Fancy and fine are no longer the pinnacle of our food experience. We’re eating out more than ever and looking for lively, casual spots, often at the last minute, dressed down, no booking. Enter then a new generation of fast-casual restaurants. They give us all the convenience of fast food but these new incarnations are all about fresh ingredients, sleek design and downright tasty food. A far cry from the plastic trays and inferior food of yore. Perfect spots to grab a quick bite before a gig, nip into on your own…city eating at it’s best.
Umi Falafel, various locations
Image: Umi Falafel on Facebook
If you’ve happened to come across an enticing Middle Eastern waft on the street, chances are you’ve stumbled upon Umi Falafel, now with five locations in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. The waft can be pinned to their signature sandwiches - pockets of fresh baked flatbreads stuffed with delicious deep fried balls of chickpeas and piquant sauces. The Palestinian is king here, packed with falafel, hummus, tomato, cucumber pickles, fried aubergine, flat parsley and chilli & tahini sauce. Eat in and enjoy the substantial mezze menu full of flaky filo rolls, bright fresh salads, grilled halloumi, stuffed vine leaves and baba ganoush. Vibrant fresh juices and drinks are a great match (though no booze) and plenty of honey-soaked baklava.
No booking, walk-in only.
Image: The Ramen Bar
Tucked into a basement on happening South William Street, ramen reigns supreme at this handsome Japanese spot, all dark wood, paper lanterns and bamboo. They make luscious broth bases from scratch and fresh handmade noodles are piled in every bowl. The classic tonkotsu is a firm favourite, stuffed full of warming soup, tender pork chashu, nori and a seasoned egg as are the aromatic garlic lovers' ramen and the virtuous spicy salmon. They are a joy to slurp through and there is plenty of options for customisation on the menu. Tempting appetisers are worth squeezing in as sides or starters. Niku-man burgers are steamed buns with pork and spicy sauce and the pumpkin korokke and the sharing prawn cracker nachos go down a treat too.
They can take bookings but happily accept walk-ins.
Bunsen, Dublin, Cork & Belfast
Image: Bunsen via Facebook
Their tagline is ‘Straight Up Burgers’ and it doesn’t get more straight up than a business card sized menu of hamburger, with or without cheese, fries and a soda, milkshake or beer. The compact menu is a refreshing change from oversized, pimped up burgers of previous years but it’s not just the simplicity that appeals - the taste is spot on too. Burgers are fresh minced Black Aberdeen Angus, perfectly melting cheese, pickle for umami and a classic American Amish dinner roll bun. There’s a skill in the grilling which involves a quick steam before serving. All served up to us on a dinky, retro silver tray, wrapped to minimise mess. Simple and sublime and worth a wait at busy times.
They take bookings for 8-10 people. Otherwise, it’s just walk in.
Image: Catch 22
Grab some seaside vibes right in the city at this punningly named fish restaurant. At Catch 22, they serve up an extensive fresh fish menu in their chilled out, seaside style dining room. Fishy starter favourites include Carlingford oysters, prawn salad, fried calamari and chunky seafood chowder. Mains, or ‘Big Catch’ as they call them, include baked sea trout, crusted hake and fish pie and all come with hand cut chips or sweet potato fries. They also do fish-free dishes, salads and seasonal specials. Beers on tap and a succinct selection of fish-focused wines make it a brill spot for a casual, crowd-pleasing dinner.
They do take bookings but also encourage walk-ins.
Musashi, various locations Dublin
The lively and casual Musashi noodle and sushi spots have a solid reputation for serving up the best and authentic sushi, sashimi and maki in the city. Sushi is served in a traditional manner and beautifully displayed, made fresh to order so there’s never a bit of cold rice (the cardinal sin of sushi). Order beyond sushi for tempting tempura and katsu and plenty of authentic Japanese favourites like Tako Sunomono, a cucumber, seaweed and octopus salad. They do a solid ramen selection, as well as perfect bento box serves. There’s a good selection of Japanese drinks - beers, sake and plum wines to tuck into.
They do take bookings but happily accept walk-ins.