Far Eastern Flavors Popping Up in Fast Casual Cuisine

Fast-casual dining is taking a turn towards the far east according to this recent report from Advertising Age. Weary of burgers and burritos, customers are turing to Asian-inspired fast-casual outlets in search of bolder, edgier meals.

While Asian cuisine is not hard to come by in the Mountain, Pacific and Mid-Atlantic regions of the country, up until recently seeking it out meant patronizing independently-owned restaurants. Now, chains like Panda Express and Pei Wei (P.F. Chang's quick dining option) are expanding nationwide, giving consumers Asian flavors in familiar surroundings.

Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, is getting in on the game as well with ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, opening this summer in D.C., which will offer the flavors of Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Modeled after Chipotle, ShopHouse's will feature sustainably-raised meats and fresh produce that are cooked on site.

This push towards Asian flavors is also clear in other restaurants. Salad and sandwich chain Panera Bread offers both a Thai Chopped Chicken Salad and an Asian Sesame Chicken Salad and The Cheesecake Factory's massive menu is filled with Asian inspiration including Chicken Potstickers, Thai Lettuce Wraps and a Spicy Ahi Tempura Roll. Even all-American McDonald's is bringing back its Asian Salad with mandarin oranges and edamame.

So why the sudden Asian fixation? Consumers are looking for brighter, more complex flavors and the perceived freshness that Asian cuisine offers. Even in their most Americanized form, these takes on Asian dishes tend to be far more vegetable-heavy than classic burger-and-fries fast food meals, making them more attractive health-wise, as well.

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