The 25 Best Chain Restaurant Dishes in America

Your essential guide to the nation's guiltiest pleasures.


Playing the role of enlightened eater often means shunning the big-box restaurants of your youth. How can T.G.I. Friday’s put Korean tacos on their menu? you’ll ask indignantly, launching into a diatribe about cultural appropriation and waxing nostalgic about the amazing food truck you discovered in L.A., where the dish was practically invented. And you wonder why America is fat! you’ll declare while watching a large man eat a grilled cheese stuffed with mozzarella sticks. This used to be an independent small business, before Applebee’s bought the space you’ll say, lying to make a point.

But let’s be real: Amid all the copycat cooking and middling fare, chain restaurants have some incredibly delicious dishes that speak directly to our deepest, guiltiest pleasures. Moreover, these places—not fast-food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King, but casual sitdown spots such as Cheesecake Factory and Red Robin—are an integral part of the American dining landscape. They are the stage where high school students seal their young love over a plate of Bang Bang Shrimp, where families bridge generational gaps, and where regular folks can mingle with rappers and NBA players.

Ultimately, the key to successful chain dining is knowing how to order. If you find yourself on the road with no options but the local mall, or grandma insists on taking her annual trip to Cracker Barrel over the holidays, use this guide to ensure that you get the best out of the experience.

Click to start the list
  • Bherz

    Mmmm …. garlic rolls at Bertucci’s ….. does this really qualify as fast good though? also killer that they give you dough to play with at the table.

    • Bherz

      oh wait this is chain restaurants, not fast food.

  • waaminn

    Man I suddenly have a major craving for a burger lol

  • Tracey Brooks Harbaugh

    No no no. The Banzai burger at Red Robin is the best burger in America! Anyone anywhere can get a barbecue sauced burger- yawn. But grilled pineapple and onion straws? That’s unique!

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  • bigrig

    I doubt I will visit a Red Robin again and don’t understand the the big bru-ha-ha over the chain.Same goes for In&Out, really, get out and explore some of independent restaurants. Some are great and better than chains and some miss the mark.

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  • GyJim

    Try the “Vesuvio Chicken in a butter/ wine/mushroom sauce with the roasted potatoes” at Sbarro’s. Not all of their restaurants serve it, though.

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  • jimmy

    Waffle House hash browns “all the way” now includes both chili and sausage gravy (powdered). Not recommended…

  • Brandon

    being from the PNW I haven’t heard of half these places…….

  • TheGreatGoblin

    You lost me at Olive Garden

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  • Jasmine

    Numbers 4, 7 and 8 are the only ones I would eat!

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