Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse
From super cheap to outrageously expensive, from pizza chains to seafood restaurants, from kid-oriented to adults-only, there’s a sit-down chain for everyone out there. While the “bar and grill” (Applebee's, Friday's, etc.) might be one of the most common types of chains, there’s one that’s arguably more beloved than any other: the casual steakhouse.
There are two very different types of chain steakhouses, and for today’s purposes, we’re ranking only one of them: the casual chains. While both Outback and Capital Grille specialize in steak, they are very different otherwise, so comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. Comparing Outback to LongHorn, on the other hand, well that’s something worth exploring.
Quaker Steak & Lube/Yelp
To assemble our ranking of America’s top casual chain steakhouses, we took a look at all the steakhouses across the country with at least 15 locations. Then, we ranked them according to the variety of steaks on the menu, the quality of the meat used, the overall dining experience and atmosphere, the quality and variety of great steakhouse side dishes and other non-steak menu items. We also considered additional perks like lunch deals, charitable efforts, promotions, cocktails, efforts to go above and beyond and whether they employ those steakhouse secrets that only the experts know, like not being shy with the butter.
Claim Jumper Restaurants/ Yelp
Claim Jumper is owned by Landry's and has 35 locations in eight states, 19 are in California alone. It has a menu vast enough to satisfy just about anyone with options like pot pie and pizza, but when you’re there, you’ll most likely want to order a steak. Strips, rib-eyes and porterhouses are USDA Choice, the top sirloin and the 21-ounce bone-in rib-eye are Certified Angus and you’ll also find roasted tri-tip (one of those regional dishes you've never heard of from California), baby back ribs and a rotisserie chicken with a recipe that goes back to 1977. Happy hour offers bar bites for as low as $2 and draft beers for $4, and while it’s no steak, we hear that chicken pot pie is actually pretty good.
Alternately called Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouse (they both have the same parent company), this chain has 54 locations in the U.S. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes a variety of salads, soups, vegetables, appetizers and desserts. Steaks include sirloins in several sizes, rib-eyes, T-bones, a New York strip, sirloin tips and smothered beef tips, and locations underwent a system-wide redesign several years ago in order to make them more modern.
The largest chain on our list by far, Outback has more than 700 locations throughout the country and about 250 more abroad. Steaks on offer include filet mignon, New York strip, center-cut sirloin, porterhouse, prime rib, rib-eye and bone-in rib-eye, and they’re hit with a proprietary seasoning blend before being seared or grilled (depending on the cut) over oak. You can top your steak with everything from a bacon-bourbon glaze to a steamed lobster tail. There’s also a wide variety of appetizers including Outback’s famed Bloomin’ Onion and Aussie cheese fries, which are both up there with the unhealthiest things you can order at a chain restaurant. Signature non-steak items include baby back ribs, a burger topped with Bloomin’ Onion petals and chicken and shrimp pasta. The steaks are only “USDA graded,” which doesn’t tell us much, but at Outback, you know you’re in for a true chain steakhouse experience.
Quaker Steak & Lube/Yelp
Walk into any of the more than 40 locations of Quaker Steak & Lube, most of which are in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and you’ll get more of an automotive vibe than anything else. There is car-related paraphernalia scattered about and an emphasis on wings more than steak, even though it’s not called Quaker Wings & Lube. In fact, some claim that the wings are up there with America’s best Buffalo wings. The reason this chain is on our list, however, is because the four steaks that it does offer are pretty darn good. These steaks (an 8-ounce, 25-day-aged top sirloin; a 6-ounce top sirloin; a 12-ounce New York strip; and a 16-ounce bone-in rib-eye) are all USDA Choice and get a dose of seasoning before they’re grilled. All steaks come with an onion ring, grilled garlic bread and your choice of sides including loaded tater tots, mac and cheese and a loaded baked potato.
Charlie Brown's Steakhouse/Yelp
If you’re from New Jersey, you most likely know all about Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill, which has 14 locations throughout the state, as well as one in Fishkill, New York. The salad bar here is legendary. 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 USDA Choice Midwestern steaks are hand-trimmed and never frozen, and unlimited visits to the salad bar come free when you order one. Options include an 8- or 12-ounce New York strip, a filet mignon, a 14-ounce rib-eye, a T-bone and prime rib cuts ranging from 8 to 14 ounces. There are plenty of other menu items to choose from, including a pound of wings, fried cheese curds, ribs, jumbo lump crab cakes and a half roasted chicken.
This Pennsylvania chain with 35 locations has been in business since 1983 and prides itself on butchering its own Western grain-fed beef in-house. The portions here are generous, as is the hospitality: All steaks include two sides and a roll or one side and unlimited trips to the 100-item soup, salad and dessert bar for an extra $4. Along with thick-cut sirloin, steak tips, rib-eye, filet mignon, Burgundy steak, flat iron and double-thick “cleaver cut” sirloin, there’s a wide variety of chicken and seafood dishes, sandwiches, burgers and a kids menu. On weekdays, you can grab lunch at the salad bar for just $8.99.
Saltgrass Steak House/Yelp
The vast majority of Saltgrass’ locations are in Texas, with other locations scattered throughout the South and Southwest. This chain is worth seeking out, thanks to its Certified Angus USDA Choice steaks, which are seasoned with a blend of seven spices and topped with garlic butter. There’s top sirloin, prime rib, rib-eye, New York strip, porterhouse and a filet, with additions like BBQ shrimp, mushrooms and onions, and Oscar topping which is a steakhouse standby combo of crab, lemon butter and asparagus. This place is great for celebrations; banquet rooms are available for private parties and happy hour includes $2.75 draft and bottled beer. If that isn’t enough, signature appetizers include bacon-wrapped quail (with jalapeno cream cheese, sriracha honey and Brussels sprouts), Range Rattlers (jumbo jalapenos with shrimp, Jack cheese and ranch) and queso with braised brisket and pico de gallo. It’s enough to make a Yankee jealous.
Black Angus Steakhouse/Yelp
A Western chain, there are over 40 locations of Black Angus between California, Washington, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii and New Mexico. The chain started in 1964, when steak, soup or salad and a potato cost $2.99. All steaks served here are from Black Angus cows and are aged for a minimum of three weeks and grilled over an open flame. Filet, New York strip, rib-eye, top sirloin and prime rib (up to 24 ounces of it) are available, and the 16 sides include steak soup, fresh green beans with bacon and loaded baked potatoes. If red meat isn’t your thing, there’s a limited selection of chicken, pork and seafood, but it’s really all about the steak here. If you’re particularly hungry, order a "Campfire Feast for two," which comes with an appetizer, sweet molasses bread, your choice of two entrees, four side dishes and dessert. There’s also a solid happy hour (all day Tuesdays and Sundays), special beer and wine dinners, a $13.99 top sirloin and fries special on Mondays and NFL game day deals.
Photo courtesy Logan's Roadhouse
Founded in Nashville in 1991, Logan’s has hundreds of locations nationwide, primarily in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas. All guests receive a bucket of free peanuts and a basket of yeast rolls when they sit down — Logan’s goes through more than 98 million rolls every year. The menu boasts USDA Choice steaks that are wet-aged and hand-cut on premises before being grilled over mesquite wood, and options include the signature 12-ounce sirloin, a 12- or 16-ounce rib-eye, a chili-crusted 20-ounce bone-in rib-eye, prime rib and a 6- or 9-ounce filet. Be sure to get yours topped with beer-braised “Brewski Onions.” Other options include pulled pork over Texas toast, baby back ribs, country-fried steak or chicken with cream gravy (a Southern dish that the rest of the world really needs to try), Nashville hot chicken and a French dip. Every day from 3 to 6 p.m., drinks and snacks are available for $3.50 and $4, respectively.
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 Louisville-based chain has locations in nearly every state (605 and counting), and delivers not only a fun experience, but a huge 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 an average three sizes each. 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 Texas red chili (a beloved regional chili style) are also very popular, 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 better than the ones served at America’s best budget-friendly steakhouses.
Darden's LongHorn Steakhouse, which has hundreds of locations nationwide, is essentially the ideal chain steakhouse, and excels 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 and the dining rooms are comfortable and not tacky. Beef is primarily USDA Choice, with local specials like Prime Delmonico. There’s a wide variety of never-frozen steaks on the menu (including an 18-ounce grilled rib-eye or T-bone, a 12-ounce strip and filets up to 10 ounces), a solid lunch menu, intriguing seasonal specials and a good bar with five different margaritas. Ingredients are sourced with an eye toward sustainability, ribs are cooked for four hours and prime rib for eight, and just about every location allows you to order online and pick up. When all is said and done, LongHorn is the best casual chain steakhouse in America, and as far as chains go, it’s right up there with the 101 best casual restaurants in America. If you're still hungry for more steak, we've also ranked America’s best upscale steakhouse chains as well as America’s 50 best non-chain steakhouses and tracked down the absolute best steakhouse in every state.
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