Fast-casual restaurants —nicer than fast-food, but not quite full-service— have been opening with greater frequency all over D.C. during the past few years. It seems there's no cuisine that can't fit into the format, but Mediterranean fast-casual is particularly popular lately.
Shouk, Little Sesame, and SKWR Kaboboline have all opened in the past year, while Chickpea just started operations in Alexandria this week. It looks like there's no end in sight for Cava Grill, either. The local chain keeps opening storefronts across the region, while also expanding.
Here's how to differentiate between several of D.C.'s many fast-casual Mediterranean options when, on the surface, so many seem to serve pita, hummus, and meatballs. Some options lean more European, while others look more to the Middle East for inspiration. This rundown, which focuses on some of the major players in town, looks to highlight modern fast-casual Mediterranean concepts, rather than the city's various traditional kabob houses or more sit-down restaurants.
Where to find it: There are over 20 locations throughout Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.
In a nutshell: The Greek restaurant is a fast-casual spin-off of Cava Mezze doing salads, pitas, and grain bowls.
Signature dishes: Greens and grains bowl, lamb meatballs, crazy feta.
Where to find it: 529 East Howell Ave., Alexandria, Va.
In a nutshell: Located at Potomac Yards, it's another build-your-own-bowl fast-casual Mediterranean place. There's also a patio.
Signature dishes: Toasted quinoa bowl, beef kafta, sumac onions, everything bagel hummus
Where to find it: 1306 18th St. NW
In a nutshell: The all-hummus restaurant, similar to those in Israel (as well as Philadelphia's Dizengoff), is by the DGS Delicatessen team. It's located in the restaurant's former private dining room in the basement.
Signature dishes: Hummus with roasted beets, yogurt sauce and hazelnut dukka or hummus with fried Cauliflower, green onion, and "everything" spice
Roti Mediterranean Grill
Where to find it: The national chain has 10 locations in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland.
In a nutshell: It also does the ever-popular build-your-own lunch model with pita, laffa, salad, or rice.
Signature dishes: laffa wrap, chicken kabob, and s’hug, which is a spicy condiment from the Eastern Mediterranean.
Where to find it: 613 K St. NW in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood.
In a nutshell: The menu of Middle Eastern-inspired dishes like vegetable or legume-stuffed pitas, salads, and soups is all plant-based.
Signature items: Roasted cauliflower pita, polenta fries, cashew tabneh
Where to find it: 1400 K St. NW
In a nutshell: It's another spot doing customizable bowls and wraps, but with an emphasis on grilled meats as the protein.
Signature items: White bean falafel, grilled meatballs, apple chutney
Where to find it: Tysons Corner Center, Falls Church
In a nutshell: Customizable bowls and pita pockets, with vegetarian options and house-made components like hummus and fattoush. Pita Pouch has more of a Middle Eastern flair than some of its competitors.
Signature items: Falafel, shawarma, interesting toppings like fried cauliflower
Lebanese Taverna Cafe
Where to find it: Lebanese Taverna locations are scattered throughout the area, but some lean more quick-service than others, including Rockville and Silver Spring.
In a nutshell: This locally-grown Lebanese chain got its start as a sit-down restaurant and grew more casual as it expanded throughout the area.
Signature items: Ground meat-topped hummus, Lebanese salads, shawarma sandwiches
Where to find it: Downtown at 1140 19th St. NW
In a nutshell: This chain out of New York has more of an emphasis on healthier fare like salads and soups.
Signature items: "Yeeros," customizable Greek salads, both savory and sweet yogurt bowls
Where to find it: Vienna, Falls Church
In a nutshell: A local Virginia source for gyros and Greek salads, plus some small plates
Signature items: Fried calamari, dip samplers, Plaka-style gyros with fries
Where to find it: H Street/Nats Stadium
In a nutshell: This Atlas District haunt for quick late-night shawarma has expanded to the ballpark.
Signature items: Shawarma is the specialty here