As more and more chefs embrace the world of fast-casual cuisine, it begs the question, which chain will become the next Shake Shack? Enter, Zagat's first-ever Fast-Casual Chains Survey. We looked at the very best counter-service-only restaurants in cities all over the U.S., including NYC, that had between two to 50 locations nationally. And we're focusing in on spots where you can get a full meal, not just coffee, juice or dessert. In NYC the trend has only blown up since 2005; most recently David Chang (Fuku) and Jean-Georges partner Phil Suarez (Inday) are getting in on the action. Here are the 11 hottest fast-casual chains in NYC, according to our voters.
Why it made the list: The Cambodian-inspired sandwich giant from college buddies Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz went from a sole Union Square location in 2009 to six (with two more planned) by 2015. Diners love their creative Asian sandwiches on freshly baked bread, paired with a funky hip-hop vibe and colorful interiors.
Must order: Ginger barbeque brisket sandwich, roasted cauliflower sandwich, pulled Duroc pork
Why it made the list: The Smorgasburg-born 'cue shack from owner Hugh Mangum specializes in "Texalina" barbeque — combining the best of both Texas and North Carolina styles. Now the spot has six locations in NYC and one in New Jersey with no plans of slowing down any time soon.
Must order: Brisket, pulled-pork sandwich, wings
Why it made the list: Husband-and-wife duo Einat Admony and Stefan Natziger started this humble West Village falafel shop in 2005. It's now regarded as one of the best Israeli eateries in the city, and its popularity has spawned another NoLita location and a mobile truck. Since launching Taïm, Admony, an Israeli expat, has also opened two more restaurants in NYC: Balaboosta and her latest, Bar Bolonat.
Must order: Mixed falafel platter, harissa falafel, Israeli salad, hummus
222 Waverly Place; 212-691-1287
45 Spring St.; 212-219-0600
Follow the truck here
Why it made the list: What began as a small stand in the basement of Flushing's Golden Mall is now a citywide Chinese food empire. Zagat 30 Under 30 Jason Wang helped expand his father's original concept into seven more locations when he came aboard in 2009. The cuisine here focuses on the Northwestern region of China, which incorporates Middle Eastern flavors like cumin; the results have been a hit with diners all over the city.
Must order: Lamb burger, spicy lamb cumin hand-ripped noodles, spicy tingly beef soup, cucumber salad
Why it made the list: Maine-born Luke Holden teamed up with buddy Ben Conniff (both Zagat 30 Under 30 alums) to open this East Village lobster roll shop in 2009, which sources fresh lobster directly from Maine and simply tops it with warm butter and celery salt. The lobster is top notch and affordable at only $17 a pop. Since 2009, the chain has gone national, expanding to DC, NJ, Philly, Chicago and Boston.
Must order: Lobster roll, Taste of Maine, crab roll
Why it made the list: A salad joint with a line down the block? That's what happened when Sweetgreen hit the Big Apple in 2013. Farm-to-table ingredients coupled with customizable options make it a hit with health-conscious diners around the country. The chainlet recently expanded to California in addition to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and more.
Must order: Harvest bowl, Avocabbo, Kale Caesar
Why it made the list: Started in Red Hook in 2009 by this husband-and-wife team with Maine connections, the lobster roll slinger (and Luke's competitor) was one of the first original Smorgasburg vendors and now has two NYC brick-and-mortar locations, plus a truck, market kiosks and outposts in both Montauk and DC. They're known for their fresh, affordable lobster rolls in either Maine-style (served cool, with homemade mayo) or CT-style (topped with warm butter).
Must order: CT-style lobster roll, lobster mac 'n' cheese, Maine lobster roll
284 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn; 718-858-7650
16 Extra Place; 212-777-7225
Follow the truck here
Why it made the list: Brothers Oliver and Leo Kremer (Zagat 30 Under 30 vets) founded this Chipotle competitor in 2009, inspired by the SF-style burritos they ate growing up. But what makes this chain different is quality: they use naturally raised meats, high-quality produce and take pride in their rice and beans (and variety of hot sauces). Over the last six years, Dos Toros has expanded to seven locations around the city, including Brooklyn.
Must order: Carnitas or chicken burrito, quesadilla or tacos. Their fresh guac is a must.
Why it made the list: From the founders and former owners of Hale & Hearty Soups, this American comfort-food chainlet has made big waves with its burger since opening in 2009 in the NY Times building (now with a total of four locations). Not into burgers? There's sandwiches, salads, mac 'n' cheese and even fish tacos on the menu as well.
Must order: Cheeseburger, fish tacos, sloppy joe
Why it made the list: Founded by Zagat 30 Under 30 Spencer Rubin and partner Josh Morgan, this grilled cheese specialist is known for its creative takes on the childhood classic, adding on proteins like fried chicken and even a whole burger patty.
Must order: Maple bacon grilled cheese, tater tots, tomato soup