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These 10 restaurants could be the next Sweetgreen

A worker prepares avocados inside a Sweetgreen restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts.
Adam Glanzman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Looking for a new restaurant to try out before its lines get too long?

Fishbowl Analytics has got you covered. The firm released its sixth annual list of emerging restaurant brands Tuesday.

Past lists have tapped up-and-coming brands like Sweetgreen, which reached a valuation of $1 billion last year, and Shake Shack as chains to watch.

The analytics firm rates brands using a combination of nominations, media mentions and social media buzz to curate its list, Fishbowl analyst Katharine Dalton said. To be considered, chains must have five to 75 locations.

This year's list is one of its most diverse, representing a range of flavor profiles and restaurant concepts, Dalton said. But one characteristic that most of the chains have in common is their health-focused menus. According to Dalton, that's now the price of entry, not a distinguishing feature.

10. Punch Bowl Social

Punch Bowl Social
Photo: Amber Boutwell

Millennials are all about experiences, according to marketing professionals. Punch Bowl Social aims to take advantage of that with a mix of dining and entertainment that echos Dave & Buster's.

Customers can find corn hole, arcade games, pingpong tables and bowling lanes in its locations. The budding chain also offers a full food and drink menu when players need more sustenance.

And if there isn't a location near you yet, there might be soon. The company has plans to add seven restaurants this year to its existing fleet of 16.

9. Bibibop Asian Grill

Bibibop
Source: Bibibop

Bibibop Asian Grill lets you customize your entree from start to finish. The chain takes its inspiration from the Korean rice dish bibimbap.

The Columbus, Ohio-based chain, which has 30 locations, is also focused on bringing food to its customers that leaves them feeling happy and healthy. Fishbowl pointed to menu items like bubble tea and cucumber wasabi as fan favorites.

Founder Charley Shin is no newcomer to the industry. He's behind Charleys Philly Steaks, which has been around since 1986 and has more than 500 locations.

8. The Little Beet

The Little Beet, a fast-casual restaurant in New York City
Source: Little Beet

While its name suggests a beet-focused menu, The Little Beet's menu includes a much wider variety of veggies. Its produce is locally sourced, with a number of vegan friendly choices.

The Little Beet also says all of its menu items are both gluten-free and "guiltin' free."

For now, the fast-casual chain has nine locations in New York and Washington, D.C., but is expanding to Florida in 2019.

7. Lemonade

Food plate at Lemonade
Source: Lemonade

Founded 11 years ago, Lemonade offers a variety of both lemonade flavors and entrees. Diners move through the restaurant selecting their salads, braised meat dishes and sandwiches cafeteria-style, complete with trays.

The California fast-casual chain has 28 locations, but a recent merger with Modern Market Eatery will result in 58 stores in 10 markets between the two of them, with licensing and franchising plans ahead. Lemonade will continue to focus its growth on California, at least initially.

6. Urban Plates

Urban Plates
Source: Urban Plates

This restaurant is already seeing its lines extend past its doors. Customers love their grass-fed steak and sustainable produce, according to Fishbowl. Like Lemonade, the food here is served cafeteria-style.

Urban Plates has locations on both coasts, with 13 eateries in California and 3 in Washington, D.C.

The company completed a $38 million fund round in late 2018.

5. Mendocino Farms

Mendocino Farms

The California-based sandwich shop is back on the list again this year thanks to its friendly service and varied line-up of salads and sandwiches.

According to Dalton, Mendocino Farms is a "massive fan favorite." It's also starting to expand outside of its home market in Southern California to Northern California and Texas. The chain has 25 locations and five more are on the way.

In 2015, Whole Foods — prior to its acquisition by Amazon — invested in the company.

4. Dig Inn

Marketbowl at Dig Inn
Photo: Christian Harder

This fast-casual eatery takes pride in its locally sourced ingredients. Dig Inn also has it owns farm in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. To keep its prices low, the chain tries to minimize waste by using the entire vegetable. When mixed together, those ingredients result in dishes that diners love to recommend.

It has taken the chain eight years to reach 26 locations, mostly in New York City and Boston, but it has much bigger expansion goals this year. It could open as many as 15 stores in 2019 alone.

3. True Food Kitchen

A salmon dish from True Food Kitchen.
Source: True Food Kitchen

Last year's Number 1 emerging restaurant brand, True Food Kitchen is known for its health-focused menu with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. It slipped two spots this year in a tight race, but reviewers still love its food, which ranges from quinoa burgers to edamame dumplings to chocolate cake.

Oprah Winfrey joined the company's board in 2018 after making an undisclosed equity investment, which the chain plans to use to double its store count over the next two years, focusing mostly on the East Coast. True Food Kitchen has 23 locations.

"I think this could be the year that True Food really explodes," Dalton said.

2. Bartaco

Source: Bartaco

Bartaco specializes in street food favorites found in Southern California, Mexico and South America. During its fiscal fourth quarter, the brand opened two more locations, bringing its total to 18.

Customers "highly recommend" the restaurant and say that they definitely plan to return, Fishbowl found.

Fishbowl isn't the only one that sees Bartaco's potential. Del Frisco's Restaurant Group last year acquired the chain's parent company, which also owns a more upscale brand called Barcelona, for $325 million in cash. The company said that it plans to add three to four locations in 2019.

1. Cava Grill

An equity trader quits his career and beefs up a Mediterranean food brand.
Source: Cava

Cava Grill's fans call it the Chipotle of Mediterranean food. Customers personalize grain bowls, salads and pitas with options like lamb meatballs, falafel and roasted red pepper hummus.

Besides food that reviewers love, Cava's staff and customer service also help it stand out from the crowd.

After three years on the list, the Mediterranean grill is graduating this year after surpassing 75 locations. It just hit 76 stores but has not released its 2019 expansion plans. The Mediterranean chain's parent company completed its acquisition of Zoes Kitchen last year.