Photo: Courtesy of Sweetgreen

A fast-food revolution is taking place, and a handful of inspired chefs are leading the way. 

April 04, 2017

Eating out is the norm in America. Swinging by the drive-thru, going out for a nice dinner, and ordering takeout have become more and more common throughout the decades. Last year, Americans were recorded as, for the first time in history, spending more money on eating out than on groceries. 

While this statistic may seem alarming, eating out doesn't have to automatically be unhealthy. There's a new generation of chefs and entrepreneurs that are changing the fast food game to match with America's shifting tastes. These health-conscious fast-casual establishments are challenging the stereotype that budget-friendly and quick food has to be bad for you. 

Restaurants that are changing the face of fast food:

 Photo: Audrey Ma

LocoL

Named by smashing together the words "local" and "loco" ("crazy" in Spanish), LocoL was the first-ever chef-owned and operated fast-food establishment. Opened in a low-income community within Watts California, the two owners created the chain to provide affordable and wholesome food in an area that is considered a food desert. With menu items like cheeseburgers, pizza, and "waffles n wings", LocoL is serving up fast food favorites, free of excess sodium, sugar, and fat.

by CHLOE

Created with the intent to make wholesome plant-based foods more mainstream, by CHLOE was the brainchild of chef Chloe Coscarelli. While Coscarelli and the chain have since parted ways, the brand's main mission remains the same: provide delicious vegan food made from whole ingredients. With a commitment to sustainability, from their packaging to ingredient sources, by CHLOE is an example of America's invigorated interest in plant-based foods. 

 Photo: Courtesy of Sqirl LA

Sqirl

Located just a few miles away from LocoL, Sqirl is making waves in the food scene. With a menu based on whole grains, DIY jams, fermented foods, and local produce, it's hard to go wrong with these dishes. The menu is constantly rotating thanks to the variety of fresh fruit and veggies available in California, and range from items like Cauliflower Hash to Bad & Bougie Salad.

Original ChopShop

Inspired by the stress of eating healthy while on-the-go, Original ChopShop labels itself "Healthy Craft Cuisine". The chain's diverse menu includes dishes like grilled protein bowls, filling salads, and superfruit parfaits. Original ChopShop is a neighborhood eatery, with all of the convenience of a fast food restaurant, geared towards feeding everyone's needs.

 Photo: Courtesy of Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen

With the goal of changing how people feed themselves, Sweetgreen is a revolutionary chain. The first core value listed on their site reads "Create solutions where the company wins, the customer wins, the community wins." The focus on fresh and whole foods, like colorful salads and warm grain-based bowls, combines with a commitment to helping the environment and a transparency that isn't always present in modern fast food chains. 

Beefsteak

The veggie-heavy menu at Beefsteak is an example of how plant-based meals are booming. With a menu that's entirely vegetarian, customers can add on meats, like chicken sausage or salt-cured salmon, for an upcharge. Those who forgo the omnivore options though won't feel like they're missing out. The hearty veggie bowls, cleverly named salads like "When in Romaine", and beet-based Beefsteak Burger will satisfy any palate. These products were likely procured by the recently hired "chief of produce" who ensures that ingredients are sustainably and locally sourced. The restaurant recently paired with Tio Gazpacho to offer grab-and-go gazpacho options at the chain's five locations.