Quinoa is a versatile food that's gained significant fame in the past few years. Its slightly-nutty flavor and crunchy texture make it a good gluten-free alternative to most grains, but quinoa isn't just for those who are avoiding wheat. You can also add quinoa to salads as a source of protein — or just because it tastes good and adds some nice texture.
We visited two Valley restaurants that offer creative quinoa-centric salads to find out which does it better. Ready your taste buds because regardless of which one you visit, both Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions and Luci's Healthy Marketplace make quinoa salads that are packed with flavor.
In This Corner: Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions
The Setting: Chestnut Fine Foods & Provisions, located at 44th and Camelback in Phoenix, offers high-end breakfast and lunch options in a relaxed dining room. Customers line up at the register to order and then seat themselves. Fair warning: the space between the door and the register is not very long, so you may find yourself waiting outside for a few minutes. There's indoor and outdoor seating and a place for the kids to play while the food is prepared. Though there are not many meal options, each item on the menu is filled with a variety of ingredients.
The Good: Chestnut’s version of a quinoa salad had some complex and complementary flavors that all together reminded us of autumn. Beginning with a base of fresh arugula, the restaurant then adds quinoa, dried cherries, honeyed walnuts, and butternut squash. The salad was topped with feta and a side of maple balsamic dressing. The best part of the dish is that it's just sweet enough to not need much dressing. The combination of the squash and feta combined with the cherries and walnuts makes for the perfect mixture of savory and sweet. Paired with a black mango iced tea, the meal came out to about $10.
The Bad: There wasn't much quinoa in this quinoa salad, and what little quinoa there was sank to the bottom of the dish and stuck together. There was also a lack of honeyed walnuts. Perhaps worse than either of the dishes flaws, however, was that we waited nearly an hour for our meal despite the relatively short line to order.
In This Corner: Luci’s Healthy Marketplace
The Setting: Luci’s Healthy Marketplace is a trinket-lover’s dream. The tables are stacked with books and kitschy pens, and the market's shelves hold gourmet foods and snacks. There are plenty of seats, most of which are hidden behind the aforementioned shelves. Definitely peruse the cooler as there are some hidden gems in the beer section. And though the parking lot is somewhat of a nightmare, the quick and friendly service can promptly calm you down.
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The Good: This salad looked like a work of art. In fact, we found it difficult to dig into such a pretty dish. Rainbow quinoa — cooked to the perfect, not-too-mushy consistency — came mixed with field greens, goji berries, pecans, and cranberries. Herb goat cheese was crumbled on top and a light amount of citrus vinaigrette completed the dish. The layers of sweet combined with the smoky cheese and pecans was enough to convince us this would be one of many visits to Luci's. We paired our salad with a citrusy green tea bringing our total to around $15.
The Bad: A couple of the tomatoes were a little mushy, and the salad was too heavy on the cheese. The sweet and smoky flavors went together, but the cheese's creamy consistency detracted a little from the crispy freshness that we love in a salad.
The Winner: The springtime flavors worked better than the autumn ones, and Luci’s Healthy Marketplace took gold when it came to the quinoa salad. Cooking the grain to a perfect consistency isn’t easy, and though Chestnut put in a valiant effort, Luci’s superfood salad is the one that left us craving more.