On one of my early Saturday morning walks to the Pico Farmers‚Äô Market in Virginia Avenue Park I spotted a new caf√© in the Yoshinoya mini mall. On the corner of 24th Street and Pico next to the Rite Aid is Z Garden Fresh and Healthy Mediterranean Cuisine. What used to be a greasy burger joint that I wouldn‚Äôt even give a second look now houses a fresh looking and lively little caf√©.
I‚Äôm not the only one in the neighborhood who has discovered this secrete little gem. During the lunch or dinner hour it can be very busy. This is probably the one area in which the owners need work. The popularity of Z Garden has grown so quickly that they can‚Äôt seem to keep up with the customer demand, and after my first meal I could see why.
Z Garden uses fresh ingredients and great recipes to produce a product that is tasty and healthy. Unlike other ethnic restaurants that have Americanized traditional recipes to reach a broader population, Z Garden has stuck to the originals. The combination of seasonings, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil turn ordinary chicken into the best shawarma and kebab I‚Äôve tasted on this side of Westwood Boulevard. Even a side order of hummus is presented with bright red paprika, chopped parsley and a drizzle of golden olive oil.¬† It‚Äôs known that we eat with our eyes first and the presentation of these plates make my taste buds stand up and take notice of the delicious bite on its way to my mouth.
The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle has been known for years to be one of the most heart healthy diets in the world, and has been studied more thoroughly over the last decade. Studies are showing that following a Mediterranean diet may protect against the development of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes type 2, dementia, obesity, and some types of cancer. Foods found in this region of the world include rich sources of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, olives, and olive oil along with some cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry, eggs, and moderate amounts of red wine. It‚Äôs the combinations of monounsaturated fats, fiber and antioxidants that work together to protect against chronic disease.
Most Americans are so used to the traditional meat and two vegetable meals cooked at home or eaten out that eating meatless doesn‚Äôt even seem like an option. In the Mediterranean region meals are often paired with legumes and whole grains to provide low cholesterol complete protein sources.¬† These may include white beans, lentils or chickpeas (garbanzo beans). In the south of France I fell in love with the street food called Soka which was made from a mixture of garbanzo beans, olive oil and seasonings and cooked thin like a crepe. At Z Garden they present legumes in more traditional Middle Eastern type dishes like hummus dip, falafel patties made from fava beans and chickpeas, and foul (ful) mudammas, which is fava beans cooked in olive oil and garlic.
There are specific genetic populations who benefit from a very low fat diet, like the Pritikin plan. But then there are others with the characteristics of metabolic syndrome including high triglycerides, high LDLs, low HDLs, high blood pressure, and even high blood glucose that benefit more from a moderate fat diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. With careful interpretation of blood work, I usually suggest more of a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet for my patients with metabolic syndrome.
Z Garden will make it easier for my patients or others looking for a delicious, affordable, heart healthy meal. For those trying to watch their carbohydrate intake and increase their vegetables, special requests or changes can be made to meals without complaint or an additional fee.¬† I usually order the chicken kebab plate, which is typically served with hummus, house salad, rice and pita. When I place my order, I ask for the cooks to hold the rice and double the salad since they include pita with the meal.
Prices: Appetizers from $4.95; salads from $5.95; pita sandwiches from $6.45; and plates from $9.95.
The Better Option meat favorite: Z Garden Chicken Kebab Plate
3 oz. of grilled chicken breast, 1/4 cup hummus, 2 cups house garden salad and 1/2 pita (estimated analysis)
Calories: 480; Fat: 21g (32% of DV); Sat Fat: 3g (15% of DV); Chol: 80mg (21% of DV); Total Carbs: 38 (13% of DV); Sodium: 1190mg (50% of DV); Fiber 7g (28% of DV); Protein 34g
The Better Option vegetarian favorite: Z Garden Vegetarian Plate
1/4 cup hummus, 1/2 cup tabbouleh, 2 grape leaves, 2 falafel patties, house salad and 1/2 pita (estimated analysis)
Calories: 520; Fat: 26g (40% of DV); Sat Fat: 4g (20% of DV); Chol: 0g; Total Carbs:¬† 56g (19% of DV); Sodium: 1160 (48% of DV); Fiber:¬† 8g (32% of DV); Protein: 16g
How it rates:
Taste: 4 apples
Health: 4 apples
D√©cor: 2 apples
Services: 2 apples
Cost: 3 apples.
1 apple = poor to fair
2 apples = fair to good
3 apples = good to very good
4 apples = very good to excellent
5 apples = extraordinary to perfection
If you go
Z Garden Fresh & Healthy Mediterranean Cuisine
2350 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D., C.P.T. is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide.¬† www.eatwelldailynutrition.com