When it’s hot out, nothing sounds as good for lunch as a big salad. Crunchy lettuce, cooling cucumbers and the first juicy summer tomatoes are never wrong, but area restaurants take the salad concept much further.
Here are five of my favorite main course salads. Most come with meat or fish, either designed into the salad or offered as an add-on, but chefs are happy to accommodate vegetarians by leaving the meat or fish off or substituting tofu.
▪ One bite of the Papaya Salad With Blue Crab ($11.98) at Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop is enough to make you feel like you’re on a tropical beach. Crunchy julienned green papaya, misted with fresh lime juice and accented by sweet-salty blue crab meat. Tomatoes, green beans, dried shrimp and peanuts underscore the Far-East flavor of this longtime Lulu’s classic. I hope they never take it off the menu. In addition to their funky-chic Crossroads haven at 2030 Central, Lulu’s added a Westwood location, 2701 W. 47th, in 2014.
▪ The Local Tomato Salad ($8) at 715, 715 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence, starts with the bounty of the season’s first ripe tomatoes then ups the flavor ante with addictive pan fried bread, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and housemade spring onion vinaigrette. If it’s possible to improve the flavor of a ripe summer tomato, this salad does. The dark, high-ceilinged space with exposed limestone walls is a cool respite from the midday sun as well.
▪ The most famous composed salad (meaning not tossed) in the world is arguably Salade Niçoise ($14) and the one at Aixois is as authentic as they come. The beloved French bistro, 251 E. 55th in Brookside, starts with the requisite tuna, green beans and black olives, then adds accents of butter lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, fingerling potatoes and anchovies, then douses it all with a bright olive oil vinaigrette. It’s a fully satisfying meal masquerading as a salad.
▪ The Thai Salmon Salad ($10.99) at the Mixx hits all the right flavor chords with wild field greens, cucumber, edamame and Napa and red cabbage bathed in orange miso vinaigrette and Thai chili sauce. The 4855 Main St. location next to Plaza Branch Library is open for lunch and dinner daily, and the newer Power & Light location at 1347 Main St. is open for weekday lunch only.
▪ The Chinese say “You eat first with your eyes,” and the Panzanella Salad ($13) at Room 39 in midtown, 1719 W. 39th St. wins most photogenic in the category. Because there should always be flowers in summer salads. Pink, yellow and blue edible blossoms adorn a full plate of mixed baby greens, farm tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, mozzarella, brioche croutons, bacon and pesto vinaigrette. “Panzanella” derives from the Italian word for bread and describes a popular salad in Tuscany created from fresh tomatoes and stale bread soaked in dressing. Room 39 in Mission Farms, 10561 Mission Road, Leawood, also serves meal-sized salads at lunch time based on local produce.