The Healthiest and Worst Meals at Busboys and Poets

With a few exceptions, it’s not too hard to eat healthy at this popular restaurant.

Chef and registered dietitian Shirley Scrafford says the falafel sandwich is the healthiest sandwich on the menu at Busboys and Poets. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Mr. T in DC.

In its seven years in business, Busboys and Poets has become a DC institution. This interesting blend of bookstore, restaurant, and artsy venue has made its mark, as evidenced by chronically crowded seating areas and a solidly booked calendar at both locations.

It has so much pizzazz, it could conceivably get away with lackluster eats. But according to this week’s expert, Shirley Scrafford, CPC, RD, the spot isn’t cutting corners in the kitchen, either.

“If you’re someone who eats out a lot, you could definitely eat here,” she says. “There are lots of healthy selections.”

The menu consists of mainly American fare in filling but not overbearing portions. Check out Scrafford’s thoughts below.


• Worst—Crabcake sandwich: No offense, Marylanders, but a deep-fried crabcake with mayo-based tartar sauce and standard burger veggies on white bread is not the best source of nutrition.

• Better—Vegan tuna salad sandwich: This almost-perfect sandwich includes relish, nori (edible seaweed), carrot, celery, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and vegan mayo on French bread. “This sandwich is a close second. It has chickpeas, which are so good for you,” Scrafford says. “Plus it has nori, which is like an ocean superfood, full of fiber and hard-to-find minerals.” Her only reservation with this promising item is the dense and calorie-laden French bread.

• Best—Falafel sandwich: “Even though the chickpeas are deep-fried, everything else provides a counterbalance,” Scrafford explains. With high-fiber, low-fat hummus, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and yogurt-based tahini sauce on a whole-wheat pita, our expert says this sandwich gets her top vote.


• Worst—Reuben panino: “No surprise here—corned beef is usually very high in fat and salt, sauerkraut is high in salt, and the [Russian] dressing is high in fat,” Scrafford says. “The only saving grace is the rye bread.”

• Best—Avocado panino: It’s a simple concoction—Havarti, arugula, roasted red peppers, and, of course, avocado on multigrain bread—and simple is usually best. Avocado boasts heart-healthy fat, and arugula is one of the most nutrient-rich leaves you can eat. While most nutritionists aren’t too fond of cheese for adult diets, Havarti is one of the less fatty types. Scrafford says, “There are vitamins A, C, antioxidants, and lots of color—the more color you can put on a sandwich, the better.”


• Worst—Caesar salad: Since it’s just romaine, Parmesan, croutons, and creamy Caesar dressing, this mainstay offers too many calories for too little nutrition. Our expert says, “You could eat all of the salads here, but this is the only one I can’t see the benefit of eating.”

• Better—Niçoise salad: Pan-seared tuna, mixed greens, fingerling, potatoes, French beans, tomatoes, one egg, and black olives with dijon vinaigrette is a decent meal. Plus the lean protein satiates while offering omega-3 acids.

• Best—Spinach and wheatberry salad: “I love wheatberry, and I think a lot of people haven’t caught on to it yet—it is the whole-wheat grain,” Scrafford says. “And spinach is packed with as much as you can pack into something that little. Same with blueberries, and even almonds are a healthy food.”

Despite not having nutrition information available, Busboys is a pretty straightforward and healthy place to eat. Ask for wheat breads when you can—rye, multigrain, or whole wheat—and leave cheeses and fatty dressings on the side (or sprinkle lightly). Whatever you order, try asking to modify the dish to suit your needs.

Scrafford advises, “It might be a challenge sometimes, but almost any menu can be tweaked to fit a healthy lifestyle.”