Before the chain Cava was born, its three founding owners ran just a single full-service Greek restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, Cava Mezze, which they launched in 2006. From there, the owners – all first-generation Greek-Americans – took the red-hot concept of fast casual and applied it to the food of their birthplace. The result is a rapidly growing chain that now has more than 70 locations. Guests line up at the counter, survey an array of greens, grains, Greek spreads, meats, and other toppings, and then point at items to build their own bowl, salad, or pita wrap. At the Charlottesville outpost, there is little evidence that expansion has diluted quality. The owners’ passion for good eating and well-sourced ingredients is unmistakable.
Owner’s pick: Greens and grains bowl with rice, chicken, braised lamb shoulder, harissa, tzatziki, vegetables, and seasonal dressing ($9.87).
Crowd favorites: Black lentils, harissa spread, spicy lamb meatballs. Toppings: roasted vegetables, pickled banana peppers, tomato-and-onion salad, cabbage slaw. Dressing, lemon herb tahini vinaigrette.