Fast-casual restaurants are a growing trend in the food service industry. The concept is similar to fast food but emphasizes quality ingredients and higher-quality preparation.
Fast-casual restaurants are often seen as a better alternative to fast food, offering customers healthier options and more relaxed dining environments.
However, certain fast-casual restaurants stand out from the rest because of their commitment to serving only the highest-quality food.
Here are our top picks for the best fast-casual restaurants in America.
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What Is a Fast Casual Restaurant?
Fast-casual restaurants are a hybrid between fast food and full-service dining. The quality is higher than fast food, but it’s still quick and convenient. While they still serve food quickly, they also offer table service and higher-quality ingredients than most fast-food places do.
Fast-casual restaurants typically provide a limited menu of salads, sandwiches, and other items that customers can order in a cafeteria line or take out of the restaurant.
They’re more expensive than fast food but less expensive than full-service restaurants.
Fast food restaurants generally offer low prices but less variety than other restaurants. They are inexpensive and readily accessible because they are usually located on major roads, highways, or near shopping malls or schools, where they can be easily reached by car travel (or walking).
The food is usually served quickly at drive-thru windows, allowing you to pick up your order without getting out of your car.
In contrast, fast-casual restaurants offer more variety than fast food but at higher prices than traditional sit-down establishments such as family-style restaurants or diners.
These establishments also emphasize quality over quantity in their offerings; they have smaller menus that are carefully selected so that all items meet strict standards of freshness and taste before making it onto the menu.
Top 25 Fast Casual Restaurants in 2023
Sweetgreen is a fast-casual restaurant chain that serves salad bowls and other healthy food. It was founded in Washington, D.C. by CEO Jonathan Neman, Nathaniel Ru, and Nicolas Jammet in 2007. The first store opened in Georgetown University’s location. Since then, Sweetgreen has expanded to locations across the United States and now has 122 stores in operation in twelve states across the United States, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts.
Sweetgreen’s menu focuses on healthy ingredients and items made from scratch.
It offers signature salads like the Sweetgreen signature salad, which is made with organic baby spinach, roasted vegetables, caramelized pecans, dried cherries, and feta cheese, or its award-winning spicy tuna poke bowl that features sushi-grade tuna marinated in sriracha sauce topped with avocado, cucumber, pickled ginger, and sesame seeds over brown rice.
According to Sweetgreen’s latest financial reports, the company’s revenue in 2021 was $300 million, an increase over the 2020 revenue of $200 million.
And as of today, Sweetgreen is a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange with a market valuation of more than $5.5 billion.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. is an American chain of fast-casual dining restaurants in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France, specializing in tacos and Mission-style burritos. Its name derives from chipotle chili peppers, which the company uses as the main ingredient for its food.
The company was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 when he opened the first Chipotle restaurant in Denver, Colorado. Ells’ concept was to create a Mexican fast-food restaurant that served fresh ingredients.
In April 2006, Chipotle went public on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol CMG. Chipotle Mexican Grill’s annual revenue for 2021 was $7.547B, a 26.11% increase from 2020.
Today, the Chipotle brand has grown to 2,972 Chipotle locations in the United States as of April 25, 2022. The state with the most number of Chipotle locations in the U.S. is California, with 442 sites, 14% of all Chipotle locations in America. Chipotle is also located in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France, and there are even plans for expansion throughout Asia.
The Chipotle menu features burritos (including vegetarian options), tacos (including vegetarian options), quesadillas, salads, and sides such as guacamole and chips with salsa.
Five Guys is an American fast-casual restaurant chain focused on hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries headquartered in Lorton. The first Five Guys restaurant opened in 1986 in Arlington County, Virginia. The first location was opened by Jerry Murrell and his four sons when he named the company after his sons.
Five Guys’ menu consists of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and french fries — all made with fresh ground beef. In addition to their burgers and fries, Five Guys also offers sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, and milkshakes.
The menu also includes various toppings and condiments to customize your burger experience. You can add grilled onions, jalapenos, mushrooms, and bacon to any burger or hot dog, while the fries can be ordered with different dipping sauces.
Five Guys is one of the fastest-growing fast-food restaurant chains in America. The burger chain, which started in Virginia., now has 1,672 locations nationwide as of 2021 and is proliferating. Five Guys is a privately owned company, and they currently have plans to go public. Five Guys’ peak revenue was $832.0M in 2021.
QDOBA Mexican Eats
Qdoba Mexican Eats is a chain of fast-casual restaurants serving Mexican-inspired cuisine. Qdoba was founded in Denver, Colorado, in 1995 and has since grown to over 700+ locations in 47 states across the United States.
Qdoba Mexican Eats is known for its innovative approach to the fast-casual dining experience. The restaurant offers a wide selection of customizable tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and salads.
Guests can choose from various proteins, including steak, chicken, pork carnitas, and grilled veggies. QDOBA also serves fresh sides such as chips, salsa, and guacamole made in-house daily.
In 2015, QDOBA also became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and the company has since been expanding its presence nationwide. In 2020, they recorded revenue of $763.5 million.
BurgerFi is a fast-casual restaurant chain specializing in gourmet burgers, fries, and shakes. The chain has more than 100 locations throughout the United States and Canada.
The first BurgerFi restaurant was opened by Michael Koman, Adam Fleischman, and David Kalish in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 1, 2011. Sun Capital Partners has owned BurgerFi since 2013 when it acquired the company from its founders.
The chain’s signature item is its “The CEO,” a wagyu and brisket cheeseburger served with swiss cheese. BurgerFi also sells other sandwiches, such as the Fixed chicken sandwich and vegetarian options. BurgerFi also serves milkshakes made with soft-serve ice cream; and other desserts such as cookies or brownies.
On December 17, BurgerFi International, Inc. became a new publicly-traded company following a merger with OPES Acquisition Corp. The company shares are traded on the Nasdaq Capital Market under the “BFI.”
Their total revenue in 2021 increased 103% to $68.9 million compared to $34.0 million in 2020, driven by the addition of two months of operations of Anthony’s business, acquired on November 3, 2021, and the addition of new restaurants opened during that period.
Jason’s Deli is a fast-casual chain of sandwich shops. The first location was opened in 1977 in Dallas, Texas, by founder Jason Finsilver and his wife, Cindy Finsilver. In 1981, they opened their second store in Houston and then their third store in 1982 in Dallas. The company has grown to 249 delis in 27 states across the United States.
Jason’s Deli specializes in fresh, made-to-order sandwiches. They offer over 40 different sandwiches, including deli classics like corned beef on rye or roast beef & cheddar panini.
They also have a wide selection of salads, including Caesar salad with chicken or salmon, fresh fruit salads, pasta salads, and potato salads, among others.
The company is privately owned by the founder, Jason Levine, and his family members. Jason’s Deli has been recognized with awards, including Best Franchise Deal by Entrepreneur magazine and Nation’s Restaurant News. Jason’s Deli peak revenue was $500.0M in 2021.
The Halal Guys
The Halal Guys are one of the biggest fast-casual success stories. Their story started in 1990 as a tiny cart in Manhattan, and there are hundreds of locations worldwide. You can find their famous gyro platters at sports stadiums, airports, and even some Whole Foods stores.
The Halal Guys offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food such as gyros, chicken, falafel, and hummus. The menu also includes desserts such as baklava and cheesecake.
The Halal Guys are known for its white sauce, which it uses on its chicken and gyro sandwiches.
The Halal Guys currently operates 94 locations with more than 200 worldwide expansions in development. The Halal Guys franchise is a profitable company with a positive net income of about $1,898,117.
Chopt is a fast-casual restaurant chain serving salads and healthy drinks in the United States. It was founded in 2004 by two friends, John Eckhouse and Mark Manguera. The first location opened in Chelsea Market in New York City and has since expanded to several locations across the country.
The menu features seasonal ingredients, including locally grown produce, organic meat, and dairy products. Chopt’s website says it uses “only the freshest ingredients” in its food. It also offers vegan and vegetarian options for those with dietary restrictions.
There are 65 Chopt salad locations in the United States as of April 22, 2021. The state with the most Chopt Creative Salad locations in the United States is New York, with 18 locations, 51% of all chopt salad locations in the United States. Chopt is a privately owned company with no plans to go public shortly.
Schlotzsky’s is a fast-casual restaurant chain based in Atlanta, Georgia. The original location opened in 1971 in Austin, Texas. Shel Horowitz and John Galardi founded it. The first location was at Barton Springs in Austin.
The original menu items included sandwiches like the signature Schlotzky’s and the Original Sourdough Melt. The company went public in 1975, trading on the NASDAQ under the symbol SCHULZ.
Schlotzsky’s menu is all about fresh ingredients, made-from-scratch goodness, and delicious sandwiches. The menu at Schlotzsky’s includes a variety of signature sandwiches, including The Original, a warm loaf of crusty sourdough stuffed with ham, salami, and melted Swiss cheese. Schlotzsky’s also offers several breakfast sandwiches, including the Bacon Egg’ n Cheese Sandwich.
As of May 18, 2022, there are 340 Schlotzskys Locations in the United States across 27 states.
Honeygrow is a fast-casual restaurant that specializes in salads and grain bowls. The company was founded in 2012 by Justin Rosenberg, Jonathan Neman, and Zachary Feldman, who all attended Drexel University together.
heir first location was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and since then, their business has snowballed. They have now expanded into New York City and Washington DC, as well as other major US cities, including Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
The chain has more than 25 locations across the United States, including Chicago, Washington DC; Philadelphia; Boston; New York City; and more. The company is privately owned, and the owners have no intentions of going public anytime soon.
The chain specializes in customizable bowls with options like roasted broccoli and ginger soy-marinated tofu. Customers can also order from an array of soups, including miso soup or ramen noodle bowls with chicken or pork bone broth.
Zoës Kitchen is a fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. The chain was founded by John Zoabi and his brother, Andrew Zoabi.
The brothers opened their first location in Charlotte in 2007. Today Zoës Kitchen operates more than 350 restaurants across the United States and Canada, with plans to expand even further.
The restaurants offer fresh ingredients and flavorful entrees, including salads, sandwiches, and wraps. There are side dishes such as lentil soup, hummus, and pita chips.
Zoës Kitchen is one of the fastest-growing chains in the fast-casual segment. The company has grown from three locations in 2007 to more than 340 locations today. Zoe’s Kitchen’s revenue was $314M in 2020.
Flower Child is a fast-casual restaurant chain specializing in healthy, organic, and vegetarian cuisine. The company was founded by Richard Blais and Peter Flowers in 2010, and it was acquired by Landry’s in 2018.
The chain has more than 60 locations across the U.S., including New York City, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Its menu features salads, rice bowls, and grain bowls served with meat or veggies.
The chain also offers gluten-free items such as cauliflower fried rice and sweet potato fries. Flower Child’s menu items are made from scratch in each restaurant daily, using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Flower Child’s estimated annual revenue is currently $47.2M per year. Flower Child is a privately held company.
Panera Bread is a fast-casual restaurant chain that offers bakery products. Panera Bread is one of the fastest-growing fast-casual restaurants in the country. It’s also one of the most successful, with more than 2,000 locations in 46 states.
The restaurant chain was founded by Ron Shaich, a former Au Bon Pain executive who left the company in 1987 to start his own business. Shaich opened the first Panera Bread bakery-cafe location in Kirkwood, Missouri, on September 19, 1993.
Within five years of opening its first location, Panera expanded its presence to include 18 restaurants across the St. Louis area.
A meal at Panera Bread can be as healthy or indulgent as you want: You can order a whole wheat baguette stuffed with freshly roasted turkey breast with avocado slices or a side Caesar salad. Or you can opt for a sandwich made with macaroni and cheese or French fries instead of bread.
The chain has been praised for providing healthier fare without sacrificing flavor or convenience: A wide variety of whole grains are used in its sandwiches, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats like grilled chicken breast and turkey bacon strips.
Panda Express is the largest chain of Chinese fast-food restaurants in the United States and has over 2,200 locations worldwide. The company was founded in 1983 by Andrew Cherng, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan at age 12.
He opened his first restaurant on Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena, California, in 1973 and continued to operate it while attending law school at UCLA.
Panda Express’ signature dish is orange chicken — a fried, breaded chicken breast with sweet orange sauce and vegetables served over white rice — which was added to its menu in 1983.
According to Forbes, Panda Express recorded $3.5 billion in revenue in 2020. Panda is one of the largest privately held restaurant chains.
Smashburger is a fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in hamburgers and other sandwiches. It was founded by Tom Ryan, the former CEO of Quiznos. The first Smashburger opened in Denver, Colorado, in 2007.
In addition to its signature burgers, Smashburger also offers chicken sandwiches, salads, and milkshakes. The menu features all-natural ingredients and antibiotic-free beef from cows raised without hormones or steroids.
The restaurant also uses 100% vegetarian-fed eggs for its breakfast sandwiches. Smashburger’s sides include fries, onion rings, and sweet potato fries. The restaurant also offers milkshakes made with natural ice cream from local dairies.
Smashburger’s estimated annual revenue is currently $423.9M per year. Smashburger is one of several fast-growing private companies that have, in one way or another, found ways to put off going public.
Pret A Manger
Pret A Manger is a British restaurant chain specializing in healthy, freshly-made sandwiches. The chain was founded by Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham in London in 1986 to offer a healthy and nutritious alternative to fast food.
There are over 500 locations worldwide in the U.S., U.K., Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The company is privately owned by JAB Holding Company, which also owns Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Panera Bread.
Pret’s menu focuses on fresh ingredients, with all of their sandwiches made on-site daily. They also offer salads, vegetarian options, and soups and sides such as potato chips or fruit salad. Their signature dish is their trademarked Pret A Bagel — a bagel that is slightly thicker than traditional bagels but not as thick as an English muffin. These bagels are served plain or topped with sesame seeds or poppy seeds before being baked in an oven for about ten minutes until golden brown on top.
Pret A Manger’s success has led to expansion into the U.S., where it has opened several locations in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as overseas in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Pret A Manger has around 300 stores worldwide, including US, Hong Kong, and Singapore locations. Pret a Manger revenue is $1.1B annually. It is a privately owned company.
Shake Shack is a hamburger restaurant chain selling burgers, hot dogs, fries, and beer. Danny Meyer founded the restaurant. The original Shake Shack was in New York City’s Madison Square Park. In 2001, Meyer opened the first Shake Shack on 11th Street and University Place in Manhattan’s East Village. Today there are over 275 locations worldwide.
It’s known for its burgers, which come in four varieties: single, double, cheese and bacon.
The chain also serves chicken sandwiches and hot dogs. It’s known for its burgers, which come in four varieties: single, double, cheese and bacon. The chain also serves chicken sandwiches and hot dogs.
Shake Shack’s latest financial reports show that the company’s current revenue is $0.73 B. In 2020 the company made a revenue of $0.52 B, a decrease over the years 2019 revenue was $0.59 B. Shake Shack became a publicly-owned company through an initial public offering (IPO) in early 2015.
Potbelly Sandwich Works is a chain of sandwich shops in the United States. Potbelly was founded in 1977 by Peter Hastings in Chicago, Illinois. The original location was at 18th Street and Wells Street in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago.
Potbelly’s menu includes classic favorites like club sandwiches, burgers, and vegan options. The chain also caters to vegans with meatless meatball subs, a tofu chicken salad, and salads made with quinoa instead of chicken or tuna.
The company also sells sides such as french fries, potato salad, macaroni salad, homemade coleslaw, and baked beans, among others.
According to Potbelly Corporation’s latest financial reports, the company’s current revenue is $0.38 B. In 2020 the company made a revenue of $0.29 B, a decrease over 2019 revenue was $0.40 B.
Slutty Vegan is a fast-casual restaurant founded in 2016 by husband and wife team Adriana and Daniel, who has a passion for vegan food. Slutty Vegan serves up fast-paced, healthy comfort food made from scratch using locally sourced ingredients. Global flavors inspire the menu with an American twist.
The restaurant specializes in making vegan versions of comfort food such as Mac n’ cheese, burgers, fried chicken, and even pizza.
Slutty Vegan also offers vegan milkshakes, made with coconut milk ice cream and come in five flavors: peanut butter chocolate pretzel, banana split, mint chocolate chip, chocolate marshmallow brownie, and strawberry cheesecake.
According to a “CNBC Make It” estimate, Slutty Vegan made between $10 million and $14 million in 2021 revenue. It’s a privately owned company.
Corner Bakery Cafe
The Corner Bakery Cafe is a chain of bakery cafes located throughout the United States and Canada. It was founded in 1995 and has grown to more than 300 locations across North America, with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
Customers can select from several pieces of bread and toppings, including meats like turkey and roast beef, which are then sliced fresh in front of them by an employee.
Corner Bakery Cafe also has several signature sandwiches.
According to FoodserviceResults, Corner Bakery Café recorded $350 million in revenue in 2019, down 2.8 percent from $360 million in 2018.
Moe’s Southwest Grill
Moe’s Southwest Grill is a fast-casual restaurant chain specializing in Tex-Mex cuisine. The first store opened in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2000, and since then, the company has expanded to over 800 locations nationwide.
Moe’s Southwest Grill serves tacos, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, and salads made with fresh ingredients. Their entrees are served with rice, beans, chips, and salsa. They also offer vegetarian options for those who want something other than meat.
The franchise was founded by Louis Jones and David Edgerton, both veterans of the restaurant industry. They chose Moe’s because it was short for moseying around looking for good Mexican food.
Numerous publications, including Forbes Magazine, have recognized the company as one of America’s fastest-growing companies. It was also named one of Inc Magazine’s 500 fastest-growing companies for five consecutive years between 2008 and 2012.
Moe’s Southwest Grill LLC has 154 total employees across all locations and generates $900 million in sales (USD). It’s privately owned.
Boston Market is a fast food restaurant specializing in rotisserie chicken, primarily in the United States. George Naddaff founded Boston Market in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1980.
The first restaurant opened on April 13, 1981. The company is headquartered in Westminster, Colorado.
The chain’s menu features rotisserie chicken and ribs and side dishes such as mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans with bacon, cornbread stuffing, and macaroni and cheese. Boston Market also offers sandwiches, such as turkey sandwiches and burgers.
Boston Market remains privately owned by founder George Naddaff, who owns many other restaurants, including Cosi, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, and Schlotzsky’s Deli.
Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain is a fast-casual restaurant chain offering coffee and pastries. The company was founded in Boston, Massachusetts, by Louis Kane and Ron Shaich in 1981. The first location was at 92 Summer Street in Boston’s Financial District.
The menu includes fresh sandwiches, pizza, pastries, and desserts. Au Bon Pain’s annual revenue is $268.6M, a privately owned company.
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Einstein Bros. Bagels is the largest chain of bagel bakeries in the United States, with over 1,200 locations worldwide. Leonard Alper and his brother opened their first store in Denver, Colorado. The brothers’ father was a bagel maker in New York City who taught them how to make bagels by hand.
The chain offers bagel sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and other beverages like smoothies and shakes. Most locations also sell muffins, cookies, and other baked goods.
Einstein’s three bagel chains operate 855 restaurants in 42 states. In August, the company posted total revenues of approximately $400 million in the second quarter, an increase of 4.1 percent from the same quarter a year ago. It’s a private company.
Wingstop is a chicken wing restaurant chain serving up its “world-famous” wings since 1994. The chain began as a single location in Garland, Texas, and has since grown to over 1,000 locations in 24 countries. Wingstop is a chain of fast-food restaurants that offers wings, boneless wings, and chicken fingers.
Wingstop has about 500 locations across the United States and ten other countries. It is known for its crispy chicken wings with different flavors, such as lemon pepper and garlic parmesan.
Wingstop also serves sandwiches and sides such as fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and potato wedges.
Wingstop’s system-wide sales increased 20.2% year-over-year to approximately $2.3 billion. In 2003, the chain was acquired by Gemini Investors, which sold it to Roark Capital Group in 2010. Wingstop went public in 2015.
Why Open a Fast Casual Restaurant?
Fast-casual restaurants are all the rage right now. They’re trendy, fun, and changing the way we think about dining out.
The idea behind fast-casual is simple: take the convenience of fast food and add in better quality food and a more inviting atmosphere.
The result is a restaurant that feels like it’s just a little bit nicer than quick service but still has all the speed of fast food.
The concept appeals to diners who want to eat healthier but don’t have time to sit for a full meal at home or an expensive sit-down restaurant. It’s also appealing to business owners because they can make more money per person served than at other types of restaurants.
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