Healthy take-out and I don’t mean salad!

There is a new trend in fast food. A few young chefs are offering healthier, fresher options at inexpensive, fast-food eateries.
Second generation Atlanta chef Guy Wong, the owner of Miso Izakaya, a popular Japanese restaurant, has just opened Yum Bunz. Located in trendy Midtown, this “healthy" fast-food eatery seats a hundred people in a bright, no-frills, dining area. The menu promises that “items are steamed, not fried, and contain zero transfats.” It goes on, “We use only naturally raised meats and source locally grown vegetables when possible.” People are already raving about the food, though the doors just officially opened. I am not surprised. The steamed buns or Boa, filled with succulent pork belly or roasted duck, are very popular.Diners can’t seem to get enough.
A few months ago, my colleague, Angela, and I visited Chow Bing across town. Gary Lin, chef-owner of R Rice Wok and Sushi Grill, opened Chow Bing in the Old Fourth Ward. His menu offers dishes that are a fusion of Chinese and Mexican. “Chow Bing meats are all natural and humanely raised,” it promises, “without antibiotics or growth hormones, and the seafood is sustainable.”
As I chatted with Lin, he assured me he was committed to the concept of “cleaner” food made without additives or salt. He explained that his own wife cannot tolerate MSG and didn’t care for overly-salted food. He was proud of relying on fresh produce and herbs to create taste.
I am not a big fan of fusion cuisine. I find the flavours too layered and confused for my taste. But there are exceptions. I have a guilty fondness for deep fried stuffed wontons with cream cheese based fillings. These calorie bombs are definitely not Chinese but a wholly American creation. Chow Bing offers their version, called Lobster Philly Wontons.  And they are delicious; crispy and creamy with enough lobster that you can actually taste. There are three to an order for $4.75, which is pricey for fast food. But they were worth it. We also tried the wonton nachos with chicken and crispy fried wonton standing for tortilla chips.  The Chow Bing version is tasty. If you like nachos you won’t complain. I enjoyed the wonton soup with its flavorful chicken broth, fresh herbs, and homemade wontons.
Angela and I agreed the wraps and rice bowls were not too different than those you might expect from a similar style fast-food Chinese restaurant, but much fresher tasting. It was nice not worrying about an MSG headache or a much-too-salty sauce — both hazards of inexpensive Chinese food.
Healthier or fresher doesn’t always mean low-calorie and it certainly doesn’t mean no-calories. Remember my lobster wontons?  I ate two and gave one to Angela. The two I ate had about 136 calories. Made mostly of fried dough and cream cheese, these small treats are not very nutritious, which is fine for an occasional treat, but no substitute for fresh vegetables and lean protein.
The trend of eating out and on the run is not changing, so healthier options for casual, less expensive dining, is a good thing. And restaurants and even food trucks offering healthier options are springing up everywhere. But ask questions and look critically all so-called healthy food is not always low-cal, organic, or even that good for you. Be smart about your food choices, because how you look and how you feel depends on it.
If you rely on takeout more than you cook in, look for restaurants that:
·        Serve food in season. Seasonal food is fresh and most likely local.
·        Have a small menu. A small menu usually means freshly cooked and fresh ingredients.
·        Offer menu items with plenty of fresh vegetables and lean protein.
·        Offer food that is grilled or steamed.
·        Serve reasonable portions and don’t try to fill up on starch.