The term “fast-casual dining” might seem like an oxymoron—or even an underhanded attempt by restaurateurs at letting their customers know that their business is a notch above McDonalds—while still cheaper than Hyde Park. But the model of juxtaposing higher quality food with speedy service is rapidly becoming the standard for the food and drink industry.
Since the arrival of the first Chipotle burrito —whom have undoubtedly help put the fast-casual dining experience on the map — business owners are catching on that consumers don’t enjoy explaining to their server that they are in a hurry, only to receive an eye roll and the irking potential for saliva in the bottom of their Pepsi. Perhaps this speaks to the humanity of our times—instant satisfaction and quality ingredients for fewer than 10 bucks, the holy grail of grub philosophies. Columbus restaurants like North Star and Piada have proved that splitting the difference between casual dining and fast food is really not that extreme of a business model, but moreover an innovative foodie phenomenon.
Being in a rush doesn’t mean the quality of your diet has to take a nosedive into Big Mac territory, for these Columbus restaurants have embraced this new standard—to eat, drink, be merry, and have the option to GTFO in under 20 minutes.
Greek Express Multiple Locations
Family owned and operated, Greek Express brings the classics to the limelight. Served with fries, Greek Express’s flagship $7 gyro smothered in that mysterious goopy white cucumber and yogurt sauce has certainly made a mark on the Greek dining scene. With six locations under three different names –—Greek Express, Acropolis, and No. 1 Euro shop—you are likely to be in close vicinity to a steamy pile of lamb leg on pita. Get in, get a gyro, try not to pronounce the G, get out, and forget that lambs are simultaneously the cutest and most tasty creatures in the animal kingdom.
Pizza Cucinova 1187 Olentangy River Rd.
When I think “artisan pizza,” my mind drifts to a horrifying scenario where I just spent 40 bucks and three hours of my life waiting on a lackluster margarita pie prepared by a condescending, mustachieod chef named “Luigi.” Pizza Cucinova understands my fear of high-class pizza commitment by bringing the artisan pizza to the fast-casual arena without having to surrender quality tomatoes. The restaurant’s “craft your own pizza” model—made in two to three minutes with unlimited toppings for $8—makes me regret poor pizza choices at other traditional spots in the past. However, if you are unable to trust your pizza instincts, Pizza Cucinova has a variety of chef’s creations -like Steak & Gorgonzola and Wild Mushroom that are sure to transform you into a pizza connoisseur—without forcing you to take out a second mortgage on your home.
Yats Cajun Creole 1386 Grandview Ave.
You don’t have to be submersed in colorful beads on Bourbon Street to get decent Cajun anymore. Since Yats Cajun Creole arrived in Columbus, it has been bringing soulful cuisine to our hungry faces without simultaneously crushing our wallet and watch. Even though the food comes out faster than a ragtime trombone solo, each dish is slow-cooked with oodles of Dixieland love. For $6-10, you can get a kickin’ drunk chicken, vegan black chili, or a gob of mouthwatering gumbo before you can say jambalaya 10 times fast. The food is flavorful and nourishing, and fits the niche of fast-casual dining with a welcoming kick of Nola spice.
Bibibop Asian Grill Multiple Locations
Yes, it is really fun to say, and even more so with a mouth stuffed with teriyaki vegetables. Inspired by the Korean dish bibimbap, literally meaning “mixed rice,” Bibibop is making a hell of a hullabaloo in the fast-casual scene by offering healthy, Asian-inspired dishes that typically start with a bowl of sticky rice. For about $8, you pick a protein, a sauce, and toppings—the “choose your own adventure” of neo-Asian cuisine-—which should certainly be paired with edamame and a cup of miso soup. There are no fryers in Bibipop—only steamers and a grill—so you don’t have to hate yourself for eating out on a Monday night. Soon, you will find your go-to dish—the one that brings you Zen, fulfillment, and a happy Buddha belly.