NYC is a foodie’s paradise, and the good news is that some of the top “fast food” restaurants in New York City don’t sacrifice taste for speed. Sure, you can grab a “dirty dog” from a curbside vendor or a burger and fries from the ubiquitous and typical fast food chains. But this is New York — a renowned melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Even when you’re pressed for time, you can still eat well here.
Top ‘Fast Food’ Restaurants in New York City
There are plenty of places to eat when you’re in a hurry, and plenty of places to eat when you’re not. This list features 10 restaurants that “do” good food fast, but aren’t typical fast food places. Instead, they make their food fresh in on-site kitchens with no warming lamps and microwaves. All are chains with multiple locations throughout the city, so you’re bound to find one when you’re done browsing masterpieces at the MET or stretching your legs along the High Line.
1 Pret a Manger
Start your morning with a warm egg brioche or frittata from Pret a Manger, a UK-based chain that’s open all day. It serves soup, hot and cold sandwiches and wraps, mac and cheese, hot pots, and baguettes, in addition to hot breakfast. The restaurant chain is environmentally friendly (you get a 10-cent discount when you bring in a reusable cup for your drink) and focused on sustainability. Additionally, any food left over at the end of the day is donated to local charities through The Pret Foundation.
Chipotle Mexican Grill was one of the original “quick service” restaurants, proving that the top “fast food” restaurants in New York City didn’t have to sacrifice quality for speed. When you’ve got a hankering for Mexican food, stop by for a crispy taco or burrito loaded with “responsibly raised” meat. Vegans and vegetarians can replace the meat with organic tofu, and every ingredient used is guaranteed to be non-GMO and preservative-free. Other menu options include salads and soft flour tacos, and Chipotle also has a kid’s menu.
Fast food in New York encompasses many different cuisines, and indikitch serves authentic Indian food that’s ready in minutes instead of hours. Customers first choose their food “style” — biryani, kati rolls, dosa, salad, or a feast with sides — and then their meat and sauce. Other menu items include samosas, naan, and an assortment of chutneys. There are currently five indikitch locations in the city, including one close to Rockefeller Center.
4 Shake Shack
Shake Shack began as a hotdog cart in Madison Square Park and then grew to a park kiosk offering burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, frozen custard, shakes, and more. Today, you can find Shake Shacks as far away as California and Texas, but the restaurant’s roots are still in NYC. You can even make their juicy burgers and thick shakes the last meal you have here, as there are Shake Shack locations in Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station, and at JFK and LaGuardia airports.
As with the rest of the top “fast food” restaurants on this list, Bareburger works with local farmers and partners to craft environmentally friendly and health-conscious food. This includes an assortment of burgers, salads, appetizers, sandwiches, drinks, and desserts, as well as a dedicated menu of vegetarian and vegan options. There are even three vegan shake offerings — two of them made with hemp milk. Restaurants are open for lunch and stay open well past dinnertime.
6 Xi’an Famous Foods
This restaurant chain began as a large basement mall stall in Flushing, Queens, and now has 14 locations throughout Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. It serves food from Xi’an, a city in China located on the Silk Road, that also incorporates Middle Eastern flavors. Spice lovers will appreciate the heavy use of cumin, chili, and peppercorns, and the stars of the menu are hand-ripped noodles, which are found in both soups and plated entrees.
7 Le Pain Quotidien
With 45 locations scattered throughout New York City, you should have no problem finding Le Pain Quotidien. This upscale bakery has as its core a belief in the power of people breaking bread together at communal tables. Stop by for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, and enjoy rustic, nurturing dishes like grain bowls, quiches, soups, chilis, frittatas, and bread — crusty and freshly baked.
Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and chef Sisha Ortuzar opened the first ’Wichcraft on East 19th Street in 2003, with a goal to elevate the sandwich to a meal both gourmet and “clean.” Five Manhattan locations now serve upscale sandwiches — as well as salads, soups, avocado toast, and more — for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Think healthy, sustainable, locally grown, and lovingly prepared.
One of the top “fast food” restaurants in New York City, Sweetgreen celebrates the farm-to-table ethos with a menu that changes according to what grows in the season. For instance, its New York winter menu focuses on root vegetables, beets, onions, and squash. Chefs also source local cheeses, and many dishes are vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten-free. Sweetgreen stresses the connection between “real” food and health — come here for nutritious and delicious salads and “warm bowls” featuring grains, veggies, and protein.
10 Num Pang Kitchen
Num Pang is Cambodian for “sandwich,” and this restaurant reinvents the classic handheld with Cambodian- and Southeast-Asian-inspired flavors. Six locations in New York City serve up sandwiches, salads, soups, grain/rice bowls, and sides that feature both meat and vegetarian options. All sandwiches come with chili mayo, cilantro, cucumber slices, and pickled carrots, and you can try some spicy Cambodian slaw to put a little kick in your day.
All of the top “fast food” restaurants in New York City offer online ordering, so if you’re truly in a rush, place your order before you stop by.