Best Foolproof Fast-Casual

655 K St. NW, (202) 652-1464
I witnessed something disturbing in the sauce section of SKWR—a downtown lunch spot where customers proceed down an assembly line, picking fillings and toppings for bowls. By the time you arrive at SKWR’s sauce options, you have already chosen a base, three spreads, one protein, and a half-dozen or more toppings like carrots or cabbage. The customer ahead of me was asked to choose one sauce. “I’ll have all five,” he said, and the SKWR employee drenched his bowl. A system that allows individuals to layer an already-full bowl with a coating of sauce soup is broken. Many of the Chipotle knock-offs don’t recognize that the Tex-Mex empire’s strengths lie not just in its assembly-line process or the freedom to customize, but in the small number of ingredients and their cohesion.

This brings me to Shouk, the Middle Eastern pita and rice-bowl joint in Mount Vernon Triangle. Instructions at the top of the menu read, “Pick one; we’ll do the rest.” One of the options consists of fennel, potato, red pepper, and pistachio pesto; another is mushroom, cauliflower, asparagus, arugula, za’atar, and tahina. The relatively minimalist approach means you can actually taste everything, and thank goodness for that. The vegetables and sauces at Shouk are intense. There are no animal products on the menu, but nothing at Shouk tastes like it’s missing something or trying to compensate for meat’s absence. Not even the veggie burger.