Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Mar 22, 2023
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How to Order Healthy

We know how hard it is to skip the chips and queso and limit your margarita intake to one. So we asked two local nutritionists to help us decide what to order at our favorite Dallas restaurants.

By D Magazine |
TERILLI’S: Design your own dish with pork tenderloin, steamed vegetables, whole wheat pasta, and a bit of red sauce.

It’s not even 4 p.m., and your dinner comrades are rattling off restaurants from the current list of hot spots. Images of your future slender self disappear as the talk turns to those delicious, fattening dishes you won’t be able to avoid: sour cream chicken enchiladas; pepperoni pizza with basil and truffle oil; and the newest trend in fine dining, good ol’ mac and cheese. What’s a health-conscious girl to do?

We wondered the same. So we turned to registered dietitians Jennifer Neily and Kathy Duran-Thal of the Cooper Aerobics Center, who thumbed through menus from six top venues in search of sensible, appetizing meals. Whether you’re on a dinner date or dining out with the girls, the dishes they suggest won’t blow your belt—entirely. “Typical entrées can be 700 to 1,500 calories, and that’s general,” Neily says. “It’s really hard to know. These are going to be healthier options, but not necessarily low-calorie.” With that in mind, we’ll leave you to the challenge of keeping out of the queso.

Mi Cocina
3699 McKinney Ave. 469-533-5663. Multiple locations
Good Choice:
Order the Rico Salad, which comes with beef or chicken fajita meat, sliced avocado, shredded cheese, bacon bits, tortilla strips, and the creamy “house” dressing. But—you knew there had to be a “but”—choose chicken and pass on the cheese, bacon, and tortilla strips, and substitute salsa for the dressing. Or select tortilla or bean soup, along with the house salad sans cheese, with dressing on the side. Another smart option is to request a grilled chicken breast with veggies cooked in minimal oil.

Expert Advice: Avoid cheese, sour cream, and sauces, along with tortilla strips and chips. “Chips can be the death of a meal,” Neily says. “A basket of tortilla chips can range from 400 to 1,200 calories, depending on the size, so we recommend taking a small handful of chips, like half a dozen, putting them on a napkin in front of you, and breaking them up.” She also suggests ordering corn tortillas and dipping them in salsa in place of chips. Her theory on dips? “Guacamole has avocado, which is healthy, but it has a high amount of fat, so watch the quantity.  A whole avocado has 400 calories.” Also steer clear of refried beans, which can sometimes be cooked with lard. Instead opt for black or pinto beans or extra vegetables.

Terilli’s Restaurant & Bar
2815 Greenville Ave. 214-827-3993; 4226 Preston Rd., Frisco. 214-387-4600
Good Choice:
Order the Tom Landry Special, a dish with a marinated grilled chicken breast served alongside roasted red bell peppers, Texas goat cheese, Italian rice, and vegetables in an ancho pepper sauce. To keep it low-cal and low-carb, omit the goat cheese and the rice, request extra vegetables, and ask for the chicken to be grilled without added oil. Or design your own dish with a grilled chicken breast or pork tenderloin, steamed veggies, some whole wheat pasta, and a little bit of red sauce.

Expert Advice: “Don’t assume that everything on the menu is the only thing available,” Neily says. “All of these restaurants will be very accommodating.” But do you have to omit the cheese and opt for wheat pasta? “Some cheese is okay, but it’s very concentrated in calories and high in saturated fat,” she says. “Pasta has about 200 calories per cup. Wheat pasta is a better choice—not lower-calorie, but a better choice.”

Bob’s Steak & Chop House 
4300 Lemmon Ave. 214-528-9446; Shops at Legacy, 5760 Legacy Dr., Ste. B1, Plano. 972-608-2627
Good Choice:
Start with the Chop House Salad, which has cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, onion, bacon, and hearts of palm, but pass on the bacon and order the dressing on the side. For dinner, order the Prime filet mignon, which comes with a glazed carrot and a choice of a baked potato, smashed potatoes, or skillet fried potatoes topped with sautéed onions and peppercorn gravy. Substitute any of the potato options with fresh broccoli, sautéed spinach and mushrooms, or fresh asparagus, and ask for a steamed, not glazed, carrot. Other good options are shrimp scampi, either broiled or grilled, broiled salmon, or the seafood of the day, prepared without butter or oil.

Expert Advice: “With most any grilled entrée, whether it’s steak or fish, it needs to be cooked without butter and oil, and sauces on the side,” Neily says, adding that vegetables also should be steamed or cooked without butter and minimal oil. “Oil has 120 calories in a tablespoon.” If splurging on a baked potato instead of ordering a second vegetable, eat only half, as large baked potatoes can have more than 300 calories. “The best part of a potato is the skin,” Neily says. So she recommends scooping out the inside and eating the skin with chives and a little bit of sour cream.

Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse
2202 Inwood Rd. 214-357-7120. Multiple locations
Good Choice:
No ribs, here. Order the turkey breast or pulled pork with squash medley (in place of other sides such as green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, or fried okra) and a side garden salad with fat-free Italian or honey Dijon dressing.

Expert Advice: Ribs should be eaten on special occasions only, Neily warns. “They are probably one of the worst things you can eat. They are just inherently fat,” she says. “Personally, I’ll ask for one rib, because it’s damage control. If you have a craving, just get one rib.” If yearning for carbs, opt for barbecue beans, a great source of fiber and protein, though they have more calories than the squash medley.

FIRESIDE PIES: Arugula salad—dressing on the side—is a smart choice.

Fireside Pies
2820 N. Henderson Ave. 214-370-3917; Shops at Legacy, 5717 Legacy Dr., Plano. 972-398-2700
Good Choice:
Order the new Deep Ellum Neapolitan, a hand-tossed, 12-inch pizza topped with a light tomato sauce, a small amount of mozzarella, diced yellow and red tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. Or try Paula’s Fresh Mozz, a pizza with four cheeses, tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinaigrette, but order it with the dressing on the side, half the cheese, and extra tomatoes. The baby arugula salad, which comes with blue cheese, pepperoni, roasted pine nuts, black olives, and sun-dried tomatoes with balsamic mustard vinaigrette, is a healthier alternative, if requested without the blue cheese and pepperoni and the vinaigrette on the side. Another suggestion is to create your own pizza with veggies, sauce, and little or no cheese.

Expert Advice: “Typically I recommend a thin-crust pizza,” Neily says. “If you have to have meat, Canadian bacon or chicken would be better than pepperoni. Go light on the cheese, and eat two pieces instead of four. We always advise people to fill up on salad before the pizza arrives.” But be weary of dressings. “A lot of people think vinaigrettes are better,” she says. “They are very healthy, but most are three parts oil and one part vinegar—in other words, lots of oil. I tell people, if they can, to get oil and vinegar on the side, to drench their salads with vinegar, and then drizzle with oil.”

Jasper’s Restaurant
Shops at Legacy, 7161 Bishop Rd., Ste. G1, Plano, 469-229-9111

Jasper’s: Order the lemon rotisserie free-range chicken, but replace the potatoes with a steamed veggie.

Good Choice: Try the sesame seared tuna or sashimi appetizer, which comes with wasabi and tamari soy sauce, along with a Caesar salad with dressing on the side or a dash of oil and balsamic vinegar. Another smart choice: lemon rotisserie free-range chicken, which comes with Parmesan-olive oil whippers. Substitute the whippers for an extra side of vegetables and ask that they be prepared with little oil. Also request that any sauce be made without butter. Or try the shrimp and pork tenderloin brochette, served with spicy fried rice and citrus soy glaze, but omit the rice and ask the chef to stir-fry or steam some fresh vegetables, such as broccoli, portobello mushrooms, or asparagus.

Expert Advice: The tuna or sashimi option is a “healthy, light appetizer, a good source of omega-3’s, and uses very little oil,” Neily says. She also says to eat a portion of chicken comparable in size to a deck of cards—preferably from the breast—and avoid the fatty skin.

Meet the Experts

Kathy Duran-Thal is the director of nutrition for the Cooper Wellness Program. She wrote the popular Cookery Classics and has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning Texas, and CNN. Her favorite restaurant is Mainstream Fish House, where she loves to mix and match fresh fish with a sauce and two side items. “Many of the sauces (with the ingredients listed on the menu) are quite healthy,” she says. She’ll occasionally indulge on a few bites of a dessert, such as crème brûlée. She can be reached by calling 972-239-7223.

Jennifer Neily is a registered and licensed dietitian at the Cooper Clinic. She also serves as president-elect of the Texas Dietetic Association and teaches nutrition for the Dallas County Community College District. Her favorite restaurant meals include salmon, with some sauce on the side, and vegetables. She does indulge when she’s back in her hometown of Chicago: she can’t resist the Windy City’s ribs, which she says are the best around. She can be reached by calling 972-560-2655.