Cava Grill Was Meh, But Healthy Fast Casual Is The Trend To Watch


I have read so many rave reviews of Cava Grill that I finally just had to check it out. Which I did this past Sunday. What are all you people talking about? Am especially disappointed in my foursquare reviewers who give it a 9.3 rating!!

It wasn’t bad but I certainly would never go out of my way to eat there. It’s funded by Steve Case’s Revolution Growth (they’re also funding Sweetgreen, another DC food startup).

I had the salad bowl with a mix of grilled chicken and both kinds of meatballs, I tried their famous harissa and the feta. I would rate it a 5.

What’s most impressive about Cava actually has nothing to do with food. It’s how they use data and high-tech sensors to monitor customer wait times to improve the guest experience. The changes they’ve made, based on the technology, have helped lines move 10% faster and hold 12% more people. (Source: Fast Company)

Although fast casual “build-a-bowl” places aren’t usually my thing, I’m not averse to them e.g. I love several poke bowl restaurants. Cava underwhelmed me for the same reason Chipotle does – they make up for average food with huge portions. Doesn’t cut it for me.

But I totally understand why chefs are increasingly looking to develop this type of “healthy’ assembly line restaurant: it’s scalable and they can IPO it if it is really good.


Read on below for more standouts in this category – some recent launches, some longtime favorites.

Mudhen Meats and Greens (Dallas)


This place really intrigues me. Per an interview with Eater: Our top seller is our bison meatloaf on the build-a-bowl. Most recently, guests have been getting into Whole30. Fortunately, Mudhen’s menu offerings cater to that dietary lifestyle,and that will be an area I will focus on fulfilling.


Xi’an Famous Food, NYC

  • Has received praise from Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay.
  • Known for its authenticity and traditional menu items inspired by dishes found in the city of Xi’an in China.
  • The chain, which began as a small restaurant in Flushing, Queens, has expanded to 12 locations in New York and will soon expand to Boston and Washington.



  • This California-based chain, dubbed a “hip cafeteria,” is a healthy fast-casual chain that caught the eye of the global investment firm KKR in 2014.


by CHLOE opened its first location in Manhattan in 2015

  • Expanding both in NYC and across the country.
  • Currently in 3 states including California (to be found at the new 365 Whole Foods in Silver Lake).
  • I went once and liked it but haven’t been back so maybe plant-based cuisine isn’t my thing but it certainly is a major trend: there’s been a 25% increase in vegetarian claims and a 257% rise in vegan claims in global food and drink launches between 2010 and 2016.


Native Foods Café

  • Launched in 1994
  • Locations in California, Oregon, Colorado and Chicago.
  • The brand is currently undergoing a major transition including renovating their Wicker Park flagship and recrafting their story through revised branding, events, demos and social.


Veggie Grill

  • This all-vegan chain opened its first location a decade ago.
  • Serves the “bleeds” like real beef ” Beyond Burger.
  • The chain currently has 28 locations in California, Washington and Oregon, it’s on the cusp of expanding nationwide.
  • Veggie Grill CEO Steve Heeley identifies “flexitarians” as key to the company’s growth (i.e. people who want to eat less meat and more plant-based foods).  “We attract vegans and vegetarians, but 80% of our guests don’t consider themselves vegan or vegetarian. They’re what we call ‘veggie positive.’


Crazy Bowls & Wraps in St. Louis

  • Offers kale and quinoa wraps, salads and bowls.
  • Has 15 locations in Missouri, Ohio and Illinois.

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