If you’ve gone out to eat recently, you’ve no doubt noticed that Tacoma has a slew of eateries offering up delectable dishes. What Grit City doesn’t have in spades are restaurants that offer healthy, vegetarian and vegan fare. But downtown Tacoma does have Happy Belly, a restaurant that serves vegetarian-focused cuisine at an affordable price.

Restaurant owner and executive chef Jennifer Johnson has been in the service and hospitality industry in one form or another since she was 14, and has been cooking for as long as she can remember.

Also a former food writer, she worked for eight years writing articles ranging from restaurant reviews to chef features, which were published in various publications in the Puget Sound area.

Besides writing about food and cooking, Jennifer worked in numerous pubs and restaurants in Tacoma, including Jazzbones and Dirty Oscar’s Annex. She also had her own consulting business for a number of years, in which she worked with restaurant managers on where they could make changes or improve their processes.

After serving as operations manager at Dirty Oscar’s Annex, she decided to take her expertise in the food and beverage industry and strike out on her own. When it came to figuring out what type of establishment she wanted to own, she saw a real need.

Happy Belly salmon sandwich
One of the restaurant’s most popular sandwiches is Pacific wild hot-smoked salmon, served on sourdough, with a savory herb yogurt and arugula. Photo credit: Amanda Bretz

“I really wanted to offer something to our community that’s more lifestyle-driven.”

Having a selection of healthy foods was a major factor in the planning of Happy Belly, but so was the price point, the quality of the ingredients and the availability.

“What I found when I went out to eat, is that there wasn’t a lot of fresh, healthy and affordable food served earlier in the day,” Jennifer says. The availability and the variety of healthy foods must resonate with the community, as the restaurant recently celebrated its fourth anniversary.

Variety is something incorporated into the eatery’s menu, as they serve some static dishes that are always available, while a portion of their menu is rotating, and varies upon the season. A couple of their static menu items are their red pepper and kale soup, or the Pacific wild hot-smoked salmon, served on sourdough, with a savory herb yogurt and arugula.

Jennifer plans out the menu for the week, along with her kitchen manager Lynett Bennett, and Jennifer admits some of their regular dishes have their own fan base.

Vegan chili and sandwich
The eatery offers a rotating menu featuring sandwiches, soups and salads that change according to the season. Photo credit: Amanda Bretz

“Our hummus kind of has a cult following,” she says of the turmeric and herb infused dish.

Another wildly popular menu item is the turkey cheddar cranberry sandwich. Served warm on toasted sourdough bread, it includes melted cheddar and a garlic herb vegan butter. Besides sandwiches, there are also soups, salads, rice bowls, and curries to choose from, as well as breakfast items, like bagel sandwiches and croissants, available all day.

Being that the restaurant is mostly vegetarian, there are numerous options for those with dietary restrictions, including meatless, gluten free and dairy free options. There is a gluten-free bread available for any of the sandwiches served, and any wrap can be made into a salad. Also, the curries and stews are gluten free, and almost all of the sauces used in the rice bowls are gluten free, and can be customized.

In addition to the food available on the menu, there’s also a grab-and-go cooler in the eatery filled with items people can take to eat on the go, at home or at the office. The cooler is stocked with healthy choices of portable meals, like their breakfast burrito filled with seasoned Spanish-style brown rice, black beans, a sliced hard-boiled egg, peppers and cheese. The grab-and-go cooler is also stocked with their wraps like the kimchi wrap and the salmon wrap.

Happy Belly grab and go cooler
In addition to the food available on the menu, there’s also a grab-and-go cooler in the eatery filled with items people can take to eat on the go or at home or the office. Photo credit: Amanda Bretz

The establishment offers vegan and gluten free muffins and cookies, that are made with nuts, seeds and various alternatives to flour, like oats. In addition to their in-house menu, they offer party platters, with a variety of offerings like crostinis, a dips and spreads platter, desserts like gluten free brownies, fruit trays, and more.

Besides meals and snacks, Happy Belly serves smoothies and juices, as well as a selection of Mad Hat Tea and Valhalla Coffee. Some of their smoothies include the green apple, which has lemon, apple, avocado, spinach, ginger and pineapple juice. You can opt to add in plant-based proteins to your smoothie, such as whey, peanut butter or hemp hearts. There’s a selection of fresh juices available, like the pink sunrise, which is grapefruit, apple, cucumber and beet.

And if you’ve overindulged a bit lately or if you’re looking to reset your body, they also offer a three-day juice fast. For this option, you order ahead and pick up the bottles of juices needed for the fast.

Happy Belly is located at 1122 Market Street. To find out more about the eatery, call them at 253-365-6706, visit their website or find them on Facebook.

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