Our Definitive Ranking of the 10 Most Popular Chain Restaurants
Restaurant chains are just plain reliable.
While they may get a bit of criticism for their lack of originality, there's a certain appeal to knowing you can always expect the same menu, no matter where you might be.
However, not all chain restaurants are created equal. While some chains offer hearty meals you actually want to eat again, others are best described as a last resort option. Like, there's no other food for miles and your stomach is going to eat itself if you don't sit down right then—that's the only reason you should settle for certain American chains.
Is it any surprise that Applebee's ranks at the very bottom of our list? The entire restaurant is the subject of memes everywhere. This chain is basically synonymous with bad food, poor service and subpar clientele. Do perfectly normal people eat at Applebee's? Of course, but they shouldn't. The menu features foods ranging from ribs to burgers to tacos to salmon, and somehow none of it is good. Applebee's is one of those restaurants that you don't plan to go to, you just unfortunately end up at. Sorry, Applebee's—you're definitely at the bottom of the chain restaurant totem pole.
9. Outback Steakhouse
Unfortunately, Outback Steakhouse also has to sit very low on our list. Although the idea of an affordable steak dinner is appealing, Outback makes it very clear that steak is not meant to be cheap. The meat selection ranges from tough and chewy to downright inedible. Not to mention, your steak is often overcooked, no matter how you might order it. And don't even try to get something else. The other options on the menu are greasy, lacking in taste or are just plain bad. While you might find a few diamonds in the rough, getting a good meal at Outback is never a guarantee. It's best to just steer clear of this chain.
8. Cracker Barrel
While Cracker Barrel serves food that's at least edible, their dishes still aren't that great. This chain specializes in Southern classics, which pretty much translates to heavy meals that leave you feeling overly full after just a few bites. And don't even try their lighter options. Once you take out the grease and fat that makes their dishes somewhat tasty, you're left with bland meals that are both lackluster and flavorless. Cracker Barrel has a few options you'll want to eat again and again, but you're likely to leave the restaurant feeling much worse for the wear. Is it really worth it? We think not.
Much like Applebee's, Chili's is somewhat of a joke establishment. We blame The Office. However, unlike Applebee's, Chili's has a few dishes that might leave you feeling satisfied. While we recommend staying far away from their jingle-worthy ribs, a few dishes—mainly appetizers, burgers and sandwiches—aren't totally terrible. Is it going to be the best meal of your life? Absolutely not. But you might find something worth eating, and that's more than we can say about the chain restaurants up to this point.
6. Red Lobster
Ah, Red Lobster—a chain restaurant focused on seafood. While the very idea turns our stomachs slightly, eating at Red Lobster isn't a total drag. Don't get us wrong, many entrees are wholly disappointing. But shrimp dishes and pastas make a fairly good impression, as do the various tasting plates. The real saving grace of this chain, however, lies in their absolutely perfect cheddar biscuits. Truly, we would go to Red Lobster for the biscuits alone. Even if the rest of the food leaves a questionable taste in our mouth, the heavenly biscuits have earned this chain a higher ranking.
5. Olive Garden
Olive Garden automatically gets a leg up in our chain restaurant ranking due to their unlimited breadsticks. We could eat those breadsticks all day long—no question about it. However, Olive Garden actually serves decent food in addition to their yummy bread options. It's pretty hard to mess up Italian food, and Olive Garden doesn't. Their pastas are perfectly tasty, if a little unoriginal. In addition, they serve a pretty delicious salad that has us actually enjoying veggies, rather than avoiding them. Once you get out of those two zones, however, we wouldn't trust the food. Everything else is pretty hit or miss. But hey, plenty of reliable options to choose from is pretty good, at least as far as chain restaurants go.
4. P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Honestly, we usually forget about P.F. Chang's. However, this chain restaurant serving authentic Chinese food is not to be ignored. While some menu items are a bit lacking in flavor, the majority of options are totally delicious. The offerings are significantly better than takeout Chinese food, and the wide selection of dishes makes it easy to find something you'll like. It's a perfectly yummy option if you can't think of anywhere else to go, and it's a nice change from the typical American fare offered at most chain restaurants.
3. Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse is everything you want out of a chain restaurant. The atmosphere of this eatery is all about good ol' country-themed fun. Horse-themed decorations and a rustic atmosphere lead an air of charm to this restaurant, and the food is actually pretty tasty. A collection of meats, seafoods, burgers and sandwiches grace their list of offerings, all of which adequately satisfy the palate.
Unlike some restaurants (*cough cough* Outback *cough cough*), their steaks are actually fairly juicy and delicious, despite not being the prime cuts of meat you get at high-class steakhouses. And once again, we have to mention their bread offerings. Their chewy, delicious rolls are paired with cinnamon butter, making them the perfect way to start a yummy meal. All in all, Texas Roadhouse is a reliable meal experience, making it one of the better chains on our list.
2. Red Robin
Everything we have to say about this chain restaurant can probably be summed up in their own jingle—"Reeeeed Robin, yum!" Seriously, Red Robin serves up some pretty delicious American food. Their burgers are always yummy, and their wide selection of other entrees are well-made and tasty. Plus, their shakes and desserts are pretty much to die for. It's hard to get a bad meal at Red Robin. It's not just a chain restaurant you settle for—it's a place you actually want to eat, which explains why it ranks so high on our list.
1. The Cheesecake Factory
A chain restaurant that's literally all about cheesecake? C'mon, you knew The Cheesecake Factory had to sit at the top of this list. The Cheesecake Factory's food is universally delicious. Seriously, we don't think we've ever eaten a bad meal here. And that's saying a lot, considering the menu is basically the size of a small novel. In addition, their Skinnylicious menu full of lighter dishes is actually pretty satisfying. They don't leave you feeling quite as full as the massive portion sizes on the main menu, but they don't skimp out on flavor. Plus, you can end your meal with a choice of over 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts. This is the restaurant experience we want, chain or not. There really wasn't much competition—The Cheesecake Factory was always going to win this battle.
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