As a vegetarian who loves to eat, I am loving the increasing availability of "The Chipotle Concept": Now, I'm no expert on restaurants, so I can't say for certain that Chipotle pioneered the fast-casual assembly line. But, I can say from a consumer perspective that most people I know think of Chipotle first for this sort of set-up. Regardless of who did it first, I am really enjoying seeing the assembly line concept applied to other cuisines. You get a quick, fairly healthy meal with lots of variety, and, odds are, you're going to get a vegetarian option.
Two I've tried recently in the DC area are Cava Meze Grill and Merzi.
Cava Meze Grill, located on Bethesda Avenue in downtown Bethesda, is Mediterranean style assembly line fast casual. You start with a rice bowl, pitas or mini pitas or salad, and can layer on sauces, meat or falafel and a variety of fresh veggies. My vegetarian version was the rice bowl with falafel, crazy feta and harissa spreads and all the veggies - tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, feta and lettuce. I also had some pita chips on the side to scoop up the sauce. It had a nice kick and was a satisfying meal. Bonus points for their sustainable serveware, which is all compostable!
Cava Mezze Grill has a nutrition calculator if you're keeping an eye on calories, fat, carbs, etc. You can also consult their allergens list to see which items are gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan.
Merzi, located at 7th & D Streets in Gallery Place/Penn Quarter, is Indian style assembly line fast casual. Similar to Cava, you start with a base. The options at Merzi are naan (Indian flatbread), basmati rice, salad or chaat (at Merzi, beans and other vegetables topped off with yogurt and a tamarind-date chutney). You then have the option of adding different kinds of meat, chicken or shrimp, or skipping it if you prefer a vegetarian option. You then can choose from a variety of fresh vegetables, chutneys and hot sauces to finish off your meal.
My dinner last night consisted of a basmati rice bowl with chaat, garbanzo beans, all of the fresh veggies available and the medium sauce, which was a Tikka Masala. All of the veggies were delicious, and the sauce had a good amount of heat. If this was medium, I'm downright terrified of the hot!
Merzi has an allergens list that is helpful to vegans, as it lists milk and dairy.
I think we'll be seeing even more fast casual assembly line food concepts soon, especially with DC set to be the first location of Shophouse, Chipotle's new Southeast Asian Concept. It's set to open in Dupont Circle this summer, and will surely have options for vegans and vegetarians alike!