NYC Restaurants for low-salt diet

Hi, everyone. I may not be posting here too often for a while, as it’s essential for me to be on a very low-salt diet now, so I will be cooking most of my food and otherwise, eating yogurt, raw vegetables and such (although I will be traveling soon to California and will probably be eating a lot of salads and grilled items with a request for no salt added).

I’ve figured out that there’s one safe item at Grand Sichuan St Marks: I can get the Chinese broccoli and have them leave out the salt completely. But let’s face it, restaurant food in New York tends to be quite high in salt, even when you might not taste it. So are there any restaurants you know of that can accommodate someone on a very low-salt diet effectively and provide delicious food at the same time, not some boring “spa food” or something? At home, I can do just fine with sour and tangy items, herbs and spices, but of course I would still prefer to take time off cooking now and then.

In my experience, restaurants that cater to an executive male business crowd will accommodate just about any request, because so many businessmen simply must eat in restaurants nearly every day, they cannot keep eating fancy, elaborate food like recreational diners do. A lot of these are expensive, so that might rule them out, and a lot of them are clustered in neighborhoods inconvenient to where you live or work, but if you focus on that type of restaurant, you can probably work with wait staff to get any food prepared to your specifications with nobody batting an eye. If you want, you can call ahead and sound them out.

Otherwise, have you looked online at the menus of your favorite places to check what is regularly on offer that might work as a low-salt meal if you request all salty items be left out of the preparation? (Or you can just plan to pick out the olives yourself if it’s a salad). Don’t know where you live, but do you think a restaurant like Porteno, which does a lot of grilled dishes, would work for you? You could ask for oil and lemon as a dressing for salad instead of pre-made vinaigrettes.

But there must be dozens of grill-heavy menus all over NYC.

Another thought:

Can you easily go to some of those Korean restaurants where you can order table top bbq? I realize such meals aren’t for solo diners, so suggesting it for when you want to eat out with (your richer) friends. Also, I know you said you don’t want to cook, but you’d have complete control over the meal, and get some foods you otherwise wouldn’t buy at the store.

Thanks a lot for your ideas!

I find the idea of a Korean restaurant a non-starter right now, but only because I would be just too tempted to eat their banchan, which is full of salt.

I won’t be able to spend lots of money, anyway, but I would be concerned at a steakhouse that the steak already had salt on it before it was cooked. I find that steaks very commonly have noticeable salt taste. Do you know if Porteno pre-salts their meat? Looking through their menu, it does look like I might be able to work with them, when I feel up to paying that much for dinner.

I didn’t say I don’t want to cook, though; rather, I will be doing most of my own cooking but will still want to take a break now and then.

I’m thinking that maybe I could get an entree portion of Arab salad at Mogador. That’s more the price point I’m looking for. Grilled foods are welcome, though. I had a thought that perhaps I could get a low-salt grilled or broiled fish at a place like Kyclades on 14th and 1st. I wish I could do that at a place like Supper, too, with their roast chicken, but I can’t. It’s salty and can’t be made non-salty.

No, sorrry, I don’t.

Yes, I did understand you on that point. I just was writing quickly. Should have added “all the time.”

Do you have an owner-operated neighborhood restaurant where you frequently go (Kyclades?) where maybe you could chat with the owner/cook off-hours, explain your situation, and say you would like to come by some evenings to get a break from cooking, and would they be able to easily accommodate your ordering dishes without salt? If a restaurant customarily has quality ingredients on the menu, but servies them with salty sauces, ask them if you can occasionally come in and order plain grilled entrees, undressed salads. Some cooks and chefs like the idea of being a neighborhood place that feeds the neighbors. Surely there are some restaurants left in New York that help elderly couples (yes?) who just want a very simple small early in the evening. Least I hope so!

Supper serves roast chicken in 1/2 chicken portions. Don’t know anything about the attitude of the place toward customers, but what about calling ahead and telling them you’d like two orders of roast chicken, entirely unsalted – and you intend to take the second one home? With advance notice, they should be able to do one unsalted bird just for you. If you offer to bring by your own container, they might even let you have the bird “to-go” (without the mashed potatoes? surely salted), unless you are also looking to get out of the house some nights and enjoy being at a restaurant.

I hate to say in Italy that this would be a simple problem to solve, but in most places it really would be. That’s because you would have probably been going to the same trattoria for a long time, already know the cook/staff, and they’d be happy to cook low-salt dishes for you. I once ate lunch in a small mountain town in way-north Italy, near Austria, and the restaurant almost completely filled up with very nicely dressed elderly people, who never even looked at the menu. After some discussion with the waiter, they were bought small portions of that day’s specials or vegetables they requested, pasta with or without sauce (just butter) , fruit or a sweet for dessert --and plainly this was their main meal of the day, and how they managed to stay living independently while not being burdened to shop and cook extensively.

Thanks a lot for your thoughts.

The restaurants I have been going to most are all Chinese and Thai - Xian Famous Foods, Grand Sichuan St Marks, Hot Kitchen, Somtum Der. I go to Supper once every 6 weeks or so. I think the issue at Supper is that they brine or otherwise marinate the chicken, so it’s salty before being cooked.

By the way, I’m only 50, so not that elderly yet, but I hope to live long enough to become elderly, whereupon this diet.

I didn’t think you were elderly!!! : Sorry my wording made you think that – not that there is anything wrong being elderly, and indeed may we all get there – but that I was only free associating about when I first moved to Manhattan and there were all these utilitarian truly neighborhood places – some of them old-fashioned coffe shops, but they served full meals – and the neighboorhood long-timers came in and only ran up a very small tab eating a small bit of food, or asked for something not really on the menu – like an apple instead of a baked apple, or pieces of cut up cooked chicken breast instead of a chicken sandwich – and the owners accommodated them, and there enough of such places that if the owner didn’t, people would take their business over to the next block.

My thoughts were going in the direction that part of what made this possible was not only lower real estate prices, but also that customers and owners knew each other, and it still very much that way in much of Italy, where I live. But last visits to New York it seemed more and more that the only “regulars” at restaurants known to the owners were either business luncheon regulars or, on the Upper East Side, there are a bunch of restaurnts where people who live in those gazzillion-dollar digs drop in for lunch every day and eat a piece of lettuce and drink perrier (but then they have all their family celebrations there so it works out). Most restuarants are a revolving door of fast meals, ever-changing staff, clientele, people go all over town to eat, not just nearby.

Just couldn’t be further from a low-salt diet in my recollection. When I tried to think of a cuisine that might work, Argentine was the only one I could come up with. and a Korean grill. So then I thought making friends with a local restaurant owner was the best option.

Would Japanese work for you? Sashimi, grilled vegetables, plain soba, undressed salads, that sort of thing. There’s also the “health section” of many Chinese menus, which is not a very exciting option, but it’s something. And Forever Taste, the hotpot place on Grand, lets you make your own sauce, so you could go nuts with hot oil and scallions and ginger. I don’t know how much salt is in their broth, but I don’t think it can be much. Good luck. From reading your posts, I know what you like to eat, and this new diet is a big change.

This was what I was thinking too - I would think Greek restaurants that do a lot of simply grilled fish would work, maybe even burger places where you could request they not season your meat before cooking. I find that a lot of Italian places now have a “simply grilled” section as part of their secondi, those would probably work as well. Unfortunately, I agree with you that Asian restaurants (with the possible exception of Japanese) are likely to be a challenge.

I spent some time trying to figure this out online, reading reviews, etc, and still don’t no the answer for sure-- but it is the norm for Argentines to use an imported rock salt as part of the prep, but I don’t think it is days of prep. Just a few hours before, so an advance request might be sufficient to eliminate any salting. As for Porteno in particular, you’re right that it’s not really priced at an “I just don’t feel like cooking tonight” price.

You have probably already done this, but there do seem to be a number of recipes online for low-sodium versions of Asian cuisines, in particular using prepared chili pastes and some broths that appear to have no sodium at all whatsoever, and can be bought at Whole Foods – or the Asian markets in SF. So if you are planning on cooking most of your meals, one idea would be to cook a lot of Asian cuisine for yourself, and then when you go out, the simpler grilled American or Italian fare will actually be variety.

Edited to Add: Here are some of the websites for low-Sodium asian dishes I saw today

Hi Pan,

It really is difficult to deal with a low-salt restriction when dining out. Places where you can get grilled fish and meat would be where I’d aim. You might want to try Byblos, a moderately-priced Lebanese restaurant.

Since you will be doing a lot of cooking at home, I thought I’d recommend this cookbook: Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet (Subtitle: 200 specially created, low-sodium, modified fat, modified cholesterol recipes by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey). I bought it years ago because even though I didn’t need it for health reasons, I was a fan of anything Franey did and was very curious to see what he and Claiborne would do with those restrictions. Of course, they did a great job. The recipes are delicious, anything but boring, and you’ll never miss the salt. To this day, “Veal Balls with Chili-Tomato Sauce” (P. 132) remains an all-time favorite of mine and Mr. RBI.

Good luck! And do come back every so often to let us know how you are doing.

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Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions!

HolyTerroir, you are right that Chinese and Thai restaurants are very far from low-salt, and another place I eat at fairly often, Ukrainian East Village, is not the kind of place that would subtract the salt for me.

I really appreciate everyone’s suggestions for how to handle eating out.

In the meantime, I got a 3-lb chicken and will go to Dual to buy a bunch of spices and cook Chettinad chicken and a cauliflower recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen, and simply omit the salt. That should last me and my girlfriend a couple of days, with any luck.

My girlfriend brought up sashimi. Might be a bit expensive, but could be a good idea, as long as I avoid ones with pickles in them, which probably are salted. I thought Japanese grilled vegetables usually had some soy sauce, but maybe I’m operating on a misimpression due to a lack of sufficient knowledge. I also wouldn’t trust any broth - even soups that don’t obviously taste salty usually have a lot of salt in them.

This diet is a huge change, and I hope it’s soon enough.

It depends. Cantonese restaurants usually can make dishes ‘low salt low oil’. I sometimes ask for less grease and the staff usually enter the order into the system as ‘low salt low oil’ so the dishes will come back as completely bland (which is not what I want but that’s a different topic). So long that the dish doesn’t require use of soy sauce, pre-marinated meat, then they should be able to skip the sodium effectively, if the chefs remember, that is. Dishes that fit the criteria: e.g. ‘egg-white scallop fried rice’, ‘egg shrimp fried ho fun’. You just have to repeat to the server about 10 times that you want the salt skipped.

Yes, of course, but I was referring to the boiling stock used to cook the hotpot ingredients. The ones I’ve tasted are either spicy or herbal, with no discernible salt. And even if salt is usually added to the liquid, I bet you could request that it be left out of yours.

I’ll try to talk to them. I don’t speak Chinese, but if their English is good, maybe that could be workable. Thanks for the idea!

I don’t have recs for low-salt eating out (I would go the home cooking route, personally) but I wanted to post and thank you, Pan, for your many comments on eating in the East Village and environs. I am currently visiting NYC, staying in the EV, and profiting from your sharing! If you come up with a good list of reduced-sodium restaurant options, many will benefit.

Thank you. I’m glad you’re enjoying restaurants where I mostly can’t go anymore. :smile:

I’m actually going to meet a friend at Great NY Noodletown tonight. I plan on asking for steamed pea shoots with no salt, most likely. I figure that in Cantonese restaurants, along the lines sck mentioned, it should probably also be possible to get a steamed fish with ginger and scallion but no soy sauce.

Great NY Noodletown is possible with a low-salt diet. I asked about getting squid with flowering chives, and the waiter said for no salt, they could steam it. It was pretty good. I’m not sure the squid completely lacked salt, but it was quite a lot less salty than usual.

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Nice news to hear. Hope you don’t live too far from there and that there are other dishes on the menu that the cooperative staff can cook up for you. It would no doubt be a public service to a lot of people if you were inclined to keep reporting on your experiences looking for low-salt meals in NYC restaurants, even for people not members of the forum who are doing Google searches for this kind of information.

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