A pioneer in healthy fast food, Au Bon Pain serves up sandwiches, soups, salads and hot entrees made with whole grains, veggies and hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken. New this year: Portions, a 14-item menu of nutritious small plates -- from appetizers like apples, blue cheese and cranberries to salads like chickpea and tomato -- all of which are less than 200 calories. Another impressive feature: Au Bon Pain provides on-site nutritional information via computer kiosks, so before you even order you know each option's calories, fat and sodium. "It's a great way to empower customers," judge Amy Jamieson-Petonic said.
We love: Yummy low-cal soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables.
Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don't pay attention.
4. Noodles and Company
204 locations in West, Midwest, South
Noodles and Company isn't your typical greasy Asian food-court joint. In fact, it goes beyond Asian fare and cuts out the grease (only healthy soybean oil is used in sauteing). Here, you choose from three food types: Asian, Mediterranean or American, then within each style, pick from four noodle-bowl options. Lean proteins -- hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp and organic tofu -- can be added, too. The result? Tasty combos like Japanese Pan Noodles with broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, Asian sprouts and sauteed beef. Also key: "You don't have to chow down on a giant bowl of noodles. You can opt for a small portion," said judge Frances Largeman-Roth, Health's senior food and nutrition editor. The small Bangkok Curry bowl has just 250 calories.
We love: The whole-grain linguine -- usually hard to find when eating out.
Danger zone: The desserts. The only options are two kinds of cookies and a Rice Krispy Treat bar that checks in at 530 calories and 19 grams of fat!
5. Corner Bakery Cafe 111 locations in West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South
What sets Corner Bakery apart? A fantastic breakfast menu, which is rare in the quick-serve world. We love the Farmer's Scrambler: eggs scrambled with red and green bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms, potatoes and Cheddar cheese (it's only 260 calories when ordered with egg whites). There's also Swiss oatmeal, a chilled European breakfast cereal made with rolled oats, green apples, bananas, currants, dried cranberries, low-fat yogurt and skim milk. But Corner Bakery also has healthy salads, sandwiches, and soups made with whole grains, fresh, lean meats and vegetables, as well as great portion-controlled combinations that make limiting calories a no-brainer.
We love: Healthy oven-roasted chicken that comes with most pastas and salads.
Danger zone: You have to go to its Web site to get nutritional info.
800+ locations nationwide
Buffet-style Chipotle gives every customer complete control over her burrito, taco or salad. And you get to build it with fresh, local ingredients. In fact, Chipotle won high marks for its commitment to organics, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and produce sourced from local suppliers, which is revolutionary in a chain this big. Many of its entrees can be low-sodium, if you choose add-ins such as the fajita veggies and green tomatillo salsa.
We love: Burrito Bowls, which let you skip the tortilla -- and the extra carbs.
Danger zone: The dark side of a buffet is that you can go wild. So you have to go light on cheese and sour cream.
7. Atlanta Bread