italian chopped salad featuring salami, pepperoncini, and kalamata olives.

There were no other customers present when I walked into fast casual salad shop, Head Lettuce. But, make no mistake, the lunch rush was underway.

Place

Head Lettuce

4150 Regents Park Row #175, La Jolla, CA

The small eatery does business in University City, where it’s a literal outlier due to the fact it’s not a part of the Westfield UTC mall. It’s not even on La Jolla Village Drive, rather in a small shopping complex a block off the main drag. However, similar to the mall, the small center sits behind a gated parking lot that issues a timestamped ticket upon entry. Which might have deterred me, except it doesn’t charge for the first hour. And I wouldn’t need anything close to an hour.

Like the rest of its lunch rush customers, I had ordered and paid for my salad ahead of time, to-go. Had there been a line of customers waiting to order, I would have breezed past it. Also past the cafeteria style assembly line (think Subway or Chipotle), and past the cashier. There, to the left of the registers, stood a bookshelf loaded with take-out orders, bagged up and ready to go. I only had to find the bag with my name on it, and be on my way. The whole thing might have taken 90 seconds, had I not stopped to take pictures.

A small counter shop in a shipping center a couple blocks from the UTC mall

While I did, another customer showed up, and likewise walked straight to the shelves. He loaded a dozen or more bags into a box, and carted them away — most likely a group order placed by an office staff nearby. Still, another two dozen bags remained, each of them sealed shut with a hot press.

Head Lettuce opened in late 2019, so its dining room might have gotten a few months of use before the pandemic hit. But it sure looks shiny and untouched now. For this midday rush at least, the streamlined take-out operation appears to be what keeps the business going.

A salad shop sits empty during the lunch rush, except for a masked man picking up a dozen to-go orders.

That’s not so uncommon these days, and it looks especially smart in this business-dense part of town. I’ve even seen a couple spots inside the mall set up a similar system, but there’s no way you can get in and out of that mall in under 30 minutes, even on a weekday. Even if salad isn’t normally your thing, Head Lettuce may be the best, quickest bet in the area.

We’re talkin’ chopped salads, if that makes a difference. The usual salad suspects are featured, meaning in addition to the likes of Caesar and Cobb, there is something Greek (featuring feta and olives), Italian (with salami and pepperoncini), Asian (with crunchy noodles and ginger-sesame dressing), and Mexican (with black beans, tortilla strips, and jalapeños). Each go for $11 to $14, depending whether it includes a featured protein: fried or grilled chicken, carne asada, tofu, portabello mushroom, or ahi tuna.

A sealed take-out bag from Head Lettuce

Another option is to design your own salad. Ordering in person, this might involve picking and choosing from rows of chafing dishes filled with such ingredients as avocado, roasted sweet potatoes, beets, cucumbers, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and crispy turmeric chickpeas. With Head Lettuce’s online ordering set-up, it’s more like a virtual salad bar, assembling your dream salad by clicking a series of checkboxes.

Jerk chicken bowl, with pickled fresno chilis, pineapple salsa, and black beans over turmeric brown rice

And if leafy greens still aren’t your thing, you can instead opt for one of the shop’s grain bowls — which are similar to the salads on the menu, except built on a bed of brown rice, quinoa, or farro rather than lettuce or kale. Standouts of this menu, priced between $11 and $15, include a South African inspired peri peri chicken bowl, and Jamaican inspired jerk chicken bowl, the latter characterized by a spicy meets tangy blend of pickled peppers and pineapple salsa. I can confirm, it’ll get you through the second half of a workday.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

A little pitbull goes a long way

“I believe any bad behavior with a dog comes up through the owner.”
Crispy turmeric chickpeas top an Italian chopped salad featuring salami, pepperoncini, and kalamata olives.
Crispy turmeric chickpeas top an Italian chopped salad featuring salami, pepperoncini, and kalamata olives.

There were no other customers present when I walked into fast casual salad shop, Head Lettuce. But, make no mistake, the lunch rush was underway.

Place

Head Lettuce

4150 Regents Park Row #175, La Jolla, CA

The small eatery does business in University City, where it’s a literal outlier due to the fact it’s not a part of the Westfield UTC mall. It’s not even on La Jolla Village Drive, rather in a small shopping complex a block off the main drag. However, similar to the mall, the small center sits behind a gated parking lot that issues a timestamped ticket upon entry. Which might have deterred me, except it doesn’t charge for the first hour. And I wouldn’t need anything close to an hour.

Like the rest of its lunch rush customers, I had ordered and paid for my salad ahead of time, to-go. Had there been a line of customers waiting to order, I would have breezed past it. Also past the cafeteria style assembly line (think Subway or Chipotle), and past the cashier. There, to the left of the registers, stood a bookshelf loaded with take-out orders, bagged up and ready to go. I only had to find the bag with my name on it, and be on my way. The whole thing might have taken 90 seconds, had I not stopped to take pictures.

A small counter shop in a shipping center a couple blocks from the UTC mall

While I did, another customer showed up, and likewise walked straight to the shelves. He loaded a dozen or more bags into a box, and carted them away — most likely a group order placed by an office staff nearby. Still, another two dozen bags remained, each of them sealed shut with a hot press.

Head Lettuce opened in late 2019, so its dining room might have gotten a few months of use before the pandemic hit. But it sure looks shiny and untouched now. For this midday rush at least, the streamlined take-out operation appears to be what keeps the business going.

A salad shop sits empty during the lunch rush, except for a masked man picking up a dozen to-go orders.

That’s not so uncommon these days, and it looks especially smart in this business-dense part of town. I’ve even seen a couple spots inside the mall set up a similar system, but there’s no way you can get in and out of that mall in under 30 minutes, even on a weekday. Even if salad isn’t normally your thing, Head Lettuce may be the best, quickest bet in the area.

We’re talkin’ chopped salads, if that makes a difference. The usual salad suspects are featured, meaning in addition to the likes of Caesar and Cobb, there is something Greek (featuring feta and olives), Italian (with salami and pepperoncini), Asian (with crunchy noodles and ginger-sesame dressing), and Mexican (with black beans, tortilla strips, and jalapeños). Each go for $11 to $14, depending whether it includes a featured protein: fried or grilled chicken, carne asada, tofu, portabello mushroom, or ahi tuna.

A sealed take-out bag from Head Lettuce

Another option is to design your own salad. Ordering in person, this might involve picking and choosing from rows of chafing dishes filled with such ingredients as avocado, roasted sweet potatoes, beets, cucumbers, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and crispy turmeric chickpeas. With Head Lettuce’s online ordering set-up, it’s more like a virtual salad bar, assembling your dream salad by clicking a series of checkboxes.

Jerk chicken bowl, with pickled fresno chilis, pineapple salsa, and black beans over turmeric brown rice

And if leafy greens still aren’t your thing, you can instead opt for one of the shop’s grain bowls — which are similar to the salads on the menu, except built on a bed of brown rice, quinoa, or farro rather than lettuce or kale. Standouts of this menu, priced between $11 and $15, include a South African inspired peri peri chicken bowl, and Jamaican inspired jerk chicken bowl, the latter characterized by a spicy meets tangy blend of pickled peppers and pineapple salsa. I can confirm, it’ll get you through the second half of a workday.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

The best doctor: dancing at Plaza de Reyes in Old Town

“I said to my pal, ‘I’m going to dance with that girl, and then I’m going to marry her.’”
Next Article

“She brings me merch from Sombrero just because.”

Mario Rubalcaba, Mike Keneally, Jon Pebsworth, Eve Selis, Blink 182
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
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
Close