Our run on alternative content continues with this definitive ranking of casual chain restaurants. It’s a tough category to define but you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sit-down restaurants that mysteriously manifest at interstate overpasses, malls, and Florida. I actually used the top ten in the U.S. by revenue last year to form the list. I promise that Waffle House fell just outside the mark. 5/5 stars and I miss WaHo every day in Chicago.
Sigh. Anyway, things like this are why I signed up to write in the first place. Forcing my opinions on people. Let’s get started:
10. Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill:
I’d place Applebee’s at the bottom of a list of 100, so this isn’t a compliment. My open disdain for Applebee’s has been noted many times before. I’ve had so many bad experiences but they keep roping me back in with dollar drink specials.
In all honesty, I loved Applebee’s as a kid but I’ve seen the quality decline rapidly over the years. They have done so many cost cutting measures from diluting drinks to microwaving their entire menu. Everything is prepped offsite and reheated in some way when you order. Even McDonald’s cooks some things from scratch. 1/5 stars.
Warning, NSFW Clip from an all time classic film:
9. Cheesecake Factory:
To be completely honest, this is the one restaurant on the list I've only visited once. It was on a bad date to the location in Atlantic Station. I remember clearly that the menu was all over the place. Pasta, burgers, etc. And the place was empty on a Friday night. Very strange and they don’t get a second chance.
8. Longhorn Steakhouse:
I like Longhorn but the older I get, the more I realize how bland their offerings are. The steak isn’t super great and the sides could use work. Last time I went, they were still serving gigantic hunks of stale bread and... Isn’t bread the best part of these chains? Still passable though. If this is all you have, it will do.
7. Red Lobster:
The list really starts to ramp up from here. I actually had a tough time ranking Red Lobster so low but it’s because everything else was so good.
Red Lobster is a great place if you’re craving seafood at reasonable prices. I like to get actual lobster that I select from the tank. There’s something barbarically satisfying about picking out your victim like a Roman emperor.
Don’t even get me started on the cheddar bay biscuits. They are a top 3 bread and arguably number one. I’m pretty sure they could just sell those out of a stand and make just as much money.
6. Outback Steakhouse:
Outback definitely gets some bias from my childhood. It was my mom’s favorite place to go on trips and we always ate well. Get a steak with a lobster tail and you won’t be disappointed. Also, Bloomin’ Onion is overrated. Try the Cheesy Fries instead.
Outback is also boosted by another great bread option. The honey wheat loaf is always hot, doughy, and served with plenty of butter.
5. Buffalo Wild Wings:
This will get some hate because I’m aware that B-Dubs is controversial. I’m sorry they messed up your wing order that one time but come on man!
B-dubs is an excellent place to watch sports and it’s usually open a little later. I always liked to chill there after work when I lived OTP. Great spot for Falcons games too but get there early or you’ll get a wobbly high top in the back.
They have many flavors of wings but I’ve only tried a few. Teriyaki is good and the Mango Habenaro is great (watch out, it’s hotter than other similarly named sauces)
This is also where I make my stand on boneless vs. bone-in wings. I will die on this hill. Boneless wings are chicken nuggets. That’s fine if you like chicken nuggets but don’t pretend you aren’t eating minced chicken meat with sauce on it.
Bone-in wings are a different part of the chicken are they are infinitely more juicy and succulent. If you are a big bone hater, try it for me once at BWW. You might change your mind.
4. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store:
Ah, the home-cooked Southern meal for the man on the road. Cracker Barrel just knocks it out of the park on every level. Affordable yet heavy. Lots of people gush about the breakfast but I love the Sunday Chicken Dinner with Okra and Mac. I always get the blackberry jam for my biscuits, it’s the best.
They also get a big boost for the timeless triangle tee game. I beat it once when i was a kid and just get mad every time I can’t remember. Still fun times.
One note, you must get your gf/wife in and out of the store quickly. You can get bogged down looking at overpriced knickknacks. My strategy is to try to get the checkers spot on the front porch, complete with rocking chairs and a great view of the interstate.
3. Olive Garden:
The mighty top-three begins with a classic. Olive Garden. I love carbs and no place does it like Olive Garden. I always walk out of there like I’m going to give birth.
This gets a lot of hate because it’s not authentic Italian. But lets be honest, is any Italian restaurant authentic in a place like Lafayette, Indiana? No. And that’s what makes Olive Garden so great. It’s a dependable carb load on the road.
I always end up getting two loads of salad and breadsticks. Both are so popular that it’s a menu item. Some people just get salad and breadsticks as a meal. You know, the free stuff. THAT’S HOW GOOD IT IS.
I alternate between the Tour of Italy. (Classic) or the Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo (tangy and sweet). I recommend you give both a try. Especially if you are still stuck on Spaghetti and meatballs.
2. Texas Roadhouse:
Another disclaimer: I have a lot of bias on this one. I worked at ye ol’ Roadhouse for 3 years in college but I loved it long before that.
Roadhouse is the best bang for your buck in the biz. The steaks are good and the sides are to die for. The sirloin loaded with cheese and mushrooms is the best and you absolutely must get a salad. They have the best dressings in the world. Ranch, Italian, 1000 Island are some of my favorites.
Honestly everything on the menu is good. Even the unfortunately named Roadkill (Salisbury Steak with mushrooms, onions, and cheese) It’s a great spot for beers after golf or even a date.
Roadhouse also has the absolute best free bread in the industry. I make that claim with plenty of evidence. Try some yourself. Fresh pillowy rolls with a serving of honey cinnamon butter. I once saw a kid eat 12 of them.
I almost forgot! Free peanuts. Yes, there are peanut shells everywhere but it serves to make the place more festive. I have a few stories and will probably share some in the comments.
If you are looking for a good time with friends, Chili’s is the perfect spot. They have the right blend of atmosphere, food, drinks, and affordability. You can get fed and soused for like 20 bucks. Always start with the bottomless chips and a Presidente Margarita.
I personally like the Honey Chipotle Crispers and refuse to eat anything else. Burgers and fried stuff are great there too.
Chili’s is a great spot to take coworkers or a friend you are romantically interested in but not sure if you want to date or to drink some crispy ones with the boys. Remember to uber there because you’re likely to have too much margarita. Always be safe!
Bonus: Home of the Dundies
Do you agree on any of these? Did I ruin your day? Let me know in the comments. Let’s taco bout it!
Until next time,