America’s Best Chain Steakhouses (Slideshow)
Walk into any of the more than 45 locations of Quaker Steak & Lube and you’ll get more of an automotive vibe than anything else, with car-related paraphernalia scattered about, and an emphasis on wings more than steak, even though it’s not called Quaker Wings & Lube. The reason this chain is on our list, however, is because the three steaks that they offer are pretty darn good. These steaks (an 8-ounce top sirloin, 11-ounce NY Strip, or 16-ounce rib-eye) are all USDA Choice, have been aged for 28 days, and get a dose of seasoning before they’re char-grilled and a dollop of spiced butter after. All steaks come with garlic bread, soup or salad, or a side dish including mac and cheese, Boston baked beans, and baked potato.
If you’re from New Jersey, you most likely know all about Charlie Brown’s, which has 16 locations throughout the state, as well as two in New York (Staten Island and Fishkill) and one near Philadelphia. The salad bar here is legendary, a holdover from an earlier time when, well, salad bars were still a thing. With more than 60 items to choose from, a visit or three to the salad bar could very well be a meal in itself, but that’s not why you go to Charlie Brown’s. The UDSA Choice Midwestern beef is never frozen, it's hand-trimmed, and unlimited visits to the salad bar come free when you order one. Options include an 8- or 12-ounce NY Strip, filet mignon, 14-ounce rib-eye, a 20-ounce porterhouse, and prime rib cuts ranging from 8 to 20 ounces. There are plenty of other (slightly dated) items on the menu for those not in the mood for steak, like salmon primavera and Parmesan-crusted chicken, but when you go to Charlie Brown’s, you go for the steak. And the salad bar. Did we mention the salad bar?
Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse
With locations scattered throughout Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, and, of course, Texas, it’s clear that the folks at Texas Land and Cattle are in no position to pull a fast one on their carnivorous clientele. There are 12 different steaks to choose from here, from their famous hickory-smoked pepper-crusted sirloin to a 20-ounce porterhouse to country-fried sirloin with pepper-cream gravy. Lunch menu prices average around $10, inventive appetizers include steak queso with chips, smoked sirloin in slider or nacho format, and fried jalapeños topped with cheese and bacon. Promotions include endless ribs (one of their top-sellers) for $19.99, they offer private dining rooms, and they donate to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals every time a slice of their chocolate cake is ordered.
Texas Land & Cattle
Owned by the same company as Texas Land & Cattle (Center Cut Hospitality), Lone Star’s reputation used to be one dominated by free peanuts (and a floor covered by their shells) and an overwhelming "saloon" vibe that bordered on comical (especially considering the fact that there are no Texas locations). But starting in 2006, the free peanuts were jettisoned along with the word "saloon," and today the 84 restaurants scattered throughout the country have a sleeker, more urban theme and a focus on high-quality food. There are five cuts of aged USDA Choice steak to choose from (sirloin, NY Strip, rib-eye, porterhouse, and filet mignon) served in 13 ways, including Cajun-rubbed rib-eye, bacon-wrapped filet, and paired with everything from ribs to salmon, served with two sides. Starters, sides, and salads include just about everything you’d expect from a chain steakhouse (including their "Texas Rose," a blatant Bloomin' Onion knockoff). Lunch specials include a 7-ounce rib-eye for $12, promotions include unlimited ribs for $19.99 and unlimited fried catfish for $10 on Mondays and Tuesdays, $2 beers and $3 wines, Kids-Eat-Free Tuesdays, and Monday discounts for service members. Like Texas Land & Cattle, they donate to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals every time a slice of their chocolate cake is ordered, and they’ll host a fundraiser for you, where 15 percent of the final check gets donated to the organization of your choice.
Lone Star Steakhouse
The menu at Claim Jumper, which has 38 locations throughout Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington, is vast enough to satisfy just about anyone, but when you’re there you’ll most likely want to order a steak. The USDA Choice steaks are aged, broiled, and brushed with garlic-herb butter, and you can get a top sirloin, porterhouse, NY Strip, rib-eye, or the harder to find tri-tip and slow-roasted beef rib. You can add on a lobster tail or get it smothered with everything from roasted pasilla peppers, grilled onions, blue cheese butter, and chives to roasted vegetables, sweet Asian sauce, and wontons. Happy hour usually involves bar bites in the $5 range and $4 draft beers and is extended during football games, and while it’s no steak, we hear their chicken pot pie is also really good.
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The largest chain on our list by far, Outback has around 1,000 locations throughout the country and a couple hundred more abroad, and has probably done more to spread faux-Australian culture than Crocodile Dundee even though it was founded in Tampa in 1988. Like a lot of the bigger chains, there are always plenty of promotions and regional dishes, but no matter where you go the steaks can be counted on for consistency. You can choose from sirloin, filet, strip, rib-eye, and porterhouse, and whether you want it "classic seasoned and seared" — that is, hit with a blend of 17 spices and seared on a flattop with butter and beef tallow — or "wood fire grilled," treated a little more delicately. Other beef options include prime rib and sirloins topped with Bloomin’ Onion petals, mushroom sauce, and chile pepper cream sauce. Its famed Bloomin’ Onion and Aussie Cheese fries are some of the unhealthiest things you can order at a chain restaurant, and there’s no indication as to whether the beef is USDA Choice or aged at all, but at Outback, you know you’re in for a true chain steakhouse experience, for better or worse.
The vast majority of Saltgrass’ locations are in Texas, with other locations in Louisiana, Colorado, Nevada and Oklahoma, and their certified Angus USDA Choice steaks are seasoned with a blend of seven spices and topped with garlic butter. There’s top sirloin, prime rib, rib-eye, NY strip, porterhouse, filet, and a 24-ounce cowboy rib-eye, with additions like Gulf shrimp, mushrooms and onions, and Oscar topping, a steakhouse standby combo of crab, lemon butter, and asparagus. Banquet rooms are available for private parties, Happy hour includes $2.50 draft beer, and unique appetizers include shrimp and chicken "enbrochette" (wrapped in bacon and basted with barbecue sauce), seafood fondeaux (creamy crawfish, shrimp, and mushrooms baked with cheese), and jumbo lump crab stacked with avocado and pico de gallo. It’s enough to make a Yankee jealous.
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A West Coast chain, there are 44 locations of Black Angus in California, Washington, Arizona, Alaska, New Mexico, and Hawaii. The chain dates back to 1964, and all steaks served here are from Black Angus cows and are aged for a minimum of three weeks, grilled over an open flame, and basted with seasoned butter. Filet, NY Strip, rib-eye, top sirloin, flat iron, and prime rib are available, and the 16 sides include steak soup, fresh green beans with bacon, and loaded baked potato. As opposed to the sprawling menus at a lot of other chains it’s all about the steak here, and a "feast for two" comes with steaks, appetizers, and dessert. There’s also a special menu for large parties, and some locations have a separate Bull’s Eye Bar sports bar attached.
Black Angus Steakhouse
The name says it all: Texas Roadhouse has just about everything you’d want in a bar and chain steakhouse, if you’re into that honky-tonk vibe. The Indiana-based chain has locations in nearly every state, and delivers not only a fun experience (and peanuts!), but a solid menu, killer margaritas, and some of the best steaks you’ll find at a chain. Hand-cut USDA-Choice steaks are on view to the whole restaurant via a display case before they’re cooked, and come in on average three sizes each, except for the 23-ounce porterhouse (you’re on your own for that). The prime rib is made all day, and just about everything on the menu is made from scratch at each location. Not only are the steaks expertly prepared, the ribs and chili are also world-class, and specialty drinks like the Jamaican Cowboy probably go down a little too easy. The name promises a good time, and Texas Roadhouse delivers that, as well as steaks that are much better than they need to be.
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LongHorn Steakhouse, which has more than 435 locations in almost 40 states, is essentially the ideal chain steakhouse, and excelled in just about every category we judged it on. Its Western theme is showy enough so you know it’s there but doesn’t smack you in the face, the dining rooms are comfortable and not tacky, steaks are aged and USDA Choice, there’s a solid lunch menu and a less-than-500-calorie menu, a good bar with nine different margaritas, the restaurants are energy-efficient, they give back to the community, specials are based on seasonal ingredients (indicated on the menu), and there’s even a hotline they’ve set up that’ll give you grilling tips. Starters range from Parmesan-crusted asparagus to shrimp and lobster dip, and the wide variety of steaks include a 30-ounce porterhouse for two with steak sauce made tableside, which you won’t find at any other chain steakhouse except for the expense-account ones like Smith & Wollensky. There’s also a filet stuffed with white Cheddar and bacon and grilled sirloin topped with bacon, a sunny-side up egg, and bordelaise (pictured) to go with the usual assortment of steaks in various sizes. When all is said and done, Longhorn is the best casual chain steakhouse in America.