CAVA, the Mediterranean restaurant most known for its grain bowls, first opened in Maryland in 2011 and has grown in popularity along the east coast. As a Miami local studying in Tallahassee, Florida, I had never heard of CAVA. Students on my campus would walk to Chipotle after classes and happily wait in a line so long, it winded its way out the door. Then, in late January, CAVA opened in Tallahassee, and it became such the  spot in our college town to grab a quick bite.

What’s the difference between CAVA and Chipotle?

CAVA, what my friends and I call the Chipotle dupe, are both styled in similar ways with a choose-as-you-go-down-the-line concept. Both have consumers select a bowl, a base (which consists of a variety of rice options), a protein, and additional toppings. Instead of being offered tortilla chips, like in Chipotle, the new chain CAVA has pita chips. Both chains have similar concepts, but what’s this new CAVA hype, and is it actually better or just a trend?

My experience at CAVA

As I began ordering at CAVA, I noticed the additional options that it offered to customers. as a picky eater, of course, the wider option range didn’t have me amazed, but the quality of the food seemed a lot fresher and healthier. For the base options of a grains bowl, CAVA offered saffron basmati rice, brown rice, black lentils, and RightRice (a bowl of rice and greens). You have the option of doing half-and-half or a full serving of one. next down are dips and sauces. 

Next down are dips and sauces. The options were tzatziki, traditional hummus, crazy feta, harissa, red pepper hummus, and roasted eggplant dip. for the protein, customers are also able to either do a half-and-half or a full serving. CAVA offers roasted white sweet potato, harissa honey chicken, grilled chicken, falafel, spicy lamb meatballs, braised lamb, and roasted vegetables. The variety is insane. If you are indecisive, then good luck here!

Now, for the toppings, there are fire roasted corn, avocado, pickled onions, salt-brined pickles, tomato + onion, tomato + cucumber, cabbage slaw, kalamata olives, persian cucumbers, shredded romaine, crumbled feta, pita crisps, and lentil tabbouleh.

But we still aren't done. For the last step of the perfect bowl, CAVA has eight unique dressings: balsamic date vinaigrette, yogurt dill, lemon herb tahini, Greek vinaigrette, garlic dressing, skhug, tahini caesar, and hot harissa vinaigrette. 

For my order, I went with the saffron basmati rice, grilled chicken, persian cucumbers, and crumbled feta. As I tasted my bowl, I could not get over the quality of the rice and chicken for, essentially, a fast-food chain. It tastes like real food!

My experience at Chipotle

Once I had CAVA, I had to go back to Chipotle and try it again and compare the two. When ordering, there were only two options for a base: white and brown rice. Then for protein, Chipotle offers chicken al pastor, chicken, steak, barbacoa, carnitas, sofritas, and veggies. Unlike CAVA, Chipotle had the option of either black beans or pinto beans. For the last addition to your bowl, customers can add guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, tomatillo-green chili salsa, tomatillo-red chili salsa, sour cream, fajita veggies, cheese, romaine lettuce, and queso blanco. After eating Chipotle, I enjoyed the first bite and then immediately felt nauseous. The food just did not taste as fresh, and I was confused how we were all eating Chipotle daily a year ago.

The price difference

The Chipotle bowl cost $11.25, while the CAVA bowl cost $10.35. Chipotle charges extra for guacamole and queso blanco, about $2.65 and $1.45 respectably. For a side of chips and guacamole, the upcharge ranges from $1.80 to $7.75.

At CAVA, there is an upcharge of $0.65 for RightRice, $1.25 for harissa honey chicken, $2.20 for the spicy lamb meatball, $3.30 for braised lamb, and $2.30 for avocado. However, the side of the pita is free.

After eating both CAVA and Chipotle, I definitely recommend transitioning to CAVA and trying all of their ranges of foods. CAVA has now officially become the new Chipotle in college towns and big cities! Which food chain do you like better?