Post Chipotle, a new generation of fast casual restaurants works to create the perfect balance of healthy, flavorful, and accessible. Check out our ten favorites
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Two Lebanese sisters founded this Mediterranean meets Middle Eastern eatery (with a U.S. location in New York City), so you know the food is going to be authentic. You pick your vessel—rice bowl, wrap, or salad—and top it with a protein, homemade hummus (yes, more protein), and tons of veggies. Dishes use a hefty dose of spices—like their "Superspice Trilogy" combo of turmeric, sumac, and zataar—meaning the flavor comes from natural, good-for-you sources rather than added fats and salts. Every dish has a healthy balance of protein, complex carbs, and serious flavor, all for less than 600 calories.
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A fully customizable menu inspired by the latest healthy food trends ensures that Freshii customers get the best experience possible (at any one of the 300 locations nationwide), no matter where they live. You can even email Freshii's in-house nutritionist, Andie Shapira, for advice on what to order if you want to stick to a specific nutrition goal. Whether it's healthified burritos, energizing salads, or superfood grain bowls, Freshii does it all. What's more, the healthy fast-casual pioneer doesn't just dish out solid plates for lunch and dinner, it has breakfast options to start your day right and frozen yogurt to satisfy that late-day sweet tooth without overindulging.
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This California-based sandwich and salad shop is upping the stakes on healthy casual dining. Not only does it dole out predominantly whole foods (think heirloom vegetables and grains, legumes, nuts, and quinoa), it also prioritizes social responsibility and middle-market pricing (sandwiches run from $9-$12). Mendocino Farms owners have longstanding relationships with local farmers, so they have first pick of the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. They also meet with a culinary team made up of a vegan cuisine specialist, a macrobiotic health food chef, and a fine dining chef to ensure your orders don't just taste great, they do your body some serious favors as well. Plus, you can even order a beer to go along with your feel-good food.
Photo: Mendocino Farms
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Chef Jose Andres creates a haven for leafy-green lovers everywhere with his Washington, DC-based Beefsteak, a vegetable-forward storefront. As the "Vegetables, Unleashed!" tagline suggests, this place showcases flavorful and filling veggies. Diners build their own bowl by choosing a grain (bulgur, quinoa, or brown rice), a sauce (black bean, garlic yogurt, and cilantro are some popular options), and a smattering of next-level produce. You can top it with something "meaty" like some avocado, a poached egg, or chicken sausage.
Mimi Cheng's Dumpings
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This Taiwanese dumpling house in NYC is all about seasonal, family recipes made from scratch. The menu is on the smaller side—mainly four permanent veggie or meat dumplings plus a rotating seasonal option that really showcases the best ingredients of the moment—but everything comes from local purveyors, so you know that what you're eating is the highest quality. Every order of dumplings comes pan-fried or boiled. Be sure to douse it in the EVOO-based Secret Sauce. It's delish!
Photo: Nicole Franzen
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Transparency is the name of the game at this healthy chain with locations in California, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, and Tennessee. LYFE Kitchen prides itself on guiding customers toward mindful eating. The menu will list all nutritional facts as well as ingredients and dietary qualifications, but every dish (from flatbreads and tacos to salads) will cost you less than 600 calories and fewer than 1000 milligrams of sodium.
Photo: LYFE Kitchen
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Co-founders Samantha Wasser and Chloe Coscarelli identified a major gap in the vegan and vegetarian fast casual market, and they jumped at the chance to fill that gap with By CHLOE. stores flanking both coasts. In just over a year, the restaurant has skyrocketed to culinary fame, most known for its veganized comfort food like the guac burger, mac and cheese, and sweet potato fries. Stay tuned for serious expansion in the coming year, with two more locations on deck and the opening of Sweets by CHLOE, a standalone vegan bakery. (Next up: Vegan Meals with Fat-Burning Ingredients)
Photo: By CHLOE.
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Asian-food restaurant Glaze Teriyaki (locations in Wisconsin, California, and New York) packs a flavor punch in every dish but doesn't resort to sneaky sugar or sodium overload to get the job done. Instead, every plate (made up of a protein, a grain, and a salad) comes with house-made teriyaki-style sauces and dressings that range from sweet to spicy and consist of entirely whole ingredients. While the crowd favorite is the standard chicken plate, we're especially intrigued by the teriyaki salmon and tofu options. For an extra element, try the shishito peppers or cold soba noodle salad.
Photo: Glaze Teriyaki
Aloha Poke Co.
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If you're unfamiliar with poke, it's a staple in Hawaiian cuisine that resembles deconstructed sushi, and it's taking over. Aloha Poke Co is leading the way in Chicago, keeping things simple but top-notch quality. While you can only pick between salmon and tuna, there are over 12 toppings like edamame, watermelon radish, and avocado, and seven sauces you can add as well. Order the 808 to get every topping offered, all for the same cost! (Try a DIY version with one of these Deliciously Smart Twists On the Poke Bowl Trend.)
Photo: Aloha Poke Co.
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James Beard nominee, Anita Jaisinghani, makes Indian classics accessible at Pondicheri (Houston and NYC) for every meal of the day. At breakfast and lunch, you can find chai tea and scrambled eggs with masala spices, dairy-free vegetable curries, and salads so filled with vibrant, creative veggies that you'll wonder why you've never before ordered a salad at an Indian joint. Come dinner, dishes showcase seasonal stars and classics made health-conscious. Plus, they offer a Meatless Monday menu for anyone trying to eat less meat. (Looking for more meatless meal ideas? Try these 15 Vegetarian Recipes Even Meat-Eaters Will Love.)