Food & dining

Cheap Eats

Burlington just got the fast-casual restaurant we all deserve

Shakshuka at Pressed Cafe.
Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Shakshuka at Pressed Cafe.

Restaurateur Roi Shpindler is rarely caught by surprise. But even he marvels at the number of customers flocking to his new cafe, open since December. “On the first day, I thought, ‘What is going on? It’s so busy.’ ” The crowds haven’t let up since, and it’s easy to see why.

Pressed Cafe is located in The District, an office and retail development east of the Burlington Mall. The building itself, next door to the suburban outpost of Island Creek Oyster Bar, is blocky and undistinguished, but a profusion of pendant lighting invites you inside the 120-seat space. Join the fast-moving line leading to the counter and notice that almost every table is filled. Gal pals swirl spoons through acai bowls and sip fresh-pressed juice. Parents watch their progeny tuck into kid-size mac ’n’ cheese while the white-collar set picks up lattes made with George Howell coffee and wraps to go.

Shpindler, who opened the original Pressed Cafe in Nashua, N.H., grew up in the restaurant business. He and his family moved from Israel more than 30 years ago and purchased Manchester pizzeria Caesario’s. Later, he struck out on his own and opened the Bridge Cafe and steak-and-sushi spot Mint Bistro. Now, at the newest venture, he and his wife, Miri, bring all of that experience to fast-casual fare.

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A smiling staff member arrives with our order, having spied the number we received when ordering. A sabich panino ($9.50) showcases half-moons of eggplant in crunchy breading, plus hard-boiled egg, tomato, and cucumber, on a hummus-slathered pressed ciabatta. A Yemenite hot sauce called schug, crafted from cilantro, garlic, and red pepper flakes, is smoky in flavor and excellent drizzled on each bite. Choose a side like the Dijon mustard-seasoned red potato salad and you are all set.

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Several from-scratch soups ($3.50 a cup, $4.50 a bowl) are offered daily. A version with chicken and rice, dotted with carrots and dill, arrives piping hot, but the crusty bread accompanying it is cold, swaddled in plastic wrap. (You can tell it’s from a good loaf. Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord supplies it.)

The menu describes chickpeas in a Jaffa salad ($11.50) as toasted, but the legumes are soft rather than crunchy. Perhaps they languished too long in the dressing? It’s such a lovely platter otherwise, with chopped romaine and kale, and flavors of lemon and tahini. A “power bowl” with guacamole ($11.50) combines baby spinach with red quinoa, sweet grape tomatoes, carrot shreds, and corn, crowned with a dollop of mashed avocado. Both salads arrive with grilled chicken breast — moist, but wan when it comes to seasoning. Ask for more of that kicky hot sauce, or opt for other proteins like chilled salmon or tuna salad.

This is the kind of spot where your pickiest dairy-and-gluten-avoiding or Paleo-leaning pals can find something they like. Soy or almond milk can be blended into any espresso drink ($2.50-$5) or used to make an earthy, warming matcha green tea latte. Breakfast burritos ($6-$8.50), available all day, can be rolled in a gluten-free wrap. And lest meat lovers feel overlooked, braised beef short ribs can be enjoyed as a sandwich ($10.50), as a topping for mac ’n’ cheese ($13.50), or served carb-free on greens.

Most front-of-house workers demonstrate pep and poise, while a few seem brand new to customer service. (Newbies: You’ll enjoy a long life in the hospitality business if you pay attention to how Miri Shpindler welcomes guests.)

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Last but not least is shakshuka ($12), two eggs poached in a fragrant slurry of tomatoes and sweet peppers. “My mother made it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Roi Shpindler recalls fondly. Topped with melted feta and a scattering of cilantro, the Middle Eastern specialty arrives with more of that crusty bread — this time, grilled and toasty warm. We’ll gladly brave the crowds for this saucy dish.

PRESSED CAFE

200 District Ave., Burlington, 781-365-1412, www.pressedcafe.com

All credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Breakfast $3-$8.50. Soup and salad $3.50-$14.50. Panini and wraps $8-$10.50.

Entrees $8.50-$15. Espresso, juices, smoothies $2.50-$7.50

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Hours Daily 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

Liquor None

What to order Sabich sandwich, guacamole quinoa greens, shakshuka.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.