The Paleo Diet (short for Paleolithic, also known as the Caveman Diet) has grown in popularity over the past two years. The concept is a serious throwback — 10,000 years to be exact — and consists of eating mostly fish, meats (pasture-raised and humanely killed), vegetables, roots, nuts and fruits. The diet, which some have called a fad, excludes anything “refined” — including dairy, sugars, processed oils, legumes and grains. It’s a sacrifice, to say the least, but its adherents swear by it. Paleo-friendly dishes have also been increasingly incorporated into the menus of many restaurants across the country. It’s not simply a plate of nuts and berries. With that, we’ve gathered the best Paleo-friendly meals at some of the best restaurants around the country. We know hardcore dieters will avoid dairy and legumes, but for this story, we allow butter and soy sauce and give you the option of whether you want to add cheese.
1. Seattle: Mashiko
“Sustainable” and “sushi” are two words that don’t often go together, but chef/owner Hajime Sato has merged the two at his West Seattle restaurant. The self-proclaimed “sushi whore” serves dishes like black cod liver instead of the traditional Monkfish liver, and you’ll never find Atlantic salmon or farm-raised hamachi on the menu. The Chuka (seasoned seaweed) salad makes a nice light app. Then move on to the Sergey sashimi platter, with the chef’s specials as well as fresh catches like uni and mussels. If you’re brave, go for traditional Japanese dishes like maguro yamakake (tuna with sour Japanese yams) or kama (grilled fish cheeks). Be sure to order the real wasabi.
2. Chicago: Frontera Grill
Chef Rick Bayless is no stranger to Paleo. In April, he challenged his culinary team at upscale Topolobampo to explore “how modern cuisine can reinterpret indigenous dishes,” according to Victoria VanOurek, the dining room manager at Frontera Grill. The result is a Pre-Columbian-inspired tasting menu, which is still incorporated into the restaurant’s menu. There’s coconut-lime ceviche with Pacific yellowtail, coconut milk, chiles pequenos and cilantro, and an octopus and squid in aguachile with dark squid-ink “squiggles” and bright Galápagos tomatoes.
3. San Francisco: Namu Gaji
Think it will be tricky to eat clean at the hippest Korean-fusion restaurant in the Mission? Think again. The banchan (small appetizer-y dishes) change daily, but most fit primal. When in doubt, go with kimchi and mung bean sprouts. Part of the fun is sharing here, so mix it up with the cabbage (think anchovies, ginger-soy dashi sauce, and bonito flakes) and octopus and eggplant (just fyi, there’s gochujang in there, a condiment that technically contains fermented rice). If it’s a party, spring for the Bo ssam: You can’t beat local pork belly and oysters wrapped up and served with spicy ssam jang, sweet Korean barbecue sauce, and vegetables and assorted banchan. No, it’s no problem to eat clean here, but braving the two-hour wait is a different story.
4. Dallas: Smoke
Chef Tim Byres knows protein. Especially for brunch. The Paleo-focused should try the “omelet with salad and the things inside,” a massive egg concoction with tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, spinach, collard greens and your choice of ham, pork-belly bacon, barbecue pork, barbecue brisket, or Andouille sausage. And if eggs are too easy for you, from 11–5 try the coffee-cured brisket, peppery beer-can chicken, dry-rubbed pork ribs, lemon and sage turkey breast, and North Carolina–style barbecue pork. For the weaklings there are also side salads and fresh fruit.
5. Atlanta: Kyma
Paleo is all about natural food cooked simply, and Kyma fits the bill. The Buckhead-neighborhood restaurant flies in fresh fish from across the country, as well as from Greece. We like the mild Lavraki (European sea bass) and meaty Royal Dorade (similar to red snapper), both served with braised greens in a light vinaigrette. To round out your meal, start with the grilled octopus and crispy squash chips (hold the manouri cheese), and be sure to order the eggplant stew with caramelized onions and sweet tomatoes as a side dish to complement the fresh fish.
6. Cleveland: Crop Bistro and Bar
Cleveland is much cooler than you think. Take Crop Bistro: Based on its name, it’s clear that Crop uses local produce and follows the seasons. The chile-deviled eggs topped with prosciutto will kick off your meal with a pow, and the Waldorf salad with fennel, celery root, arugula and raisins with vanilla balsamic will sweeten you up for the main course. The seared Angus ribeye with a root vegetable salad and horseradish demi glace is always a good choice, but ask your waiter to hold the sourdough. Eating New American never felt so good.
7. Austin: Spin Modern Thai
This restaurant is a playground for Paleo lovers who can tolerate the tiny bit of gluten in soy sauce. Begin the night with moo sab, bite-size pieces of char-grilled, spicy pork skirt steak served with an even spicier roasted-chili dipping sauce. The highlight of the meal, though, is the tom yum salmon, a generous filet grilled with spicy chili paste and topped with cherry tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms and pan-fried Brussels sprouts with more than a hint of fish sauce. If you’re willing to do dairy and some sugar, try the coconut panna cotta, made mainly with coconut milk and dotted with ginger gel, candied pecans and preserved lemon.
8. New York: Jack’s Wife Freda
The cute Soho café may serve its fair share of matzo ball soup and other throwbacks to your bubbe’s kitchen, but they also make it easy to cut the carbs with modern dishes. Try the duck lardon salad, with a poached egg on top. The peri-peri chicken is the perfect entrée: tender grilled chicken marinated in a spicy peri-peri pepper sauce and served with a nice diced salad. Pair it with simple roasted cauliflower and you’ll be in healthy Paleo heaven.
9. Minneapolis-St. Paul: Meritage
Chef Russell Klein is happy to accommodate unusual diets, so almost any dish will work. But we liked the Minnesota white-tail venison loin, served with sauce poivrade and a chestnut puree, braised cabbage and meaty hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Also check out the Oregon sturgeon, poached in duck fat (be sure to specify no flour) and served with veal sweetbreads, celery root purée, and mushrooms with Brussels sprouts and a red wine sauce.
10. Boston: Neptune Oyster
Yes, the buttery lobster roll at this tiny spot will haunt your dreams. But we promise, you’ll be too busy stuffing your face with all of these killer proteins to care. Start strong with the Triton Plateau’s impressive mounds of crab cocktail, lobster cocktail, giant shrimp cocktail, Island Creek oysters, mussels and littleneck clams. Then try the Hamachi ceviche in a jalapeño-lime vinaigrette with shaved red onion and cilantro. But save the best for last: the seared Georges Bank scallops with pear butter, Long Island duck confit and Brussels sprouts (ask for it sans the Maytag blue).
Read more about fad diets on Food Republic: