By: Dan Gentile
While no restaurant chain has ever seen a meteoric rise quite like Chipotle, a select few are proving you don't need to serve 6-ton burritos to achieve fast-casual stardom. Predicting this type of success isn't easy, but there are tell-tale signs: a bulletproof concept, smart expansion strategy, and practical use of tinfoil are all solid indicators that a new chain might soon arrive at a corner near you. These are our best bets, ranging from tiny local chains that've yet to step outside their hometowns to well-established regional players that still have plenty of territory left to settle.
Est. 1992, Iowa City, IA
Number of locations: 65
What they do: Burritos with fresh tortillas and ingredients that are thoroughly mixed together with what they call "Bob the Tool"
Why they might blow up: They carve out their own section of the burrito-market pie by upping the ante on ingredients and combating one of the food group's biggest pet peeves, uneven distribution of filling wealth.
Est. 2008, Los Angeles, CA
Number of locations: 8
What they do: Fast-casual sushi with a strict sushi chef mentality
Why they might blow up: Their signature use of warm rice makes the sushi experience more palatable for Americans. Also important: reasonable prices.
Est. 2010, Washington, DC
Number of locations: 10 (5 coming soon)
What they do: Oblong pies with creative sauces, luxe toppings like 39-day aged pepperoni, and cheese made in-house
Why they might blow up: The right combination of attitude, efficiency, and house-made cheese. & all of these 10 things.
Credit: Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Est. 1998, San Francisco, CA
Number of locations: 4
What they do: Sausages made for the craft beer lover
Why they might blow up: The rising tide of the craft beer industry is certainly helping to float these sausages. Plus, they've already got footholds in Williamsburg and New Williamsburg (Oakland).
Credit: Little Big Burger
Little Big Burger
Est. 2010, Portland, OR
Number of locations: 8
What they do: Quarter-pounders of natural beef on brioche buns out of an open kitchen, with sides of truffle fries and root beer floats
Why they might blow up: The tiny/tall burgers are a delightful contradiction, natural beef is totally in, and people go nuts for the homemade catsup. Plus, it's local enough to be endearing, but broad enough of a concept to be scalable. And the Portland birthplace automatically earns it cool points.
Credit: Mendocino Farms
Est. 2006, Los Angeles, CA
Number of locations: 9
What they do: Unique upscale sandwiches you won't find anywhere else
Why they might blow up: The sandwich concept has been done to death, but a playful attitude towards menu innovation sets them apart. After all, no one's local sub shop does ethnic spins like Peruvian steak, pork belly bánh mìs, or not-so-fried chicken. A loyal-as-hell following makes this prime for expansion outside their home state of California.
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