Leon opens near Farragut Square this week. (Photo courtesy of Leon)
Leon, a health-focused fast-food chain from the UK, has descended on D.C. with its first of what will be several locations. The new breakfast, lunch, and dinner outpost housed in a former Au Bon Pain on L Street, opened on Monday in the heart of downtown D.C., just steps away from the Farragut North Metro.
In its first two days, the restaurant served some 1,200 customers, says Leon director of well-being Julian Hitch (a kung fu master), who was on hand for the restaurant opening.
Founder John Vincent started Leon in 2004, naming it after his father, who recently passed away. Along with its emphasis on healthier fast food—including items borrowed from the Mediterranean diet, gluten-free options, and food that is “good for your gut”—Leon also prizes sustainability. Vincent says all of its locations work on sustainable energy. Beverage drinkers will also notice that there are no plastic straws, only paper.
So what’s on the menu? A lot. Though it’s an abbreviated form of what’s in the UK, the D.C. menu is still loaded with choices. Among the more popular picks, says U.S. marketing and communications manager Steph Gaspar, are the oatmeal porridges (which includes a Porridge of the Gods), smoked salmon and avocado egg pot, Moroccan meatballs, and original superfood salad. It’s also worth noting that for a healthy-ish restaurant, it has seven dessert items listed—including baked donuts and a vegan carrot cupcake. But we’ll save those for another trip.
Here are the must-tries for lunch (A note: as a pescetarian, I tasted only the vegetarian-friendly items—if you go to Leon, try the Moroccan meatballs or lamb kofte wrap for yourself)
The truffled portobello and halloumi sandwich (Photo courtesy of Leon)
5. Truffled Portobello and Halloumi Sandwich
The truffle sauce on this stand-in for a hamburger is so intense that you may not realize you’ve just bitten into a mushroom. Though the thickly sliced halloumi (a somewhat healthy cheese that’s caused a stir in the UK of late due to a rumored shortage) is a bit unwieldy and should perhaps be subbed out for some melted swiss, that can be overlooked for the splendor of the truffle sauce.
The blueberry date kefir (Photo courtesy of Leon)
4. Blueberry Date Kefir
Kefir, a fermented beverage celebrated for its digestive properties, is normally pretty tangy, but the addition of both berries and dates in this lactose-free drink takes it to a different place. If you’re in search of a South Block or Robek’s experience, you’ll be disappointed—this is by no means a smoothie. But it’s an ideal afternoon drink when neither a latte or tea sound quite right.
Leon’s baked fries (Photo courtesy of Leon)
3. Leon Baked Fries
It’s worth asking whether fries that are not fried can still be called such, but nothing is fried at Leon. Indeed, their crispy waffle fries taste substantially less greasy than the deep-fried variety, and also less salty. But the real selling point on an order of fries is that it comes with ketchup and three delectable sauces: Leon chili sauce (which tastes like equal parts barbecue sauce and hot sauce, courtesy of hot cherry peppers), a yogurt-based garlic aioli, and a sweet Korean mayo. You may find yourself asking for extra.
Lebanese Mezze Salad (Photo by Eliza Berkon)
2. Lebanese Mezze Salad
Among Leon’s vegan offerings is this mezze salad, a healthy portion of sweet potato falafel beside a creamy, lemony hummus, a salad of kale and quinoa, and roasted carrots smartly enhanced with a dash of chili powder. This can work for a hearty afternoon snack or a lunch that’s on the lighter side.
The halloumi cheese wrap (Photo courtesy of Leon)
1. Grilled Halloumi Cheese Wrap
Halloumi is the main event in this wrap, one of five on the menu. In another testament to Leon’s sauces, the garlic aioli that embraces the cheese, tomato and avocado here is what really makes this wrap work, a lunch order that is definitely filling but won’t be sitting like a brick in your stomach when you get back to your desk.