#11 Ponderosa/ Bonanza Steakhouse from The best casual steakhouse chains in America
The Best Casual Steakhouse Chains in America
America certainly has no shortage of chain restaurants. From super-cheap to outrageously expensive, from pizza to fried chicken, from kid-oriented to adults-only, there’s really a sit-down chain for everyone out there. While the “bar and grill” (Applebee's, Friday's, etc.) might be the most common type of chain, 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 couldn’t be more 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. If you're curious, we've also ranked America’s best upscale steakhouse chains as well as America’s best non-chain steakhouses.
To assemble our ranking of America’s top chain steakhouses, we took a look at all the casual steakhouses across the country with more than 15 locations (which has been dwindling in the past few years, as chains like Lone Star and Texas Land and Cattle have all but ceased operations), and 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 side dishes and other non-steak menu items, and additional perks like lunch deals, charitable efforts, promotions, and efforts to go above and beyond, like mentioning when specific menu items are in peak season. We assigned each of these categories a point value, tallied them up, and at the end of the day there was one clear winner.
#11 Ponderosa/ Bonanza Steakhouse
Ponderosa/ Bonanza Steakhouse
Alternately called Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouse (they both have the same parent company), this chain has 63 locations in the U.S. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes a salad bar; a hot food bar with offerings like fried chicken, meatloaf, and green bean casserole; assorted soups; and desserts including soft serve ice cream and apple crisp. Steaks include sirloins in several sizes, ribeyes, T-bones, a New York strip, sirloin tips, and smothered beef tips, and locations underwent a system-wide redesign a few years ago in honor of its 50th anniversary.
#10 Outback Steakhouse
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, ribeye, 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 of what grade of steak they're using, but at Outback, you know you’re in for a true chain steakhouse experience, for better or worse.
#9 Quaker Steak & Lube
Quaker Steak & Lube
Walk into any of the more than 40 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 it does offer are pretty darn good. These steaks (an eight-ounce top sirloin, 11-ounce New York strip, or 16-ounce ribeye) 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.
#8 Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill
If you’re from New Jersey, you most likely know all about Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill (formerly Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse), which has 14 locations throughout the state, as well as two in New York (Staten Island and Fishkill). 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 eight- or 12-ounce New York strip, filet mignon, 14-ounce ribeye, a 20-ounce porterhouse, and prime rib cuts ranging from eight to 20 ounces. There are plenty of other new menu items to choose, from, introduced during the rebranding along with the new name, including a pound of wings, ribs, jumbo lump crab cakes, and a half roasted chicken.
#7 Claim Jumper
The menu at Claim Jumper, which is owned by Landry's and has 37 locations in 8 states (with 20 of those in California), 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, New York strip, ribeye, 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 the chicken pot pie is also really good.
#6 Hoss’s Family Steak & Sea
Hoss's Family Steak & Sea
This Pennsylvania-based chain with 36 locations has been in business since 1983, and butchers its own Western grain-fed beef in-house. The portions here are generous, as is the hospitality: All steaks include a side as well as unlimited trips to the soup, salad, bread, and dessert bar; and if you want extra gravy, sour cream, fried onions, or sauce there’s no charge. Along with thick-cut sirloin, steak tips, ribeye, filet mignon, and double-thick “cleaver cut” sirloin, there’s a wide variety of chicken and seafood dishes, sandwiches, burgers, and a kids’ menu. If you’re looking for something different, don’t miss the steak bowl, filled with steak tips, cheese, gravy, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes. The company donates a dollar to the Muscular Dystrophy Association every time a flat iron steak is ordered.
#5 Saltgrass Steak House
Saltgrass Steak House
The vast majority of Saltgrass’ locations are in Texas, with other locations scattered throughout the South and Southwest, and its certified Angus USDA Choice steaks are seasoned with a blend of seven spices and topped with garlic butter. There’s top sirloin, prime rib, ribeye, New York strip, porterhouse, filet, and a 24-ounce cowboy ribeye, 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 $2.75 draft beer, and unique appetizers include shrimp and chicken "en brochette" (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.
#4 Black Angus Steakhouse
Black Angus Steakhouse
A West Coast chain, there are 42 locations of Black Angus in California, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico. 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, New York strip, ribeye, 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 new happy hour with $2 off wine, a special menu for large parties, and some locations have a separate Bull’s Eye Bar sports bar attached.
#3 Logan’s Roadhouse
Founded in Nashville in 1991, Logan’s today has more than 200 restaurants nationwide. All guests receive a bucket of free peanuts and a basket of yeast rolls (they go through tmore than 98 million of them every year) when they sit down, and the menu boasts more than 50 entrées. All the steaks at Logan’s are USDA Choice, wet-aged, and hand-cut on premises before being grilled over hickory wood, and options include a 12-, 16-, or 20-ounce ribeye, moonshine-glazed flat iron steak, three sizes of sirloin (including one served with crispy onions, beer-braised onions, and garlic butter), a 12-ounce New York strip, filet mignon, and a 12- or 16-ounce prime rib. Other options include a wide variety of slow-smoked barbecue, fried chicken, creative burgers, seafood, and seasonal specials like the Pork Trifecta Sandwich (with pulled pork, smoked brisket, sausage, and bacon).
#2 Texas Roadhouse
Yelp/ Elaine W.
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 (more than 420 and counting), 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 an 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 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 much better than they need to be.
#1 LongHorn Steakhouse
Darden's LongHorn Steakhouse, which has more than nearly 500 locations nationwide, is essentially the ideal chain steakhouse, and excells 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, it gives back to the community, specials are based on seasonal ingredients (indicated on the menu), and there’s even a hotline 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, which you won’t find at any other chain steakhouse except for the expense-account ones. New items are also constantly being rolled out, like signature burgers, fried cheese curds, and strawberries and cream shortcake. When all is said and done, Longhorn is the best casual chain steakhouse in America, and a much better bargain than America's best steakhouses.
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