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Happy Belly

Downtown Tacoma healthy eatery and juice bar is full of flavor

Happy Belly's prosciutto sandwich will make you happy. Seriously. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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"If it tastes good, it must be bad for you."

Although Americans are eating better than we once did, the old idea that healthfulness and taste are inversely proportional is still around.

Maybe Tacoma's Happy Belly can help to finally put it to rest.

On a couple of recent visits, the casual eatery and juice bar, which has cheerful counter service, a few tables and an open, airy feeling, made both bellies and taste buds happy.

Happy Belly, which opened Oct. 2 in the former home of Smooth and Juicey, puts vegetables smack in the center of the plate - in sandwiches, salads, curries and more - and in the glass - as part of juices, smoothies and even the water, which is enhanced with cucumber and lime.

Owner Jennifer Johnson is using fresh, local and sometimes organic ingredients, and she's aiming to keep the offerings about 90 percent vegetarian, with some vegan and gluten-free offerings available. But meat does have a place at the table, playing a major role in a few dishes and available as an optional add-on to others.

There's an international flair to the evolving menu. Pear-mushroom tacos brush shoulders with a veggie version of the classic Vietnamese bánh mi and such American-style offerings as the Winter Florence ($6), billed as a kind of veggie Big Mac and made with spinach, marinated squash, cheese and pesto on an English muffin.

Good news for the carnivorous is that the one meaty item I tried was the standout: The prosciutto sandwich ($9 with a side of soup or salad) with Parmesan, arugula and garlic-herb butter was a perfect mix of salty and savory plus sweet and just a little bit spicy thanks to housemade mango-passion, fruit-jalapeno chutney. Wow!

Rotating curries ($9), packed with vegetables and served on spinach and brown rice, are winter-perfect. Yellow curry with golden raisins, apple, almonds and mint was warm, hearty and filling. It was mild as advertised and for my taste maybe just a mite too mild. On a second visit, the spicy red curry with red lentils, peanuts, ginger, jalapeno, cayenne and red pepper satisfied my craving for big flavor.

For those who like it hot, another good choice is the house soup, red pepper-kale ($3 cup/$6 bowl), a spicy, definitely different twist on classic vegetable soup.

The sesame Portobello rice bowl ($7) was a blend of marinated mushrooms, vegetables, black beans and brown rice that tasted healthful in the best of ways. And I had enough to take some home.

Juices ($5.50) were artful blends of vegetables and fruits - a key to appealing flavor, since straight-up vegetable juice can be an acquired taste. The Red Hot (apple, carrot, beet, ginger) was a palate-pleasing blend of sweet and spicy, the most basic of the juices I tried. Winning points for both originality and flavor were the Pep Up, a blend of apple, carrot and orange elevated by red bell pepper. And the Pink Sunrise was an ultra-refreshing blend of grapefruit, cucumber, apple and beet.

To end the meal, Happy Belly offers no-bake treats on a stick ($2.50) in varying flavors. The one I had, with cocoa, oats and a topping of chocolate-hazelnut spread, was a little dry. It was OK, just not as indulgent as I like my desserts to be.

Conclusion: Maybe there is a crumb of truth in the idea that eating healthfully sometimes means sacrificing taste. But eating your vegetables doesn't have to.

HAPPY BELLY, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 24, closed Dec. 25-28, open until 8 p.m. third Thursdays as part of Tacoma Art Mingle, 1122 Market St., Tacoma, 253.365.6706 or

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