Why This TikTok-Famous Fast Casual Chain is My Favorite Lunch Spot

Just don't call it, "The Mediterranean Chipotle".

Three Cava bowls of mediterranean salad and grain bowls sit on a tricolor background.
Photo: Cava/Dotdash Meredith

For years, chains like Chipotle, Subway, and Sweetgreen have had a strong hold on the lunch rush. But there's a new contender in the ring, and it's growing in popularity quickly, especially on TikTok. It's called Cava, and it's a fast casual Mediterranean joint that's gaining a following faster than it can expand to meet the hype. Here's what you need to know about Cava, which has—much to their chagrin—been called, "The Mediterranean Chipotle".

What is Cava?

Cava was originally founded by Ike Grigoropoulos, Chef Dmitri Moshovitis, and Ted Xenohristos, three friends and first generation Greek-Americans. Its first iteration was as a full service restaurant in Maryland, after which Cava (then Cava Mezze) expanded to four locations and started selling their beloved Mediterranean dips in grocery stores across America.

In 2011, Brett Schulman joined as co-CEO and the Cava fast casual chain we know today was born. As of today, there are more than 200 locations across America, with plans to expand to more than 500 by 2025.

Cava's build-your-own format, combined with its high quality Mediterranean ingredients and fan-favored dips, have proved to be a winning format. The chain has gained a loyal following on social media, and 'taste tests' of people trying Cava for the first time have been going viral on TikTok since last year.

Why People Love Cava

If you've never had Cava, you'll find a similar experience to chains like Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Chopt, or Qdoba. It's a fast casual format wherein customers move down a line building their bowls, salads, or pita sandwiches along the way. They do have several pre-made menu options, but real fans know that customized is the way to go.

For the bowls, you can choose a of base of several types of greens or grains, then a few different Mediterranean-inspired proteins including falafel, spicy lamb meatballs, harissa honey chicken, and a seasonal vegetable option. Now for the best parts: the dips and toppings.

Cava has six options for homemade dips: tzatziki, hummus, red pepper hummus, harissa, roasted eggplant dip, and Crazy Feta, their signature spicy feta dip. Now we arrive at my absolute favorite part of Cava—you can pick as many toppings as you want.

That's right, they have 13 different toppings—from fire-roasted corn to lentil tabbouleh to pita crisps—and you can add as many as you like with no extra charge (except for avocado, of course).

Then, finally, you pick your dressings and again, Cava is generous; You can pick up to two different dressings with no charge. The Mediterranean dressings range from creamy (Yogurt Dill) to nutty (Tahini Caesar) to spicy (Skhug or Hot Harissa Vinaigrette). One note: this chain has a lot of options for spicy food lovers, so if you've been seeking heat in your go-to lunch spot, Cava may just be the answer.

Everyone has their own personalized Cava orders, of course. But, if you need inspiration for your first trip to Cava, here's mine: a "Greens and Grains" bowl with harissa honey chicken, tzatziki, red pepper hummus, and Crazy Feta, and pretty much every topping. The kalamata olives, tomato-cucumber salad, and pickled onions are my MVPs and must-haves. A drizzle of half-Lemon Herb Tahini and half-Skhug and we're ready to roll.

The Bottom Line

If you're tired of shrink-flation at fast casual chains, and your same lunch suddenly jumping from $10 to $16 without notice, you should give Cava a try. A standard bowl ranges between $11 and $13 and includes a side pita. Typically, the portions are so generous that I can make two meals out of one bowl, no hack required.

In fact, on social media Cava even shares their own budget-friendly menu hacks—a nod to Chipotle cracking down on several TikTok hacks.

Have I—and practically all of TikTok—convinced you to try Cava yet? Find a location near you on Cava's website, or if there isn't one in your area yet, you can find the dips in stores like Whole Foods across the country, and DIY your very own Greens & Grains bowl.

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