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Lemonade UTC
Lemonade UTC
Lyudmila Zotova

12 Fabulous Fast-Casual Spots In San Diego

Where to get good and fast food on the go.

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Lemonade UTC
| Lyudmila Zotova

For quality food at a reasonable price point, fast-casual really seems to hit the sweet spot. A winning combination of organic ingredients and speedy turnaround times have cemented the concept as the new rockstar in food service. And so, here are a dozen places to load up on this freshly prepared, feel-good fare around San Diego.

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Tender Greens

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This casual cafeteria-style chain serves up a wide selection of globally influenced sandwiches and salads using locally sourced ingredients. Your choice of chicken, steak, fish or falafel can be made into a sandwich, hot plate or simple salad ($11.50), and served up with plant-based sides like roasted autumn squash, plus soups including rustic chicken and roasted tomato ($5+).

Artisan Bentō

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For Japanese-inspired, health-focused cuisine the customizable bentōs here are hard to beat. The miso salmon ($11.50) comes with miso and mirin-cured salmon, two onigiri rice balls, small salad, and miso soup with an optional extra side of lotus root or seaweed glazed with sesame seeds. Other protein options include chicken skewers, ginger pork, sashimi, and mushroom tofu.

Carnitas' Snack Shack -Del Mar

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Hanis Cavin and Sarah Stroud’s wildly popular counter-service spot is revered for its pork sandwiches and craft beer. While the menu changes daily their signature triple threat pork sandwich, shack fries and carnitas tacos usually always feature. Those seeking slightly lighter fare should look no further than the Snack Shack Cobb salad and/or the veggie burger.

True Food Kitchen

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With a menu based on the principals of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, this relaxed eco-chic concept caters to a variety of diets, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. Lunch and dinner menu standouts include the bison burger, sweet potato hash and kale crunch salad with avocado and grapefruit. Libations, including handcrafted cocktails like the ginger margarita and vegan Thai piña colada, plus organic wines are also not to be missed.

Lemonade UTC

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With its cafeteria-style set up and multiple food stations, you can mix and match endless combinations of seasonal, gourmet fare including sandwiches, salads, soups, braised meats and fresh veggies at this colorful fast-casual chain. Prices range from $6.50 for a sandwich to around $12.50 for up to six portions from the marketplace menu. Popular picks include the truffle mac and cheese, red miso beef short rib and housemade guava limeade.

Farmer & The Seahorse

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Selected as Open Table’s ‪Local Diners Choice‬ 'local pick' of 2015, Brian Malarkey caters to the breakfast, lunch and happy hour crowd at his fast-casual spot near Torrey Pines. Breakfast bites include scrambled eggs and avocado toast, while lunchtime diners can add steak, chicken or shrimp to any of the seven ‘field greens’ salads on the menu -- or enjoy heartier ‘blue plate’ dishes such as local cod n’ garden chips or the New England lobster roll.

Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill

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This casual seafood spot, which featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, is famed for its authentic Mexican-style fish tacos. The 1-2-3 grilled fish ordering system is foolproof: make a selection from the day’s menu pick your marinade and how you’d like it served - plated, sandwiched, topping a salad or a la carte. The homemade New England clam chowder has a loyal local fan base, as do the shrimp cocktails and fresh oysters, which regularly sell out.

Napizza

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Made using fresh local ingredients and served by the square, this local mini-chain currently boasts three locations across the city. Standout slices include: the truffle porcini and bapo, which comprises potato, crispy bacon, mozzarella and fresh rosemary. Napizza also runs specials where you can mix and match any six slices for $4.25 a piece, or get two slices and a draft beer for $15 during happy hour. Vegan/gluten-free options are also available.

Luna Grill

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This homegrown chain serves up authentic Greek kebabs and other Mediterranean eats in a relaxed, counter-service setting. For wraps there are gyros and falafel, while the flat cut chicken kabob (which comes with rice, pita, and salad) is one of the most popular signature plates. Dolmas, spicy feta and handcrafted spinach pie make up just a handful of appetizers on offer.

Barrio Starr

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Bridging the gap between brunch, lunch and dinner, Barrio Star debuted a new easy ordering and quick counter service set up last fall. With its Latin American-influenced signature rice bowls, tacos and tortas made using local and organic ingredients, look out for the combined lunch and dinner menu, plus "Tacos a La Carte" for mix and match orders.

Urban Plates

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Creative and healthy food options abound at this chef-driven enterprise, which currently boasts three outposts in San Diego County. Hand-tossed salads include a grilled wild albacore niçoise and kale, coconut and tofu creation; while hot plates cover everything from oven-baked salmon to grilled steak. The menu includes a gluten free section, kid-friendly meals and ‘pizettes’ too, plus family-style meals (take-out only) for up to four people.

Native Foods

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This vegan restaurant concept centers its dishes round plant-based proteins such as tempeh, seitan and soy-based chicken, cashew cheese and tofu bacon. The globally inspired menu comprises starters such as Japanese sesame crusted chicken bites, alongside other fare like soups, salads and burgers. Their ‘Earth Bowls’ all in come in under $10 and consist of four separate flavor profiles: Moroccan, Greek, Thai and the Southern-style “soul food”.

Tender Greens

This casual cafeteria-style chain serves up a wide selection of globally influenced sandwiches and salads using locally sourced ingredients. Your choice of chicken, steak, fish or falafel can be made into a sandwich, hot plate or simple salad ($11.50), and served up with plant-based sides like roasted autumn squash, plus soups including rustic chicken and roasted tomato ($5+).

Artisan Bentō

For Japanese-inspired, health-focused cuisine the customizable bentōs here are hard to beat. The miso salmon ($11.50) comes with miso and mirin-cured salmon, two onigiri rice balls, small salad, and miso soup with an optional extra side of lotus root or seaweed glazed with sesame seeds. Other protein options include chicken skewers, ginger pork, sashimi, and mushroom tofu.

Carnitas' Snack Shack -Del Mar

Hanis Cavin and Sarah Stroud’s wildly popular counter-service spot is revered for its pork sandwiches and craft beer. While the menu changes daily their signature triple threat pork sandwich, shack fries and carnitas tacos usually always feature. Those seeking slightly lighter fare should look no further than the Snack Shack Cobb salad and/or the veggie burger.

True Food Kitchen

With a menu based on the principals of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, this relaxed eco-chic concept caters to a variety of diets, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. Lunch and dinner menu standouts include the bison burger, sweet potato hash and kale crunch salad with avocado and grapefruit. Libations, including handcrafted cocktails like the ginger margarita and vegan Thai piña colada, plus organic wines are also not to be missed.

Lemonade UTC

With its cafeteria-style set up and multiple food stations, you can mix and match endless combinations of seasonal, gourmet fare including sandwiches, salads, soups, braised meats and fresh veggies at this colorful fast-casual chain. Prices range from $6.50 for a sandwich to around $12.50 for up to six portions from the marketplace menu. Popular picks include the truffle mac and cheese, red miso beef short rib and housemade guava limeade.

Farmer & The Seahorse

Selected as Open Table’s ‪Local Diners Choice‬ 'local pick' of 2015, Brian Malarkey caters to the breakfast, lunch and happy hour crowd at his fast-casual spot near Torrey Pines. Breakfast bites include scrambled eggs and avocado toast, while lunchtime diners can add steak, chicken or shrimp to any of the seven ‘field greens’ salads on the menu -- or enjoy heartier ‘blue plate’ dishes such as local cod n’ garden chips or the New England lobster roll.

Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill

This casual seafood spot, which featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, is famed for its authentic Mexican-style fish tacos. The 1-2-3 grilled fish ordering system is foolproof: make a selection from the day’s menu pick your marinade and how you’d like it served - plated, sandwiched, topping a salad or a la carte. The homemade New England clam chowder has a loyal local fan base, as do the shrimp cocktails and fresh oysters, which regularly sell out.

Napizza

Made using fresh local ingredients and served by the square, this local mini-chain currently boasts three locations across the city. Standout slices include: the truffle porcini and bapo, which comprises potato, crispy bacon, mozzarella and fresh rosemary. Napizza also runs specials where you can mix and match any six slices for $4.25 a piece, or get two slices and a draft beer for $15 during happy hour. Vegan/gluten-free options are also available.

Luna Grill

This homegrown chain serves up authentic Greek kebabs and other Mediterranean eats in a relaxed, counter-service setting. For wraps there are gyros and falafel, while the flat cut chicken kabob (which comes with rice, pita, and salad) is one of the most popular signature plates. Dolmas, spicy feta and handcrafted spinach pie make up just a handful of appetizers on offer.

Barrio Starr

Bridging the gap between brunch, lunch and dinner, Barrio Star debuted a new easy ordering and quick counter service set up last fall. With its Latin American-influenced signature rice bowls, tacos and tortas made using local and organic ingredients, look out for the combined lunch and dinner menu, plus "Tacos a La Carte" for mix and match orders.

Urban Plates

Creative and healthy food options abound at this chef-driven enterprise, which currently boasts three outposts in San Diego County. Hand-tossed salads include a grilled wild albacore niçoise and kale, coconut and tofu creation; while hot plates cover everything from oven-baked salmon to grilled steak. The menu includes a gluten free section, kid-friendly meals and ‘pizettes’ too, plus family-style meals (take-out only) for up to four people.

Native Foods

This vegan restaurant concept centers its dishes round plant-based proteins such as tempeh, seitan and soy-based chicken, cashew cheese and tofu bacon. The globally inspired menu comprises starters such as Japanese sesame crusted chicken bites, alongside other fare like soups, salads and burgers. Their ‘Earth Bowls’ all in come in under $10 and consist of four separate flavor profiles: Moroccan, Greek, Thai and the Southern-style “soul food”.

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