5 Counter-Serve Spots for Healthy Salads in Chicago

Many folks deem summer days as salad days but every day is a salad day for me.  I credit my mother for raising me on an abundance of healthy salads and fresh vegetables in our daily meals.  That positive habit has carried over into my adult life.  Luckily, there is a new and growing trend of fast-casual, counter-serve locations in Chicago which offer fresh salad bowls when you don’t feel like cooking or you just do not have time.  You can order some of their signature salads or build your own cold or warm creations.  

Most of these counter-serve salad spots allow you to

choose your protein (meat, fish or tofu). Then you add in the veggies, rice, quinoa, noodles and sauce/dressing of your choosing.  Some of these establishments include the calorie count in their signature salads which helps you stay on track with your dietary goals.  Below are five of my favorite counter-serve spots for healthy salads in Chicago:




Sweetgreen is a recent addition to Chicago’s counter-serve trend.  I discovered them back in February when I was back in New York City. By the time I made it back to Chicago, Sweetgreen had opened up a location in the River North neighborhood.


The menu at Sweetgreen focuses on salads and not much else.  There’s nothing wrong with doing one thing well.  While you can build your own salads at Sweetgreen, I suggest you try some of the signature bowls here. They have been scored with nutritional values so you can stick to your diet.  The “Spicy Sabzi” bowl is my favorite menu item.  It consists of kale, spinach, carrots, spicy broccoli, bean sprouts, spicy onions, basil, roasted sesame tofu and carrot-chili vinaigrette.


Counter-serve Sweetgreen Chicago

Signature Spicy Sabzi salad at Sweetgreen

623 N. State Street – Two blocks north of the Grand ‘L’ stop on the Red Line


Be Leaf


This stellar counter-serve salad joint near the Chicago River in The Loop serves soups, wraps, and snacks but the salads are king at Be Leaf!

My favorite signature salad here is the “Falafel-osophy.”   It is a healthy and abundant concoction featuring romaine, arugula, sweet potato falafel, crumbled feta, dates, quinoa, English cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, pickled onions and chipotle-date dressing.  I like to add tofu.

The good folks at Be Leaf provide nutritional value on their signature salads, and the Falafel-osophy salad is only 310 calories without the tofu!


Counter-serve Be Leaf salads in Chicago

Signature “Falafel-osophy with added tofu

29 N. Upper Wacker Dr. – Two blocks west of the Washington/Wells ‘L’ stop on the Orange, Brown, Purple and Pink Lines


Brightwok Kitchen


If you plan on spending time near The Loop, Millennium Park or Grant Park, in Chicago, I suggest you stop into Brightwok Kitchen.  The creative salads and the array of exotic homemade sauces here keep me coming back for more.  I like the Thai Basil sauce when I build my own bowl.


Counter-serve Brightwok Kitchen Chicago

Satisfying build-your-own warm bowl with tofu, rice noodles, greens and more


Also, the spring rolls and pickles with wasabi-soy sauce and sesame seeds are worth having.


Counter-serve at Brightwok Kitchen spring rolls

The sauce with these fresh spring rolls is fantastic!


Counter-serve menu at Brightwok Kitchen in Chicago

Crispy pickles with wasabi soy sauce and sesame seeds at Brightwok Kitchen


21 E. Adams St. – Half a block west of the Adams/Wabash ‘L’ stop on the Orange, Green, Brown, Pink and Purple Lines


Lyfe Kitchen


Lyfe Kitchen has a few different locations in Chicago, but I often frequent the one in River North. The philosophy at this counter-serve spot is about serving nutritious food that caters to the needs of vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free dieters.  You can find much more than salads at  Lyfe Kitchen, but the salads are pretty satisfying.  Check out this “Quinoa Crunch” salad with quinoa tabbouleh, crunchy vegetables, avocado, arugula, edamame hummus and chipotle vinaigrette.


Counter-serve Lyfe Kitchen in Chicago

Quinoa Crunch Salad at Lyfe Kitchen


413 N. Clark St. – Two blocks south and two blocks west of the Grand ‘L’ stop on the Red Line




There are several Freshii counter-serve locations in Chicago, but my go-to spot is in The Loop near Millennium Park.  Freshii offers soups, salads, wraps, smoothies, and juices.  It is a favorite place with the lunch crowds who are seeking a quick and nutritious meal or snack.


One of my favorite menu items is the “Oaxacan Bowl” which includes brown rice, kale, avocado, edamame, beet slaw, black beans, corn, salsa fresca, crispy wontons, lime wedge and spicy yogurt.  Just look at these bright colors!  I firmly believe that the best way to stay healthy is to eat the rainbow.  I think this Oaxacan Bowl from Freshii accomplishes that goal. 


Counter-serve Freshii in Chicago

Signature Oaxacan Bowl at Freshii in Chicago


50 E. Washington St. –  One block south of the Randolph/Wabash ‘L’ stop on the Orange, Green, Purple, Pink and Brown Lines.


As much as I love to build healthful salad creations at home, I appreciate the growing trend of counter-serve establishments in Chicago which save me some time when I need it.

Do you have a favorite counter-serve spot in Chicago for salads?  Leave me a comment so we can discuss!

In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the ‘L’ and buses to these 5 Counter-Serve Spots for Healthy Salads in Chicago. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking.  Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!

Looking for other cheap and healthy eats in Chicago?  Check out my post of 5 Cheap and Healthy Eats (sans tacos and ramen)!