10 hot restaurant brands to watch to spot the next big hit

Source: Sweetgreen

Ever heard of Shake Shack or Sweetgreen? Chances are the answer is yes. These popular restaurants are just two that have been featured in past editions of Fishbowl's annual list of emerging brands. And both continue on a red-hot growth trajectory.

This year, Fishbowl combed through data, looking at the growth potential, sales volume, ratings and consumer enthusiasm to determine the top 10 emerging restaurant brands. Chief Analytics Officer Mike Lukianoff described the group as "broader" than previous editions.

"We're starting to see a lot of different kinds of flavors," he said.

The majority fall into the fast casual category, which saw its traffic growth decelerate last year to 1 percent on the heels of poor performance from Chipotle Mexican Grill, according to data from the NPD Group.

Katharine Dalton, an analyst at Fishbowl, said each of brands set itself apart by having a clear voice and putting their own spin on freshness, a key trend in the business.

"Brands that don't pay attention to that are just not going to keep up," Dalton said.

10. Epic Burger

Serving up burgers since 2008, the chain describes its burgers as "more mindful." The burgers are prepared without drugs, artificial colors and flavors, nitrates, phosphates and preservatives.

Locations: The chain has eight locations in the Chicago area.

Expansion plans: The chain is currently evaluating opportunities for adding new restaurants.

9. Sushirrito

Why choose between sushi and a burrito when you can have both? Sushirrito describes itself as "the original sushi burrito concept," melding Asian and Latin flavor combinations. The restaurant started in the Bay Area before going bi-coastal with its first locations in New York.

Locations: It currently has eight restaurants.

Expansion plans: Sushirrito says it has no expansion plans to announce publicly yet, but there are more locations in the works.

8. Founding Farmers

Source: Founding Founders

Although the original Founding Farmers location is in D.C., the chain truly got its start in North Dakota, where members of a farmers union there brainstormed a way to support family farms. With the help of two restaurant industry veterans, the idea came to fruition. Owned by more than 40,000 family farmers, the restaurants get their ingredients fresh from hundreds of family farms.

Locations: The company has five locations in the D.C. area, including three of its original concept and another called Farmers Fishers Bakers and one called Farmers & Distillers.

Expansion plans: Founding Farmers didn't respond to CNBC's request for comment.

7. Dinosaur BBQ

Dinosaur BBQ's Brisket Sandwich
Source: Dinosaur BBQ

Before Dinosaur BBQ served its brisket and ribs from locations throughout the Northeast and one in Maryland, its founders were serving motorcycle enthusiasts from their mobile concession business. After five years on the road, they opened their first brick-and-mortar barbecue joint in 1988 in downtown Syracuse, New York.

Locations: The chain has nine locations.

Expansion plans: It has no plans to open any new locations in 2017. Instead, Dinosaur is focusing on expanding its line of retail products. It will introduce a new rub called "Big Action," which will arrive in major grocery retailers on the East Coast by the end of March, and a new barbecue mustard, which will be sold in the fall, called "Lock Down."

6. Cava Grill and Cava Mezze

As chains continue to jockey to be the dominant fast casual players in different cuisine categories, Cava is out to make its mark on Mediterranean fare with the fast casual concept Cava and the casual dining Cava Mezze. To date, the brands' parent company has raised $60 million and is embarking on its fastest growth to date.

Locations: Cava has 27 locations, while Cava Mezze has five.

Expansion plans: Cava will open one new location per month this year. It also is in the midst a new round of funding.

5. Asian Box

The chain specializes in all-natural Asian street food with local, sustainable and organic ingredients. Capitalizing on another trend in the food world, it serves gluten-free food.

Locations: Asian Box has six restaurants in California

Expansion plans: This year, Asian Box plans to open five more locations, which will be in North California and Southern California. In 2018 and beyond, the chain plans to add roughly six locations per year.

4. &Pizza

This is not your normal pizza delivery joint. &Pizza offers some offbeat pies, including the Elvis (think chocolate-hazelnut peanut butter, banana, bacon and grape jam) and the Farmer's Daughter (spicy tomato, spinach, mozzarella, Italian sausage, egg, Parmesan cheese and hot sauce) along with an option to build your own pizza.

Locations: The pizza joint currently operates 20 locations in D.C. and three states: Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Expansion plans: The company has its sights set on New York City next and will open there in the summer.

3. Xi'an Famous Foods

Xi'an Famous Foods began as what Jason Wang, Xi'an Famous Foods' CEO and president describes as a "hole in the wall" in Queens' Flushing neighborhood before starting to expand in 2009. It's known for its hand-pulled noodles, a regional specialty in the northwestern city of Xi'an in China.

Locations: There are 12 locations in the New York City area.

Expansion plans: A couple more restaurants are on the way. "To support our expansion, we have been building a 20,000-square-foot central kitchen facility in Queens to support more stores in New York City, as well as in other areas such as Boston and D.C.," Wang said.

2. Verts Mediterranean Grill

Chicken Rice Bowl and Falafel Pita by VERTS Mediterranean Grill.
Source: VERTS Mediterranean Grill

Verts is the second Mediterranean restaurant on Fishbowl's list this year.

Locations: The chain currently has 28 locations in major metro areas, including most recently in Philadelphia.

Expansion plans: By 2020, the company's goal is to open 200 restaurants as part of an ambitious expansion plan.

1. Sweetgreen

Founded a decade ago, Sweetgreen focuses on seasonal dishes made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients.

Locations: Sweetgreen currently has 64 locations.

Expansion plans: This year, it plans to nearly double its current location count.