Eating Healthy at Sierra Grille in Norwalk & Stamford
Sierra Grille has become a popular haunt for Mexican food lovers in Stamford and Norwalk, myself among them. The food is fast, and the restaurant positions itself as a healthy eatery, boasting about its fresh ingredients and lean meats on signs right near the ordering counter. It can be a decent choice when eating out is a necessity, as long as you pick the right items on the menu. I’ll tell you my top healthy choices from the menu in a moment, but first a little info on what’s really in the food.
The restaurant does not offer complete nutrition info so I don’t have exact calorie counts for you, but the manager at the Stamford location was quite knowledgeable about the ingredients used and very willing to offer up the info. Most of what I learned was very positive. The menu item that most worried me going in was the refried beans. Much to my surprise, the only added ingredient to the pinto beans besides harmless spices, like pepper and garlic, is olive oil. How much, we may never know, but I really feared the manager would tell me the beans had lard in them because they taste so damn good. I was quite relieved that wasn’t the case.
Olive oil turned out to be plentiful in the food items. Fabulous that less-healthy oils like vegetable oil aren’t used, but too much of a good thing can add some size to your waist if you’re not careful. Sierra marinates the chicken in olive oil, puts it in both the black and refried beans, mixes it into the guacamole, and pours it on your salad generously (along with a little red wine vinegar). The steak (which they call lean, but is a little fatty/stringy for my tastes), shrimp, salmon, and any fish of the day do not get the oil treatment.
Plenty of items contain cheese per typical Mexican fair, but Sierra doesn’t go overboard with it. Still, try to stay away from those items. At the least, go for items with less of it like the tacos or the platters. The burritos contain much more cheese. Another source of fat is the nacho chips that are served with every meal. Sierra uses canola oil in the chips, a decent choice, but the greasy appearance of the chips indicates the restaurant uses plenty of it.
So what are the best things to order there? My top picks are the Sierra Salad or a Platter topped with either grilled shrimp, salmon, or the fish of the day (remember, no oil in those). If you get the salad, take a flyer on the sour cream, order the dressing on the side, and just nibble some of the shell. You can forego the dressing altogether and just douse the salad with one of Sierra’s tasty salsas. They’re oil-free and contain fresh tomato, onion, and cilantro. This meal is probably lowest in calories, about 400 if you go easy on the guac and the shell.
As for the platter, it comes with a small salad (ask for dressing on the side again) refried or black beans (not a significant advantage to choosing one over the other), Mexican rice, and tortilla chips. Choose either the rice or half the chips for your carbs and go ahead and be heavy-handed with any of the salsas. This meal probably has a little more calories than the salad, a safe estimate is about 600, but it could be a bit less. The carb/protein/fat balance is pretty good, although it may lean a little heavy on the fats from the fish, beans, and chips. Be sure to wash either meal you choose down with water, from the soda machine (free) or in a bottle. Visit www.SierraGrille.com for menu and location info.
–Laura DeLallo, Founder, Living Fit
(Laura is a certified personal trainer and weight management consultant. Want to train with her? Visit Personal Training at Living Fit. Want to learn more about her? Visit the About page.)