What it's like to eat at the 'Panera Bread of London' that's taking over America

Pret a Manger Fall MenuHollis Johnson/Business InsiderPret A Manger fall sandwich wrap.

Panera Bread has always been a comfortable go-to spot for me for breakfast, lunch, or dinner while I was in college. The location was right on campus and I would go there almost twice a day, racking up loyalty points on my Panera card.

Familiar items on its menu — like hot paninis, spicy chilli, or cinnamon crunch bagels — always offered a comfort factor to what I was ordering.

When I moved to New York, I noticed a different, yet similar, popular lunch spot — Pret A Manger.

I wasn’t familiar with the company since it is only located in four cities in the US, but I had recognised the sandwich shop from when I went on vacation to London. The chain is accelerating expansion in America.

Since Pret is somewhat like the Panera of London, I decided to branch out and try this lunch spot that is a growing rival for Panera.

Here’s what I concluded after my first visit.

Walking into the sandwich shop, I was greeted by a spacious setting with ample amount of room for tables and comfy chairs. Rather than order from the cashier -- like at Panera -- I ventured over to the cold refrigerators that lined the wall.

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With a variety of options, I noticed unusual ingredients. The sandwiches were unlike anything I have ever seen! Sweet chilli crawfish baguette? Salmon Tzatziki flatbread? How was I supposed to know what these taste like?

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While I scoured the refrigerator to find something I recognised, I became more and more intrigued to try one of these specialty, made-to-go soups, salads or sandwiches. I went with a red beat and quinoa salad, feeling particularly healthy.

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Signs on the walls all boast that the items were made that day, with fresh ingredients -- further appetizing the items. Specialty juices, such as Root Radiance, enhanced the healthy factor of the restaurant. While uncommon dressing options added to the flavour of the items.

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Once I grabbed my salad and dressing, I headed to the register that offered an assortment of baked goods and organic coffee. The employee who helped me was quick to scan my salad -- not asking if I needed anything else -- swiped my card and said 'next!'

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My salad plus dressing was $9.37, about the same price as a salad from Panera. Although Panera 's salads are heftier and come with dressing plus an offer of chips, apple, or baguette.

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As I sat down to enjoy my salad, I was impressed by the taste and uniqueness of the ingredients, but I was still hungry afterwards (a baguette would have been nice).

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While this was a new experience for me, I would go back and try a seasonal item -- like the turkey, goat cheese and sage pesto flatbread. The mysteriousness of the ingredients of the recipes do give the sandwich shop its foreign flare.

Marina Nazario/Business Insider
Marina Nazario/Business Insider

While Panera and Pret A Manger are similar, they are both uniquely different.

Pret offers a more quirky menu, with fewer items.

Its soups, salads and sandwiches are all exclusive and unfamiliar, so you take a risk when choosing what you want to try.

While it's easier to order at Pret by being able to see the items and look through the ingredients throughout the refrigerators -- it doesn't offer many options. Seemingly at the same price as Panera, I didn't feel like I was getting enough bang for my buck. Even the mac n' cheese -- as appetizing as it looked -- is small and able to be eaten in five bites.

The European feel of Pret -- as refreshing as it is -- just didn't cut it for me. The ingredients lack the familiarity and comfort of what Panera offers. At least at Panera there's an option for PB&J if all else fails.

Pret is very successful in Britain and the fact that the chain crossed the Atlantic, and has been expanding in the US is a huge feat. But going forward with its expansion in the US, it would be smart to offer at least a few items people recognise in order to satisfy its market and compete with Panera. Maybe a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup?

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