Fast food is meant to be greasy, with a side of plump calories and extra salty guilt. Most people would also suggest fresh tomatoes are supposed to be red – not fluorescent green.
The recently opened Green Tomato Grill on Tustin Avenue disposes both of these expectations as it welcomes customers into a fast food-styled restaurant comprised of slightly spendy organic foods and fresh lemonades. After being introduced to the public earlier this month as a “fast, healthy, tasty” alternative to other quick lunches, the grill established a menu that’s seemingly inspired by Chipotle Mexican Grill, yet spiced with American and Asian cuisine influences.
However, despite the admittedly great concept, the experience didn’t quite live up to those promises.
When I walked in with a friend, an eager employee asked us at the door if we had ever visited before. Upon hearing our newbie answer, she showed us to the “Create your Own” bar. There, we could pick from one of the menu’s main components (grill bowls, flatbread melts, wraps, and salads) and mix and match ingredients to create our own lunch. Though the freedom of this was tempting, we decided to leave the procurement to experts and order an elaborate option from the menu.
I chose number 2, the chile verde steak bowl, which mixes marinated grilled steak with chile verde sauce, cilantro lime rice, black beans, corn, avocado and a few other vegetables for good measure. The steak bites were extra lean, but still juicy and savory. The bowl was priced a bit high at $6.75 for a regular ($8.25 for a large), but the chile verde sauce is what gave it a competitive edge and unique taste.
To accompany my meal, I sipped on cucumber ginger mint lemonade that was fresh, but also reminded me of the first time I tasted grass as an eight-year-old. For dessert I nibbled on a vegan caramel brownie that looked great, but tasted, well, organic. I finished with a less-than-sweet taste in my mouth, and a slightly defeated hope that healthy can mean “just as tasty” as unhealthy.
The Green Tomato Grill may be easy to miss, with its bland exterior and simple signage, yet the inside environment is charming. Bright green and red paint trimmings curl across the walls, and a popcorn machine offers a $1 snack or dessert. There is even a tiny bookshelf and free WiFi.
Yet despite the restaurant’s “fast, healthy, tasty” slogan, it’s missing a few components that may not draw customers, other than affluent health enthusiasts, away from Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell. Restaurants like the Green Tomato Grill need to be not only fast, but also moderately priced. They need to serve healthy food that still tastes indulgent and not grassy.
As of now, the Green Tomato Grill offers fast food with a modern and nutrient-wholesome edge, but it still just doesn’t taste quite as great as hot, salty fries and greasy tacos.