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Lunch, Anyone? Cava

Popular Mediterranean fast-casual chain makes Boston debut

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Few Boston neighborhoods have seen the explosion in fast-casual dining more than Fenway. Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Blaze Pizza, Panera, and Saloniki are all within throwing distance of one another. Cava has now joined the crowded field.

The rapidly expanding D.C.–based Mediterranean chain known for its customizable build-a-meals opened on Boylston Street in January, and has become a local favorite. It’s the chain’s first foray into the Boston market, but plans call for Dedham, Hingham, and Back Bay spots to open in the coming months. We stopped by on a recent Friday to see what all the fuss was about.

The restaurant operates much like its neighborhood competitors: you get in line, build your meal, and then sit back and enjoy. And enjoy we did.

You start by choosing a base of either grains, like rice or lentils, or salad (or both). There is also a pita option. You then choose up to three dips and spreads, with hummus, tzatziki, Cava’s popular “Crazy Feta,” and harissa among the options. (The chain’s dips and spreads are sold at Whole Foods markets). Next comes the protein: grilled chicken, meatballs, lamb, and falafel and roasted vegetables, to name a few. Then you select the toppings—lettuce, diced cucumber, olives, cauliflower quinoa tabbouleh, and so on. Finally, pick from Cava’s slate of dressings, ranging from lemon herb tahini to green harissa. Every bowl comes with a warm pita on the side as well.

Hungry yet? We sure were.

Cava offers grain bowls, greens + grain bowls, salads, soups, and pita sandwiches.

Cava serves grain bowls, greens and grain bowls, salads, soups, and pita sandwiches.

We ordered a grain bowl ($9.57), a cup of the roasted tomato with harissa soup ($3.97), and a large cup of pineapple apple mint juice ($2.75), one of the many freshly made drink options. Cava boasts that it serves “food that fills you and fulfills you, too.” It didn’t disappoint.

The soup was earthy—a hearty mix of vegetables, including carrots and onions, although it could have used more tomato. It had a strong kick to it, courtesy of the harissa (a hot chili pepper paste, for the uninitiated) and black pepper sprinkled throughout. It packs plenty of heat, so if you’re a fan of spicy foods, you’ll love it.

Cava’s main attraction, of course, is its build-your-meal option. And with 58,978,800 combinations to choose from, it may take several minutes to select your ingredients.

For our bowl, we chose brown rice, grilled chicken, hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, harissa, tomato and cucumber, extra cucumber, cauliflower quinoa tabbouleh, lettuce, and a mix of lemon herb tahini and spicy turmeric tahini dressings. And who would turn down free pita? Not us.

With nearly a dozen competing ingredients in one bowl, there was no shortage of flavor. The grilled chicken was well seasoned, and the portion generous. The veggies added a nice crunch, and also helped mitigate the bowl’s bolder flavors. The hummus was smooth and creamy and tied the rice, chicken, and veggies together. Finally, the harissa gave the bowl a strong kick.

All in all, it was an eclectic meal, both yummy and filling.

With its customizable build-a-meal option, Cava offers diners a dizzying 58,978,800 combos (they counted).

With its customizable build-a-meal option, Cava offers diners a dizzying 58,978,800 combos (they counted).

Cava makes its juices and teas fresh daily. Our pineapple apple mint juice was refreshing and sweet, and offset the bowl’s savory flavors nicely. We went back for seconds.

For the skeptics who wondered if the Fenway needed or could support another fast-casual joint, Cava makes a persuasive argument in the affirmative. With its fresh ingredients, friendly environment, delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and budget-friendly prices, it more than holds its own among the competition.

Cava, 1346 Boylston St., is open daily from 10:45 am to 10 pm, accepts all major credit cards, offers online ordering, and has a mobile app for ordering and rewards as well. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the Kenmore Square MBTA station. 

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch and brunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Jacob Gurvis can be reached at jgurvis@bu.edu; follow him on Twitter at @JacobGurvis.

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