Cava vs. Mezeh: Where to go Greek

With a new Mediterranean joint in town, decisions must be made

c67eb1bd-636e-4f7f-99a6-24406896b3f5-sized-1000x1000-2

My typical Cava order includes half super greens, half splendid greens, eggplant and red pepper dip, roasted red pepper hummus, grilled chicken, cabbage slaw, tomato & onion, diced cucumber, tomato & cucumber, pickled onions, lemon wedge and lemon herb tahini.

Maggie Trundle | Cavalier Daily

In the world of bowls, Mediterranean is becoming the new Mexican. Charlottesville now has two destinations serving up Mediterranean food in this form — Cava and Mezeh, both within two miles of each other. This proximity could lead to a battle of the bowls, potentially resulting in only one survivor. Although I have been a big Mezeh fan since it came to Charlottesville in 2016, the recent opening of Cava this past summer has made me rethink my preferences. Ultimately, my vote goes to Cava. 

Location

As a University student, I have found myself frequenting Cava much more than Mezeh. Cava sits right at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street North. When leaving the University area, you might find yourself passing right by Cava, making it an easy and tempting lunch or dinner stop. Cava is my go-to lunch to grab after running errands at Barracks or going to a yoga class nearby. While Mezeh is by no means far from the University, the Stonefield area feels a little bit more out of the way and less of a convenient stop. However, given its proximity to the Regal Cinema theater, it can be a great quick and healthy dinner before a movie. 

Atmosphere

Regarding atmosphere, Cava’s abundance of windows and white interior gives it a more cheery, inviting aura, whereas Mezeh has a darker color scheme. On the breezy Charlottesville fall days when sitting outside is a must, Cava has a nice outdoor patio with plenty of seating, whereas Mezeh only has a few outdoor tables to choose from. I have also noticed that during rushed lunch hours, Cava performs better under the pressure and completes salads at a quicker pace than Mezeh. While both spots have great seating and space, Cava is preferable for a date, lunch with a friend or even a work lunch. 

Taste

Taste is obviously one of the most important components to evaluating these two Mediterranean delicacies. Both restaurants’ bowls are composed of the same layers — a base, a protein, toppings and dressing. The bases are very similar for both, you can get a purely greens base like super greens, mixed greens or spinach, a purely grains base or a combination of greens and grains.

For the protein option, the choices between the two are very similar again. Cava and Mezeh have choices of various popular proteins in Greek cuisine such as lamb, chicken and falafel. I have found, from multiple trips to both spots that the chicken at Cava is much better than the chicken at Mezeh. The only chicken options at Mezeh are either a chicken shawarma, which is very spicy, or chicken kebab, which is composed of half chicken and half veggies instead of purely chicken. The Cava chicken has the perfect marinade with not too much of a spice kick for the average person, and they tend to give you more of it as well.

Half of the fun of going to Cava or Mezeh is choosing the delicious and decorative toppings to complete your bowl or wrap. Mezeh has many more options for toppings than Cava does, however I find that Cava has a more approachable selection of toppings for someone that is not as familiar with Greek food. 

The first few times I went to Mezeh, I was so overwhelmed by the assortment of toppings with foreign names that I didn’t even know what to put on my bowl. Cava has a narrower selection of toppings that are likely more familiar to someone not as accustomed to Greek food — if this applies to you, I highly recommend the tomato and cucumbers salad and the pickled onions. This being said, Mezeh’s more diverse range of topping is definitely a reason to try it out because the smaller selection of options at Cava could get repetitive after frequent trips. 

Cava’s dressing choices are much more unique than Mezeh. Cava has six delicious dressing options, my favorite being their lemon herb tahini which perfectly complements any type of bowl you craft. Mezeh’s tahini is a more classic approach to a tahini dressing and while still yummy, it doesn’t stand out for me as much as Cava’s tahini and other choices such as their red pepper chickpea dressing. I also find that Mezeh drowns their salads in dressing, so if that is something that bothers you as much as it bothers me, be sure to ask them to go light on the dressing. 

Overall, the two restaurants have different strengths and weaknesses — Cava wins in the protein and dressing department, but Mezeh does have more topping choices if you are looking to branch out. I think they are both great options for a healthy, Mediterranean-inspired lunch or dinner, but Cava will ultimately prove to be more popular, particularly among University students. 

Maggie Trundle is a Food Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

related stories