When you’re a college student on a budget, sit-in restaurant dining is a rare event. Diner food becomes increasingly mediocre as the weeks drag on, and your bulging waistline can’t handle any more greasy fast food. You just want to eat something delicious and healthy without breaking the bank.
“Chipotle-style” fast-casual restaurants are popping up everywhere and for good reason: Who doesn’t love knowing exactly what’s in their food? With the freedom to choose what goes in your meal comes a relaxed atmosphere and the assurance of fresh, quality ingredients. Tired of the burritos and bowls? Check out these spin-offs where you’re free to build your own amazing food creation.
1. Blaze Pizza
For about $8, you get to choose the sauce, cheese, and however many meat and veggie toppings your heart desires. You can choose a classic, spicy, or white sauce, or, better yet, try them in any combination. Three minutes in a hot oven yields a thin, crispy 11” crust. If you’re feeling less adventurous, you can stay away from the build-your-own option and choose one of their “Signature Pizzas,” which range from the “Meat Eater” to the “Veg Out.”
Locations: Bethesda, DC (coming soon), College Park, Laurel, Annapolis Mall (coming soon)
Fun Fact: Blaze currently has 55 locations around the country according to their website map.
2. Cava Mezze Grill
Cava Mezze Grill serves Mediterranean food. Choose a base (rice, greens, pita), add dips and spreads, choose your protein (the best options are spicy lamb meatballs or falafel) and throw in unlimited toppings and dressings. Hearty and somewhat healthy.
Locations: DC (3), Bethesda (2), Gaithersburg, Fairfax, Arlington, McLean
Fun Fact: “Mezze” refers to the small plate culture in the Mediterranean – think tapas but with Mediterranean ingredients. You can also find Cava Mezze spreads in food markets across the East Coast.
Chop’t is for salad lovers. Not the kind who are satisfied with a bed of romaine and ranch, but those people who love trying new flavor combinations in a hearty, wholesome meal. Select your greens, proteins and add-ins. They mix and chop it all up right in front of you. I’m piling on the avocado, sweet potatoes and quinoa.
Price: ~$6-$11 (price varies based on your add-ins)
Locations: Gaithersburg, Bethesda, Rosslyn, DC (8)
Fun Fact: Chop’t serves an assortment of Puck’s fountain sodas, which are made with cane sugar and natural extracts.
The Asian fusion version of Chipotle: start with rice, noodles or salad, then add meat or tofu. Veggie options are collard greens, charred corn, green beans or parsnips and Thai basil. Add sauces (the spicy ones have a nice kick) and top it off with some crispy garlic or toasted rice. Last visit, I ordered rice with pork and chicken meatballs, mixed with basil-infused parsnips and the spicy red curry. I had a satisfying tingle in my mouth from the curry throughout the entire meal.
Locations: Rockville (coming soon), Bethesda, Columbia, DC (4)
Fun Fact: Shophouse is actually owned by Chipotle.