It’s the end of the road for the 2020 Eater Bowl Bowl. For some — like Chop’t and Taco Bell — the journey ended far too soon, while others — heavy-hitters like Sweetgreen, Chipotle, Panera — made it almost to the end, only to be surprisingly crushed by dark horses Cava, an appreciated but not widely known Mediterranean-inspired bowl chain, and Panda Express. Let this be a lesson: Never underestimate the power of good orange chicken.
In an ideal world, we would have taken our obnoxious wordplay to its limit, securing NBA player Bol Bol to be our last Bowl Bowl judge. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach his people because — well — we got too busy with other things to try. Besides, Chipotle already beat us to it. And so we did the next best thing, a staff-wide vote to decide which of our finalists would triumph over all of its competitors.
Beating Panda Express with 66.7 percent of the vote, we have our winner Cava, originally ranked a middling 3 out of 8 bowl types in the Healthy-ish division. (Panda Express, perhaps more impressively, was ranked sixth on the Slop side of the bracket. Talk about an upset!)
Asked to comment on their decision, here are some comments from the Eater staff:
“Cava is THAT GIRL. She is healthful. She is doing what the others can’t (serving braised lamb). She is giving 2x portions of toppings like cucumber and tomato and mint IF you want them. It’s not a one and done scoop situation like the fuckery of Dig Inn or Sweetgreen. She gives you tzatziki! She is sloppy but she is kind. She is delicious most of the time. She is all of this mixed up in a beautiful bowl.”
“More good vegetarian and/or healthy options!”
“It’s so goop-y.” (A compliment, apparently!)
“I love falafel and hummus in bowl form.”
“What’s not to love?” (Vague, but that’s fine.)
“Because I am a woman who likes value. You can choose three dips/spreads, all 13 toppings, and six dressings FOR NO EXTRA COST, which sings to my heart.”
“While Panda has successfully pivoted to the bowl, its pleasures came before this circular cultural moment and will last after. Cava is a bowl native, and its many delightful slops really only make sense dumped into a large round container and eaten more or less at random. You may not like it, but this is what peak bowl looks like.”
“I believe a bowl’s greatest purpose is to serve as a satisfying but also somewhat healthy lunch you eat during the workday. No one does this better than Cava. Cava isn’t doing anything remarkably different from other bowl purveyors with an array of vegetables and proteins to mix and match, but unlike so many of those places, Cava’s mix-and-match options actually taste pretty good.”
And because Panda Express put up such a valiant effort, here’s what its fans had to say about it:
“Panda Express can make people happy or make them sad. If Cava elicits any emotion from customers, it’s deep, unsettling ennui. Panda Express can be a place for families to eat together or solo travelers to hunker down for a pitstop, but Cava is only a place to be alone with your choices, namely the weird flavor combo you decided to overload in your bowl. Any PE customer can dig into a bowl and feel they are having a substantial, semi-coherent eating experience, while a meal at Cava is like an allegory about the dangers of too much choice, overabundance, flavor without context or consideration.”
“It’s what I crave vs. what I feel I should eat.”
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Congrats to Cava on this meaningless-though-flattering honor.
Here’s a visual reminder of where we began: