Not a week goes by when we don’t eat at a fast-casual restaurant. These counter-service places with customizable options and higher-quality ingredients than traditional fast food have become everyone’s grab and go. Here are some of our favorites.
There are a lot more mischievous things you could do than eat at Sin & Grin, but a meal here will probably put a smile on your face. The attractive rotisserie, salad and taco spot opened in October 2017 in the Kentlands and is owned by Julie and Vasili Hristopoulos, who ran Vasilis Mediterranean Grill in the same location for about 15 years. (When it closed, they opened Vasili’s Kitchen, a bigger full-service restaurant nearby, with additional partners.) Fresh ingredients, bold flavors and reasonable prices add up to an appealing selection of items, such as the “Kickin’ Shrimp” tacos, the blackened fish salad and the Mediterranean-marinated charbroiled chicken. We’ve also enjoyed the “Inspiration Tacos”; with their roasted cauliflower and chickpeas, cabbage, charred corn pico, avocado and yogurt-garlic sauce, they’re certainly more wholesome than sinful.
353 Main St., Gaithersburg; 301-977-5595; singrintacos.com
Situated between a Floormax and a UPS store in a Rockville strip shopping center, Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly is one special find, as the glowing reviews will attest. The Filipino outpost’s signature dish—slow-roasted pork belly with a miraculously crisp skin that shatters like caramelized sugar on crème brulee—is a must-order, as is the lumpia, skinny and crunchy cylinders stuffed with pork and shrimp or vegetables. Those who don’t fancy fat will find other dishes to explore, and by all means try an ube dessert from Gwenie’s Pastries, a company in Rockville owned by Stella Fernandez, sister of Kuya Ja’s chef and co-owner Javier Fernandez. The vibrantly colored purple yam that’s popular in Filipino desserts is a stunner.
5268-H Nicholson Lane, Rockville; 240-669-4383; kuyajas.com
What restaurateur Danny Meyer started in 2001 as a hot dog cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park has attracted a near-cult following, so it’s no wonder that local enthusiasts were thrilled when Montgomery County’s first Shake Shack opened in September. With a large outdoor seating area and a congenial, attentive staff, the Potomac restaurant focuses on elevated burgers (with the legendary ShackSauce), fries and shakes. The juicy Angus beef is hormone- and antibiotics-free, the soft Martin’s potato rolls are non-GMO, the crinkle-cut fries are hot and crispy, and the thick shakes are nirvana in a paper cup. There’s even hard-to-find frozen custard, and “concretes” made with custard and mix-ins such as a slice of seasonal pie from Sweetly Anchored Patisserie, also located in Cabin John Village. Disciples will never have to drive downtown again.
7997 Tuckerman Lane (Cabin John Village), Potomac; 301-679-6470; shakeshack.com
Whatever combination of rice, protein, veggies and sauces we concoct at Bibibop Asian Grill, it ends up full-flavored, healthy-tasting and satisfying. Serving a variation of bibimbap, the Korean mixed-rice dish, the chain was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013 by Charley Shin, a Korean immigrant who started Charleys Philly Steaks in 1986 when he was a student at Ohio State University. Now it’s a cheesesteak empire with hundreds of locations worldwide. Bibibop landed in our neck of the woods in 2017, when Shin’s company bought the locations of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, Chipotle’s shuttered concept. We’re glad it did.
4820 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301-452-3077; 11584 Old Georgetown Road (Pike & Rose), Unit 1126, North Bethesda, 301-337-9465; 935 Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring, 301-337-9422, bibibop.com
It’s best to leave Dog Haus Biergarten for an evening at the end of the week (TGIF), or a game day, when you can feel freer to explore the 24 craft drafts, most of them local. Or throw caution to the wind and hit the 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday happy hour (which also runs from 10 p.m. to closing on Friday), when drafts, wine and cocktails are $2 off, and 16-ounce cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon go for $3. Between the brews, edgy music, wide-screen TVs and jazzed-up hot dogs, sausages and burgers, this first Maryland locale of a California-based chain is one hip hangout. Decisive diners can BYO (build your own), while others can go with the popular flow, meaning the “Sooo Cali” and “Downtown” hot dogs, the “Thai Fighter” and “Das Brat” sausages, and the “Little Mule” and “The Hangover” burgers. Don’t forget a side of tots.
7904 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-4287; bethesda.doghaus.com