The trend in restaurants used to diverge neatly — you had your local restaurants, you had your national chain restaurants and you had your fast-food chains. But lines blur these days, and many local restaurateurs are eager to embrace the ease, quick service and business opportunity behind the fast-casual model. A new generation of culinary entrepreneurs are bringing the same quality-ingredient ethos common in restaurants to the chain format. Our Fast-Casual Chains survey focuses on high-quality, counter-service restaurants with between two to 50 locations nationally. Here's where to head when a mystery-meat burger just won't do.
Why it made the list: What started out as a late-night dive in East Atlanta has now expanded to a Westside location. The quick service and friendly staff are a bonus, but what's cemented Delia's as an ATL favorite is the flavorful chicken sausages and sliders made from all-natural ingredients that are sourced locally and free of hormones and preservatives. We're happy too, to see Delia's expanding into retail offerings as well.
Must order: The Real Deal, a link chicken sausage with traditional hot dog toppings, or 'da Bomb, a sausage-and-egg sandwich made with grilled Krispy Kreme donuts in the place of buns.
Why it made the list: Healthy food doesn't need to be dull, as evidenced by the creative dishes, soups, salads and sandwiches at this fast-casual concept (the second location at the botanical gardens has been converted into a catering operation). Extra draws: wine is served, and there's a spacious patio.
Must order: The roasted mushroom sandwich and signature chili are sure bets, but check the online menu (updated daily).
931 Monroe Dr.; 404-724-0151
Why it made the list: This burger chain got its start in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, but has quickly worked to expand its empire, spreading not just to Morningside but also further afield to Athens. With a Decatur location planned for later this year (and more in '16), the quirky chain with kitschy decor and crave-worthy burgers is a local success story.
Must order: A Double Grindhouse Style conjures thoughts of classic fast food, and goes well with a boozy milkshake.
Why it made the list: Build your own burger or choose from a preselected combo at this spot serious about its sourcing. Grass-fed's the name of the game for these patties, and the popular burger joint has spread beyond its three ATL locations to set up shop in Asheville, NC, and Berkeley, CA. The wine, beer and boozy float selections don't hurt either.
Must order: The eponymous Farm Burger is loaded with Vermont white cheddar, caramelized onions and tangy FB sauce.
Why it made the list: So many fast-casuals take the "It's like Chipotle, but…" conveyor-line approach. (Though truth be told, Subway kinda pioneered that, right?) This Athens-based pizza joint quickly expanding into Atlanta takes that tack but one-ups it thanks to pizzas fired freshly in a brick oven. Choose sauces, toppings, even type of dough, or go for a preselected combo.
Must order: The straightforward Ischia pizza has roasted garlic olive oil with fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and basil — try it on a whole-wheat crust.
Why it made the list: Wholesome ingredients and locally sourced food are a guiding philosophy for this counter-service spot with two local locations. Assemble-your-own is the way to go, though preselected combos exist, and patties include choices of organic bison, beef, chicken, turkey and more. Hearty salads and hot dogs round out the options.
Must order: The fig-and-goat cheese burger's sweet, tangy and rich.
Why it made the list: The ambitious menu at this Atlanta-based fast-casual spot eager to brand itself "F2O" satisfies many cravings, whether it's for meal-size salads and soups, grilled entrees or health-oriented burgers.
Must order: The black-bean burger's heartier than other varieties, and served with a piquant corn relish.
Why it made the list: Aiming to make Indian fare more accessible to those unfamiliar with the cuisine, this fast-casual got its start as a food truck in California. The same quick, comfortable and flavorful ethos translates from the four-wheeled iteration to two ATL brick-and-mortars, with traditional Indian dishes available as bowls, plates or wrapped in naan as a sandwich wrap.
Must order: Lamb in a tomato-and-yogurt curry served atop brown basmati rice.