The New Fast Food
For all you foodies on a budget: A new trend of "fast casual" restaurants serving gourmet dishes by celeb chefs is taking over the country. From David Chang's fried chicken to José Andrés's quinoa bowls, Chelsea Bengier digs in.
Buena Onda, Philadelphia
Fish tacos and frozen margs are the focus of this Philly eatery by Iron Chef's Jose Garces. The bright interiors have teal walls, funky light fixtures and a laid-back beachy vibe that matches the seafood cuisine. Our favorite dishes? The atlantic mahi mahi and the jumbo pacific shrimp taco, both topped with avocado mousse and jicama slaw (for $3.50 each).
Beefsteak, Washington D.C.
Despite the name, you won't find any meat on the menu here. José Andrés’s veggie-centric restaurant in D.C. serves only fresh, green healthy options. Make your own dish, and pick a grain (bulgur, quinoa, rice), fresh cooked veggies, and a protein of roasted chicken or salmon. Or order the Naked salad ($7.50) with yellow squash, potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, green beans and garlic yogurt topped with romaine lettuce, pumpkin seeds and cherry tomato.
Inday, New York
It's official: We've found New York's best Indian food. Inday uses fresh produce, hormone-free meats and hand-ground spices, so you can feel somewhat healthy about your intake. Start with a base of rice, quinoa or shredded veggies, then add protein (turkey simmered in spices with onion confit, or smoked tomato chutney tofu are go-tos). Or go for one of the standout roti sandwiches.
The popularity of its upscale sister, Zahav, paved for way for this casual middle-eastern spinoff from Michael Solomonov. Behind an unassuming garage door, you'll find a no-frills dining room with picnic tables, where heaps of hot pita bread, tahini hummus, Israeli pickles and chopped salad are served on cafeteria trays. The menu rotates daily, so check Instagram for their latest dishes.
Fuku, New York
David Chang, of Momofuku fame, is ditching the noodles in favor of some Southern fare. In his East Village restaurant, Fuku, the emphasis is on the spicy fried chicken sandwich ($8). It's marinated in habanero puree and buttermilk, slathered in spices and deep fried, then sandwiched in a buttery potato roll.That's something we can get behind.
Porano Pasta, St. Louis
James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft is whipping up stellar pastas for only $8.95. At his new Italian-inspired venture, hungry diners can customize their own dish from a hearty menu that includes organic pasta, Farro, and all manner of sauces and veggies. We can't get enough of the Smoky Sunday Sugo (slow-roasted pork shoulder) with toppings like fresh herbs, sweet peppers and grana padano cheese.
Lobster Press, New York
Lobster is no joke on the east coast. And the Lobster Press is fueling the obsession. Owned by Marc Forgione, this seafood shack opened in January in Penn Station's new celeb-chef driven food hall, The Pennsy. Don't doubt the freshness — the crustaceans are sourced tri-weekly from a local purveyor in northern Maine. Each sandwich contains a pound of lobster tail, knuckle and claw meat, mixed with scallions and chilies, then pressed between buttered ciabatta bread. Eat up!
Sometimes a salad just doesn't cut it. Trade in the greens for meats at this rotisserie-style restaurant in Denver helmed by acclaimed Colorado restauranteurs Steve Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton. Settle in for a breakfast of pretzels stuffed with sausage and gruyere cheese, or wait until lunchtime for sandwiches like the rotisserie bahn mi, with pate aioli, pickled carrots, cucumbers and Thai herbs on a baguette. Still hungry? Grab a table at dinner and order a leg of lamb, porchetta, chicken au jus, or meatballs and polenta. Then, wash it down with a craft beer or a house-made soda.
When chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson (of the two-Michelin-starred Coi restaurant) first opened a quick-serve joint in Watts, just south of LA, people lined up around the block. And now, with more outposts coming soon in Oakland and San Francisco, it's safe to say the craze is far from over. Not only are the bowls, "burgs" and "brekkie" (breakfast bites) insanely good, but they're also the price of a drive-thru meal. Make sure to try the Messy Beef Chili Bowl, piled with onions, cheese, crackers and hot sauce.