The Fast Casual Power Ranking
Your guide to the best of DC’s fast casual options.
We live in a glorious age. We have phones that can call a car to take you anywhere, phones that can get you a date, and phones that can take your drunk *ss home after a terrible date. What a time to be alive. Drake and Future were right.
While we can’t confirm this, they may have also been referencing the explosion of fast-casual (“fast-cazh” if you’re a terrible person) restaurant choices in DC. And with so many options, we were left with no choice but to pick the very best of the best. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best fast casual restaurants in DC right now.
photo credit: Chris Prosser
Surfside Taco Stand
The ideal fast casual spot. The menu includes some seriously masterful taco combinations like the Bora Bora that’s made with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, guacamole, and a honey peanut sauce that elevates your meal to a whole other level. The Dupont restaurant is open 24-hours so you know what that means (showing up in your crocs, glasses, and pajamas at 2am).
photo credit: Taim Mediterranean Kitchen
Taïm remains a lunchtime GOAT during the Dupont lunch rush. The food, think Mediterranean Chipotle, is incredibly appealing to look at it though we admit the ordering part can get a little overwhelming since bowls are made-to-order and there are so many proteins (falafel, meatballs, kebabs), vegetables (pickled cabbage, marinated tomatoes, smoked eggplants), and sauces (spicy green chile, harissa, whipped garlic) to choose from. But in all honesty, it’s nearly impossible to make the wrong choice, everything is just that good.
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photo credit: Michelle Goldchain
Habesha Market & Carry Out
Ethiopian to-go is a game changer, and very few places do it as well as Habesha Market and Carry-Out. The Shaw restaurant is well-known and beloved by locals thanks to generous portions and some of the lowest prices for Ethiopian food in the city (combos will run you around $14-15). The cherry on top is that they’re open from 8:30am-11pm on weekdays and to midnight on weekends, making it possible to indulge your craving for beef tibs or shiro at almost any time of day.
Z-Burger is the stuff of dreams and could only make us happier if there were more of them. (Z-Burger headquarters if you’re reading this, please add other locations.) There’s something incredibly nostalgic and endearing about each one of their 5 DC locations which reminds us of one of those old-school fast food joints with colorful graphics and playful designs. There’s not much more to ask for at a place with 50+ milkshake flavors that include pomegranate, pistachio, and blueberry crumble.
photo credit: Michelle Goldchain
If you’re looking for some mouthwatering wakye or peanut stew, Open Crumb is the answer to your prayers. The West African take out spot take-out spot in Anacostia is run by a mother and son team who churn out some seriously good stuff. The (Ghanaian) jollof rice, which might be our favorite thing on the menu, can easily be eaten on its own, or with goat, peanut, or chicken stew. The service here is quick, though if you order ahead you can get in and out in under 10 minutes flat.
photo credit: Nina Palazzolo
H & Chicken
For all intents and purposes, H & Chicken serves gas station chicken, which is pretty d*mn good chicken once you get past the gas station part. It’s the kind of place you end up at when the first date has gone too well and you head to the only thing that's still taking customers (they’re open until 3am every day). Most people take their food to-go since the shop itself has limited seating with counters along the windows, stools, and a pair of sit-down tables. The chicken and waffles, regardless of the time of day, is your best bet.
Arepa Zone first started making waves when their door-to-door delivery service providing mouthwatering arepas and other Venezuelan classics grew a massive following. So when they started opening fast-casual restaurants throughout the city (there are currently 3), for a moment life made sense and happiness felt attainable. Head to the 14th St. restaurant, where you'll join a zigzagging line of college kids, tourists, and those who that Arepa Zone serves some of the best cachapas and patacons in the city.
Good burgers are hard to come by, thankfully Good Stuff Eatery makes it easier. This classic burger joint has two locations in DC (Georgetown and Capitol Hill) and one past security at Reagan Airport so you can grab a shake before you ditch DC for the warm waters in Bermuda (or Pensacola, Florida). They have service down to a science, so there’s rarely a line and wait times usually run around 5-10 minutes. The burgers, shakes, and fries are all fire, and the sauces like mango habanero, chipotle, and Old Bay take your meal to a whole new level.
Besides knowing that every time you eat at Falafel Inc. you’re helping the world (the restaurant is partnered with the World Food Programme and donates a large chunk of their proceeds to charity), you also selfishly come here for the price. The Mediterranean restaurant known for its bare bones interior and wooden paneling has three locations in the city: Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and the Wharf. Everything is under $6 (sandwiches are $4 and bowls are $5), so it's perfect if you're on a tight budget until pay day. The zaa’tar fries are savory and salty, the falafel is fresh, and their habibi sauce is, as we like to say, is love at first taste.
photo credit: Tristiaña Hinton
The smell of plantains and curry hit you as soon as you walk through the door at this Jamaican carryout in Buena Vista, and things keep getting better from there. There are palm trees (fake), a grill (real), and a counter where you’ll order your food. Rick’s Cafe is large for a take-out joint and has a few tables, though most people take their food to go. Go with the $7.50 chicken lunch special (get the jerk, add the spicy sauce) with two sides (we love the rice and peas and cabbage, but the greens are great, too), which is a superb deal, especially considering the “small” portion is big enough that you might have leftovers.