A Mediterranean fast-casual chain that people are obsessed with is planning to take over America — here’s what it’s like

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Hollis Johnson

  • Cava Grill, a popular Mediterranean chain, is expanding at breakneck speed.
  • The chain is opening two new locations in Midtown Manhattan and continuing to expand on the West Coast.
  • We visited a nearby location and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food.

Washington, DC-based fast-casual chain Cava Grill is expanding its delicious empire.

After raising $30 million in Series C funding from a venture-capital firm backed by AOL cofounder Steve Case in 2017, the chain has set its sights on rapid-fire expansion. The chain now has 46 locations open across the US, and it has plans to open many more in the coming months.

Two new locations will open in New York City this summer, bringing the city’s total to five. According to Eater, the new locations will be tailored to the local neighborhoods – same menus, but different atmospheres to help it fit in. The Mediterranean-focused restaurant has also gained a substantial following with its seven outposts in Los Angeles, and there’s another new location for the city coming soon.

We visited one of the New York locations to see if the much-hyped chain has what it takes to expand across the nation.


The chain’s first location in the Big Apple is on a bustling stretch at Fourth Avenue and 14th Street, right off Union Square.


The glass front lets in ample light, making the space feel bright and open. The decor is quintessential fast-casual — blond wood, industrial metals, fluorescent lighting, and cement floors. Chipotle-chic, as it were. It’s bright, it’s clean, and there’s isn’t all that much personality.

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Hollis Johnson

Taking a page straight out of Fast Casual 101, Cava Grill’s set-up is ultimately the same as Chipotle’s. You go along the assembly line, picking what you want in your meal. You can choose to have a pita wrap, a grain bowl, a salad, a “greens and grains,” mini pitas, or mini pitas and soup. The prices aren’t displayed but can be found in handout menus you can grab.


There’s an impressive selection of seasonal juices and drinks, including some healthy choices like kale apple cucumber ginger lemon — quite the mouthful. Small drinks are $2.75, and larges cost $3.25; they’re steep, but not outside the realm of reason.

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Hollis Johnson

The local sourcing partners are proudly displayed on the walls — it’s great to see where the ingredients are coming from. Every Cava Grill sources locally when possible.

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Hollis Johnson

I ordered a pita wrap with chicken and a grain bowl with saffron basmati rice and spicy lamb meatballs. I also grabbed a watermelon mint juice.

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Hollis Johnson

The juice is seriously refreshing but lacking in mint. It’s more watermelon than mint, and watermelon is a very subtle flavor — the mint is supposed to give it some aromatic coolness to it, but it’s really just watermelon. Watermelon juice is great, so who am I to complain?

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Hollis Johnson

The pita is pretty hefty, stuffed to the brim with the fillings chosen: grilled chicken, hot harissa dip, eggplant and red pepper spread, shredded romaine lettuce, cauliflower quinoa tabbouleh, tomatoes, cucumbers, and crumbled feta. It’s a lot.

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Hollis Johnson

Just looking at it, I’m impressed. It’s huge, and the veggies look brilliant, vibrant, and fresh. And the smell of hot grilled chicken — with that ever-so-perfect hint of the slightest char — wafting up is mouthwatering. There’s a lot of chicken in it, and it’s tender and juicy — perfectly grilled and seasoned. In fact, the staff were rather generous with the all the fillings for the pita, adding plenty of feta, tomatoes, and harissa.

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Hollis Johnson

And boy, as far as taste goes, it delivers. The harissa, a spicy North African paste, has an ample amount of heat but with the rich flavor to match. The crumbled feta adds a salty but smooth counterpoint to the heat, with the tomatoes and lettuce bringing a refreshing and juicy crispness to each bite. The pita is thick, pliant, and holds together well.

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Hollis Johnson

Considering all the choices available, this is a great deal for $8.95. It’s filling, cheap, and satisfying.

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Hollis Johnson

The grain bowl — $9.87, with the choice of saffron basmati rice, brown rice, or black lentils — is packed with deliciousness. I opted for hummus, eggplant and red pepper spread, spicy lamb meatballs (an extra $1.75), tomatoes, onions, olives, and feta, all drizzled with a cool yogurt dill sauce.

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Hollis Johnson

I’m skeptical of the saffron rice. It’s fine, but it’s pale and “meh” in terms of flavor — I doubt there’s much saffron in it. Where are the comforting, deep yellows and the warm aromatics? Luckily, the toppings are more than enough to make up for that.

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Hollis Johnson

The spicy lamb meatballs have no spice to them, and the portions were inconsistent. The first time I went, I got four scooped into my bowl, and the second time, I got five and a half.

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Hollis Johnson

This bowl had a blessedly bountiful amount of juicy, vibrant grape tomatoes that tasted fresh off the vine, and a veritable grove full of briny Kalamata olives. On my second visit, I received a five-tomato snub and a sum of olives that I could easily count on two hands.

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Hollis Johnson

Let’s take a look at this tomato — this beautiful, scarlet gem; this seductive ruby red sphere of seeds and juice with a taste that makes you exclaim, “Who knew simply eating healthily could feel so good!” Yeah, that good. So of course you’d want a fair amount — not five. I’ll be optimistic and chalk it up to staff getting used to things, as the place had just opened when I visited.

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Hollis Johnson

If you choose to eat in, you’re given a real bowl and silverware — forget Chipotle’s foil containers. If you order to-go, you get the usual container and lid, which I’ve noticed does not stay warm well. Within an eight-minute walk, my food had become tepid at best.

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Hollis Johnson

Having opened at the beginning of the month, the spot seemed surprisingly busy even at 3 p.m., past the peak lunch rush. There was no waiting time then, but expect a good wait from noon to 1 p.m. on a weekday.

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Hollis Johnson

Cava Grill has had no issues breaking into the fast-casual market. Mediterranean cuisine is already the darling of health foodies everywhere, not to mention its perfect positioning of being both accessible and “exotic.” The food is fresh and tasty, and as long as the serving size consistency is addressed, the road to expansion elsewhere looks clear for the chain.