Chow, Baby had decided last summer that it hated hated hated the new Arlington Highlands shopping center at Matlock and I-20, not just because it calls itself a “lifestyle center” but because Chow, Baby could never ever ever find what it was looking for in there.

But now, a year and many more restaurant tenants later, it’s worth enduring relationship-strength tests (“I think it’s that way.” “We’ve already been that way.” “Well, we’ve already been this way, too.” “Do you want to drive? You think you can do better? Huh? Do you?”) to reach Kincaid’s Hamburgers, Gloria’s, or Piranha Killer Sushi, to name most of the best. So no need to settle for Red Robin (coming soon!) (you get that the exclamation point was sarcastic, right? Chow, Baby hates hates hates Red Robin) or P.F. Chang’s (ditto), no matter how tired and hungry and divorce-prone you might be.

Anyway, point finally being that Sweet Tomatoes (4001 Matlock Rd., Arlington) is astonishingly easy to find: It’s the stand-alone, sorta-barn-like hangar fronting right on Matlock. Sweet Tomatoes is a nationwide chain that purports to be some kind of super-health-conscious casual-dining experience with farm-fresh this and made-from-scratch that, but at first glance it’s just a regular big ol’ salad bar (adult dinner $9.39). The serving area is L-shaped, which means first-timers will fill their plate with cheap salads before realizing there’s better stuff around the corner. Along the first part of the L are Sweet Tomatoes’ prepared salads, like Won Ton Chicken Happiness, Caesar Salad Asiago, and Joan’s Broccoli Madness, all of which were bland and over-dressinged mushy. Or you can make your own salad out of the standard greens/veggies/toppings ingredients; Chow, Baby didn’t like that result, either, though it’s hardly Sweet Tomatoes’ fault that olives and boiled eggs don’t harmonize as well as you might think. The pasta bar wasn’t worth the plate space, either, reprising the gloppy and bland theme.


But after Chow, Baby had filled several plates with salads that turned out not to taste as good as they looked, and they didn’t even look all that good to begin with, all the farm-fresh, tastes-like-homemade promises came true around the corner at the soup bar: chicken noodle with a rich broth, made-from-scratch noodles, and slabs of white-meat chicken; a hearty chili that would pass most Texans’ taste test; thick, intensely flavorful split pea. With blueberry-crammed mini muffins and four-cheese foccacia, Chow, Baby definitely got its money’s worth at the end of the L.

The nice, nonjudgmental clearers removed all the scarcely touched salad plates without comment, leaving Chow, Baby tummy and table room for housemade cherry apple cobbler with real apples and cherries, tapioca pudding that didn’t taste low-fat, and cherry-chocolate mousse that certainly didn’t taste sugar-free. And that’s the good thing about Sweet Tomatoes: Low-fat, no-fat, and vegetarian choices are clearly marked, and most of the ingredients and prepared dishes are so fresh and healthful they practically sport a halo. If you’re the kind of person who pigs out at a salad bar because it feels like everything is free, and Chow, Baby is certainly not casting any stones, Sweet Tomatoes is a good place to eat all you possibly can without all the guilt. Just start at the end.

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