Mixt Greens

American
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

It's almost inevitable that the new sustainable salad bar and cafe Mixt Greens will be compared to Sweetgreen, the slightly-less-new sustainable salad bar and yogurt chain. They have much in common. Both source ingredients from local farmers. Both use biodegradable packaging. And both have a hip-yet-earthy look to help ease the pain of buying a $10 salad.

While Mixt is new to Washington, it has been around on the West Coast since 2006, giving it serious seniority status in the world of eco-restaurants. And unlike Sweetgreen, it offers more than just salads: There's a daily soup (on a recent visit, there was fresh parsnip and apple, $4.95 for eight ounces) and sandwiches. All ingredients are prepared at the chain's city commissary.

Mixt Greens plans to open three more outlets in Washington this year in the now-defunct Organic to Go locations. "I think this is the future of fast food," says Andrew Swallow, the 33-year-old executive chef and co-founder.

Let's hope so. The salads, which come with bread, are large and fresh, with a variety of subtle and sophisticated flavors. You can choose your own combinations using any of six types of greens and a variety of unusual ingredients such as Spanish white anchovies and golden beets. (Swallow estimates that upwards of 75 percent of the ingredients are organic.) Or choose one of the signature mixes: The Siam ($7.95; $8.95 with marinated tofu) is a twist on the classic Southeast Asian green papaya salad, with jicama, ripe mango, cucumber, peanuts and a zingy lemon grass vinaigrette. The Maui ($10.95) includes restaurant-worthy squares of scarlet ahi tuna, crusted with crushed coriander seeds and nestled atop butter lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, mango and macadamia nuts. Both have the flavor of spa cuisine but are satisfying enough to keep you happy till dinner.

And then there's the Madison ($10.95), which boasts roasted white-truffle potatoes plus Parmesan, pine nuts, asparagus and herb-roasted chicken. The asparagus might be out of season, but the thin stalks retain a delicious crunch. The truffle oil, so often poured with a heavy hand, is used judiciously and makes this salad feel like an indulgence.

Mixt Greens' sandwiches tap into the same selection of ingredients. The Farmer ($8.45) piles melty burrata cheese from Wisconsin, zucchini, peppers and portobello mushrooms on a slab of herb bread (a little less bread would be nice). The Bistro ($8.95) is an umami bomb: buttery roast sirloin with marinated mushrooms, pecorino Romano cheese and black truffle aioli on a soft roll.

Such tempting options make frequent lunches at Mixt Greens look pretty sustainable.

-- Jane Black (Good to Go, Feb. 10, 2010)