28 fast casual restaurants that dominated 2018
What is a fast casual restaurant?
A fast casual restaurant is an establishment that sits between a typical fast food eatery and a conventional full-service restaurant. Fast casual restaurants provide a mix of casual dining and speedy service. Food is normally ordered at the counter in fast casual restaurants, but the atmosphere is generally more classy and comfortable than in a fast food restaurant. Fast casual restaurants usually include touches like real cutlery and crockery, low-key lighting and upholstered booths. The food in fast casual restaurants is typically prepared on site. This is in contrast to food that is mass produced on an assembly line in fast food chains, like McDonald’s.
The fast casual restaurant industry
According to franchisehelp.com, fast casual restaurants have experienced growth of over 500% since 1999. Although this type of restaurant still only accounts for less than 10% of the whole restaurant industry, its popularity continues to grow. It has been predicted that fast casual restaurants will grow by 7.5% in 2018, with the strongest growth coming from fast-casual chains.
Consumers at fast casual restaurants are typically between the ages of 35 and 45, married and employed. They are probably parents but eat at the fast casual restaurants without their children. These customers are looking for healthier options and are also more willing to try ethnic cuisines.
As fast casual restaurants become more popular, there are some that stand out from the crowd when it comes to food and service. The following 28 fast casual restaurants (presented in no particular order) made a great impression in 2018, according to TripAdvisor and qsrmagazine.com. The restaurants from the qsrmagazine.com are considered fast casual restaurants 2.0. According to qsrmagazine.com, a fast casual restaurant 2.0 is…
“…that explosive industry category that bridges the gap between traditional fast-casual and casual-dining sectors”.
1. Cava Grill
This restaurant has its headquarters in Washington D.C along with 28 branches across the country. The Cava Grill specializes in Mediterranean-based cuisine like grain bowls, hummus, and falafel. The Cava Grill also produces spreads and dips for sale in the Culver City and Washington DC area.
Portillo’s Hot Dogs stand first opened in 1963 and has since expanded to opening restaurants in different states, including Arizona and Florida. This restaurant was rated number one on TripAdvisor’s best fast casual restaurants. Portillo’s Hot Dogs’ home market is Chicago and the restaurant serves popular items like beef sandwiches and Chicago hot dogs.
This fast casual restaurant claims their family invented the sandwich in 1762. They use quality artisan bread that’s freshly baked when customers place an order. Earl of Sandwich has 31 fast casual restaurants, with 30 in the U.S and one in France. The Earl of Sandwich serves subs, wraps, salads and of course sandwiches.
4. Mimi Cheng’s
Mimi Cheng’s is a dumpling restaurant based in New York and was started by sisters who use secret family recipes to create their food. The sisters’ source ingredients from nearby farms and local butchers to provide customers with quality products. They work with suppliers who prioritize the wellbeing of farmers and livestock and also use organic ingredients. As with most fast casual restaurants, Mimi Cheng’s food is prepared freshly on a daily basis.
This fast casual dining restaurant has its headquarters in Los Angeles, with 28 locations in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Lemonade serves seasonal food and refreshments to customers. This fast casual restaurant believes in offering fine food … done fast. They also serve vegetables in a fresh, fun and original way. Lemonade focuses on using the best seasonal ingredients in its dishes.
6. Shake Shack
Shake Shack started as a hot dog cart in 2004 and is based in Madison Square Park in Manhattan. According to TripAdvisor, Shake Shack has a 59% excellent review rating. This fast casual restaurant is loved for its fries, burgers, shakes, beers and frozen custard. Shake Shack uses 100% natural hormone and antibiotic free Angus beef in its burgers.
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7. Twisted Root
This fast casual restaurant has its headquarters in Dallas and serves burgers, salads, and shakes, with a focus on the customer experience. This involves providing a build-your-own and specialty versions of burgers. Customers can choose from a wide variety of creative toppings to make their burgers and their experience unique. The website describes Twisted Root as a place where a hands-on approach is taken to “high-quality, fresh food in a casual atmosphere with tons of personality.”
Tarka Indian Kitchen opened their first restaurant in 2009 and is based in Austin, Texas. This fast casual restaurant serves traditional Indian cuisine like kabobs, samosas, and curry. They also serve Indian-style drinks like fresh fruit lassis, to accompany their food. The premise of the restaurant is to serve fresh and flavorful Indian food that customers would find affordable and that could be prepared quickly. There is a focus on convenience without compromising quality.
9. Blaze Pizza
This fast casual restaurant in Orlando, Florida has a 70% excellent TripAdvisor rating. The pizza dough is made from scratch and artisanal ingredients are used to create delicious and fresh pizza that’s served quickly. The fair prices, gluten-free crust options, and the wide variety of toppings are a hit with customers.
10. Dig Inn
Dig Inn is a New York-based fast casual restaurant. This restaurant sees itself as a “farm to counter” eatery and serves seasonal food that includes naturally raised meats. Their recipe development process is a collaboration between the chef and the people who grow the food. The owners work with over 100 partners and farmers to create the perfect recipes. Dig Inn uses their buying power to support sustainable growing practices for minority-run and small-scale farms.
11. Num Pang
Num Pang is another fast casual restaurant based in New York. It serves Cambodian-inspired food which includes bowls, sandwiches, and salads. Num Pang is Cambodian for sandwich and this forms the staple of this fast casual restaurant. Num Pang also serves seasonal dishes like grilled shishito peppers, caramelized butternut squash, and turkey & yam sandwich.
12. Luke’s Lobster
This fast casual restaurant opened in 2009, focuses on serving shellfish and is based in New York. The owner is a former investment banker who was inspired to disrupt the lobster roll market using the knowledge he gained from the time he spent lobstering as a child. Luke’s Lobster works with fishermen to source sustainable seafood. They’re able to cut out middlemen, which means customers can pay a fairer price. Menu items include lobster rolls, crab rolls, and shrimp rolls.
Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches is a social entrepreneurship with their headquarters in Seattle. This fast casual restaurant serves sustainably sourced food which is great for the people eating the food as well as the animals and the land used.
14. In-N-Out Burger
This fast casual restaurant is located in Los Angeles, first opened in 1948 and now has over three hundred restaurants nationwide. In-N-Out Burger offers a minimalist menu which comprises of fries, burgers, and milkshakes. However, it provides a fun customer experience with its secret menus and innovative methods of food preparation.
15. The Taco Stand
The Taco Stand in La Jolla, California serves burritos, quesadillas, and tacos. Customer reviews comment on The Taco Stand’s laid-back atmosphere and its reasonably priced food. The menu includes handmade corn tortillas and salsas made freshly every day. They also serve Mexican flavored refreshments, popsicles, and imported beer.
16. Five Guys
This fast casual restaurant was founded in 1986 and is situated in Orlando, Florida. Five Guys has a 66% excellent review score on TripAdvisor. Free burger toppings and big portions of fries are just some of the qualities customers love about Five Guys.
17. Mighty Quinn’s
Mighty Quinn’s has headquarters in New York and focuses on barbecue. Cofounder Micha Magid believes that barbecue is the ideal type of food for fast casual dining. Mighty Quinn’s cook their barbeque the old fashion way with a lot of wood and time. This restaurant offers a dining experience where customers choose their meat and watch it being hand carved to order.
This fast casual restaurant has its headquarters in Philadelphia. Honeygrow focuses on healthy and wholesome eating and serves dishes, like salads and stir fries.
19. Melt Shop
The Melt Shop headquarters is in New York City and provides a sandwich concept with a twist. This fast casual restaurant is all about serving comfort food that reminds its customers of yummier, easier and more comfortable times. It uses premium cheeses and sandwiches featuring ingredients, like fried chicken and arugula. Soups, salads, and milkshakes are also served at Melt Shop.
Super Duper Burgers is located in San Francisco and is renowned for its reasonable food prices. The menu includes garlic fries, fresh burgers and local beers. This fast casual restaurant makes its own pickles and uses the services of local businesses to minimize their carbon footprint. This commitment to sourcing local ingredients also helps to keep the price reasonable for customers.
21. Fresh To Order
Fresh To Order has its headquarters in Atlanta and serves salads, burgers, soups and sandwiches. This fast casual restaurant sources its ingredients from regional suppliers. Fresh To Order aims to bring customers a fine dining experience with dishes that were cooked from scratch.
22. Tacos el Gordo
Tacos el Gordo opened its first restaurant in 1998 and is situated in Las Vegas. This fast casual restaurant has received a 67% excellent rating on TripAdvisor. Tacos el Gordo serves fresh Mexican food which includes items like tostadas and tacos.
23. The Little Beet
This fast casual restaurant has headquarters in New York City. The Little Beet serves healthy gluten-free food. This fast casual restaurant’s philosophy is to serve delicious and real food. The menu centers around customers building their plates with proteins and warm or cool sides. The ingredients are seasonal and locally inspired to create a wholesome menu and provide dishes like brussel hustle and falafel squash bowl.
24. Clover Food Lab
Clover Food Lab has its headquarters, restaurants and food trucks in the Boston area. This vegetarian concept fast casual restaurant values simple but tasty food that’s prepared from scratch.
25. Pizzeria Locale
Pizzeria Locale’s headquarters is in Boulder, Colorado and is backed by Chipotle. This fast casual restaurant includes quality ingredients in their pizza that’s inspired by Southern Italy. The focus is on quality ingredients and speed as they’re able to cook their pizzas in just two minutes.
26. Torchy’s Tacos
This fast casual restaurant is based in Austin, Texas and started off as a food truck and now has restaurants in Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma. It’s well known for its large variety of taco fillings, which include grilled jalapeno sausage, Jamaican jerk chicken and fried avocado. Torchy’s Tacos aim to source their ingredients either regionally or responsibly.
27. Luna Grill
Luna Grill has its headquarters in San Diego and has 35 locations based in two states. This fast casual restaurant serves fresh Mediterranean food which includes gourmet salads, kabobs, and wraps.
Marination was started in 2009 and has its headquarters, fast casual restaurants, a food truck and full-service restaurant in Seattle. This fast casual restaurant serves food with Hawaiian and Asian flavors and prides itself on the fact that it has grown by using word of mouth as well as utilizing social media to remain connected with customers.
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