A counterpoint: Chain restaurants we actually like.

I’ll usually be the first one to say “Let’s not go to a chain!” when people are planning to go out to eat. But as much as I enjoy trying new local restaurants, there are still some good chains out there, and a few awesome ones. With the other thread about nuking restaurants from orbit going on, I thought I could spread some positivity and get people talking about some of their more familiar favorite restaurants.

I’ve talked about Texas de Brazil before – an all-you-can-eat Brazilian rodizio-style restaurant where “gauchos” come around to your table with huge skewers of delicious grilled meats, and slice off as much as you want. Different cuts of steak, beef, chicken, pork, lamb, sausages, ribs, and more exotic cuts every so often. They also have a sprawling salad bar with fresh artisan cheeses, roasted vegetables, sushi, and other delights – the kind of salad bar of your dreams, nothing like what you’d find at Golden Corral or your high school cafeteria. The entire experience is overwhelmingly decadent, and you pay $45 for the privilege (or about half that for lunch, which is usually what I do on the very rare occasion I treat myself here). But if you sign up for their e-mail list at http://www.texasdebrazil.com , you’ll get many coupons from them, including 50% off at dinner and buy one meal/get one free offers. Highly recommended if you have one near you!

Sonny’s Real Pit Barbecue – a local chain that started in Gainesville, Florida (where I went to college) and is now based in Maitland (not far from where I am now), they have recently been opening new locations, advertising on TV, and adding all kinds of new things to their menu. But they offer good Southern-style barbecue, huge portions, and cheap all-you-can-eat specials. Moist and tender beef brisket, succulent smoky sliced pork, great ribs, amazing sweet barbecue sauce and wonderful garlic bread. Sonny’s helped me get through two degrees in Gainesville, and I still visit them every month or two. http://www.sonnysbbq.com/ shows they are still only in the Southeast, but if you have one nearby, give them a try some time.

Sweet Tomatoes – if you’re hungry but don’t know what you want, or if you want something a little lighter or healthier, this is a great place to go. Another all-you-can-eat place with an expansive and clean salad bar full of fresh veggies and toppings, a wide variety of fresh, homemade soups, a pasta bar, a bakery with savory and sweet offerings, and even soft-serve ice cream and fresh fruit for dessert. The salads are great, but the soups are the real standouts. They really are fresh, and as good or better than any soups I’ve gotten in “nice” restaurants. Get small bowls and try more than one! They also have kick-ass strawberry lemonade full of real strawberry pulp and seeds. http://www.sweettomatoes.com/ says they are called Souplantation in some locations.

Finally, Fuddruckers makes the best burgers around, and that includes Five Guys, fancy steakhouse burgers, and yes, even the ones YOU make on your backyard grill. Fresh-ground beef (and sometimes buffalo or ostrich, depending on the location), crispy and soft buns baked in-house, and an array of condiments and fresh toppings that allows you to customize your own dream burgers, plus they also have some suggested combos you can order with premium toppings. They also have some of the best fries ever, and THE best onion rings ever to go with the best burgers ever. Sadly, a lot of Fuddruckers locations have closed in Florida, so we only have three left, but luckily one of them is in Orlando so I get to go a few times a year. Yes, I get the one-pound burger and load it up with toppings. Yes, I eat the whole thing. No, I have no regrets. At least I don’t do it too often. Check out http://www.fuddruckers.com for locations.

Anyone else?

My wife and I love Chili’s.

It’s lovely food, very reasonably priced(for restaurant foods), and usually has good service.

We don’t go to Applebee’s, TGIF, or any of the other major chains. Chili’s is the only chain restaurant we like.

I recommend the Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger. It’s heavenly…in that it tastes great and is so unhealthy it takes you several steps towards heaven.


Does El Torito still exist? We used to eat there a lot (the one in Federal Way) when I lived in Seattle, and I loved everything on the menu.

I’m going to be a maverick and vote for the chain of all chains, McDonalds. Now understand, I’m not by any means claiming the food there is good. I’m just saying it’s cheap, unassuming and totally dependable- the restaurant equivalent of the ugly hooker who gives $20 blowjobs. I know that no matter where I go, wherever I see the golden arches I can get a $1 cheeseburger, some nuggets and a cocoa-flavored corn syrup/carrageenen mixture.

Smith and Wollensky is (sort of) a chain, but I’m not sure if that counts since it’s so upmarket. In any case, I really like it.

Burger King!

Outback in Thailand is actually quite good. I’ve read a lot of complaints about them elsewhere.


Chipotle is spreading throughout NYC, and I love their tacos.

I prefer the burritos in Burritoville, though, a local chain.

I adore Chipotle burritos.
I don’t understand all the hate for the Olive Garden. Sure, it’s not authentic Italian cuisine, but it’s perfectly good food and the service has always been fine when I go there. The breadsticks are yummy and they have lots of good not-overpriced wine. Why the hate? Can’t we all just get along? OK, their commercials about Uncle Luigi’s big-a Italian family-a and how much they love-a da Olive Garden are kinda lame. They should take Conan O’Brien’s advice and make their motto: Olive Garden. :shrug: Pretty good for the money.

White Castle. I go maybe twice a year. Each time I order four sliders and some fries, thoroughly enjoy them, and then I want to die for three days. I never learn.

The **California Pizza Kitchen ** has amazing soups, excellent salads, and good gourmet pizza as well. I actually wish they weren’t located in malls so I could eat there more easily.

PeiWei, PF Chang’s faster food spin-off, has good, fresh-cooked Asian inspired dishes. I like their Pad Thai more than some authentic Thai versions.

I don’t adore Chili’s but when I’m traveling and want a sit down dinner, they’re always easy to find and not bad.

Taco Cabana, a fast food Tex-Mex chain, has good, freshly cooked Tex-Mex and makes their own tortillas daily. A huuuuuge step up from Taco Bell.

Taco Shack is a local chain which is gradually expanding it’s reach. They have amazing breakfast tacos.

Freebirds is another local chain that’s expanding. They do burritos similar to Chipolte but much, much better.

Cheddars was my introduction to the monte cristo sandwich, and now I am an addict. I very seldom go to chain resturants, but those sandwiches appear in my dreams…


I went to Texas de Brazil once - chocolate martinis and decadent food. The meat was very good but I fell in love with the salad bar - I could have grazed on cheese all night.

Seconding California Pizza Kitchen. We go there all the time. I actually think their Thai Crunch salad is even better than the pizza.

Also a fan of Buca di Beppo. They have these sausage-stuffed shell things (there’s probably an official Italian name for them, but I don’t know what it is) that are amazing. The lasagna ain’t bad, either.

I remember California Pizza Kitchen from Hawaii. Yes, very good.

Macaroni Grill
Cheesecake Factory
PF Chang / Pei Wei
Red Robin
In & Out
Chick Fila
Bob Evans

I’ve been to Buca di Beppo a few times now, and had excellent meals every time. That’s a great example of a chain that does everything right. A bit expensive, but the portions are pretty large and meant to be shared. It’s fun to sit at the special table in the middle of the kitchen, but they tease the hell out of you by showing you every dish as it comes out.

In & Out.


PF Chang.

Round Table.

And Amy’s for dessert :slight_smile:

For me, it’s because I had the single worst dining-out experience of my life there. Frozen (literally) lasagna, limp lettuce, vile “bread” - nothing was any good. Maybe that was atypical but I have no need to ever walk through their doors again, fortunately.

I can’t say there are any of those large American chains I actively like. Fuddrucker’s burgers were pretty good but mine are better. There was a great US-Mex restaurant in Santa Rosa I used to go that I think was a chain but I don’t know the name - could have been Chili’s I guess.

There’s a mini-chain of 3 Thai restaurants here (Newtown Thai) which are absolutely exceptional, but I suspect they are all owned and run by the same people so that probably doesn’t count.

Sometimes McDonalds or Burger King are just what the doctor ordered.

I agree. But only an occasional “sometimes”.

Living in Hawaii, there are certain chains I have to visit on the mainland, since I miss them here:

Olive Garden
Cracker Barrel
White Castle
Culvers (Butter burgers, mmm…)