Fast-casual dining is here to stay, as evidenced by the popularity of Shake Shack and Chipotle.
Zagat, the acclaimed restaurant-review guide, has recently released its first ever fast-casual survey, detailing what America looks for in restaurants that prove fast food can also be good food.
Zagat has compiled a list of the top-rated fast-casual restaurants with two or more locations in 16 US cities.
Here are Zagat’s 11 hottest NYC fast-casual chains, from lobster pounds to salad shops, in no particular order.
Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen
New York City-born Shake Shack might soon face some stuff competition from Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen. The brand says it is looking to corner the simple, classic American food market. Created by the cofounders of Hale and Hearty Soups, Schnipper’s is expanding quickly, with four NYC locations serving up big, hearty burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and handcrafted milkshakes in a dizzying variety of flavors.
Red Hook Lobster Pound
Red Hook Lobster Pound was founded by Brooklyn resident Susan Povich and her husband, Ralph Gorham, in 2009. Inspired by family in Maine, Povich knows lobsters, especially lobster rolls. Just one of the chain’s six locations (plus a food truck!) can sell over 5,000 lobster rolls a day. And with a new stall opening in the much-anticipated UrbanSpace Vanderbilt food space near Grand Central Station, the brand is sure to gain even more exposure – and fans.
Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque
Reading the rave reviews for the barbeque fare at Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque, one gets the idea that this is no ordinary barbeque chain. At Mighty Quinn, led by French Culinary Institue graduate chef Hugh Mangum, every meal involves the uniquely balanced flavors and techniques of two great American barbeque traditions, Texan and Carolinian. Brisket, corn fritters, and sweet-potato casserole are all succulent options in any one of seven New York metro locations.
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like a grilled cheese sandwich. NYC-based sandwich joint The Melt Shop takes comfort food to a whole new level, offering everything from the tried-and-true classic grilled cheese, to the more adventurous “Truffle Melt” and Buffalo sandwiches. Tater tots are another important part of the menu. There are five Melt Shops in the New York City area, and the first location in Washington, D.C., opened in February.
The founders of this San Francisco-style burrito chain mince no words: They’re coming for Chipotle head-on. “I think we’re a better burrito. We’re not afraid to come and compete with them,” Dos Toros cofounder Oliver Kramer told The Brooklyn Paper. With revenue increasing by leaps and bounds, plans to expand to other cities are looking attractive to Dos Toros. And while it may seem like Chipotle has saturated the burrito market, Dos Toros already has a die-hard fan base. Look out, Chipotle.
Xi’an Famous Foods
With nine restaurants in New York City, Xi’an Famous Foods is looking for new markets. The family-run chain, which started as a simple food stall in Queens, is known for serving Chinese cuisine from the western region of Xi’an. The brand has made quite a few fans, including prickly food critic Anthony Bourdain.
Mention falafel in NYC, and someone is bound to bring up Taïm. This counter-service Israeli eatery is the brainchild of Israeli husband-and-wife chefs Einat Admony and Stefan Nafziger. The first location in New York City’s West Village opened in 2005. Since then, the duo has expanded to a Little Italy location. It also opened the Taïm Mobile food truck.
Riding the sustainable food trend is Washington, D.C.-based salad chain Sweetgreen, started eight years ago by three school friends fresh out of Georgetown. Their focus is on ethical, fresh, made-to-order salads such as the “Kale Caesar” and the “Avocobbo.” The chain, with 31 locations nationwide and its own music festival, recently grabbed a $35 million investment from former AOL CEO Steve Case.
Former New York City investment banker Luke Holden quit the business in 2009 and followed the siren call of his seafaring Maine roots, opening the first Luke’s Lobster in the East Village. His goal of offering an affordable, proper lobster roll was realized to rave reviews, with Luke’s Lobster growing to 13 locations in six states and Washington, D.C., and raking in over $11 million in 2013. The menu covers all of New England’s coastal classics, from lobster, shrimp, and crab rolls to genuine clam chowder.
Started in 2009 by college buds Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz, Num Pang serves up noodle and rice bowls, salads, and its signature Cambodian-style banh mi sandwiches. The chain has expanded from its original Union Square shop to six locations this year, with two more in the works.