The USA is home to countless chain restaurants. So many in fact that it can be difficult to choose where to eat.
We’ve ranked our favourites to help you choose which restaurants you might want to eat at when you are there.
Keep in mind that in certain states in the US, the word “Entree” means main, while they use the word “Appetiser” to refer to what the rest of the world calls and Entree. Yes, I know it is confusing.
Here are the restaurants we liked…
1. Cheesecake Factory
Not to be mislead by the name, the Cheesecake Factory does more than just desserts. It is probably our favourite chain restaurant in the US. I first ate at the restaurant in San Francisco, which looks out over the city. My wife, Danielle and I frequently went to a number of their restaurants while we were dating. They have an extensive menu and the portion sizes are massive (remember you can get anything you can’t eat to go).
They bring out two varieties of free warm bread to get you started.
Our favourite appetiser is the egg roll sampler. You get four different varieties of egg-rolls (2 of each) so it is the perfect app to share with your boo. And the sauces are pretty ace.
For mains (entree) I liked their burgers, carbonara or a Chicken Riesling dish which was breaded chicken that came with pasta and a white wine Riesling cream sauce.
For drinks, Danielle liked their Lemon Drop Martini or their Bourbon and Honey.
Of course, they have a massive Cheesecake Menu – my favourite was the raspberry and white chocolate, but I found most of them pretty amazing. Usually we were so full by this stage of the evening that we had to get the Cheesecake to go.
2. Melting Pot
The Melting Pot is a fun fondue experience and perfect for date night, but maybe not for younger family members as it involves dipping your meal in hot oil or boiling water. There is a little stove type thing in the centre of the table and you’ll basically be cooking your meal – its a bit of an experience. When we’ve gone we get the three course meal – I think it was around $45 each and you get to choose from a range of options – we went with the following:
Cheese fondue – the Bacon and Brie. This is a cheesy sauce that they bring out and melt in front of you. You’ll get breads and veggies to dip and it is delicious.
We went with a selection of meats. The first time we went we decided to use oil as our cooking option so the meat comes out raw, and they give you some batter, then you drop it in the oil to cook for a couple of minutes. When it is ready you take it out and dip it in a selection of some of their delicious sauces before eating. It is yum! They give you a choice of meats, on our meal plan I think we got three. I typically avoid the chicken to play it safe. They also bring our a selection of veggies to go with the meats.
The second time we went, we decided to go for the burgundy wine to cook our meat in. With this option you don’t get any batter as the wine gives the meat a different flavour. Though I think I preferred the batter and oil.
This is my favourite part. If you were on a budget you really could come to Melting Pot and just try the dessert – chocolate fondue style. They have different varieties of chocolate you can choose from and depending on the dessert option you pick, they will bring out different things to dip. You can do fruits, but my favourites are when they bring out mini cheesecake or brownies to dip. You may have a chocolate hangover the next day but it is oh so worth it.
3. Saltgrass Steakhouse
You can’t go to Texas and not try the beef, and one of my favourite ways to absorb good Texan beef is via a juicy steak from Saltgrass Steakhouse. Often they are located at stops along major freeways. I’m not sure if the secret is in the type of herbs they put on the steak but I think it is delicious. I may have over talked it up to Danielle though, because when I took her there, she didn’t like it as much.
Another steak restaurant that we enjoyed (mainly because there was one in walking distance from our house and because we were given gift cards) was Longhorn. They have a pretty extensive variety of steaks to choose from.
Though if you are visiting from Australia, be aware that they tend to have different names for their steaks in the US. It can be a little difficult to get your head around. Oh and steak size is measured in ounces! But the steak is delicious and they have some great sides and desserts to choose from as well.
Benihana is another experience style chain in the Teppanyaki style. You will sit around a hot plate while they cook up your meal. It can be quite entertaining to watch your cook whip up a creation for you.
Usually they will crack some jokes with you along the way. Let them know if you have any allergies, especially to seafood (they will cook your meal before the rest of the table if you do). I always like the fried rice and yum yum sauce.
6. Olive Garden
If you prefer Italian food then Olive Garden is the chain you want to go for. There is also another chain, Carrabba’s which I am told is similar but I have never eaten there.
I am a big fan of carbs, so Olive Garden is my jam! You can eat there relatively cheap if you stick with the deals. They have an endless soup and salad deal. Even if you order a main (entree) you can typically choose from an endless soup or salad as an appetiser. Danielle would usually get the salad and I would get the soup, that way we could try a little of each others. Regardless of if there is one person eating the salad or three, it typically comes out in the same sized bowl.
They typically start you off with bread sticks which I like to dip in my soup, though Danielle likes to order a side of Alfredo sauce which I must admit is delicious but comes as an additional charge. I typically stick with the chicken gnocchi soup.
For the main I like the chicken carbonara but they have plenty of options. They also have some great desserts, and will give you a free dessert on your birthday!
I am a big fan of getting my cost per meal down, and I found a way to do this at Olive Garden. Often they would have a deal where if you buy one main, you get a second at a discount price to go that you can take home and eat another night. I would often go and fill up on breadsticks and soup, then just have one or two mouthfuls of my main before getting it to go, plus the second meal they give you to go – so for around the price of one meal, I got three!
7. Ruby Tuesday
For me, Ruby Tuesday was always about the salad bar. You could either just get the salad bar, or add it on to any meal, and it was basically a buffet. That said, I also really liked their burgers and they had some pretty indulgent desserts. One of the things that I often got my value from at Ruby’s was all the free drink refills.
I certainly had to cut back on my soft drink intake! Jason’s Deli is similar to Ruby Tuesday’s but their salad bar also has an ice cream machine – but unfortunately there wasn’t a Jason’s Deli near our place.
We would often go to Ruby Tuesday’s just before a movie as they were relatively quick and close to the movie theatre.
8. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen
I find Cheddar’s is a pretty popular chain restaurant. Although before I went there I thought they just did meals that had cheese in them. They have a pretty good range of American style food with large portion sizes.
Our other pre movie restaurant was Chili’s. You’ll typically find a Chili’s, Applebees and Ruby Tuesday’s on every decent sized town in America. I found Applebees and Chili’s to be pretty similar. We liked Chili’s when we were living on a budget because we could eat there pretty cheap. They have a deal where you can get a starter and a main with a drink for $10, or a three course meal for two for $25. If you get the app, they often also gave you free chips and salsa or other freebies.
I always felt super full after a meal there so just a warning to pace yourself! But it was a great dining out option when we couldn’t afford to go to higher end chains like Cheesecake Factory or Melting Pot.
10. TGI Friday’s
If you have been to TGI Friday’s in Australia, it can be quite pricey, but it isn’t too far off a Chili’s in terms fo budget for dining in the US. Like Chili’s they also have pretty standard American dining options as well.
11. Panera Bread
Panera Bread is probably as close to a bakery that you are going to find in the US. We often went there for lunch. They had some great sandwich options as well as soups to choose from, not to mention some sweet pastry treats. My personal favourite was their cheddar soup that came in a cob loaf bowl. There is something for meals that are served in edible crockery. They also have some interesting drink options which make for a welcome variation on the typical sodas.
12. Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings is more of a sports bar. It’s a great place to go and watch a game of American football and enjoy some wings at the same time. One weeknights, they often had specials so you could get wings at a much cheaper price.
Their restaurants have a bunch of options to choose from when it comes to wings. You can choose a dry rub, or a sauce. Then, the level of spice you want – and some of the flavours can get pretty spicy indeed! I prefer the milder flavours personally which go well with a bleu cheese or ranch dipping sauce.
13. Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel is one of my favourite places to go for breakfast. They are open for lunch and dinner as well. Their restaurants serve up a delicious selections of southern comfort foods. Danielle used to work there so I usually let her order for me. The price is usually not too bad. We always come away with a to go box because we couldn’t finish everything.
I like to get their blueberry pancakes and I love the little glass bottles of syrup they bring out.
Aside from breakfast they have great fried chicken or chicken fried steaks. For desserts, their apple cobbler is awesome but I’m pretty sure it contains a barrel of sugar!
IHOP is another breakfast place – and great if you love pancakes. You’ll also find that Waffle Houses are prevalent across the US. Both serve a selection of hot breakfasts and are pretty quick if you’re in a rush.
15. Outback Steakhouse
To be honest, Outback Steakhouse isn’t horrible but I’ve ranked them down for their poor representation of Australia. What on earth is a blooming onion?
That said, their steaks aren’t bad. I feel it is our obligation as Aussies to go there just to let the staff know that Australia really isn’t like this at all! My American friends would always introduce me and say “He loves Outback Steakhouse.”
16. Red Lobster
I’m not a fan of seafood so this place doesn’t really rank highly for me. If you are in Florida, there are plenty of local restaurants where you can get better, fresher seafood. Danielle loves Red Lobster though, particularly for their cheddar biscuits. I should add that biscuits in America are not like a biscuit in Australia – they are more like a savoury scone.
You will find plenty of Denny’s across the USA and many are open 24/7. Denny’s serves diner style food. I’ve certainly had a late meal there on more than one occasion, although my American wife banned me going there with her. I still think they are pretty great for a low priced meal, and convenient too!
Be prepared to wait as most of the time you can’t reserve a table at these restaurants. They will give you a buzzer and you’ll need to wait to be seated. Sometimes the wait times can be 30 – 60 minutes on a Friday night or Sunday lunch.
Portion sizes may also be larger than what you are used to but remember, you can always ask for leftover “to go.”
What are your favourite places to dine in the US?