Going out for a meal doesn't have to mean a fancy, sit-down restaurant with waiters hovering nearby. Many folks opt for a fast-casual setting where they order at the counter and grab an open seat — or even better, grab it to go. With that in mind, we sought out the most popular fast-casual eateries in the country, asking locals to choose their favorite around town by considering high-quality, counter-service restaurants with between two to 50 locations nationally. Read below for results on who made the list in San Diego.
Why it made the list: This county favorite specializing in rectangular Roman-style pizzas sold by the slice kick regular pieces of ‘za to the curb with fresh toppings like eggplant, porcini mushroom and their signature tomato sauce. The real attraction is the hand-pressed dough, which uses 00 flour imported from Italy and requires a 72–hour rise time to create a thick and airy crust that’s also available gluten-free.
Must order: Slices of Truffle Porcini and BAPO (bacon, potato, mozzarella and rosemary)
Why it made the list: Taking a cue from cafeteria restaurants of old, this LA-born eatery serves fresh and healthy comfort dishes with a tasty chefly spin. The restaurant takes the concept of “locally sourced” to a new level by using ingredients from Southern California farms, ranchers, coffee roasters and breweries.
Must order: Backyard Marinated Steak, Grill Chicken Cobb Big Salad
Why it made the list: This kebab joint breaks the mold, offering a fresh selection of Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches, shish kebab plates and salads with a California twist from its six locations. And the crowds forming lines for lunch and dinner agree that flatbread sandwiches stuffed with your choice of lamb-beef, chicken or falafel and fresh salad fixings beats the regular ho-hum burrito routine.
Must order: Doner or shawarma sandwich with extra garlic and hot sauce on the side
Why it made the list: Throw a stone in any direction and you’ll be sure to find a Mexican eatery in San Diego, but when it comes to seafood, voters agree that Oscar’s is tops. Though the offerings range from burritos to tortas to salads, the real winner are the tacos, especially when filled with battered fish, shrimp or selection of smoked seafood. Regulars know that eatery only accepts cash.
Must order: Taco Especial (smoked fish, shrimp and scallops)
Why it made the list: Grass-fed, never-frozen patties are the standard that modern-day burger spots should strive for. What began as a humble La Jolla shop has expanded to eight others in the county and a few dozen dotting the Southwest. Along with beef patties, the restaurant also serves lamb, turkey and quinoa options, plus fries and salads.
Must order: The Lounge Burger with organic cheese and their signature housemade Thousand Island sauce, french fries
Why it made the list: As far as cafes go, this hometown favorite serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner with honking huge portions that are all reasonably priced. The extensive menu covers everything from smoothies and wild mushroom risotto to pancakes and sandwiches and everything in between. Despite the dizzying amount of choices, the best thing about this cafe is the diner-esque attitude of serving breakfast until they close.
Must-order: Guacamole turkey club, açai bowl and garlic chicken omelet
Why it made the list: Windy City classics are served front-and-center here with Chicago sports memorabilia covering the laid-back restaurant. Known for their legit deep-dish pizzas, they also serve thin-style and stuffed pies, Chicago dogs, Italian sausages and burgers thrown in for good measure. Despite the region-specific fare, both locations are deeply entrenched in their respective neighborhoods and a popular hang for those who live within walking distance.
Must order: Deep–dish pizza, Chicago dog, C.B.G.B. (Italian beef sandwich on a cheesy garlic roll)