Adventures at Tortilla Flats: Can you make healthy choices at a Mexican Restaurant?

by Jennifer on July 7, 2009

The phone rings and you are invited to dinner at the local Mexican eatery. You eat healthy and do not want to be stuck eating fried food and cheese or maybe you are trying to lose weight? Should you say ‘No, thanks’ or go and throw your determination out the door? No way! I have some tips to help you make smart choices and a story about how I did it. Read the story carefully and note some of the ways I found better nutrition choices and how you can find a restaurant that will make some changes for you.

First up is my story of Jen’s healthy adventures at Tortilla Flats.
I was recently invited to a luncheon by the owners of Tortilla Flats in Providence, Rhode Island, who were very excited about their new menu. I debated whether to go? I write about and practice eating healthy so can I go there knowing they will be giving me cheese and guacamole? I debated but found out that we would be ordering whatever we wanted off the menu. I took a look at the menu online and realized that it would be possible and that I could then share my experiences with you.

Upon arriving at this former firehouse, I was charmed by the slightly industrial decor as well as the wooden tables and other Mexican touches. It was refreshing not to sit at tables covered in uneven bright tiles or overbearing bright colors. First up, what to order to an appetizer? Yup, there is a nice selection of the less healthier choices but then I spot the winner: Chicken Tortilla Soup. This soup is made with a chicken broth base, shredded chicken, and loaded with veggies. The soup is not salty and I can taste the cumin. I am pleased.

Next up, I get to choose the main dish. I peruse the menu and then question the owner: tons of cheese in the quesadillas? No, but feel free to request that they go light on the cheese? Can I get whole wheat tortillas? Yes, or choose corn tortillas. I was impressed. I also note that you can order a vegetable or shrimp quesadilla. Other healthier main dish choices: baja tacos made with sauteed tilapia (hold the dressing), or the Santa Fe salad (substitute grilled chicken), or the house salad. I was thrilled to see that they had a bison burger, just hold the cheese and instead of fries, ask for the cucumber salad (spicy but yummy). So my choice you wonder? I choose the Baton Rouge Tilapia Sandwich. I loved the subtle spicing as so many Mexican restaurants go overboard. I also thought the ciabbiata roll was great but I thought I would be stuffed so I simply ate the tilapia and the lettuce and tomato it came with it. I enjoyed that it was not smothered with the aioli but instead an adequate drizzle. You can wipe it off if you wish or ask for it on the side but I would not skip it. A children’s menu was also offered but contains the standard less than healthy options however, they do come with apple slices. Always keep in mind that you can always order the little ones something that is not on the kids menu (grilled chicken kiddos?).

Dessert: To be honest, most Mexican restaurants do not have healthy options however, if you must have something, I suggest this: split the dishes! maybe split ice cream amongst the group? Tortilla Flats has a strawberry shortcake cornbread that I am sure the group would be happy to share with you but try to steal most of the strawberries. Maybe you should have a margarita instead.

In summary, I was happily surprised at the selections, flexibility and taste of the food offered at Tortilla Flats and that I left with not a fried chip of guilt. I bet that as with most restaurants, you will find the Mexican place near you willing to make adjustments.

So now on to other ideas for eating lighter at a Mexican Restaurant:
*Ask them not bring the chips to the table
*Ask what substitutions you can get besides rice or fries or if you can simply get the rice if there are no vegetable side dishes.
*Order soft tortillas instead of hard as ‘hard’ equals fried
*Substitute black beans for refried beans
*Use salsa as a condiment instead of sour cream or guacamole
*Do not restrict the children to the kids menu: if need be, order the ‘grown up’ version and either share (keeps the cost down) or bring the rest home.

Any other suggestions that you have to cut the fat?

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