10 Chain Restaurants Worth Visiting

Chains of every stripe, from fast-food stands to "dinner houses" have raised the quality of their food — some chains have actually gotten pretty good


The world has changed in some fairly huge and achingly obvious ways since milkshake-machine salesman Ray Kroc bought a small-scale restaurant franchise called McDonald’s in 1954. One way is that, as the “food revolution” meets an increasingly impecunious American public, chain restaurants are thriving. The good news is that chains aren’t necessarily what they used to be — which is to say places whose sole goal is to render us fat and stupid with huge portions of mediocre food at bargain prices.

While we were busy watching Alice Waters plant edible schoolyard gardens, some enterprising franchisers went out and hired chefs and folks who know a thing or two about what tastes good, and along the way they’ve gotten wise to the fact that we're starting to expect things like organic milk on kiddie menus and sea salt on fries. That’s smart. Restaurant business executives say that to thrive in this economy, chains of every stripe, from fast-food stands to "dinner houses" are going to have to raise the quality of their food without substantially raising prices.

The fact is that some chains have gotten pretty good. There are worse ways to spend dinner on a busy weeknight than bent over a plate of miso salmon at the Cheesecake Factory. Here then is a list of the chains that bind us.

Click for 10 Chain Restaurants Worth Visiting Slideshow.


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93 Comments

Gavid101's picture

Big Guys

Why some posters

BILL PULK's picture

GEE, I GUESS MY FIRST ARTICLE WAS TOO LONG TO READ FOR THE SO CALLED CENSORS SO IT WAS DENIED. AH WELL, MAY BE NEXT TIME.

Jonathan's picture

Fascinating! All the comments save perhaps five are such beautiful pictures of culinary knowlege minus aesthetic understanding.

Mrs. Fondue, my hat off to you for a pleasant chat on the beautiful experiences you and your husband have enjoyed. Personally, I am one of those rabid In-n-Out fans. Yes, I know it turns people off, but I am aware that In-n-Out is my cultural heritage to enjoy and other may not. It may be shocking to some, but I do think Brahms (Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas) has the best chain burger to be found. However, to me there is no match for the experience of In-n-Out.

Now, for those of you who are embittered toward me for my first line that seemed so snobbish, I would like to offer a short explanation. And first let me just say sincerely that I am just as prone to forgetting to understand art in the real world as the above comments indicate many of you are. I think what we miss so many times is that the pleasure of any art, including the culinary arts, is bound up in temporal exercise. We experience sensory scintillation (or annoyance for that matter) only within the bounds of time. Additionally, we are all equipped with pre-bent emotional states - we are predisposed to or against certain experiences or stimuli. In other words, when I was just a wee lad growing up in California and even going to McDonalds was a supreme treat due to the high cost of living, having the opportunity to go to a pizzaria of any sort or to Norms (much like a Dennys) was such an unprecedented delight that the rich flavors I experienced are still memories that effect my choices today. I still prefer a simple buttermilk ranch dressing choked with blue cheese crumbles over all the "fancy-house" vinagrettes in San Francisco. My drive to make a great pizza are fueled by my memory of a pizza so simple, most on here would scoff. Realize that the author also has preset biases, and that is a good thing! We would never find our way in art if we had no context of appreciation. Ironically, most of the posts here belie this same bent toward contextualized raving. Pavlov would be proud.

Generosity and gratitude are two among many possible examples of actions that can and will temper the appreciation of food for ourselves and those we share with. Perhaps saying a more true "grace" before a meal rather than chanting a tired phrase of faux gratefulness or worse yet, supressing any thankfulness whatsoever would enable us to savor the richness we find in our bounty. Beauty to those who seek.

Vincent V's picture

Five Guys is too expensive and not that great of a burger.

I had to laugh at the writer calling Five Guys plethora of condiments "gratis."

Um, why the heck do you think they charge so much for their burgers? Plus, they make distinctions between different condiments (red & black on the menu board) to show you that you WILL get charged extra for some of them.

Their burgers are nothing you can't make at home. All you pay for is the thicker patty and the amount of options you have for the condiments. Since you're probably not going to put 32 condiments on one burger, it's a giant waste of money.

They plaster all these rave reviews in the restaurant to con people into thinking that they're good. "See, ZAGAT's gave us 5 stars. So did all these newspapers from towns without any other burger joint."

It's so expensive that I wouldn't even recommend trying it once just to see what all the fuss is about.

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These are some of the worst chains out there. Well, honestly most of them are bad and if you find yourself wanting to go to a chain restaurant you should just go home and cook for yourself. You can do better and save money. That being said, if you must go to a chain restaurant, try: Ruth's Chris, MCormick and Schmick's, Morton's, Legal Seafood, Fado's.

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This web page's graphics make it entirely unreadable. Combined with the popup ads, it is exemplary of the type of page that should be banned from the Internet.

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I'm sure I could find better in my freezer and microwave!

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I don't like most of these, have tried them all during certain years of my life. like local good small places.
1)5 guys, started in my Virginia area, too greasy. Best Ray's Hellburgers, Arlington, Va
2)Outback, gone down hill Rays Steaks for cheap good steaks, Arlington, Va.
No I do NOT work for Rays, no frills, good prices, good food
3)PF Chiangs, fast food for the American masses who have no clue how good REAL chinese food can be, hard to find good chinese in all of Virginia.
4)Chipolte, so bad, the Mexican Govt should sue them for slander. Tortilla Factory in Herndon, Va good southwest cooking
5)Cheesecake Factory, out of this list of 10, if you had to eat in one of them, without saying, never again, this would be my vote, but only a C grade.

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Legal Seafood should be on this list.

Regina's Pizzerias in and around Boston as well

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OK, first: In N Out is good but so is Rally's (Checkers) which makes the kind of juicy burger you'd grill yourself, cheap (& no I don't work for them.) 2nd, Longhorn is indeed superior to Outback. 3rd, no Panera choice is acceptable- only a chica would think of this bizarro experience with the UFO GPS tags as "good". 4th, the Del Tacos around So Cal seem to have figured out people are tired of bringing their own HazMat unit with them to Taco Bell. And 5th, any restaurant chain who doesn't want to render me fat and stupid is unworthy of my business.

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This list is a joke. At any rate only In N OUT is worth eating. Everything else is corporate junk.

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I agree with the Culvers comment. Best fast food burger in our area (Green Bay and don't forget the frozen custard) however, after traveling out west the past 5 summers In and Out beats it hands down. My son can't wait for the plane to land to get an In and Out fix.

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You forgot Culver's. Midwest represent.

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I think you have a great idea to posting something on blogs that is why we are here for you my friend.... keep posting....!

Collection of Articles

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At any price, you can't beat the coffee, delicious egg dishes and waffles at Denny's - always enjoy breakfast there.

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Good coffee at Dennys? You gotta be kidding

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Cheesecake Factory? Really? Enormous portions of mediocre food that has 2500 calories or more per serving. And not even very good.

My analogy to CF is this: if you think CF is good food, you must love the authenticity of the Olive Garden.

Do agree on In-n-Out, 5 Guys, Cal Pizza Kitchen and surprisingly, Outback. They actually cook a pretty good quality steak for about 1/5 of what it would cost you at Morton's. Granted, there are no screaming children at Morton's, but two people can eat really good steaks, have wine and sides and still get out for under $100. Total.

Missing from this list: Baja Fresh, equally as good as Chipotle but also has fish tacos; Corner Bakery, which has really good pastries, breads and sandwiches; and Maggiano's, Italian food done so well that it would do OK in NJ.

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I can't believe that Maggiano's wasn't on the list. That is the only chain restaurant that I like.

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Hello?

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PF Changs is good! 5 guys is ok, but I hope the Chain "Dickie Joes" will make it pass 5 Guys, it is way better burgers and fries!

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Sweet Tomatoes is the best chain, and the healthiest

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P.F. Chang's..........definitely one of my favorite chains

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Sorry, but PF chang's is like the Olive Garden of chinese food. Huge plates, full of MSG and sweeteners. I am sure every chinese person reading this had the same reaction that I did: "Great Chinese food, if you're from Ohio."

Go to San Franciso's China Town and pick a place at random. It will be 10 times better. and not in a mall.

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You can tell your real educated about the product theres no MSG in any of P.F. changs food smart one!

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Apparently you're too stupid to realize that the name of this article was "10 CHAIN restaurants"

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And don't try to 'click for full story' because it starts you all over again!

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Your pages keep running without giving a chance to read. Slow down or stop. They run like a bunch of flip cards on caffeine.

TSAC's picture

My little brother is obsessed with Chipotle,and I often make burritos for him with cilantro lime rice when I'm at home. Myself, I am a fan of the Cheesecake Factory- just the name has got me hooked!
Outback has definitely downgraded over the years though, and my taste buds dont agree with it.
http://www.bloomingtastebuds.blogspot.com/

TSAC's picture

My little brother is obsessed with Chipotle,and I often make burritos for him with cilantro lime rice when I'm at home. Myself, I am a fan of the Cheesecake Factory- just the name has got me hooked!
Outback has definitely downgraded over the years though, and my taste buds dont agree with it.
http://www.bloomingtastebuds.blogspot.com/

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I wouldn't take anyone that I cared about to any of these. Why subject yourself and your guests to a bad culinary experience?
They serve bland, poor quality food with mediocre service. They are also relatively inexpensive, which means they LMC families with kids!!

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