WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
Hankering to try something different? Despite tough times in the restaurant industry, entrepreneurs continue to innovate, thinking up exciting new chains — often with delicious results. Unsurprisingly, most are the fast-casual restaurants that continue to expand their footprint, especially as more family-oriented sit-down dining chains struggle. Here are several new culinary hotspots we’re hoping to see pop up in our neighborhood soon.
What they serve: Specialty salads and build-your-own bowls with proteins like chicken, tofu, and fish on beds of grains and veggies
Where they are: Mostly Washington, D.C., with a sprinkling of locations in Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles
The buzz: If you’ve ever eaten at Chipotle, Sweetgreen will seem very familiar. Step up to order, then watch your food assembled in front of you as you move down the line. The buzzy chain is even pioneering an “Outpost” program that lets workers grab their lunch order, no delivery fee necessary, from a kiosk at certain large employers.
What they serve: Specialty and build-your-own personal pizzas
Where they are: Mostly Washington, D.C., with a few locations popping up in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami
The buzz: The distinctively oval pies at &Pizza have attracted enough fans to fuel big expansion plans, mostly along the East Coast. The chain is even using pizza trucks and portable, 300-square-foot “pizza cubes” as it tests out business in new markets. We’ll take an Extra Helping — that’s a pizza topped with short rib and mac and cheese.
What they serve: Lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls; seafood salads; soups
Where they are: Mostly New York City, with a few locations in other big metro areas including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
The buzz: The founder of Luke’s Lobster turned his back on a cushy Wall Street job to return to his family’s lobsterman roots. The result is a chain that’s continuing to grow, even in Japan, as it earns repeat customers who are lured back by fresh seafood purchased directly from coastal fisheries.
What they serve: Build-your-own bowls with Asian staples including purple rice, noodles, bean sprouts, steak, spicy chicken, and sesame ginger sauce
Where they are: Ohio, California, Illinois, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
The buzz: Another fast-casual joint that has seen almost immediate success, Bibibop first opened in 2013 and now has close to 30 locations — and it continues to grow. And yes, it has Chipotle in its sights, with a very similar business model. Its parent company even bought out Chipotle’s own version of Asian fast casual, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, and quickly converted those restaurants to Bibibops.
What they serve: From-scratch Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits
Where they are: Mainly North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia
The buzz: America likes its comfort food, but something a little more foodie-friendly than Cracker Barrel would be nice. That’s where Tupelo Honey comes in, a sit-down restaurant that will gladly serve you a cocktail while you linger over a menu of responsibly sourced dishes. The chain has slowly expanded throughout the South, but we’d love to see some honey-dusted fried chicken in our neck of the woods.
What they serve: Tacos, tacos, and more tacos, including some breakfast varieties
Where they are: Mostly Texas, with a few locations in Oklahoma and Colorado
The buzz: Torchy’s started as a food truck in Austin, and while Food & Wine cautions that “they’re not the best tacos in Texas,” the irreverent, upscale feel has allowed the chain to earn a die-hard following. Even better than the tacos, Food & Wine says: The queso and the street corn.
PIADA ITALIAN STREET FOOD
What they serve: Hand-rolled piadas (like burritos, but with Italian ingredients); pasta bowls; salads
Where they are: Mostly Ohio and Texas, with a few locations in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota
The buzz: Another restaurant that’s taken Chipotle’s concept and run with it, Piada was founded by experienced restaurateurs, including an executive with the Bravo and Brio Italian mega-chains. In not quite a decade, it’s opened more than 40 locations as customers return for favorites like the Avocado Piada, made with pancetta, avocado, arugula, basil aioli, mozzarella, sweet corn and tomato.
What they serve: From-scratch salads, grain bowls, sandwiches, soups, brick-oven pizzas, and breakfast items
Where they are: Mostly Colorado and Texas, with a few locations in Arizona and Washington, D.C.
The buzz: Modern Market, founded in 2009, aims to turn out sustainably harvested food without any antibiotics, additives, or artificial ingredients. The Panera-like menu focuses on local and organic ingredients wherever possible, and the chain was bought in 2018 by a private equity firm that is pledging to help its expansion efforts.
RISE BISCUITS AND DONUTS
What they serve: Classic biscuit sandwiches; about 10 varieties of donuts
Where they are: Mostly North Carolina, with a few more locations in Tennessee and a handful of other Southern states
The buzz: Crispy buttermilk-brined chicken on a fresh, fluffy biscuit? Sweet-glazed blueberry biscuits? Yes, please. And we might not be waiting much longer: Rise is in the midst of a rapid expansion that will eventually leave it with more than 160 restaurants in major markets across the country. Not bad for a chain that just opened in 2012.
What they serve: Hot dogs made with a variety of sausages and topped with everything under the sun; veggie dogs; burgers, chicken, and fish sandwiches
Where they are: Mostly Louisiana
The buzz: In this land of burger mania, hot dogs just don’t get the respect they deserve. Dat Dog is aiming to change that with a slow expansion across the South. Texans will see the bulk of the new restaurants, so if you live in the Lone Star State, prepare to feast on specialties like the Bacon Werewolf (Slovenian sausage, bacon, sauerkraut, dill relish, grilled onions, tomatoes and Creole mustard).
What they serve: Inventive chicken sandwiches; fried chicken; salads
Where they are: New York City, Boston, and a few sports stadiums sprinkled across the country
The buzz: The best way to describe Fuku might be “Chick-fil-a with an edge” — here, you can get that fried chicken sandwich super spicy, topped with pickled daikon, and served with beer or sake. And though it only has a handful of locations, it might be one of the most-talked-about restaurants on this list because it’s from Momofuku, founded by formidable celebrity chef David Chang.
What they serve: Veggie bowls, veggie burgers, soups and salads
Where they are: Washington, D.C., and (oddly enough) the Cleveland Clinic
The buzz: Beefsteak is another celebrity chef-backed effort, this time from José Andrés. The aim, despite the restaurant’s name, is sure to make any vegetarian’s heart sing: “Beefsteak celebrates the incredible, unsung power of vegetables — which are sexy, robust, flavorful and satisfying!” Try the Washington Post-recommended Frida Kale: That’s rice, sweet potatoes, kale, black bean and tomato sauces, pumpkin seeds and cranberries topped with a lemon-honey dressing.
What they serve: Pitas or bowls filled with Middle Eastern staples like rice, hummus, couscous, shawarma, steak, and falafel, plus various sauces and garnishes
Where they are: Mostly Chicago, Minneapolis and Philadelphia
The buzz: Naf Naf, founded in 2009, is yet another Chipotle-like fast-casual chain (sensing a trend?) that’s applying the build-it-fresh-and-fast concept to Middle Eastern food. Naf Naf is set to grow as the concept is franchised, so plenty of pita sandwiches and hand-cut Naf fries may be coming to your neighborhood soon.
What they serve: Burgers, salads, chicken sandwiches, fries and milkshakes
Where they are: Mostly New York City, with a few other locations in Philadelphia; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Washington, D.C.
The buzz: What sets Bareburger apart from any other high-end burger joint? First, its aim to make “clean comfort food” by sourcing sustainable ingredients; second, its large slate of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options. That includes the much-buzzed-about Impossible Burger, made with a plant-based patty that somehow looks, smells and even bleeds — yes, bleeds —just like beef.
What they serve: Build-your-own sushi, edamame, homemade tea and lemonade
Where they are: Major cities in Ohio
The buzz: Fusian visit hopes to eventually grow beyond the Buckeye state, but for now, it’s lucky Ohioans who get to enjoy this sleek DIY sushi joint. Guests can choose from two types of wraps and rice, eight proteins, six veggies, and 10 sauces to make their own sushi. The chain is also testing out Asian-inspired bowls in its Columbus-area test kitchen.
What they serve: Breakfast and brunch favorites, plus a large menu of “morning cocktails”
Where they are: Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas
The buzz: One popular way to nurse that morning hangover? More alcohol. Lively Snoozesets itself apart from First Watch and other big breakfast-and-brunch café chains with a little more irreverence and a lot more booze. So go ahead, chase that French toast or corned beef hash with a Morning Marg (tequila, orange liqueur, and a sour and lime squeeze).
CHICKEN SALAD CHICK
What they serve: About a dozen kinds of chicken salads from savory to sweet; soups and sandwiches
Where they are: Most states across the South
The buzz: It’s no surprise that Alabama-based Chicken Salad Chick has a stranglehold on the South, where it has more than 100 locations in about a dozen states feeding chicken-salad fanatics. But this fast-casual chain also has its sights set on the Midwest, where it will soon open franchised shops in Ohio and Illinois.
What they serve: Salads, rice bowls, tacos, and noodle bowls customized with Korean barbecue proteins, veggies, and other toppings
Where they are: Austin, Texas
The buzz: This “Shark Tank” alum started as a single Mexican-Korean fusion food truck in Austin and now has seven cash-free locations across the city. We’re hoping for more soon — and the chain has signaled its intent to expand— because those spicy pork kimchi fries and Korean-fried chicken wings just sound way too good.
What they serve: Wraps, salads, and vegetable plates with traditional sides like tabouli, hummus, and baba ganoush
Where they are: California
The buzz: One of the newer players among several fast-casual Mediterranean chains, Yalla is capitalizing on customers’ demand for food that’s local, fresh, and responsibly sourced. But unlike other quick-bite eateries, you can also kick back with a glass of wine or a craft brew here, or finish up with homemade Greek frozen yogurt or baklava. It was recently acquired by Fatburger owner Fat Brands.
CURRY UP NOW
What they serve: Indian snacks and street food, bowls, burritos, plates, desserts
Where they are: Northern California
The buzz: How’s a tikka masala burrito sound? How about some Naughty Naan, topped with cheese, caramelized onions, and jalapeno? Curry Up Now, founded in 2009, aims to make Indian food more accessible, and it won’t be a Bay Area secret for much longer. There will soon be locations in most regions as franchises pop up across the country.
What they serve: High-end sandwiches and entrée salads
Where they are: California, with locations soon to open in Texas
The buzz: Founded in southern California, this sandwich chain has set itself apart from the Panera pack with more distinctively designed restaurants and even an investment from Whole Foods. The menu is also filled with higher-brow fare like a Peruvian steak sandwich with Oaxacan cheese and herb aioli.
What they serve: Seasonal and locally sourced pub favorites like burgers and pizzas, plus an extensive menu of craft brews
Where they are: Select cities including Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Denver
The buzz: Craft beer is definitely having a moment. So is trendy Public School, which bills itself as a “chef-driven gastropub” and hews closely to the school theme at its sit-down restaurants — think chalkboards, flash cards and composition-book menus. It’s caught the attention of trade publications, and we’re hoping to see one land in our area soon so we can try the bacon cheddar tots.