Best Fast-Casual Chains in the United States, Ranked

By Doug Norrie | Published

Best Fast-Casual Chains in the United States, Ranked

When it comes to lunch and dinner options, sometimes you want to step it up from the standard fast food chains into something just a bit better. That’s where the fast-casual experience comes into play, with a number of different chains offering higher quality, and better-tasting food on the go.

Let’s take a look at our best fast-casual chain rankings and see where your favorite spot stacks up.

8. Blaze Pizza

Blaze Pizza has quickly become popular for offering a bit of a more unique experience when it comes to the boring old regular pizza pies. That’s because they have customers customize orders specifically to what they want in terms of toppings and style. The pizzas go into the, well, blazing over and the end result is a made-to-order pie with quality ingredients. They have more than 300 locations and could only be growing. 

7. Cava

Looking for a bit of a change from the standard fast-casual fare? Well, why not try out some Mediterranean flavors for your next meal. Cava is a customizable menu like many of the others on this list, but they have a focus on salads and pita sandwiches as part of the core offering. Veggies, grains, dips, and spreads all make up a different kind of menu than you might be used to seeing, but it’s well worth a visit to one of there more than 100 locations.

6. Noodle & Company

They’ve told you right in the name what you are getting here and it’s pretty simple: noodles. But Noodles & Company is more than something so basic with all kinds of different options to satisfy a number of different palettes. They have noodles and rice bowls with Asian, American, and Italian vibes and they do salads and sandwiches as well. Wisconsin Mac & Cheese, Japanese Pan Noodles, and Pesto Cavatappi are just some of the options here. 

5. MOD Pizza

Like Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza is a fast-casual spot focusing on made-to-order pies geared toward the customers’ tastes. Folks come in, build a pie exactly to their liking and its thrown in the oven and cooked to near perfection. The vibe is solid, the ordering time is fast, and the food is just plain good. There are almost 500 locations between the United States and the UK which is a massive number considering they’ve been around only about 15 years now. Plus, now they have pocket pies as well for an even better grab-and-go option.

4. Sweetgreen

If you are looking for a healthy fast-casual experience that will still satisfy you in terms of taste then it’s hard to go wrong with Sweetgreen. With customizable salads and grain bowls, the chain offers a way to get lunch and dinner without feeling all that guilty about it. They have a ton of options to make a salad almost any way you choose and they have a commitment to sustainability that’s hard to argue with. There are about 100 locations throughout the US and if you can find one then it’s worth stopping in sooner than later.

3. Shake Shack

Fast-casual doesn’t always mean burgers and fries, but Shake Shack has bucked that trend and customers couldn’t be happier. With a selection of burgers like the popular ShackBurger, along with hot dogs and frozen custard as well, this place has become a fan-favorite since first coming on the scene in 2004. They’ve expanded to more than 300 locations and it’s easy to see why. Make sure you pair the burger with the crinkle-cut fries and stay for some dessert as well. 

2. Panera Bread

We are starting to get into the big boys here with Panera Bread which has more than 2,000 locations in North America. The fast-casual spot fashions itself more off the local sandwich and bakery spots with fresh-baked bread, soups, salads, and sandwiches that will definitely fit the bill. There’s a solid vibe at these locations and a commitment to high-quality food as well. Panera feels like a step up in terms of offerings and service and it’s easy to see why they rank so high on the list.

1. Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill has been around since the early 1990s and since then has expanded to nearly 3,000 locations worldwide. The Mexican-inspired fare features burritos, bowls, and tacos with the chain making a commitment to serving fresh ingredients and tasty options. Chipotle ranks the highest because, of all these chains, they are the most popular. But that hasn’t come at the cost of reduced service or quality. They have a Food With Integrity corporate commitment and it shows. They are the leader in this segment of the market.