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20 Regional Chains We Wish Would Go National

By Zagat Staff
January 21, 2014

While California-savvy East Coasters dream of the day that In-N-Out expands to their neck of the woods, there are countless other adored chain eateries that reside in one city, state or region. From gourmet burgers to LA-style Mexican, we've rounded up amazing local chains that we wish would go nationwide. Tell us your favorite local chain in the comments.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Philadelphia: Federal Donuts

    The Formula: Fried chicken, donuts and coffee, because “Who doesn’t love fried chicken, donuts and coffee?”
    Number of Locations: 3 (Pennsport, Center City, Citizens Bank Park; two more are planned for Philadelphia: University City and West Poplar)
    Lunch for One: $11
    Menu Highlights: Hot, fresh donuts (fried to order in the Donut Robot), chile-garlic-glazed chicken
    Tasting Notes: If you want to score chicken, arrive soon after the 11:45 AM daily release - there’s a limited amount each day, and when it sells out, there’s no more until the next day.

  • SF/Bay Area: Super Duper

    The Formula: "Fast-food burgers, slow-food values"
    Number of Locations: 7
    Lunch for One: Averages $8.50
    Menu Highlights: Super Burger with bacon, spiked organic Straus milkshakes 
    Tasting Notes: The hamburgers are made with Niman Ranch beef that is ground fresh daily.

  • NYC: Xi'an Famous Foods

    The Formula: Founder Jason Wang brought authentic Western Chinese cuisine that's more commonly found in Queens to a hole-in-the wall East Village shop, and the rest is history. There are now four locations in Manhattan and two more in the boroughs dishing out the spicy take-out fare that's heavy on the cumin and spicy heat. Wang's mini-empire landed him a spot on our 2013 list of 30 under 30 industry up-and-comers.
    Number of Locations: 7
    Lunch for One: $8
    Latest Developments: The Upper West Side is home to the latest location, which opened in December on Broadway near 102nd Street. Columbia students rejoice!
    Menu Highlights: One bite of the signature lamb-cumin burger, which is more of a meat sandwich than an actual burger, will show you what all the hoopla is about.

  • Boston: Clover Food Lab

    The Formula: An always-rotating array of fast-food-style sandwiches made to order using only natural, preservative-free ingredients that are largely locally sourced.
    Number of Locations: 5 (plus 11 food-truck locations) 
    Lunch for One: Think a $6 sandwich or $7 platter; pair it with a cold drink (like housemade hibiscus iced tea) for two bucks.
    Menu Highlights: "All" sounds like a cop-out, but it's the only honest answer; the small menu changes daily to reflect what's available. 
    Tasting Notes: Want to get your hands on some of the same fresh ingredients that Clover uses? The restaurants partner with farms to offer pickup for CSA programs throughout the year. Check it out here.

  • Chicago: Tortas Frontera

    The Formula: Rick Bayless's Mexican sandwich shop that started as a stand at O'Hare airport
    Number of Locations: 4 in Chicago (three of them are in O'Hare) plus 1 more coming soon to Philadelphia
    Lunch for One: $13
    Menu Highlights: Chipotle chicken torta, pepito torta, cochinita pibil torta
    Tasting Notes: It's really the only thing worth eating when flying in or out of O’Hare

  • Chicago: M Burger

    The Formula: Bare-bones burgers from the Lettuce Entertain You group
    Number of Locations: 4
    Lunch for One: $7
    Menu Highlights: M Burger, Dr. Betty, butterscotch milkshake
    Tasting Notes: Single or double burgers are reasonably priced and are made from naturally raised meat

  • Photo by: Loteria Grill

    Los Angeles: Loteria Grill

    The Formula: Authentic Mexican tacos, enchiladas and more from Mexico City native, Jimmy Shaw.
    Number of Locations: 6, including the newest (and the Torta Co.) at Figat7th in Downtown LA.
    Lunch for One: $15 for three tacos and an agua fresca.
    Menu Highlights: Cochinita pibil, lengua, pollo en pipian and calabacitas tacos; snappaer à la Veracruz entree; chilaquiles; chicharron de queso (Hollywood, Studio City and Sana Monica only).
    Tasting Notes: The freshly made tortillas make all the difference with the tacos. Aguas frescas are made daily and the flavors change by location.

  • SF/Bay Area: Crème Brûlée Cart

    The Formula: French dessert with Americanized toppings
    Number of Locations: 3, plus roaming markets
    Dessert for One: Averages $5
    Menu Highlights: The Tupac (vanilla crème brûlée with champagne cranberry sauce and pecans), the Kentucky (vanilla with candied pecans and salted caramel sauce; pictured)
    Tasting Notes: The Mission storefront location is temporarily closed, but you can still catch the truck in the Castro, the cart in the Financial District and several of the Off The Grid markets throughout the Bay Area.

  • NYC: Little Muenster

    The Formula: "Super-fancy grilled cheese" is the specialty of this fromage-slinger who adds ingredients like braised brisket and butternut squash to their gooey, melty sandwiches. The first stand-alone shop is on the Lower East Side and a smaller operation runs out of DUMBO.
    Number of Locations: 2
    Lunch for One: $10
    Latest Developments: A third location will open in the upcoming Financial District food hall Brookfield Place, alongside outposts of Mighty Quinns BBQ and Umami Burger.
    Menu Highlights: Gotta go with the brisket: the meat is loaded on the bread along with cracked-pepper marscapone, horseradish cream and fried onion.

  • Photo by: Darlene Horn

    San Diego: The Kebab Shop

    The Formula: Mediterranean kebab shop serving fresh salads, sandwiches and shish kebab plates
    Number of Locations: 6
    Meal for One: $6.99 for your choice of döner or shawarma sandwich
    Menu Highlights: Want all the fillings without flatbread? Check out the döner box filled with fresh veggies, lamb, chicken or falafel and garlic yogurt sauce. No extra charge for fries or rice.
    Notes: A healthy, fresh alternative to the ubiquitous burrito

  • Dallas: Norma's Cafe

    The Formula: Southern home-cooking classics like Mom and Grandma used to make
    Number of Locations: 3
    Lunch for One: $12 for the chicken-fried steak (because that is what you’re there for) and a drink
    Menu Highlights: The CFS, meat loaf, fried catfish and fried pork chops. Oh, and all those vegetables dishes studded with bacon…
    Tasting Notes: In addition to dishing out lunch and dinner classics, Norma’s does a brisk breakfast service. We love anything eggy with a side of pancakes the morning after a night of partying.

  • Austin: East Side King

    The Formula: Paul Qui's take on Asian fusion from ramen to pork buns
    Number of Locations: 5
    Lunch for One: $10
    Menu Highlights: We dare you to dislike what chef Paul Qui does with Brussels sprouts (fries ‘em and coats them in sweet-spicy Thai sauce with fresh herbs) and beets (again, deep-fries ‘em).
    Tasting Notes: Whether you hit up the original trailer behind the Liberty bar, one of the other trailers on East Sixth, the brick-and-mortar at Hole in the Wall or the new stand-alone brick-and-mortar spot on South Lamar, there’s some excellent Asian fusion waiting for you.

  • Miami: Pizza Rustica

    The Formula: Fresh daily-made pizza with homemade dough and unique toppings
    Number of Locations: 11 locations in South Florida, six of them found in Miami
    Meal for One: Eggplant and goat-cheese pizza made with kalamata olives, diced tomatoes and basil ($4.95 for a slice, $16 for medium and $19 for extra-large round thin-crust) paired with Corona ($4) or Blue Moon ($3.50)
    Menu Highlights: Low calorie alternatives include more than just salads, like the personal SkinnE Pizza ($4.95) made with fresh mozzarella and plum tomato sauce on a thin crust (390 calories)
    Tasting Notes: Crispy, crunchy crusts that aren't saturated in grease

  • Atlanta: Marlow's Tavern

    The Formula: A neighborhood gastropub with a chain's consistency from branch-to-branch.
    Number of Locations: 11 Atlanta-area locations, 2 in Florida.
    Lunch for One: $12 for an entree and drink.
    Menu Highlights: The Crispy Brick Chicken offers a reliable take on a classic preparation, and various burgers come on a toasted sesame brioche roll.
    Tasting Notes: Marlow's started in the 'burbs, and it shows: nothing's too daring or controversial on the menu. But it gets the basics right, cooking burgers to order, giving old standards a little gourmet spin (truffle oil and Parmesan on the fries, Chinese five-spice powder on the ribs). And with menu items that change seasonally, the chain allows its chefs a little creativity.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Philadelphia: Capogiro

    The Formula: Italian-style gelato and sorbetto made with fresh, local ingredients, plus panini, pastries and coffee.
    Number of Locations: 4 (Midtown Village, Rittenhouse, East Passyunk, University City; a fifth location with an expanded menu will open soon in Old City)
    Lunch for One: $10
    Menu Highlights: Pistachio gelato, grapefruit sorbetto, drinkable chocolate
    Tasting Notes: Servers will gladly hand you samples to help you choose between the dozens of changing flavors, so take them up on the offer and try as many as you can (they’re all great).

  • DC: Buzz Bakery

    The Formula: Outstanding cakes, pies, savory pastries, sandwiches and coffee served in a bright, funky atmosphere
    Number of Locations: 3
    Lunch for One: $10
    Menu Highlights: Chicken salad, havarti and turkey, and grilled cheese sandwiches; the 9:30 Club and The Buzz cupcakes
    Tasting Notes: If you like what you taste, take one of the regular pastry classes offered by pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac (who also creates gorgeous wedding cakes).

  • Seattle: Molly Moon's

    The Formula: Artisanal ice cream made from top-notch local dairy
    Number of Locations: 6
    Dessert for One: $5
    Menu Highlights: Get in line. These sweet shops have loads of fans willing to wait for a scoop of the signature salted caramel or vegan coconut chunk. It's not a bad way to spend 20 minutes, especially when you get to breathe in the intoxicating aroma of the made-to-order waffle cones. We'll have ours in a cup, please, hot fudge on top.

  • Los Angeles: Lemonade

    The Formula: A counter filled with premade salads, pot roasts, braises, mac 'n' cheese, desserts and various flavors of lemonade.
    Number of Locations: 11 around Los Angeles, one each in San Diego and Orange County, and coming soon to Dubai (!).
    Lunch for One: $12 for three salads and a lemonade.
    Menu Highlights: There are so many salads to choose from, and they change regularly and by location, but our favorites are the curried cauliflower with raisins and almonds, snap and snow peas with edamame, kale with kumquat vinaigrette, and red quinoa with apples.
    Tasting Notes: For heartier meals, get two sides with a pot roast or braised chicken and a side of basmati rice. For a less-sweet lemonade, mix whatever sugar-free option with a regular one (watermelon with mint lemonade is a winner).

  • DC: Cava Mezze Grill

    The Formula: Greek spin on the Chipotle model, with pita and tzatziki filling in for tortillas and salsa
    Number of Locations: 5
    Lunch for One: $10
    Menu Highlights: Grilled meatballs, spicy lamb or falafel on pita or over a salad, spicy lamb sliders
    Tasting Notes: A new rewards app lets you order and pay with your phone while racking up rewards points. And if you want to get your money’s worth with the free toppings, add the jalapeño-spiked feta, which is sold at local Whole Foods locations at a fairly steep price.

  • Houston: Treebeard's

    The formula: Southern and Creole home cooking served cafeteria-style
    Number of locations: 5, all in the Downtown area
    Lunch for one: $10 to $15
    Menu highlights: Stuffed pork chops, red beans and rice, shrimp étouffée
    Go for: A casual lunch with co-workers
    You should know: They're not open for dinner.

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Places Mentioned

Treebeards

Southern American • Downtown

Food25 Decor15 Service18 Cost$15
 
 
 
Xi'an Famous Foods

Chinese • Chinatown

Food24 Decor6 Service13 Cost$12
 
 
 
Buzz Bakery

Cafe • Alexandria

Food22 Decor20 Service21 Cost$11
 
 
 
 
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