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Casey Christie / The Californian

Scott Cox enjoys Luigi's spinach salad because it’s not too fancy plus it has everything he needs and is not loaded with filler.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Feta, pistachios and red onion help elevate Luigi's spinach salad out of the ordinary.

My quest for salads has led me to an honest-to-goodness Bakersfield landmark: Luigi's.

I never feel quite cool enough to be in there, what with all those moving-and-shaking Garces alums, but the service is outstanding, and you can't so no to a visit when you make a bet with someone, and lunch is the prize. Thanks to the Seahawks, I have a lot of free lunches coming, and I cashed in the first one on a spinach salad at Luigi's ($8.95 for a large, $4.95 for a small order).

I should mention right off the bat that I dig spinach salads. Any greens will do, but why not have the best? I watched a lot of Popeye cartoons growing up, though I can't say if it's still a factor in my eating habits.

Before my diet, I'd have the half-size version of the spinach salad as an appetizer, but nowadays I get the full-size, and that's it. I get it with a scoop of tuna for my protein fix, plus it just goes further towards filling me up. It also allows me to feel really smug when the person I'm eating with is eating something awesome. Dieting is like driving a hybrid car -- you have to embrace the smugness in order to make it worthwhile. Now, about that salad ...

As patrons of Luigi's already know, you get the bread, cheese, meat and veggies with almost anything you order, and diet or not, I advise you to eat that right up; if you have to give that up, what's the point of living? Besides, you don't have to worry about it because, after all, you're having a salad. Live it up. I generally knock back a dozen or so peppers with mine.

A bunch of people wrote me and suggested the Monica salad, packed with salami, cheese, three beans, olives and croutons, sprinkled with a viniagrette. Solid choice -- I've had a few myself -- but I always go back to the spinach. The leaves are crisp and fresh, and the dressing they put on it is really good. It's a light balsamic, and the flavor doesn't overpower the salad fixins.

The common denominator in all my favorite salads is that they're not too fancy -- you can overdo these things, and Luigi's gets it just right: a little feta cheese, some pistachios and red onions. It's got everything I need, and it's not loaded down with filler. Even the tuna is like that -- not all full of junk that doesn't belong in tuna. Just nice, flaky albacore. Like everything at Luigi's, it tastes really fresh.

I like this salad if I'm going to be exercising after I eat it. It seems to be just the right amount of fuel for a couple hours of tennis or a nice bike ride. Have one for lunch and you'll be good until dinner.

Oh, and I really appreciate the many letters and emails about everyone's favorite salad destinations. I have to say that I'm surprised at how many people had this idea before I did, but I suppose it's just common sense. Keep the suggestions coming, and I'll keep this quest going for as long as it takes.

It should be noted that I donated blood recently, and all my vitals were outstanding, so these salads are clearly making me healthier. And I'm finding that I don't miss standard entrees much at all. I've also found that if I have three salads a week for lunch, I can eat chicken and waffles guilt-free. And that's a big deal.