Freshii

American, Deli, Fast Food, Organic, Vegetarian/Vegan
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

The archetypal 21st-century lunch counter is well defined. It has modern molded-plastic chairs, wheat grass or herbs in brushed-aluminum planters and at least one bright-green wall to signify its eco-friendly philosophy. It serves made-to-order salads and sandwiches topped with local produce "where possible" and tart frozen yogurt with wholesome toppings. Everything is designed to scream FRESH.

If the concept is a little less fresh than it used to be, that's not a bad thing. We have eaten a lot of kebabs and pizza in the pursuit of good takeout. The arrival of fresh fast food couldn't have happened soon enough.

So we were pleased to discover that Freshii, a Canadian franchise, has come to Washington. Its first outlet - owner Andrew Nelson plans to open eight in the area over the next several years - offers everything that 21st-century diners expect.

Two things help Freshii stand apart: variety and price. For breakfast, there are pastries from Buzz Bakery, wraps and oatmeal. At lunch, there are rice bowls, burritos, salads and soup. Every dish can be customized to taste. At similar competitors, it's hard to spend less than $10 on lunch. Here, most entrees hover around $7 to $8, and they're big enough to share.

Take the spicy lemon grass soup ($7.59): The quart-size takeout container of clear, subtly spicy broth packed with rice noodles, grilled tofu, carrots, tomatoes, cilantro and bean sprouts could easily feed two. With its bright flavor, it could become a habit (although we would remind Freshii that it is possible now to get local tomatoes to replace the almost crunchy ones it has been using).

Also satisfying was the Bangkok burrito ($6.49). With most wraps, we end up with a mouthful of dry, tasteless outer layer. But Freshii's thin honey-wheat tortilla actually complements the filling: chunks of chicken, nutty brown rice, carrot and cucumber, tossed in a peanut sauce so the flavor is even all the way through. We also liked the Buffalo chicken wrap ($5.99) that acknowledges celery, not just blue cheese, as an integral taste component.

If you're not that hungry, Freshii offers politically correct snacks such as locally made Route 11 potato chips, Buzz's granola and energy bars and, of course, the de rigeur frozen yogurt ($4.99 for 12 ounces; includes two toppings).

--Jane Black, August 11, 2010 Good to Go column