From sizzling burgers at Five Guys to burritos made just for you at Chipotle, this carefully curated list showcases the fast-casual establishments that have captured the hearts and taste buds of food enthusiasts across North America.
First, we need to define exactly what “fast-casual” means in the first place.
Fast-casual restaurants are a hybrid between fast food and full-service dining. Fast-casual dining typically offers healthier ingredients and more options than fast food, as well as an atmosphere that’s a bit more inviting and conducive to in-restaurant dining.
Some restaurants may blur the line between fast food and fast-casual (and the same is true for fast-casual and traditional full-service dining), but some characteristics that typically set fast-casual restaurants apart include:
Essentially, all restaurants exist on a spectrum, and fast-casual restaurants fall somewhere between fast food and traditional dining. Now, without further ado, let's dive into the top 20 fast-casual restaurants in 2023.
Chipotle is a popular chain in the United States known for its Mexican-inspired cuisine. Chipotle offers a menu centered around customizable burritos, bowls, tacos, and salads, allowing customers to choose from a variety of ingredients and toppings. The chain emphasizes the use of high-quality, sustainably sourced ingredients, such as responsibly raised meats, organic produce, and non-GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients. With its emphasis on fresh flavors, customizable options, and an assembly-line style service, Chipotle has become a beloved choice for those seeking a fast, delicious, and customizable Mexican-inspired dining experience.
With the leading number of stores across the country for fast-casual restaurants according to Statista, Chipotle takes the #1 spot.
Shake Shack is a popular restaurant chain that originated in New York City. The chain is renowned for its high-quality burgers, shakes, and other American-style fast food offerings. Shake Shack's menu features a variety of burgers made with 100% all-natural Angus beef, as well as chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and vegetarian options. Alongside their savory offerings, Shake Shack is also known for their hand-spun milkshakes, frozen custards, and crinkle-cut fries. The chain places an emphasis on sourcing premium ingredients, such as hormone-free and antibiotic-free meats, and utilizing environmentally friendly practices.
Sweetgreen is a salad-focused fast-casual chain that emphasizes fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients. With a commitment to sustainability and community, Sweetgreen offers an array of customizable salads, grain bowls, and warm plates. Each dish is crafted with a balance of flavors and textures, using ingredients like fresh greens, vegetables, proteins, and house-made dressings.
Zoe's Kitchen brings the vibrant tastes of the Mediterranean to the fast-casual dining scene. This chain specializes in fresh, wholesome, and flavorful dishes influenced by Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. With a menu that includes everything from hummus and falafel to Greek salads and grilled chicken kabobs, Zoe's Kitchen offers a satisfying and health-conscious dining experience.
Chick-fil-A is a well-known fast food restaurant chain in the United States. Chick-fil-A has become synonymous with its signature chicken sandwiches. The menu offers a variety of chicken-based options, including classic sandwiches, nuggets, and strips, as well as salads, wraps, and breakfast items. It serves customers in more than 2,600 locations across the USA.
Au Bon Pain is a bakery-café chain known for its freshly baked goods, including pastries, bread, and bagels. Au Bon Pain also offers a diverse menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, and hot entrees. With an emphasis on quality ingredients and a cozy café atmosphere, Au Bon Pain provides a delightful and comforting dining experience.
Jimmy John's is a popular sandwich chain in North America. Jimmy John's specializes in made-to-order sandwiches, with a menu that includes a variety of cold subs, club sandwiches, and wraps.
Five Guys is a popular fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in burgers and fries. Five Guys is known for its commitment to using fresh ingredients, including 100% ground beef for its burgers and peanut oil for cooking its fries. The menu includes hot dogs, sandwiches, and milkshakes. Five Guys has gained a reputation for its generous portion sizes, friendly service, and a simple menu that focuses on delivering a classic burger-and-fries experience with a focus on quality.
Panera Bread is a beloved bakery-café chain that has captivated the taste buds of Americans since its inception in 1987. With over 2,000 locations across the United States, Panera Bread has established itself as a go-to destination for those seeking fresh and wholesome food options. From their delectable freshly baked bread and artisanal sandwiches to nourishing soups, crisp salads, and delightful pastries, Panera Bread offers a menu that combines both indulgence and healthy choices. The inviting café ambiance – complete with cozy seating and free Wi-Fi – enhances the dining experience even further, encapsulating what it means to be fast-casual.
The Halal Guys have gained a loyal following for their delicious and authentic Middle Eastern street food. Originating as a food cart in New York City, The Halal Guys have expanded into brick-and-mortar locations, serving up their famous gyros, falafel, chicken, and rice platters doused in their renowned white sauce and fiery hot sauce. With their bold flavors and generous portions, The Halal Guys have earned a spot on our list of the top 20 fast-casual restaurants in North America.
Bruegger's Bagels has become a breakfast staple since its establishment in 1983. With a focus on authentic New York-style bagels, Bruegger's Bagels offers a diverse menu featuring a variety of freshly baked bagels, cream cheeses, sandwiches, salads, and specialty coffee drinks.
BurgerFi has taken the burger scene by storm with its commitment to high-quality ingredients and eco-friendly practices. This fast-casual chain prides itself on offering gourmet-style burgers made from grass-fed, hormone-free beef. Alongside their signature burgers, BurgerFi also serves hand-cut fries, onion rings, hot dogs, and veggie burgers.
Panda Express is a well-known fast-casual Chinese restaurant chain that offers a variety of flavorful dishes inspired by Chinese cuisine. From their popular orange chicken and Beijing beef to their diverse selection of noodles, rice, and vegetable sides, Panda Express provides a convenient and tasty option for those craving Chinese-American flavors.
Slutty Vegan has garnered attention for its delicious and filling plant-based burgers. This Atlanta-based vegan fast-casual restaurant serves up indulgent and flavorful burger creations using plant-based ingredients. From their signature "Slutty Vegan" burger to creative menu items like the "One Night Stand" and "Dancehall Queen," Slutty Vegan caters to both vegans and non-vegans alike with its irresistible flavor combinations and commitment to sustainability.
Boston Market has been satisfying cravings for homestyle comfort food since its founding in 1985. With a focus on rotisserie chicken, Boston Market offers a range of delicious and hearty meals including roasted turkey, meatloaf, ribs, and various sides like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.
Einstein Bros. Bagels has become a household name for bagel lovers. This chain offers a wide variety of freshly baked bagels, schmears, and breakfast sandwiches. With their commitment to quality and innovation, Einstein Bros. Bagels also serves lunchtime sandwiches, soups, salads, and specialty coffee beverages, providing customers with a satisfying and delicious dining experience any time of day.
Schlotzsky's is a fast-casual deli chain that originated in Texas and has expanded across the US. Known for its oven-baked sandwiches made with fresh sourdough bread, Schlotzsky's offers a variety of flavorful combinations that cater to different tastes. From classic deli-style sandwiches to unique creations like the "The Original" with lean smoked ham, Genoa and cotto salamis, and melted cheddar, Schlotzsky's satisfies cravings for hearty, made-to-order sandwiches.
Smashburger is a burger-focused fast-casual chain that prides itself on creating handcrafted burgers made from 100% Certified Angus Beef. With a variety of unique burger creations, customizable options, and a selection of sides such as rosemary and garlic fries, Smashburger offers a flavorful and customizable burger experience that caters to every taste.
WingStop is a popular fast-casual chain that specializes in flavorful, made-to-order chicken wings. With a variety of sauces and rubs to choose from, WingStop allows customers to customize their wings according to their preferred level of spiciness and flavor. Alongside their wings, WingStop offers an array of sides such as fries, coleslaw, and seasoned vegetables, providing a perfect combination for wing enthusiasts.
Moe's Southwest Grill is a fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain known for its lively atmosphere and customizable Tex-Mex dishes. Moe's Southwest Grill offers a variety of burritos, tacos, salads, and bowls, allowing customers to choose from a range of proteins, fillings, salsas, and toppings. With their playful and welcoming approach, Moe's Southwest Grill provides a fun and flavorful dining experience.
Fast-casual restaurants are somewhere in between fast food and traditional dining. This list summarizes the offerings of some of the top fast-casual restaurants in North America, offering readers plenty of choice for tonight’s dinner. Whether you are craving Mexican, Chinese, Mediterranean, or something in between, fast-casual restaurants are the perfect balance between fast, affordable, and tasty!
“In the labor numbers, we were reporting about a $300 to $400 difference than what we were getting through Push!”
-Tara Hardie, ZZA Hospitality Group, 16 locations