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May 4, 2012 07:04 AM

Best restaurants for low carb/paleo eaters when dining out

Ive been exploring this type of diet recently (no added sugar, no grains, no beans, nothing deep-fried) and I'm curious as to where people have been dining out. I allow myself dairy, but I know a lot of people don't. Meat is good, fat is good.

While you can usually find at least one thing on a menu that fits the requirements, I'm looking for places where the food is delicious (steamed chicken & veggies at a Chinese place? Blah!), the menu lends itself better for this sort of eating (looking for protein/meat, not just salads), and they have fewer carb-laden temptations. There's also lots of sugar hidden in sauces, which can be an issue.

My list:

Madangsui and other Korean BBQ joints
Blue Smoke - some items are pre-sauced though
Hill Country - brisket, ribs, sausages, I just wish their desserts weren't so prominently displayed
Zabb Elee - I cheat when getting the green papaya salad though as the dressing must have some sugar
Shake Shack - burger without the bun
Pearl Oyster Bar - bouillabaisse, without the bread, tough to not get the lobster roll though!
DBGB - sausages, burgers, charcuterie, though it can be hard to make yourself skip the bread

Personally I find it difficult to do Japanese without wanting nigiri, and seafood without wanting a lobster roll, so I usually save those for a carb day.

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  1. Maybe Pure Food & Wine? I was looking at the menu for Dirt Candy as well but that doesn't seem like it quite fits the bill for you. For seafood, maybe stick with a place like Maison Premiere that has a limited (but delicious) menu. Then you could hit Fette Sau for meat!

    1 Reply
    1. re: EBT

      I love Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, but usually leave the cocktails for a carb day. It would be really tough to abstain!

    2. Zabb Elee i always order my somdam without sugar...they will do it...

      Other high-protein restaurants i like:

      -- Ed's Lobster Bar (i've been known to get a double order of the tuna tartar, w/o mayonaisse)...

      -- Dok Suni...the fish jun, which is pan-fried in egg batter (no flour i think) and it a nice substitute when you are craving deep-fried seafood..

      -- Aburiya Kinnosuke (last time i went, food was excellent, but service was bad)

      -- Le Baobob...Senegalese: poisson braise w/ salad instead of rice

      -- confit, and raw oysters, and cold prawns, and eponymous salad

      17 Replies
      1. re: Simon

        Thanks for the tips! I was thinking the som tum thai with dressing on the side, though. Does it taste unbalanced w/o the sugar?

        1. re: kathryn

          i wouldn't ask for dressing on the side, as it really needs to be mixed to get the nice fish sauce all over...i like it w/o sugar (and regularly ordered it that way in Thailand)...and the more Lao versions of the dish are often made without or at least w/ very very little sugar (but very heavy on the pla-ra/fermented fish sauce) Z-E, a no-sugar version is going to taste better w/ the somdams Lao or Korat than with a basic somdam Thai (in that one, you might miss the sugar)...

          1. re: kathryn

            Don't know how strict you plan to be but there's sugar in the fish sauce. And the fish in fish jun is dredged in flour before it's dipped in egg. The flour becomes imperceptible in the finished dish.

            Steakhouses can work well for low carb dieters as you can have steak or some sort of plain broiled fish -- though I could never pass up on the fries at Peter Luger! Perhaps some Middle Eastern restaurants for baba ghanouj or kebabs? And I think some of the yakitori skewers at Tori Shin and Totto can be prepared with a simple sprinkling of salt.

            Good luck with your new venture! How often are you planning on having your carb days?

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Miss Needle, you've destroyed my fantasy that the fish jun is as low carb as i thought it was! ;)

              re: fish sauce, regular fish sauce has some sugar in it, but i don't know if bla-ra (the dark fermented Isaan/Lao stuff) does: that one is only used in some of the somdams at ZE and those don't taste remotely sweet when ordered w/o sugar...

              1. re: Simon

                So sorry for ruining your low-carb fantasy! But if you're going to have the carbs wouldn't you rather have British style fried fish with its crispy puffy batter over the flaccid Korean fish jun? : )

              2. re: Miss Needle

                I've actually been doing it for a while, but not very strictly. Trying to limit to 1 carb day a week but also exploring how much flexibility there is in the program.

                Middle Eastern sounds like it might be a good idea, it's just too bad I love fresh pita bread. I've been meaning to check out Meme based upon the positive report here:

            2. re: Simon

              I think there are bits of crispy rice or some other starchy thing in somdam, aren't there?

              Kathryn, I think you're probably OK eating beef stew at Great NY Noodletown. Tell me if I'm wrong and they actually use lots of corn starch in it, but I don't perceive it. And anything barbecued would be fine. There might be a bit of corn starch in their sauteed pea shoots, but I don't perceive it, so it can't be that much.

              I also have been trying to do mostly low-carb (no rice/bread/other grains, no added sugar, no fruits or starchy or sugary vegetables, no beer) for some time, but I do think a lot of carbs are invisibly present in the food I order and are keeping me from losing more weight, so I really appreciate this thread.

              I do eat beans, however.

              I think you're fine ordering grilled or roasted items at Italian or Greek restaurants. I sometimes go to Supper and order pollo arrosto with more sauteed vegetables as a substitution for mashed potatoes. Tomatoes are a little questionable in a low-carb diet, but if you include them, then the Moroccan eggs at Cafe Mogador are possible, and it's no problem to get some mezes, such as babaganouj - hmmm...without hummus, it becomes more difficult, but the Arab salad is fine. And you will get used to not having pita.

              And don't forget: 100% chocolate is low-carb! I sometimes get Pacari 100% cacao chocolate bars at Dual (they don't always have them, but look). They're $5 for 50g, so not cheap, but they are not off my diet! And while they don't have the satisfying sugar of other chocolate bars, there's a degree of natural sweetness in the chocolate itself. I'll bet you'll find a good earthy red to pair with it.

              1. re: Pan

                You're probably thinking of larb, which has roasted rice powder.

                Chinese BBQ can be dangerous as the marinade usually contains honey and soy sauce and hoisin! That's why Chinese roast duck/pork they taste so good.

                In contrast, the brisket and pork ribs at Hill Country don't have any sugar in the rub, and I eat them without any sauce.

                1. re: kathryn

                  Huh. So roast duck at Noodletown is questionable. Low carb is difficult for eating out.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    are you sure about the absence of sugar in the hill country rubs? im not trying to contradict you but this would be a fairly significant departure from an orthodoxy that i though they otherwise hewed pretty close to. then again, even if there were sugar in the rub, the amount you'd actually be eating on some slices of brisket would be pretty trivial.

                    1. re: tex.s.toast

                      I'm going off of the Hill Country BBQ recipes published online.

                      Some people try to do a low carb diet with only 20g-40g of carbs total a day, so every bit counts.

                  2. re: Pan

                    How are tomatoes questionable, but not beans?

                    1. re: Peter Cuce

                      Maybe I'm not thinking this through properly, but tomatoes are sweet fruits. I include them, anyway, though. Beans of at least some varieties have a fair amount of protein in them.

                      1. re: Pan

                        Most versions of Paleo exclude beans. Not only are they high in starch, but they contain toxins. Check out for info.

                        1. re: Peter Cuce

                          I'm not on Paleo, just trying to do low-carb. And everything contains toxins. I'll have a look at the link, though.

                  3. re: Simon

                    Ed's no longer has tuna tartare. Or at least they didn't when I stopped in a few weekends ago for lunch.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      In the past, they sometimes didn't have it til dinner time on weekdays...i'll report back next time i stop in there...

                  4. Soto? The nigiri and desserts aren't that great, but the composed plates are great.

                    Are ceviches too high sugar on this diet?

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: michelleats

                      Japanese can be tough as technically you're not supposed to have any soy. We still haven't been--what do you like at Soto?

                      Typically any recipe where you add sugar, honey, etc is off limits, I believe.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Soto is good for anything that contains uni, really, even when it's out of season. (You just missed the season, unfortunately.) Off the top of my head, at previous meals, I've enjoyed a smoked uni, fresh uni and lobster composition; geoduck salad; and fluke usuzukuri. If you're not strict about the soy, there's an uni with yuba composition that's good, as well. Let me go poke around on my laptop later, though, to see if I might have some photos kicking around to refresh my memory.

                        1. re: michelleats

                          Thanks! Unfortunately, my husband doesn't care for uni, so Soto might be lost on him.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Oh that's too bad. But I understand. Despite years of effort on my part, my husband still won't even try sea urchin. I once tricked him into eating some in a sauce at Annisa, but you really couldn't taste the uni, anyway, so that didn't help much.

                            I'll try to think of more places for you when my brain is more functional! And good luck with this diet. Damn our aging bodies and slowing metabolisms.

                        2. re: kathryn

                          Hey Kathryn, have you tried coconut aminos? I brought some with me the other day to Sushi Yasaka and it tasked just like soy sauce!

                          1. re: citykid426

                            I have some at home, and I also have had a hard time picking out the difference between the two... but I'm less strict about avoiding soy in general than others.

                        3. re: michelleats

                          re: ceviche, it really just depends on the recipe. if the marinade is loaded with orange or pineapple juice or contains ketchup, it's not paleo-friendly.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            A lot of ceviches I like just have a splash of orange juice, but aren't really sweet. I guess that's still cheating a bit, though, huh?

                            I would be really terrible at this diet. I have the utmost admiration for those of you with the willpower to stick to it!

                            1. re: michelleats

                              a splash of OJ is fine - i was talking more about the recipes that go overboard with an excessive amount of juice.

                              oh, and you'd be surprised by how easy it can be to avoid eating certain things when you feel noticeably better without them!

                        4. I think Craft is a great restaurant for low-carb/paleo diets! If you enjoy seafood, maybe Prima? I also like Robataya a lot and it's pretty paleo-friendly as long as you don't get the rice pots!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: bluesky22

                            Did Craft a few weeks ago. Meal was very good. I loved the Australian Wagyu Carpaccio. Their Pork Trotter & Farm Egg was excellent, but deep-fried, I think, which technically we weren't supposed to have. But it was so delicious! Mixed Lettuces & Shallot Salad was also very good, with a buttermilk dressing I think.

                            We had originally wanted the roasted foie gras and/or the sweetbreads, but the foie gras turned out to have some sort of strussel topping on top and the sweetbreads were lightly breaded, which wasn't mentioned on the menu.

                            There's a fair amount of dishes there, I think, that have hidden carbs -- while the prep seems simple on the menu, it's actually not.

                            The 30-Day Dry-Aged Sirloin & Bone Marrow was pretty good for a non-steakhouse restaurant, but they could have been more generous with the bone marrow portions. Paired with some nice, garlickly, sauteed spinach.

                          2. The ribeye for 2 at the dutch in Miami, was outstanding. I have not had it in NYC but I suspect it is just as good. It comes with a side of salad that is not worth eating so you won't be tempted by any carbs on the side.

                            My memory might be failing me but you could do the pork chop at babbo and little owl (I forgot if they had any sugar based sauce on it). Both are outstanding. I have heard good things about the ribeye at babbo too. The Dutch's pork chop while excellent, I am almost 100% sure it has a sugar based sauce on it. But if I am wrong that is another choice.

                            I am no chef and I don't pay enough attention to exactly what is in the sauces but are there any places that serve good organ meats (sweetbreads, etc.) that don't have carb based sauces for you to consider (you put Takashi and korean bbq, but there has to be others...)? I am just trying to open a new category for you because your specific restaurant and dish knowledge far surpasses mine.

                            P.S. Maialino might work too.