Fast casual restaurants have recently been taking the DC dining scene by a storm. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of fast casual, think of it as the in between of a sit-down restaurant and a fast food place. It's not full service with a waiter or waitress, but still a step above fast food in terms of quality of ingredients, the complexity of flavors, and ambiance. This guide will help you find the best of the best when it comes to DC fast casual.

The Healthy Spots:

1. Sweetgreen

Founded  by three Georgetown University students in 2007, Sweetgreen has grown to be one of the top salad chains around the nation. Sweetgreen focuses on providing fresh and healthy meals to people, with fan favorites including the Harvest Bowl with rice, shredded kale, apples, sweet potato, roast chicken, goat cheese, and toasted almonds, and the Guacamole Greens salad, which features mesclun, avocado, red onion, tomato, tortilla chips, and a squirt of fresh lime.

The company has made sure to have a positive impact on the greater DC community through teaching about healthy eating in elementary schools and hosting a variety of music festivals and block parties.  

2. Beefsteak

Ironically enough, international culinary superstar José Andrés' restaurant called Beefsteak focuses solely on veggies (it's actually wittily named after Beefsteak tomatoes, not the meat from a cow). This down-the-line ordering system is equipped with specially designed flash-steamers and options galore.

My personal favorite is the Kimchi-Wa, which features rice, sweet potato, carrots, cabbage, and edamame, and is topped with garlic yogurt sauce, scallions, sesame seeds, kimchi and soy-ginger dressing. Eating your veggies has never been so fun and flavorful!

3. The Little Beet

Not only does The Little Beet serve up delicious options, but their menu is incredibly accommodating to those who are dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, vegetarian, or vegan. Pick between a bowl of greens or grains, load it up with roasted or raw veggies, and add a sauce and protein of choice. If you're looking for a nourishing lunch or dinner, The Little Beet is the perfect place.

4. Fruitive

If clean eating is your thing, then check out Fruitive, the first-ever certified organic fast casual restaurant. Avocado toasts, "superberry" bowls, tacos made from collard greens, fruit-topped waffles, and cold brew coffee are just a few of the specialties served. Not only is Fruitive's food super healthy, but it's also incredibly #Instaworthy. 

5. Chop't

This salad joint was started in Manhattan, but spread like wildfire, and for completely valid reasons. Chop't prides itself in being a "creative salad company" and features an array of tasty international ingredients and flavor profiles. Every month, the company picks a different location to be the star of three special "destination" salads. As Chop't's name suggests, all of the ingredients get chopped up to make a chopped salad tossed with dressing — a small extra step, but a crucial one for amazing tasting salads.

6. Honeygrow

This Philly-born customizable stir fry and salad chain has made it's way to the DC area and is living up to the hype. Customers place their orders completely through an easy-to-use digital touchscreen system and are able to pick preset menu options or design their own meal. For a healthy dessert, Honeygrow offers "honeybars" which consist of three types of fruit, a drizzle of local honey, coconut shavings, dark chocolate, granola, and a dollop of whipped cream. Yum!

7. HipCityVeg

When many people hear the phrase "vegan restaurant" they shudder and picture a single rubbery piece of tofu plopped onto a plate. Fortunately for all of us, HipCityVeg has made it their mission to make vegan foods taste just as good as meat-filled favorites. With fast-food inspired menu options like grilled portabella mushroom burgers, "golden nugs" made with organic grains, and udon noodles (pictured above), this is an ideal spot  for lunch or dinner.

8. Modern Market

Happiness meets healthiness at Modern Market, which was started in Boulder, CO, but has expanded to other parts of the country. Modern Market specializes in sustainably-sourced meals that are relatively healthy (the pizza is the biggest exception). Some customer favorites include the Thai coconut salad, salmon curry bowl, cremini mushroom and kale pizza, and steak homestyle plate (all photographed above). 

The Taco Spots:

1. District Taco

There are not many taco shops that you can eat all three meals of your day in, but District Taco serves up breakfast tacos as well as the usual tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and nachos. If you're looking for heat, the salsa bar is fully stocked with mild to wild salsas and hot sauces. District Taco currently has 11 locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia and recently expanded to Pennsylvania.  

2. Fish Taco

With three locations in the nearby suburbs of Maryland, Fish Taco is as speedy as it is delicious. Everything on the menu is a win, but I'm personally partial to the ancho shrimp rice bowl with charred corn, pico de gallo, beans, and a scrumptious chili lime sauce. For everyone out there over age 21, there are refreshing frozen margaritas to enjoy as well. 

3. Chaia

If you're struggling to decide between indulging in tacos or sticking to your plan of eating healthy, then the plant-based tacos from Chaia are for you. With a "farm to taco" approach, Chaia shines a light on veggies like mushrooms, kale, beets, and butternut squash.

4. Chipotle

Probably one of the most well-known of fast casual establishments, Chipotle made the down-the-line style of ordering incredibly popular. Chipotle offers tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, and more and is considered a tried and true classic by many. Sadly, as most of us know by now, Chipotle's superb guac costs extra. 

5. California Tortilla

Headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, California Tortilla has been in the taco game for over 20 years. Nicknamed Cal Tort by its fans, the chain offers a funky twist on fast casual Mexican-style food. Fun features include a hot sauce wall, the "Monday Night Mystery Prize Burrito Wheel," a hilarious monthly "Taco Talk" newsletter, and free giveaways on certain holidays (think chips and queso on Tax Day and Pop Tarts on Free Pop Tart Day).  

The Asian-Fusion Spots:

1. Buredo

For all the sushi fanatics in the house, Buredo is the place for you. The company makes handheld burrito-sized sushi rolls using all-natural ingredients. My personal favorite is the Hanzo Roll with yellowfin tuna, avocado, cucumber, pickled fennel, arugula, tempura crunchies, and lemon aioli. Not vibing with the rice and seaweed? Feel free to order any option as a salad instead. 

2. Takorean

DC native Michael Lenard started out with a 1985 Ford van-turned-food-truck and a dream of providing fresh, bold flavors to the DC community. Now, Takorean has four fixed locations in the city and serves up amazing Korean-influenced tacos. Customize your tacos or bowls with Korean-inspired ingredients such as kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), pickled daikon, poached egg, and sesame seeds or with more Mexican-inspired toppings such as guacamole seasoned with ginger, salsa roja, and lime crema. 

3. Pow Pow

Pow Pow specializes in beautiful Asian-inspired bowls for meat lovers and vegetarians alike. Pick from options with names such as Natalie Porkman, Yoga Dragon, and Tokyo Roboto. Pow Pow also serves Trolley Fries, which consist of french fries topped with kimchi, melted cheddar, spicy mayo, and "k-town ketchup." You can't see me, but my mouth is watering as I type this. 

4. Bibibop

Bibibop, a chain with origins in Columbus, Ohio, offers a fast-casual spin on the Korean dish bibimbap (translating in English to "mixed rice"). Customers get to select every grain, meat, topping, and sauce that enters their bowl. Bibibop has a focus on what they refer to as "well b-ing" and offers fresh veggies, and black rice– a dark colored rice that contains more antioxidants than blueberries. As another perk, there's free miso soup for all customers.

5. Zen Taco

Zen Taco is another wonderful spot that marries Asian and Mexican flavors together. Zen Taco offers a wide and unique variety of toppings including (but not limited to) pineapple salsa, cactus salad, Korean BBQ sauce, and pickled vegetables.  There is a multitude of vessels to these tasty ingredients into your mouth, such as tacos, noodles, Asian buns (pictured above), rice bowls, salad, and nachos.   Zen Taco also has a full-service establishment in New York City as well as another fast-casual spot in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

6. SeoulSpice

Seoul Spice describes itself as "Korean comfort food." Pick between a rice bowl, a Korrito (a Korean-style sushi burrito), street tacos, or a salad, and add classic Korean ingredients such as beef bulgogi (thin-sliced ribeye), kimchi, Korean radish, and sesame oil. If you want a little bit of #yolkporn action, top your bowl with a poached egg that's been marinated in a sweet-soy base. 

The Poke Spots: 

1. Poke Papa

Poke bowls, consisting of raw fish and various toppings over rice, are all the rage these days. Poke Papa opened last year and people of DC have been digging it ever since. You can get a pre-fixed poke bowl such as the Onolicious bowl loaded with Ahi tuna, hijiki seaweed, lotus root, ginger, sesame, scallion, and onion, or create your own bowl.

2. Honeyfish Poke

The next stop on the poke train is Honeyfish. This west-coast company has come across the country to bring make-it-your-own poke to the people of DC, Maryland, and Rhode Island. One of my favorite things about Honeyfish is their wide array of sauces to drizzle on your poke, including eel sauce and habanero mango.

3. Poki DC

Although it has inauthentic spelling in it's name, Poki DC's poke is legit. There are seven types of protein, 17 different toppings, six types of "crunch" to top your bowl with, and seven sauces, leaving customers with an innumerable amount of options. Looking for an alternative to rice? Poki DC offers zucchini noodles, a lettuce mix, and brown rice with quinoa. 

The Mediterranean-Inspired Spots:  

1. Cava

Lemme tell you guys, Cava is SO. GOOD. The chain makes customizable grain bowls, pitas, and salads and is easily one of the most successful (and my personal favorite) fast-casual spots to grace the DC area. The possibilities are truly endless with a multitude of spreads, proteins, and toppings. Cava also sells its beloved spreads, such as hummus, tzatziki, and "crazy feta," in grocery stores and provides handy recipes to use on their website. 

2. Shouk

If you can't make it to Israel (or more importantly to Israel's food scene) any time soon, Shouk is the next best thing. Some popular menu options include the Black Bean Bowl with sweet potato, red pepper, tomato, arugula, and spicy harissa, and the Shouk Burger with roasted tomato, pickled turnip, arugula, charred onion, and tahini served in a pita. Shouk will leave you, well, shook. 

3. Roti

Roti prides itself in bringing the classic Mediterranean diet, packed with veggies, lean meats, olive oil, and nutritious grains, to various states in the US. The company is also really into transparency, with a website equipped with a nutrition calculator and descriptions of each topping, protein, and sauce as well as its source. Tip: If you order a salad, you get to add unlimited toppings to it. 

4. Amsterdam Falafelshop

Falafel, deep-fried chickpea balls, are one of the tastiest foods in the game. Inspired by the falafel shops that line the streets of Amsterdam, this DC-based company also has spots in Boston and Miami. Customers get to pick between getting three or five falafel balls in a pita or bowl and add up to 22 toppings. I'm willing to give a prize to the person who can fit the most toppings into their pita sandwich without it falling apart. Game on.

5. Zoë's Kitchen

With 10 locations right outside of DC in Maryland and Virginia, and locations all over the country, Zoë's Kitchen is a fan favorite when it comes to easy, order-at-the-counter Mediterranean cooking. Kabobs, pita sandwiches, grain bowls, and soups are just a few of the options customers have. Zoë's Kitchen also offers family dinner packages that include an entrée, two fresh sides, Greek salad, and hummus and pita for your whole squad to enjoy.

6. Mezeh

Another Maryland and Virginia Mediterranean hot spot, Mezeh prides itself in being "fresh, bold & natural." This is another company that focuses on customizable, order-down-the-line meals. Choose a pita or rice bowl as your base and then go crazy with unique toppings such as couscous, caramelized eggplant, pickled carrots, balsamic-marinated veggies, and cilantro hummus (normal and spicy hummus are also available for all the cilantro haters out there).

The Pizza, Burgers, Sandwiches, etc. Spots: 

1. &Pizza

&Pizza allows customers to have a my-way-or-the-highway attitude when it comes to pizza. Choose your dough, sauce, and cheese and then add gourmet toppings such as goat cheese, chili pepper-infused honey, sweet onion jam, and spicy chickpeas or stick with basics such as pepperoni, mushrooms, and pineapple. 10/10 would recommend. 

2. Good Stuff Eatery

Run by Top Chef Season 4 contestant Spike Mendelsohn and his family, Good Stuff Eatery offers both plain and artisanal burgers with catchy names such as Prez Obama Burger and Big Stuff Bacon Meltdown. If you swing by this fantastic burger establishment you absolutely have to get a shake as well. I would recommend the Toasted Marshmallow or Milky Way Malt. If you're at the Capitol Hill location, check out Mendelsohn's pizza place next door. 

3. Taylor Gourmet

Taylor Gourmet is a DC-born sandwich spot, but it pays homage to Philadelphia with cheesesteaks and sandwiches named after classic Philly streets. Some favorites include Benjamin Franklin, a chicken cutlet with marina, provolone and fresh basil, Federal– salami, hot capicola, ham, pepperoni, zesty tomato dressing, mozzarella, tomato, and onion, and a Cumberland with chickpea fritters, cucumbers, banana peppers, herbs, pickled onions, tomato, and roasted garlic tahini dressing. 

4. Luke's Lobster

Luke's Lobster specializes in, you guessed it, lobster. Stop in for a boujee lunch break with lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls, lobster mac n cheese, lobster bisque, and salad topped with a lobster tail. Luke's also cares about the sustainability of its seafood and has partnered with The Ocean Foundation in order to fund and promote activities that support coastal communities. Court dismissed, bring in the dancing lobsters! 

5. Shake Shack

A Big Apple favorite has made its way to the nation's capital. This international sensation serves up burgers, chicken patties, hot dogs, and cheese fries. If you're really in a treat-yo-self mood, get a concrete, a thick vanilla or chocolate frozen custard blended with mix-ins. 

6. Farmbird

Why did the chicken cross the road? To become part of a platter, salad, or sandwich from Farmbird. Customers who order a platter get to pick between chicken or tofu with a flavorful sauce of their choosing and the choice of mac n cheese, roasted bok choy, chili lime cucumbers, roasted sweet potatoes, or avocado and chickpea salad as a side. Bird is definitely the word here.

The Indian Spots:

1. Merzi

If Chipotle had an Indian cousin, it would be Merzi. Build your own naan or rice bowl loaded with ingredients such as curried cauliflower, potatoes, paneer (a variety of Indian cheese), mango chutney, lamb, and tikki masala sauce. While you're at it, enjoy mango lassi, an incredibly popular Indian smoothie-like drink.

2. Rasa

Rasa only opened this past winter, but has already gained a huge following. You can build your own bowl or pick a pre-set one, such as the home cooking bowl filled with shrimp, tamarind chili sauce, rice noodles, green beans, mango sauce, coconut powder, lentil crisps, ginger chutney, and mango-coconut yogurt. Rasa also offers fresh young coconut to drink from and kulfi pops. If you weren't already tempted enough to stop by, Rasa is one of the most colorful and aesthetically-pleasing restaurants I have ever seen. 10/10 interior decorating and 11/10 eats. 

Hungry yet? Hop on the Metro train and grab any of these tasty fast-casual bites.