7 NYC Chains We Love

By James Mulcahy  |  January 21, 2014

When someone says the word "chain," most savvy diners walk the other way, but a slew of recent openings in New York City shows that a winning formula can be totally delicious without getting stale. Here's a list of our favorite chains lighting up the NYC scene right now, including one upstart that is set to dominate if things go well. Let us know in the comments if we missed one of your favorites. 

  • Little Muenster

    The Formula: "Super-fancy grilled cheese" is the specialty of this fromage-slinger that 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.

    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.

    Eat This: Gotta go with the brisket: the meat is loaded on the bread along with cracked-pepper marscapone, horseradish cream and fried onion.

  • Num Pang

    The Formula: The Cambodian sandwiches at this chain of five eateries are packed with bold flavors. Similar to a Vietnamese banh mi, the offerings are served on a toasted, semolina flour baguette that's smeared with chile mayo. Stuffed with ingredients ranging from tiger shrimp to skirt steak, these creations constantly land on Zagat's list of top NYC sandwiches.

    Latest Developments: The newest location just opened on 48th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, but the empire building doesn't stop at the Theater District. Like Little Muenster, a new location is on tap for the Brookfield Place food court.

    Eat This: It's really hard to make a bad decision here, but if you're stuck, go with the classic pulled Duroc pork with spiced honey.

  • Bluestone Lane Coffee

    The Formula: This new coffee chain is inspired by the cafes of Melbourne, Australia, and opened its first location in Midtown East. The beans are from San Francisco's Sightglass Coffee, though the team mixes it up with guest roasters from time to time. Snacks are served along with the java, and breads are brought in from Balthazar bakery.

    Latest Developments: In October of last year, the burgeoning chain opened a second location in the Financial District.

    Eat This: Get a flat white, an Aussie-style espresso-based drink with less milk than a typical latte, and an avocado smash, a slice of that Balthazar bread served with avocado, tomato and feta.

  • Rhong Tiam

    The Formula: This mini-chain of affordable Thai restaurants has developed a cult following with authentic cuisine from chef Andy Yang, moving from a flagship in LES (which has since closed) to locations in Gramercy, New Jersey and a few food trucks. They do have standard dishes like pad Thai, but their foodie fans keep going back for deeper dives for goodies like Peking duck larb.

    Latest Developments: Rhong recently took over the storefront that housed Chelsea Thai joint Room Service on Eighth Avenue. Oh, and if you're in Dubai and looking for a noodle fix, an outpost will open there by the end of the year.

    Eat This: The Pork on Fire will ignite five alarms in your mouth, yet you'll keep gorging until the plate is cleared. The tears falling from your eyes are totally worth it. If vegetarians want to heat things up, check out the Water Spinach on Fire.

  • Chickpea

    The Formula: Think of this growing chain as the chipotle of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. A lunchtime favorite with the healthy eating set, the chain takes pride that they bake their falafel instead of frying it. Guests build their meal at a counter, where they choose between proteins and load up on additions like hummus (which comes in multiple flavors) and hot sauce.

    Latest Developments: True fanatics can skip Seamless and order straight from a custom app that's now available on iTunes.

    Eat This: January still isn't over, so this is a great go-to spot for folks who are still in it to win it with those resolutions. We love the hummus, especially the jalapeño and scallion flavors. 

  • Xi'an Famous Foods

    The Formula: Founder Jason Wang brought authentic Western Chinese cuisine (Xi'an is a city in Shaanxhi Province) 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.

    Latest Developments: The Upper West Side is home to the latest location, which opened in December on Broadway near 102nd Street. Columbia students rejoice!

    Eat This: 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.

  • The Little Beet

    The Formula: Ok, this one isn't actually a chain. Yet. But chef Franklin Becker's new health-conscious concept looks ready to expand as soon as it catches on, which would be a sweet development for anyone not close enough to West 50th Street during lunch hour. The venue markets itself with the catchphrase "100% guiltin' free," and from the simply grilled proteins to the biodegradable to-go packaging, everything is designed to keep that guilt factor to a minimum.

    Latest Developments: This is the newest chain wannabe on our list, and the post-opening buzz has been nothing but positive.

    Eat This: You're also getting a good deal when you dine here. One protein (think grilled salmon or tofu) and two sides can be combined for $13, so mix and match. Well, that leaves room for one protein and one side, because you're definitely getting the addictive grilled kale.