Houlihan’s: how I found a healthy option at this old standby

Casual dining places like Ruby Tuesday’s, Houlihan’s, Applebee’s, TGIFriday, Chili’s, etc. all have a way of blending together in my mind. And they also all spell foods I can’t eat on a low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar diet (Ruby Tuesday’s salad bar is a wonderful exception). So my wife and I walked into a Houlihan’s in Naperville, a Far west Chicago suburb, for lunch with some trepidation recently. I thought perhaps I could order a stripped-down salad and use my own oil and vinegar as dressing.

But not only was I surprised by the pleasant new decor, I also was able to get a meal to my low-salt specifications with only some modifying of a menu item.

I ordered a five-ounce piece of salmon that normally is cooked basted in a butter sauce; I ordered it without the butter. And instead of mashed potatoes as a side, I asked for two vegetable portions (the meal normally comes with one veggie and the potatoes) and received asparagus and green beans. I asked both be made without butter or salt and that’s how they came out.

The asparagus were grilled as was the salmon and both had a wonderful charcoally flavor to them as a result. A small cup of tartar sauce was served on the side, a bit odd for salmon which doesn’t need something like sauce to taste delicious. I think chefs can’t bear to send out a dish without at least one sauce.

MY wonderful lunch at Houlihan's,
My wonderful lunch at Houlihan’s, salmon without butter or salt, asparagus and beans, also plain. And, for some unknown reason, tartar sauce which I didn’t eat.

For an appetizer, my wife and I ordered edamame without salt. It’s listed as salted on the menu but getting it plain was no problem, which was nice.

My wife modified a salad to get some relatively untouched chicken and a vinaigrette dressing. Interestingly, the waiter said they also offer just plain oil and vinegar, a simple choice that many places have abandoned for some reason I don’t understand.

Al in all, it was a delightful lunch and a pleasant surprise. The price tag of $40 was higher than I expected, but we did have the appetizer plus we each ordered hot tea.

One note, the chain apparently has a menu that it bills as lighter and lower in calories. I scanned that but every entrée had something I can’t eat included, either salty items such as soy sauce or miso or crusted items which likely also have a lot of salt. So I passed that up. Fewer calories doesn’t mean health when you’re searching for no-salt, no-fat and no-sugar, remember that.

Houlihan's on Urbanspoon


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