The difference between fast food and fast casual restaurants is less clear on paper than it is IRL. For both, you likely examine a menu posted on the wall, order and pay up front, leave your dirty dishes or bus your own table. But from there, it’s two different worlds.
The fast casual trend takes the minimal table service of your beloved In-N-Out and ups the game. Food is prepared to order and brought to the table, and in most cases is the focus of the whole enterprise. No wasting time bantering with the server, fussing over dishes being cleared or splitting a check after two bottles of wine. Sometimes all you care about is the food.
Here are a few places to order at the counter, take a number, and consume some of the best meals in town, while (in most cases) enjoying a delightfully adult beverage with your meal, as the universe intended.
First: the classics. No fast cas roundup would be complete without mentioning Philippe. It’s an institution. Some say the Downtown restaurant invented the French Dip, and the sandwich is as profound as jus-soaked roast beef can be. Alcove in Los Feliz is a mash-up of two historic buildings and two concepts: a beloved bakery/dessert cafe and a craft cocktail bar. Pro tip: Come here early and grab a coveted seat on the patio, which is the place to be pretty much year-round.
After helping launch our food truck obsession with Kogi BBQ, Roy Choi gave us Chego!: made-to-order Korean-inspired rice bowls in a Chinatown mall storefront in flavors such as kochujang-lacquered pork belly. While the original location has shuttered, Chego! West at the Alibi Room in West Culver (read: closer to SIXTY Beverly Hills) is still firing on all cylinders.
In 2014, Vivian Ku founded Pine and Crane, serving up riffs on Taiwanese street food in a minimalist Silverlake space that quickly had lines forming out the door. Sunset Junction’s Forage provides locavore-sustainable, impeccably prepared comfort food to bespectacled youth and yoga mat-toters. Huckleberry Cafe is a casual, chef-led, farmers market-sourced, hormone- and antibiotic-free juggernaut of customer glee in Santa Monica, where even the owners are locally raised.
For Texas soul, breakfast-and-lunch-only Homestate has inspired a fierce following among Lone Star expats and SXSW veterans with their breakfast tacos and Frito pies. Back on the westside, the owners of Messhall Kitchen cultivate a growing national obsession with casual BBQ to Brentwood and imminently to Culver City with Holy Cow BBQ.
Photo courtesy of Pooja Chaudhary