It’s basically bathing suit season year-round in Pensacola with 343 days of sunshine and an average temperature of 74 degrees. With access to daily fresh seafood and locally grown greens and fruits, pulling on that swimsuit at a moment’s notice needn’t terrify you. We may be nationally known for our fried mullet and Gouda cheese grits, but it’s not all fried fish baskets and French fries here. With talented, innovative chefs that make eating healthy taste delicious, too, our coastal town has so much more to offer. Those focused on staying slim and trim or just eating healthy can do so pretty comfortably here. Below are a host of places where you can find healthy eats and treats. Yes, I’m a foodie, and I love to eat. But, don’t just take my word for it. Most of these restaurants have won the “Best of the Coast” Award for their cuisine, meaning it’s been tasted, tested and given a stamp of excellence by the locals.
Khon’s (Asian): Offers gluten free and vegan options. Try the beef pho with rice noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, basil and jalapeno. The rice paper wraps filled with shredded cabbage, lean beef, ramen and veggies are also delish. And, then, there’s also the sushi. Yum.
Cactus Flower (California Mexican): Offers vegan and vegetarian dishes. Delicious options include the fresh, fresh, fresh guacamole, spicy tortilla soup or shredded pork tostado, piled high with fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cheese.
Ever’man Cooperative Grocery and Cafe (Natural and Organic Foods): Build your own organic juice or smoothie; sample the daily hot bar specials for lunch and dinner with dishes like marinated chicken and rice with steamed veggies; or build your own sandwich -- be it a hummus or avocado and turkey wrap.
Grand Marlin (Seafood): Offers gluten free options. Fabulous raw bar with fresh oysters and boiled shrimp, plus a plethora of fresh grilled fish options like the grilled grouper topped with salsa verde and served with crushed potatoes and fresh veggies.
End of the Line Cafe (Vegan): Try the tempeh caprese panini made with rosemary roasted tempeh, roasted garlic mozzarella, roma tomatoes and fresh basil with a side of pink potato salad. The surfer burrito with coconut black beans, cheddar cheese made in-house and pico de gallo is also a favorite.
McGuire's Irish Pub (Irish): Locals might cry foul at this posting, seeing McGuires is well-known for its healthy portions, buttery steaks, ales and stout brewed in-house, shepherd’s pie and decadent desserts. But you can have will power here and order from the diet plate section. The prime New York strip salad is mouth-watering and hearty enough to keep you full all day long. You’ll also find the broiled fish with melted cheese and peppers is just as tasty as those fried Irish boxtys.
East Hill Yard (Eclectic Mexican): Offers vegan and vegetarian options and some crazy good gourmet tacos and tamales, like the creamed spinach and beef tamales, bacon avocado tacos and a great drunken spicy bean dip appetizer.
Carmen’s Lunch Bar (Spanish): Offers vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options. Their daily specials, featuring fresh, homemade soups like butternut squash and kale salads, are my favorite. Try the Spanish pepper poppers with cheese or the tikka masala, as well.
Frank and Lola Love Pensacola Café at Margaritaville Hotel (Coastal Cuisine): Offers vegan, vegetarian and some gluten free options. They feature a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu with daily specials. Try the Lola’s Caprese which features ripe roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto and a drizzle of balsamic reduction or the Strawberry Baby Greens salad which includes candied pecans.
Jackson’s Steakhouse (Sophisticated Southern): Offers gluten free and vegan options. Try the daily fresh salads made with local produce, the whole-roasted fish of the day, the hickory-fired wild salmon with black rice cakes or splurge for an entire whole Maine lobster sans butter.
If you’re looking for a quick lunch salad also great for take-out, try So Chopped salad bar within the Bodacious Olive. The fruit, cheese and nut salad is a favorite. Norma’s at Duh offers a plethora of family-favorite southern pasta and chicken salads, nuts and fresh fruit, too. Just try and stay away from the homemade lemon or whiskey bread pudding dessert, which will taunt you when you walk in. Cottage Café downtown has a great Asian chicken salad, and the Magnolia offers an eclectic, healthy lunch and dinner mix that includes meat and cheese boards, rosemary and pecan chicken salad and a fresh tomato sandwich.
I’ll finally end with some sweet treats you can find around town that won’t stack on the pounds, like the blueberry or fig gelato at Dolce, or the freshly made fruit popsicles at Beach Pops on Pensacola Beach, or the salted caramel yogurt and several other divine flavors at Beach Berry, or the best gluten free brownies and cakes at Ever’man. I’m still waiting for the Krispy Kreme on 9th Avenue to come out with a sugar-free, non-fat donut. Sigh. Until then, if you and I are eating healthy from the list above, a little splurge won’t hurt, right? Have I left a healthy eating option off the list? Let me know! Have a favorite healthy lunch or dinner spot you’d like to share? Be sure to leave a comment!