One night a few years ago, a group of friends and I ordered a pizza to share. When I asked one friend if she wanted a second slice, she said something I am not used to hearing. She said, “no thanks, I’m watching my weight.”
I thought, “How honest! How quaint!” To the best of my knowledge, that phrase had been entirely supplanted with a slew of euphemistic slogans, the maxims of modern eating. It seems at least half of the people I know identify as some variation of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy free, pescatarian, paleo, VB6 (vegan before 6PM), “on a cleanse,” (which can mean a wide array of things), or some such other yet-to-be-popularized catchall. And I do mean “identify,” because these dietary restrictions have really become statements of worldview, almost political terms. What they all boil down to, I think, if I’m being compassionate and objective, is this: I want to feel healthy and trim. I don’t know quite yet what the most natural way to eat is, but I think I can ascribe to this movement for now, because it seems ethical and healthful.
I’m lucky enough to live now in a city that is pretty much at the forefront of the health food movement, so I’m never far away from a place where I know I can grab something I’ll feel good about eating. I’m excited to delve into one of them, a newcomer that I find I’m already craving regularly called Kye’s Super Tasty Super Foods.
I know, I know: superfood. Does the mere mention of the term induce a shudder? Let’s all agree that it’s a marketing term that has not been defined or regulated by any particular institution of health, and that I’m happy to eat a food and call it “super” if it’s nutrient-dense and delicious, but I don’t expect it to cure my medical ailments or make me immortal.
Ok, I’m done with the disclaimers! Let’s get to it. Let’s talk about Kye’s on Montana. When Kye’s opened a few months ago, I was eager to try it out. It looked so inviting, with the bright sunburst wall, the modern, clean fast-food-joint-looking interior, and the enigmatic photo that graced its door for the months leading up to its debut: what were those weird tube things? They looked like long sushi rolls. Were they juices? Were they salads in a highball glass? What was I looking at?
What I was looking at were KyeRitos, the signature creation of Kye’s founder Jeanne Cheng. They’re basically nori or lettuce wraps with all sorts of tasty fillings, most Asian-inspired, most including rice or quinoa, plus veggies, eggs, salmon, even BBQ pork or pastrami. They can all be made paleo by adding avocado instead of rice, and many can be made vegan. My favorite, the Nahn Jim ($10), is a nori wrap with red, black, and white rice, pressed vegetables, macadamia nuts, fish sauce and hemp seeds. It’s a little sweet and a little spicy, crunchy from the pressed vegetables, nutty, with the crispy, salty nori in every bite. It’s a perfect portable lunch.
I will admit, my first few times visiting Kye’s, I was a little confused. The food was so tasty—my first KyeRito was the Macro ($14), which is basically a Nahn Jim with salmon, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It was filling, perfectly seasoned and flavorful, and seriously made me feel good when I ate it. But I didn’t really “get” the concept. Why was a place with the word “Superfoods” in the name serving pastrami and something called “pork fuzz?” That didn’t really smack of “superfood” to me.
But then I sat down with Jeanne, the owner. I asked her about her concept, and what she said made perfect sense: she wanted to offer food that was healthful, but appealed to every kind of eater. She has a husband who eats paleo, and a young son (Kye) who wants to eat what tastes good. Meanwhile, she’s of Chinese descent and credits her fast metabolism to the large amount of rice that is integral to her diet—paleo just doesn’t work for her. She doesn’t want to tell people how to eat, she wants to use her background in both traditional and Eastern medicine to offer up wholesome cuisine accessible for all palates and diets.
“If Twinkies were healthy, we would all choose to eat Twinkies,” she said. Her food “satisfies both the Yin (nourishment) and the Yang (enjoyment) of why we eat.”
And I get that. That really resonates with me. I like that she doesn’t presume to tell me how to eat. I like that I can count on whatever I get there being at best incredibly nutrient-dense and clean, at worst a healthier take on something that seems naughty, and invariably truly yummy. A vegan mint chip “shake” ($8) is sweetened with agave and gets its green color from spinach and its mint flavor from actual fresh mint. It is a really good mint chip shake by any standard. The chocolate shake ($8) is so chocolatey. So chocolatey! It feels decadent, but it’s vegan and also contains spinach and Chinese Yam. The avo and fuzz breakfast KyeRito is playful and delicious, with green eggs and that mysterious pork fuzz. (Also known by the appetizing term “meat floss,” pork fuzz is made by stewing cuts of pork in a soy sauce mixture until the muscle fibers can be pulled apart, creating a sort of coarse cotton texture.) Apparently this fuzz is something all Chinese kids grow up eating.
Kye’s is in good company on Montana in Santa Monica, which is rapidly becoming an enclave of juice bars and health food restaurants, most of which I think are pretty terrific. I’ve been popping into Beaming almost daily since it opened just a few weeks ago, taking full advantage of the samples they always have on offer, and for better or worse, have become completely hooked on their $12 acai bowl. It kind of hurts to pay that much for an acai bowl, but it’s packed with protein, and it’s big enough for a meal. I had it for lunch two days ago after a run, and felt sufficiently sated and self-satisfied to merit the $12. Hey, being able to pat yourself on the back for your virtuous food choice is kind of priceless.
A by no means comprehensive list of some of my favorite places across LA to get my health food fix includes: Café Gratitude (my love of which borders on obsession), its sister restaurant in WeHo, Gracias Madre, Kreation Kafe, Real Food Daily, SunLife Organics (the Dragon Bowl is a beautiful thing), Pressed Juicery (honestly pretty reasonably priced for a cold-pressed juice purveyor), and M.A.K.E. (fine-dining, very expensive but truly lovely raw food).
So go get your healthy on, LA! I know you were going to anyway.