Salad Days

Chop and mix: At Whole Foods in Columbus Circle.Photo: Kenneth Chen

Whole Foods Market
Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle; 212-823-9600
Price: $6.99 a pound
Selection: It’s possible to eat here every day and have something totally different each time. There are separate Asian, Latin, Indian, and seafood bars and a cornucopia of cold-bar choices. Food is never displayed for more than two hours.
Ambience: Somehow, 250 seats have never seemed so inadequate—but the people-watching possibilities mitigate the zoolike atmosphere.
Taste: Smoky quinoa swirls on the tongue, and teriyaki tofu is properly juicy, not dried out, as is too often the case at salad bars.
Rating: Five stars

410 Sixth Avenue; 212-420-9099
Price: $6.99 a pound
Selection: Almost everything is organic, and there are plenty of choices of greens along with vegetables and prepared tofu.
Ambience: Narrow aisle space combines with a loud nearby juice bar to make the salad-bar experience a bit unpleasant. Avoid the neglected upstairs seating area.
Taste: Enjoyable and healthy but lacking in pizzazz—and the three-bean chili was congealed around the edges. The prepared food behind the glass counter is much better than the salad bar.
Rating: Three stars

The City Bakery
3 West 18th Street; 212-366-1414
Price: $12 a pound
Selection: From marinated baked Thai eggplant to cucumbers with lotus root, there are many tempting and unusual choices. At these prices, though, watch what you put in your container (you’ll also want to leave room for tempting chocolate desserts).
Ambience: There are two floors of creatively designed seating, but it’s still hard to find a table among the young, hip, and successful set who regularly lunch here.
Taste: Container-scraping, utensil-licking good. Bean sprouts with smoked tofu and flowering chives taste like they were picked and prepared just before being served.
Rating: Five stars

24 East 17th Street; 646-336-5523
Price: $6.75 and up with extras
Selection: Pick from 57 ingredients and 24 dressings.
Ambience: Lines out the door most days; you’ll have a better shot at Union Square bench space than at a seat in the large green room with its funky architectural accents.
Taste: A preparer cuts your greens and four extras with a double mezzaluna knife and vigorously combines everything in a big metal bowl. The well-mixed serving offers unexpected bursts of sun-dried tomatoes or goat cheese—which can’t disguise bland romaine.
Rating: Three stars

Amish Market
731 ninth Avenue, at 49th Street; 212-245-2360
Price: $4.98 a pound
Selection: Not overwhelming, but enough for two or three meals a week without getting boring. Overall presentation is attractive, except for some mislabeled and unlabeled offerings.
Ambience: Quaint eating area with rustic wooden chairs is located next to the gourmet-shopping area, making it more likely that you’ll go home with an armful of goodies.
Taste: The food is flavorful and satisfying, especially the spinach balls. The bean dishes are tastefully yet subtly spiced, and the lettuce has a satisfying crunch.
Rating: Four stars

Insider Advice
Freshen up your salad with tips from Morse Pitts, Union Square Greenmarket farmer.

1. Eat local food in season—it’s cheaper, fresher, delicious, and nutritious. Out-of-season food spends days or weeks on a truck or in a warehouse. Beware in-season food that’s traveled a long way, too.

2. Keep dressing separate if you’re not eating it within an hour. Dressed greens wilt quickly.

3. Get creative. Add a variety of herbs, fruit, edible flowers, nuts, leftovers—something different in each salad.

4. Make it yourself. If you can’t, buy from a place that stocks produce and tries to find local suppliers.

5. Eat adult greens—baby prewashed mesclun is convenient and familiar but can’t compete with the flavor and crunch of “grown-up” greens. Avoid chopped greens, too; they may not be so fresh.

Salad Days