You might think you can guess America’s food preferences easily. Burgers, for instance, must be a staple. And at a pizza place? Cheese must be the go-to order. But at America’s top chain restaurants, where Americans order a large portion (literally) of their food, the most popular menu picks can be unexpected.
There are many different reasons why these menu items outshine the rest. Depending on the chain, people are drawn to order a certain menu item for any number of reasons. Some chains have one item they’re known for across the globe. When you think of Burger King, for example, you instantly think of the Whopper. Other chains are named for an item. Take Dunkin’ Donuts, for instance. Of course their most popular item is the famous fried dough.
This list doesn’t include all of America’s top chain restaurants. Regional chains were left out and a few national chains were not included. But it does have many of the country’s biggest chains. The Daily Meal reached out by phone and email to the chains included and asked: What is your most popular menu item with customers? These were their responses.
At Outback Steakhouse, the most popular menu item isn’t much of a surprise. It’s steak — the Outback Center-Cut Sirloin steak, to be precise. This menu option is center-cut in order to increase the tenderness of the meat. A leaner cut, this sirloin is still seasoned and seared to enhance the meat’s flavor.
At Red Lobster, the item that customers order the most is the Ultimate Feast. It is a feast — with this order, you get lobster, crab, and two types of shrimp. If you’re still hungry after all that, you can rest assured there’s more that comes with this menu item. Like all of Red Lobster’s dishes, this comes served with a salad on the side and unlimited Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
P.F. Chang’s has enough Chinese food to feed every craving, but they’re well known for one item in particular. The Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps is their top-selling dish across the globe. What makes them so good? They’re surprisingly simple, with just four ingredients. P.F. Chang’s hasn’t changed the recipe since their first-ever location opened in 1993.
Dunkin’ Donuts has both food and drink items on its menu. Of all the food they offer, it should come as no surprise that doughnuts are their most popular seller. Specifically, the Glazed, Chocolate Glazed, Boston Kreme, Jelly-Filled, and Chocolate Frosted came out on top. Their top-selling beverages are hot coffee and iced coffee. Those are actually two of the healthiest drink options!
Now, America has many drive-in restaurants. But Sonic remains the most popular, with nearly 3,600 drive-ins located in 46 states, serving 3 million customers every day. Sonic has more than 1.3 million drink combinations, but Fountain is their most popular item. The choice is comprised of customized soft drinks, iced teas, slushes, and limeades.
Subway is the biggest chain restaurant in the world. Some customers are drawn to Subway for their gooey, cheesy meatball subs, and others love a lighter sandwich with deli meat. On social media, the sandwich that gets Subway the most buzz is the Steak & Cheese. However, the most popular order globally is the Turkey Breast sub, one of Subway’s Fresh Fit 6-inch sandwiches. It’s made with their nine-grain wheat bread, and topped with vegetables and mustard, vinegar, or a sweet onion sauce.
TGI Friday’s actually used to be less of a restaurant and more of a bar. While they still offer some interesting on cocktails, they’ve become much better known for their American-style food. Their current most popular menu item is the Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta. It’s chicken, shrimp, and red peppers all tossed in a creamy, spicy Alfredo.
At Wendy’s, there’s more than just burgers on the menu. However, the most popular item at this fast food chain is still the Dave’s Single. It’s a hamburger made with a quarter pound of fresh beef, topped with pickles, sliced tomatoes, sweet onions, lettuce, melted American cheese, ketchup, and mayonnaise. Haven’t tried putting mayonnaise on your burger? You’re missing out. You should try grilling with it, too — it totally transforms the flavor of your meal.
The Cheesecake Factory’s menu has pages and pages of indulgent (and some lighter) menu options. But only one outshines the rest in diners’ eyes. The Avocado Eggrolls are the most popular item. They’re fried in a crispy wrapper and stuffed with healthy avocado, sun-dried tomato, red onion, and cilantro. Unless you’re one of those people that thinks cilantro tastes like soap, you’re likely to be happy with this appetizer.
The most popular menu item at IHOP is (of course) pancakes — the Original Buttermilk Pancakes, to be exact. The chain has recently branched out and started serving burgers, but they remain devoted to their pancakes. They literally use pancake batter in their omelets. You get pancakes on the side with every omelet order and can sub pancakes for French fries with any burger!
Texas Roadhouse is known as one of the best casual chain steak restaurants in America, known for its Southern, honky-tonk vibe. They got their start in Louisville in 1993, and ever since their number one selling menu item has been the same: the 6-ounce sirloin. Can’t go wrong with a good steak!
These days, you can get all kinds of meals, snacks, and drinks from Chipotle (even boozy ones!). They’re testing even more in their test kitchen right now. But the most popular menu item is tried and true: the Chicken Burrito Bowl with rice and other toppings. How did this Mexican-inspired chain get its start? Learn Chipotle’s story and the fascinating origins of other huge chain restaurants here.
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