Sometimes dining out is all about the experience.

I often liken it to going to the theater: two to three hours of entertainment in the form of food, drink and conversation. Other times, it’s all about a fast meal with the best-case scenario of getting something similar to home-cooked without the mess.

For those of us who lean toward whole foods, Zoës Kitchen, on South Nevada Avenue amid exciting revitalization in the Ivywild area, delivers the latest fast-casual Mediterranean healthy-ish food experience. And they make eating plant-based simple by noting on the menu which items are vegan (or easily can be made so).

Sure, I know I could buy this at a grocery store, but I never can resist hummus. It can be quite different from restaurant to restaurant, depending on the region of influence. I did opt for the Harissa red pepper ($5.59), versus original, for a variation. It was a good choice. Rich with umami — the fifth flavor — the smoky flavor settled nicely on the white pita. The baked falafel ($2.49 for three) is vegan when you hold the tzatziki. Reality check: Falafel is often dry as is, so it was no surprise that this one, without a sauce, was even more so. But once I dipped a piece of it in the fiery Harissa hummus, it was satisfying.

The Mediterranean lentil soup ($5.29) is worth the trip alone. I now regularly pick up a quart ($12.99) each week for a quick lunch to reheat in the office. The legumes can be a bit bland, but combined with the fresh, minced vegetables for a meaty bite and the subtle hint of rosemary and coriander created a complex flavor. This hearty bowl is meal-worthy.

Best of all, creating your own is an option at Zoës. It might end up being your favorite; I know it’s mine. I created a plate filled with three simple sides — braised white beans ($2.49), turmeric rice ($2.49) and roasted vegetables ($2.49). This is exactly the kind of meal I create at home, but Zoës Kitchen provides interesting flavor (and convenience). The beans are creamy, the vegetables have just the right roasted crisp and the bright yellow rice boasts depth in each fluffy bite. The only vegan dessert option noted is the seasonal fruit ($2.49), and it’s actually a terrific healthy and sweet ending to a spice-filled meal.

Zoës Kitchen’s fast-casual vibe offers guilt-free fresh food at reasonable prices. Clean and bright, it’s a fine place to dine with the family. But don’t forget that the carryout option is viable and a wonderful way to put healthy, flavorful food on the table in your own home — without the mess.

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