The call for healthy and delicious fast food is getting louder, and the new fast-casual eatery, The Little Beet, has answered. Located at 1212 18th St. N.W. the restaurant is a convenient five-minute walk from Dupont Circle. The first branch of a popular restaurant concept outside of New York, The Little Beet prepares ingredients beforehand, and allows customers to mix and match favorites to create custom bowls. With a wide variety of flavorful, yet nutritious dishes, The Little Beet definitely proves to be more than a healthy version of Chipotle.
At lunch hour during the week, the spacious restaurant is bustling with patrons in their mid-to-late twenties. It’s not hard to figure out why — the restaurant is located within walking distance of embassies, think tanks and research institutions. Fortunately, the initially intimidating long line moved along at a brisk pace, and we ordered our meals after just a few minutes.
I opted for the “Create Your Own Plate” option ($11.50 to $14), which allows for one protein choice from a list of five and two sides. The sides are divided into “cool” and “warm”. The warm sides are replenished constantly, carried out straight from the oven. I chose the string beans, charred and cooked with garlic and extra virgin olive oil, and sweet potatoes, roasted with smoked sea salt, pecorino and again, extra virgin olive oil. The salmon was cooked perfectly: tender, moist and flavorful. The salmon’s flavor is distinct, and the marinade brought out and emphasized the flavor instead of masking it, as marinades often do. The green beans were slightly overcooked, but the slight mushiness was remedied by the char on them, which gave a satisfying crunch and smoky flavor. The sweet potato was cooked wonderfully, adding just the right amount of substance and difference in texture to create a balanced and satisfying meal.
One of my friends chose the tofu & mushroom “beet roll” ($9.75), which is described as a “thick uncut sushi roll that eats like a burrito.” The roll consisted of marinated shiitake mushrooms, tofu, avocado, Asian slaw and brown rice wrapped together in nori, Japanese for seaweed,, and was served with two sauces: soy and ponzu. While the ingredients came together to create an exceptional combination of flavors and textures, the proportion of rice to the other ingredients was unequal; bites of exquisite flavor would alternate with bites of plain brown rice and nori.
My other friend opted for the miso chicken bowl ($12): cabbage-soba noodle salad, romaine lettuce, pickled Asian slaw, wasabi nori shake and chicken with miso-ginger glaze, layered over a bed of brown rice. The flavors of this dish merged together deliciously. The subtly sweet miso-ginger glaze complemented the tang of the slaw, and the brown rice served as a simple base with a texture that was distinctive from the rest of the bowl. Its only flaw is the rather abrupt temperature difference between the freshly-cooked chicken and its accommodating cold ingredients. While not entirely unpleasant, the contrast made for a rather unusual culinary experience.
I also bought the restaurant’s bottle of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice ($6) and a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie ($2.75). These additions made quite an impression on my budget as a college student, but the grapefruit juice was superbly fresh. The bittersweet taste of grapefruit made it quite clear that no unnecessary sugar was added. The cookie was delightfully chewy and loaded with chocolate chips, although whether or not it was worth the cost is debatable.
What stood out most about The Little Beet was the simplicity of its dishes. So many restaurants rely on secret sauces and elaborate combinations of surprising ingredients for flavor, which can be overwhelming. In contrast, a quick glance at The Little Beet’s menu reveals light seasonings on most of its dishes. Its no-frill options leave plenty of room for the high-quality ingredients to shine. The ingredients are fresh, and it’s obvious. Nothing is overdone and nothing is underdone. For a “fast” food establishment, that’s quite rare.
However, The Little Beet’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. While the food is fresh, simple and delicious, it isn’t special. Nearly all of its options were dishes I could easily recreate at home, and at a much lower price. The layout of the restaurant could also be improved. Restaurants like Chipotle put the cash register at the end of the food preparation area, so customers can preview the available sides. At The Little Beet, you put your order in first. This setup was rather inconvenient for a first-time customer such as myself; I lost my spot in line when trying to take a peek at the display of side dishes behind the cash register. Minor inconveniences aside, the steep price is justifiable. Few restaurants can guarantee convenience while serving healthy, enjoyable food. Despite a line with at least a dozen customers during peak hours, our orders were taken and served all within 15 minutes.
For a healthy eater on a tight schedule, The Little Beet is unbeatable, but only if you’re willing to dish out nearly $15 for a 6 oz. salmon fillet and two side dishes.