Healthy dining doesn’t have to be dull. Our area is blessed with artful chefs who create menus offering nutritious and delicious cuisine. Their creativity flows from philosophies that embrace sustainability, local sourcing, organic and ethical practices, and knowledge of dietary restrictions. They offer a robust range of choices, whether your diet is vegan, vegetarian, raw, gluten-free or Paleo. These culinary creators don’t sacrifice taste on the altar of do-gooder ideals. Here’s a short list to get you started.

Lila

Image: Chad Spencer

Vegan

Vegan fare is often an afterthought. Not at Lila. Owners Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes’ lovingly curated menu is a garden of vegan delights. “We put a creative chef’s input into all of our dishes,” says Boeve. “Our vegan dishes are no exception.” While Lila’s menu changes with the calendar, the hearty falafel bowl is always in season. With its savory mix of acorn squash, black lentils, kale, quinoa, almond falafel and tahini, it’s easy to see why. If your companion craves some meat in his or her bowl, fear not. There’s a cornucopia of flavorful fare for carnivores, vegans and vegetarians alike. 1576 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 296-1042, lilasrq.com

Also try: Cafe Evergreen is all about “healthy food for a healthy life.” Vegans rave about its raw kelp noodle stir-fry. Think vitamin-packed, kelp-based noodles and fresh veggies atop a bed of protein-rich, organic quinoa, lightly seasoned with an organic, gluten-free tamari sauce. Now that’s something to rave about. 801 S. Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, (941) 412-4334, cafeevergreen.net

Fresh juice options abound in Sarasota

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Juicing

Lynn Morris is the brain behind SaraFresh and its rainbow of all-natural, nutrient-dense concoctions, which include superfood smoothies, cold-pressed juices and cleanses. Every drop is raw, vegan, organic and fresh—and always delicious. Like a DJ of liquid delights, she loves to mix, match and sample her down-to-earth ingredients. Morris is passionate about working with local farmers and farmers’ markets. Her top hit? The GingerAid, which packs a potent punch of ginger, raw honey, lemon and apple. It’s an energizing daily boost and the first line of wellness defense. While SaraFresh isn’t a brick-and-mortar destination, you can find its juices at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market and other venues; just check her website. And if you don’t feel like driving, no worries. Morris will come to you in her gleaming juice truck. Just text the word “Juice” to 313131 for a delivery.  (941) 914-5515, sarafresh.com

Also try: Karen Odierna, a former oncology nurse, noticed her friends and co-workers were getting sick from their daily diet. In response, she created CROP, which stands for “cold-pressed raw organic produce.” Its healthy harvest includes “mylks” (try the decadent white chocolate hazelnut “mylk” made from Rawmio hazelnut silk butter); greens (the Pure Detox, created from kale, chard, broccoli, celery, cucumber, beet, beet greens, parsley, cilantro, lemon, lime and chia seeds, is a lifesaver); and a host of fruit and cleanse options. 2320 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota, (941) 923-8640; 8211 Tourist Center Drive, Sarasota, (941) 358-8182; 1605 Main St., Suite 108, Sarasota, (941) 954-8728; cropjuicesrq.com

A sustainably sourced dish from Indigenous

Image: Chad Spencer

Local and Sustainable

Sustainability rules at Indigenous. Chef Steve Phelps seeks out locally sourced ingredients from a network of regional fisherfolk, farmers, ranchers, hydroponic growers and other providers who honor cruelty-free, earth-friendly practices. While Phelps focuses on seasonal seafood, he also tempts diners with grass-fed burgers and creative, plant-based fare. “We strive for total transparency at Indigenous,” Phelps says. “Our diners know exactly where their meal is coming from. They’ll leave with a little bit of knowledge and a comfortably full belly.”  239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-4740, indigenoussarasota.com

Also try: Owen’s Fish Camp is another sustainable seafood superstar. You’ll find chef-driven, locally sourced Southern grub in a historic cottage beneath a banyan tree. Sup on fresh fish, mussels, lobster, scallops and clams, steaks, crawfish po’ boys, collard greens, sweet corn and more. 516 Burns Lane, Sarasota, (941) 951-6936, owensfishcamp.com

The Martin sandwich at Ionie

Image: Chad Spencer 

Raw

We have nothing against the invention of fire. But raw foods have a power all their own, and Ionie Retreat & Organic Cafe is your perfect power source. A nice complement to its blissful spa services, Ionie’s café offers inspired “LOV” (“living, organic, vegan”) dishes. These healthy, hearty raw offerings include a soul-satisfying Martin sandwich. It’s piled high with macadamia nut cheese, tomato, avocado, red onions, jalapeños, walnut “meat,” sunflower nacho cheese, “sour cream,” fresh cilantro and clover sprouts on a dehydrated onion bun. This delicious sandwich is rawsome. 1241 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 955-4599, ionie.com

Also try: Addicted to raw but still want pizza? Beauty of Sprouts’ kale pizza is a sensory symphony of sprouted crust, turmeric nut cheese, zucchini hummus and dried tomatoes. Its ingredients are raw, gluten-free and organic. 1474 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 350-8449, beautyofsprouts.net

These days, gluten-free doesn't have to mean flavor-free.

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Gluten-Free

Green Zebra Cafe’s menu is alive with gluten-free, dairy-free, raw and vegan options. You’ll find healthy taste treats you can sink your teeth into, along with blended juices, wellness shots and elixirs. Gluten-free temptations include hearty sandwiches and burritos. Enjoy a grilled chicken pesto sammie, savor spaghetti with marinara prepared with squash noodles or fill up on the Baja Burrito (created with cashew cheese, avocado and nut “meat”). Or go early and start your day with a stack of gluten-free pancakes. So many delicious choices—all prepared with fresh ingredients and not a speck of gluten. 476 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 388-2848; 1377 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 312-6707; greenzebracafe.com

Fresh Kitchen’s “Feast Meal”

Image: Tim Robison

Paleo

Talk about old school. Paleo Connection looks back to the Paleolithic era for healthy inspiration. The Paleo diet embraces a range of flavorful options, including keto, Paleo and vegan dishes, and Paleo Connection draws on all those possibilities. Every bite is free of grains, gluten, dairy, refined sugar, hydrogenated oils and legumes. “Paleo is a lifestyle for me, not a fad diet,” says owner Nikki Naggy. “To make it work for me, I had to cook and bake my own flavorful food. Eating chicken breast and broccoli seemed so dreadful. Food should be enjoyed and celebrated. Your body is a temple. Put good in and get good out.” Naggy’s crowd-pleasers include a crispy cauliflower fritter with smashed avocado, the sliced beef tenderloin sandwich and the cassava pasta with lemon dill cream, smoked bacon, wild Alaskan salmon and pine nuts. 3515 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 960-1955, paleo-connectionsarasota.com

Also try: At Fresh Kitchen, you can build your own big bowl of hearty goodness with a fresh crop of healthy ingredients. Creating a personalized Paleo bowl is a cinch. Just start with a grain-free base like cauliflower potato mash, sweet potato noodles, or even spinach. Add Buffalo cauliflower, roasted mushrooms or whatever non-legume veggies grab your heart. Then top it all off with a protein power punch of steak, chicken, tuna or tofu. 8491 Cooper Creek Blvd., #101, Bradenton, (941) 208-3900, eatfreshkitchen.com

Leaf & Lentil's New Orleans po' boy.

Image: Jenn Soos

Good Old Vegetarian 

Leaf & Lentil is the perfect gateway for your holdout friends who don’t want to eat their vegetables. It’s the brainchild of Sheila Siegel and Michael Schoening—aka “Chef Mike.” Think fast, casual, affordable, lip-smacking vegetarian and vegan fare. Why’d they start it? “Because nobody else would,” explains Siegel. “I have a young daughter. We went looking for a restaurant serving quick, affordable and healthy vegetarian meals. We just couldn’t find one, so we decided to create our own.” Most dishes are under $10. You can grab it and go or sit down and dine. Diners devour its New Orleans po’ boys as fast as the restaurant can make them. Zucchini fritters, vegan remoulade and juicy tomatoes make this Big Easy sandwich a mouthwatering delight. 2801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 413-5685, leafandlentil.com

Also try: Veg is all about hearty, healthy choices. The restaurant’s special menus boast a range of vegetarian, vegan, raw and gluten-free dishes. The “Portabella Volcano” is a favorite: a marinated portabella topped with caramelized onions and garlic-mashed potatoes on a bed of sautéed spinach and quinoa with seasonal veggies. 2164 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota, (941) 312-6424, vegsrq.com

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