The salad is underappreciated as a lunchtime option, in my opinion. It's often pooh-poohed as diet food when it has the potential to be a full, hearty meal. Also, when it's face-meltingly hot and humid like was in Downtown DC, a salad is a lot easier to digest than a heavy sandwich or hot meal.
Like literally thousands of DC area folks, I work in a part of town known as Farragut. There's no shortage of lunch options in Farragut, including multiple places to grab a vegetarian friendly salad at lunch. And, since a number of these places are regional or national chains, perhaps they're an option in your neighborhood as well.
Chop't: There are seven Chop't locations in the DC area, including two in Farragut (Connecticut between 16th & K, 19th between L & M) as well as locations in Dupont, Gallery Place/Chinatown, Metro Center, Union Station and Rosslyn. If you haven't been to a Chop't, the concept is simple - you choose your lettuce, "choppings" (aka toppings) and dressing. The staff will then chop your salad with a giant mezzaluna, put your salad in a bowl or a wrap, and send you on your way.
What I like most about Chop't is the selection - you can choose different kinds of lettuces, and there's a terrific variety of ingredients, including a variety of nuts, seed, beans and grains that make your salad veg friendly. If you eat cheese, you can get harder to find cheeses like cotija. Also, with late hours, you can also pick up a salad for dinner if you are so inclined.
Tip: The Chop't I frequent at 19th & L has lines out the door at lunchtime, and I'm sure other locations experience the same high traffic. The good news is that you can order online and your salad will be ready for you in a decent interval of time. I've done it a few times, and I was in and out the door before the people outside finally made it into the doorway.
Sweetgreen: Sweetgreen has seven locations in the DC area. While there are none in Farragut, there are two locations in Dupont, one in Georgetown and one on The Hill, as well as locations in Bethesda and NoVA. While there are less ingredients to choose from than Chop't, the quality of the toppings is outstanding, and there are unique items like spicy quinoa and hearts of palm. It's also easy to tell from the menu which salads are vegan and which are vegetarian, and you can also use their nutrition calculator if you're tracking calories, nutrients, etc. They're also open late if you want to grab items for dinner.
Tip: Sweetgreen often features seasonal specials featuring local produce, so stop by often to see what's new on the menu.
Mixt Greens: Mixt Greens has two DC locations, both convenient to Farragut, as well as a location in Bethesda. Both salads and sandwiches are available, and there are a number of vegetarian and vegan options. The downtown locations close at 4, but sometimes they have "summer hours" where they're open later. You can also order online.
Tip: If you have food allergies, ask to see the nutrition guide. The very helpful staff can help you find something appropriate for your dietary needs.
Some other decent options include:
Cosi - Lots of locations, but a limited vegetarian salad menu compared to other chains nearby. Sandwiches also available, including two vegetarian options.
The Brown Bag - Three DC locations (two in Farragut), as well as in Bethesda and NoVA. Two vegetarian (one vegan) salads on the menu, along with make your own options. You can also get sandwiches and pasta. They do close early, so picking up a late dinner is not an option.
Pret a Manger - Three DC locations, two of which are convenient for Farragut. Unlike all the places
above, everything is pre-made. While the ingredients are very high quality, there are no substitutions or tweaks to menu items. The Farmers Market salad is vegan, and the website provides helpful tips on what sandwich, salad and wrap items are vegetarian.
Salad Photo Courtesy of Master Isolated Images.