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Chains you're tired of making excuses for?

Have a chain that you enjoy, yet you constantly see it getting ripped here or elsewhere? Tired of having to defend it over and over again? Is that what's troubling you today, poopy?

Me too. In my case it's Outback. I go there for the pork chops, and the wife loves the chicken pasta. We use call-ahead seating and never have to wait. So ease up. The desserts are good too.

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  1. Chipotle, Chilis, Outback, Flemings, Taco Bell.

    1. All chains are purely money makers, built by the rich to make themselves richer. They are not quality food establishments. Even places like Ruth's Chris are easily outdone by other steakhouses here in Atlanta. I don't hate, but I truly dislike all of them.

      14 Replies
      1. re: HaagenDazs

        Oh. I didn't know that.

        I'll stop going to Taco Bell and Arby's.

        1. re: HaagenDazs

          Aren't all places made to make money? I'd hate to open up a place and not want to make money. ;)

          1. re: Kari

            Well, yes... I'm most certainly not bashing the man/woman who opens up shop and makes a living. I love to eat (why else are we CHers?!) and I respect anyone who has the guts and the ability to open their own place. But go to a restaurant where the owners are sitting behind a large wood desk at the corporate headquarters watching the stock price and you can see that the quality has dropped like a lead brick. I admire the owner that is there 99% of the time. That's a good sign. They are either working in the kitchen, perusing the customers or, running quality control. You won't see that at Applebee's.

            1. re: HaagenDazs

              I admire the owner that ISN'T there 99% of the time, but has built a successful business that maintains quality. I think you had the point on the public ownership or desire thereof. Simply being a chain doesn't bring down the quality. Taking the focus off the food and service does, though.

              I suspect that the somewhat subjectively "better" chains, even if publicly owned, maintain a level of focus on the food, though they'll still suffer from the public ownership.

              Remember hearing about the standards of quality at the first KFC's and McDonald's? I'm sure it was there for a while at first, but after a decade or four of Wall St. influence, we end up with what we now despise.

              1. re: Dennis S

                In regards to quality, "Taking the focus off the food and service does [bring down the quality of a restaurant]..." Agreed, and that's kind of my point. When was the last time you were at Red Lobster and the owner of Red Lobster (now I don't mean the MANAGER, I mean the owner) came up to you and asked you how your dinner was or showed the cooks a better, maybe more authentic way to create a dish? It happens all the time at restaurants all across the world... but they aren't chains!

                I think there's a point where you're equating success with consistent quality. Applebee's has consistently mediocre to low quality, not great quality... but they maintain it! ;-) But consistency doesn't equal quality. The goal of a chain restaurant is to create revenue, not give the public high quality service and food in my opinion. Advertising goes a long way in this world, and I'm not saying I'm immune to the ads in this world, but they tend to skew our view of what is good and what isn't. For instance, take a different subject: liquor. Jack Daniel's is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE seller. The problem? It's mediocre stuff. There's so much out there that is so much better. And to top it all off, most people don't even realize it's not bourbon.

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Just went to RL, the first chain in ages we've frequented. The reason? An organic produce gal I know works there at nite, so we went in to see her after Xmas shopping.

                  I gotta tell ya, the food, all of it, was so SALTY, I had a hard time eating it. EVERYTHING.

                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                    Ummm.....not to belabor the point, but Red Lobster (along with Olive Garden) is owned by Darden Foods, which, in turn, is owned by General Mills. General Mills is a publicly traded company and is owned by the shareholders. So, technically, is Red Lobster. There is no single "owner". From at least the manager level and up, stock options are probably offered as part of the compensation package, which does give the management staff some degree of ownership, no matter how small. Is it incentive enough for them to do a bang-up job? Maybe, maybe not, the corporate playbook dictates what they can and can not do and how much latitude they have to operate and make decisions independently. And when the bottom line is involved, typically, corporations don't extent too much latitude to subordinate management no matter how competent.

                    The Wall Street Journal ran a good piece yesterday about the new upscale menu items many chains have been adding to their menus. By and large, the majority of the additions have not been well accepted by the customer base. A lot of the failure was attributed to the chain not truly understanding their customers, i.e. why they patronized the restaurant and what it is they really want. Applebee's was prominently featured in the article and their R&D management admitted they've made mistakes with new items. There were also comments from diners sounding off about why they didn't like the new items.

                    The biggest mistake most independent restauranteurs make is beign under capitalized. The chain corporations have very deep pockets in many cases and can go place and do things the independent can nott. The purchasing power of most chains is phenomenal and no indie resto can possible match. This ability to control the cost of what goes on the plate, coupled with tight internal procedures allows the chains to provide consistency at a low to mid-range price. It's not a level playing field.

                    There is a huge difference between what a publicly traded (i.e. publicly owned) company with sophisticated resource/supply chains and good internal controls can do vs. what the average independent operator with limited resources and perhaps adequate internal controls can do. They each focus on what they do best. The corporate chain focuses on the bottom line and controlling the process not the product. The indie operator focuses on controlling the product and hopes that the process is good enough to effect a positive bottom line.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      ***but Red Lobster (along with Olive Garden) is owned by Darden Foods, which, in turn, is owned by General Mills. **

                      General Mills spun off its restaurant group in 1995 to their shareholders of record and holds NO interest in the Darden Restaurants.

                      1. re: jlawrence01

                        Thank you for the information. I really couldn't remember if GM still owned them or not. However, if they turned control over to the shareholders, it should still be a publicly held company, no?

                  2. re: Dennis S

                    Actually, I'd argue that being a chain DOES being down the quality. The second you hire untrained minimum wage labor to do the jobs that should be done by people passionately involved with food, you lower the quality.

                    This is how chains make money -- they have food "products" that get shipped across the country and are then assembled by people with little to no training. The key requirements here are that the products are easy to preserve, travel well, and be extremely easy to assemble by people with little to no knowledge of food. Flavor is a secondary concern. This is why chain food is often just overcooked frozen meat with too much salt, no spices and a big glob of melted cheez on it.

                  3. re: HaagenDazs

                    HaagenDazs, I understand that you are anti-chain restaurants and probably won't be caught dead in any of them. I'm curious, what do you (and those similar to you) eat on a daily, weekly, monthly & yearly basis? Humour me, will ya?

                    1. re: Peechie

                      I'm lucky enough to live in NYC, where there are plenty of non-chain offerings. When I go elsewhere, I seek out the smaller local restaurants, or just cook at home. Occasionally, I'll get dragged to a chain by a relative I'm visiting -- in those cases I just grin and bear it, marvelling at the idea that people actually eat this cardboard-tasting stuff regularly.

                      Peechie, are you saying you eat the stuff because there's no alternative where you are? I've definitely been to places (like the detroit suburbs) where the pickings are slim -- it's depressing.

                      1. re: oolah

                        the absolute BEST deep dish pizza I've ever had was in the detroit suburbs. if you ever go back, eat at pizzapappalis. (a local chain only around detroit.)
                        how about boynton beach fl? anyone ever find a good restaurant there?

                1. re: ChefGirl412

                  I second Round Table -- especially the Italian Garlic Supreme, skinny crust.

                  Although, come to think of it, I've not heard people bash Round Table.

                  1. re: ChefGirl412

                    They got rid of RTP's here years ago. I loved them. WAY better than Dominos or Papa Johns or Pizza Hut.

                  2. Um, mine would not be a chain restaurant but rather a chain grocery store that claims to offer a unique shopping experience. I'm afraid to even utter the name anymore lest I be drawn and quartered.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Velma

                      Please say its Trader Joes! Its the most overrated place on the board. Uh oh.....

                      1. re: Velma

                        you mean that you LOVE whole foods right? b/c otherwise you must be crazy. just kidding, i can see how people don't like it. but i have an unnatural loyalty to the place. where else can i consistently get good fruit? and have the place of origin on the label so that i can eat as locally as possible, even when i don't have time to make it to the famer's market. i know i'm paying more there, but i do enjoy the shopping experience very much. do they claim it's "unique?"

                      2. Pretty much any chain that ever gets mentioned here. Apparently there's some thrill to posting and telling a bunch of strangers about how superior and much better developed your own palate is to those of the ignorant masses flocking to whatever given chain establishment you don't like.

                        I particulary love the threads wherein a poster asks if anyone has any pointers on what to order at a place they don't frequent but have been given a gift card to, and there's always three or four responses about how they shouldn't go there in the first place, or some similar unhelpful comment.

                        But since you asked, Cracker Barrel, Red Lobster, Outback, etc., all get a lot of flak here, but as far as a family meal, they are OK. Am I going to get something there that will make me think about it for days afterwards? No, but I also know where I can go when the kids go to grandma's and my wife and I want to have that sort of dining experience.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: wabbitslayer

                          I have to agree with wabbitslayer - chains are simply made for convenience and you need to accept the tradeoff. I live in restaurant hell so I go to the only chain available
                          (Applebees) not becuase I even like it, but it is palatable and consistent. As far as capitalism - how many spin-offs of Jean Georges are there? I do not presume they are for simply altruistically presenting a culinary experience. Sorry if the spelling is off - it was a long day and I am tired - so I went to a chain tonight when my favorite local restaurant had a long wait. I didn't come away inspired - but sated and on time - there is something to be said about that

                          1. re: swarttav

                            Ditto, ditto, ditto, to both wabbitslayer and swarttav. My son goes to college in Stockton CA--a culinary desert for sure, and whenever I go see him there, we end up at a chain. CPK, Outback Express, Chili's, Applebees are the "highlights" and get repeat visits. The "local" non-chains restaurants don't seem to do much business, for some reason.

                            I will also tell you than when my son worked for Red Robin, he got a thick training manual, and was "tested" before he was allowed to work. And he was only a host, not a server (he was underage at the time). We ate at BJ's the other night and had great service, as good or better than what I've gotten in much higher priced establishments.

                            If you know what to expect, you won't be disappointed. Most chains don't aim for fine dining or cutting-edge cuisine, so don't complain when you don't get that.

                            1. re: rednails

                              I think in your discussion, you miss a very important aspect of the whole equation and flow of things.. the target market, the customers, the people who enable these "poor quality, packaged food" places to survive. There is a simple demand for it... whether the reason is consistency, convenience, the uniform, the chairs, the whatever.. the point is.. there is a market for them. For every person that hate McDonald's there are 10 more than loves it. Facts of life.

                              I don't hate that we have chain restaurants, I dont like all of them but that's my taste. I won't snub my nose just because someone else loves a place I don't.

                              I've been to my share of hole-in-the-wall gems, five star restos and everything else inbetween.. I have an appreciation for all of it. There is a time and place and need for everything. Facts of life.

                              1. re: swarttav

                                Applebees is palatable? WTF? It is the worst restaurant in history. And I like plenty of chains!

                                1. re: tamerlanenj

                                  Ditto. I laughed when I read a couple of posts lauding Applebees, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster, all of which I can not tolerate, and I happily eat at many chains!

                                  Well, all I can say is that our great variety of tastes can only help capitalism! haha

                                  1. re: luv2bake

                                    I'm not lauding Applebees (note that I put "highlight" in quotes). But I will say that they make my life easier as a Weight-Watcher by having a separate section of their menu dedicated to that program. Sometimes I have to compromise (alot) in order to reach my dietary goals.

                                    I will also go on the record that Marie Callendar's has the worst food anywhere. Their pies used to be good, but the one and only tie we ate at MC in Stockton, I was so put off by my dinner, I didn't want any dessert.

                                    1. re: rednails

                                      I frequent the Marie callendar's in Arcadia regularly. Their Cabo san Lucas chicken salad is great!

                            2. In the US: Chipotle, IHOP, Tasti-D-Lite, Ruby Tuesday (ONLY for the salad bar deal).

                              In Canada: Pizza Pizza, Chez Cora, Bridgehead Coffee, Panini (really only for the bread grill).

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: piccola

                                I forgot - Hale and Hearty Soups and SaladWorks.

                                1. re: piccola

                                  People diss Bridgehead? Really? Why?

                                  1. re: John Manzo

                                    Simply because it's a chain. Apparently, the fact that there's more than one means it must suck. Plus I've heard some people bash the whole fairtrade thing as a gimmick.

                                    1. re: piccola

                                      Well said. I'm sick of this "Big & successful always means bad" attitude. Some franchises (AND non-franchises) start out good then go downhill. Some are caught and turned around in time, the ones that don't mend their ways will die a natural death--that's the way a free market works.

                                      Some didn't even start out good (to my palate) but found a niche. Good for them. As you can see from the comments on this thread, there's no accounting for taste. One man's meat is another man's poison, etc.

                                      I seldom eat out, but I can say that I've never had what I'd term a bad meal in my dozen or so visits to Applebees, and I've had at least one memorably good one. They try harder than most any place I know to maintain variety, quality and good service. And their premium margaritas are great.

                                      On my many long road trips I love to see a Cracker Barrel coming up and know that I can have dependably good cornbread, turnip greens and pinto beans. And I'll drive out of the way for an order of Popeye's red beans & rice with one of those crispy little biscuits.

                                      Domino's is the only pizza chain I know of that's actually gotten better with the years. Their crust nowadays is as good as anyone's anywhere and their prices are better than anyone's. (LOVE the Philly Cheese Steak Pizza! On Mondays and w/their constant coupon offers, a large unlimited toppings for $9.99!) Long may they wave.

                                      Long may all the good, reliable, consistent, "no [bad] surprises" franchises wave. They have their place.

                                      (My little city has a noted independent pizza place that CAN make fabulous pizza/subs/pasta. But its pizzas are not only wildly inconsistent and the orders mixed up half the time, a large size costs nearly 2 1/2 times Domino's $9.99. I still buy one there now and then because they make the only white pizza in the area, but I make the clerk repeat the order back to me three time and keep my fingers crossed til I see the finished product with my own eyes.)

                                2. Lick's, Sunset Grill, Pickle Barrel, Starbuck's, Costco (take-out pizza), and Hooter's.

                                  1. Noodles & Company (cheap, great for families, something for everyone and Fresca on tap)
                                    Pei Wei (no other chinese place near me offers brown rice)
                                    Cheeburger Cheeburger
                                    Good old Whopper
                                    Good old Egg McMuffin

                                    1. Chez Cora. Don't care what you think. I like it. More for me.

                                      Carl's Jr. I like it better than In-N-Out. If you don't, well, I'll be one fewer person in line at the drive-through of doom.

                                      P.F. Chang's. I know it's not an "authentic" Chinese place -- neither are 95% of the Chinese places in this country. It's nice to have a place where I can sit in a reasonably nice environment, linen napkins, and not have the burden of shifting my coworkers' food paradigms on my shoulders. Because, y'know, sometimes I put the CH instinct on "pause" for the sake of consensus.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                        I'll join you at Carl's Jr. I'll go there 100 times for every trip to in n out. I just wish the buns were better.

                                        1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                                          Yes, agree completely, the buns are heinous.

                                        2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          I second Chang's. I don't love chains either, but in certain areas of the country one is left with no other choice. I go for "consistently palatable and somewhat good" in a chain.

                                          1. red lobster. the rest of the food may be so so, but those cheddar biscuits are still durn good.

                                            mcdonald's. sometimes you've just gotta have those fries. dipped in sweet 'n sour sauce. and if it's been a REALLY tough week...add a big mac or some chicken nuggets. sorry kids, but that's the truth! i grew up loving those foods, and some things just never change...

                                            a note on the chain restaurant discussion: i disagree that "chains are simply made for convenience and you need to accept the tradeoff." i think the real reason behind a chain is, as someone briefly mentioned, consistency. if you find something that you like at a chain restaurant, then you know you'll get that exact same item prepared that exact same way at any other location of that restaurant. and sometimes, that's a really good thing.

                                            also, the comment implying that quality control doesn't occur at chain restaurants is, in my opinion, off the mark. i would argue that quality control is actually easier at chain joints, as the food is mass produced and arrives at the restaurant already prepared, for the most part. automated and mechanical "cooking" procedures also make quality control really easy.

                                            i think the real reason that food at chains is not usually as good as an independent restaurant is the fact that the food is mass produced and, at least to some extent, pre-prepared.

                                              1. PF Chang's is actually very good . . . for what it is. Yes, we all know it's NOT authentic, but who cares?


                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: TexasToast

                                                  Agreed and being Chinese-American, it does pain me a little to say it. ;) However, it bugs me when people try to tell me that it's authentic and I don't know what I'm talking about.

                                                  I'm trying hard not be a snob, but after growing up with my mother's awesome cooking and eating at the fabulously questionable-cleanliness, no-English-speaking, mom-and-pop places in Los Angeles, I can definitely offer an opinion on authenticity.

                                                  I think PF Chang's is great for what it is. I also enjoy Panda Express for what it is, too. Mmmmm... fried rice and orange chicken.

                                                2. Uno's ...not for the pizza but the rest is pretty decent gourmet fast foood

                                                  Wendy's ONLY for the mandarian chicken salad....actually kinda healthy and an easy lunch (w/o the dressing)

                                                  Fudrukkers cause I like the shakes

                                                  Friendlys....reminds me of my youth and....well, sometimes you NEED a super-melt, Fribble and Reese's Pieces Sundae

                                                  1. PF Chang's for the inauthentic Kung Pao Shrimp!

                                                    Red Lobster for the Snow Crab Legs and Drawn Butter!

                                                    Popeye's Fried Chicken for the Three Wing Dinner (Cajun-style, please)!

                                                    Waffle House for the Scattered, Smothered, Covered, and Peppered DOUBLE Hashbrowns!

                                                    Taco Bell for the Taco Supreme (crispy shell)!

                                                    But I hate Applebee's, no matter how many Tyler Florence ads I see!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: wittlejosh

                                                      I hate that he does those ads. Makes me think he's such a sell out. and I HATE Applebees. I agree that inauthentic PF Chang is one of the better chains.

                                                    2. Have to agree with wittlejosh about PF Chang's and Waffle House chains. I love 'em. And about Applebee's which I can't stand but must eat at frequently.

                                                      Chili's is great for high-end junk food. Red Robin has those bottomless fries with that seasoning they put on the tables. And they have a burger with pineapple and cheddar and teriyaki sauce. Decent turkey burger too...

                                                      Ooh! Don't forget Dairy Queen and Wendy's. And Panera.

                                                      And I still just flat-out loathe McDonald's. No fix for it.

                                                      After having been to Longhorn Steakhouse for the first time recently and having had a delightful filet mignon followed by a Ghiardelli brownie sundae the size of my head, I will defend it vigorously from the opinions of any naysayer. I would probably sell my soul for beef and a brownie sundae if I was hungry enough.

                                                        1. re: shaebones

                                                          Same here, I only order one thing there, the chicken piccata, for some reason the sauce is fabulous. My husband likes the steak diane. They also have a low carb cheese cake which is great.

                                                          1. re: shaebones

                                                            Is it worth the wait - I have never been to one without a wait and I typically refuse to wait for seats at chains.

                                                            1. re: swarttav

                                                              The key is to sit at the bar. We seldom wait to sit at the Cheesecake Factory.

                                                              1. re: dustchick

                                                                Or get there when they first open if you are eating lunch there. I like the salads a lot.

                                                            2. re: shaebones

                                                              I just went to Cheesecake Factory for the first time a couple weeks ago. I was truly surprised by just how good it was. We had a great server, funny and on the ball. Crab cakes were really good. And I had one of the best club sandwiches I've ever had. No room for cheesecake, but the selection was enormous. I would go again w/out hesitation.

                                                              1. re: bryan

                                                                If you do try their cheesecakes and you like peanut butter, the Adam's Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple is insanely good. Their new lemon ladyfinger cake is really good, too.

                                                                As for service, it's pretty great there. One time, I ordered 9 cheesecakes for a residence hall event. The manager came out to personally thank me. I certainly wasn't expecting anything, but it was a nice gesture.

                                                                1. re: bryan

                                                                  I cant get that excited about CCF,but their Dulce De Leche cheesecake....now theres a reason to get excited....like the Thai lettuce wraps,and the chicken farfalle also

                                                              2. Taco Bell. No, it's not Mexican food, but it is cheap & tasty.

                                                                Popeye's Fried Chicken

                                                                In & Out Burger

                                                                1. I love a 4-star meal, a local joint & chains. Sometimes it is the company and conversation & not the meal.

                                                                  Local Chain-Cookout

                                                                  1. I like Subway and A&W, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Chicken Delight, Red Lobster, Chili's.
                                                                    I did have a couple good meals at Applebees, but hey, maybe my palate is not as refined as all you other CH's out there. (or maybe the canadian applebees are just better, i ate there twice while in the states and was not impressed either time)

                                                                    actually. i also ate at an A&W and a wendy's and some other place i can't remember the name of, and at all those places the food was very bland and tasteless. has anyone else noticed that american fast food just isn't as good as canadian?

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: RiJaAr

                                                                      no, but regional chains in the U.S. are much better than the nationals: a deep-dish pizza chain in Detroit that i can't recall the name of but it is out of this world, Walt's roast beef in RI, chik-fil-a, popeye's (supply does not meet demand, but i don't know how national they are), cracker barrel, bojangle's.

                                                                      1. re: fara

                                                                        The deep-dish pizza chain you're talking about is Pizaa Papalis and it's delicious. If you do go there, don't eat for two days beforehand so you can eat more than two slices. I don't even want to know the calories in one slice!

                                                                    2. I love Chilis and have for many years, through college, after hours with coworkers at my college retail job many years ago, several boyfriends, catching up with girlfriends. It's a mainstay and I always find something there I like to eat - the Carribean Chicken salad comes to mind.
                                                                      I am miffed that they took the Tuna Steak sandwich off the menu though.

                                                                      1. Starbucks (Blue Bottle is not on every corner, and Starbucks cofee IS good, just don't put flavor syrups in it! Oh, and those Egg Florentine breakfast sandwhiches are extremely delicious!)

                                                                        In-N-Out (I don't eat there a lot, but it is fresh-tasting and good)

                                                                        Chipotle (come on, you know the ingredients are good quality)

                                                                        Popeyes (spicy chicken, red beans and rice, biscuits. 'nuff said)

                                                                        La Salsa (not authentic, so what, there's plenty of those in Concord, but La Salsa has habanero salsa!!!)

                                                                        Johnny Rockets (great burgers and atmosphere at good prices)

                                                                        Peets (when I want real robust flavor, but I actually prefer Starbucks)

                                                                        Costco and Trader Joes (they're just chains I like, no need to defend them, who doesn't like them?)

                                                                        Beard Papa (good for what it is)

                                                                        Out The Door (does 2 make a chain?)

                                                                        La Pinata (2oz tequila margaritas and great food. family owned, but there's like 6 or 7 of them)

                                                                        Quiznos is fairly good in a pinch (better than the others in it's category)

                                                                        That's all I can think of right now. I have no problems going to chains if they have quality ingredients, and with the possible exception of Popeye's all of these fit that bill. I hate chains like McD's, Taco Bell, BK, Subway, etc that have HORRIBLE quality ingredients. They have weird taste to their food.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. Chili's - Consistent food, decent service.

                                                                          Starbucks - sorry, but I LIKE their coffee. Black.

                                                                          Hardees - Hot Ham and Cheese and CURLY FRIES!!! mmmm

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Andiereid

                                                                            Dammit! I used to love Carl's Jr. when it was called Hardees and they had a hot ham n' cheese!

                                                                            Out in LA we have stupid Carl's Jr, but no ham and cheese. I'm sorry, but ham is good and LA is not good for not eating enough of it.

                                                                          2. cheesecake factory & carraba's. it's not haute cuisine, but who wants that all the time. cheesecake factory has good salads and carraba's has great bread & dipping oil & fried calamari.

                                                                            1. Wendy's
                                                                              In 'N Out
                                                                              PF Chang's
                                                                              Bamboo Club
                                                                              Taco Bell
                                                                              Shakey's Pizza

                                                                              There are so many listed here that we no longer have. They've closed down so many.

                                                                              1. arby's - (pseudo)beef & (pseudo)cheddar and those greasy as hell potato cakes...with extra horsey sauce. effin a!

                                                                                taco bell - crunch wrap supreme (killer stoner food)

                                                                                safeway - their paninis are a good value

                                                                                jimmy john's - when you need a decent sub

                                                                                peet's - the mocha freddos are like crack

                                                                                jamba juice - macha green tea mist

                                                                                1. Jamba Juice, Starbucks are consistent for good product and snappy service. ("Hey Barb! That's a Razzmatazz with a Energy Boost comin' right up!")I'm a sucker for Taco Bell, too. Glad I'm not alone...such a guilty cheap pleasure, (in that order).

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: barbara66

                                                                                    I'm neutral when it comes to Starbucks. I don't hate it with a passion, as many others do, but I don't love it either. In fact, the only time I'll seek out a Starbucks is when I'm desperate for a bathroom.

                                                                                    The coffee's ok, but the decaf is terrible.

                                                                                    1. re: piccola

                                                                                      Intelligencia Coffee is the way to go if you are buying around Chicago. Not a chain...yet. They have distributors. Eco-friendly but way better than Starbucks. Not a bad product in their lot. If I can't find Intelligencia, I can't help but stumble over Starbucks. I think there is one going in my neighbor's yard.

                                                                                  2. Here in Los Angeles, my top picks in this category would be three Mexican chains: Poquito Mas, Baja Fresh, and El Torito (at least the ET branches in Beverly Hills and Marina Del Rey).

                                                                                    I also give honorable mentions to Cheesecake Factory and Jerry's Deli.

                                                                                    Every one of these chains has at least a couple of strong reasons to recommend it.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Arthur

                                                                                      Oh, Jerry's. I loved Art's, too, anything Jewish Deli, as we have not a one where I live now!

                                                                                    2. I will always have a special place in my heart for McDonalds because of the afternoon in Rome, Italy, when I saw the arches and knew I would find....no not good food, but more about that later. I knew I would find a clean American style bathroom. The funny thing about the food was that 'when in Rome' etc. seems to be true for McD's as well. They had a salad bar that held beautiful fresh vegetables and fresh mozzarella.

                                                                                      1. Cheesecake Factory's menu frustrates me. It is like a phone book! I took my mother and she wanted to order just the right thing...But their lemon rasberry cheesecake helped me deal with my anxiety.

                                                                                        1. Growing up in the middle of the country, where decent seafood was (at least when I was little) pretty hard to come by, I have always liked to go to Red Lobster. My husband, who lived for many years in Oregon, loathes it.

                                                                                          We just went to a place in Joplin last week that I hadn't ever heard of but I understand is a chain, called Johnny Carino's (I think). It was pretty decent.

                                                                                          1. Island's

                                                                                            I enjoy many items there, I like it fine.

                                                                                            1. Papa John's Pizza: it gets to my house quickly and it is always hot. The sauce is good compared to the other chain pizza joints and I can order online. The wings aren't half bad too.

                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                                                                                Good one!

                                                                                                I like the crust on their pizza, but find that some of the larger ones get soggy in the middle.


                                                                                                1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                                                                                  I agree totally. I'm going to go out on a limb and call "american delivery" a pizza style of its own, and Papa John's is by far my favorite in that camp.

                                                                                                  1. re: amkirkland

                                                                                                    no, no. pizza hut is much better. greasy and cruncy like a delivery pizza should be.

                                                                                                    1. re: amkirkland

                                                                                                      I agree about the "american delivery" pizza being its own creature. I also agree that Papa John's is the best of the national lot. Now that we live where there aren't Papa John's, we lament it on something of a regular basis. My wife loves their cheesesticks.

                                                                                                    1. People have previously mentioned In-N-Out, which surprises me.

                                                                                                      I don't make excuses for In-N-Out. I say I go to In-N-Out and no one ever questions it, save for the one response asking how it's overrated, but no one ever says it's bad.

                                                                                                      I say Starbucks -- I like their seasonal lattes.

                                                                                                      1. My guilty pleasure is Steak and Shake. The fries are incredible and so are the shakes.

                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: chickstein

                                                                                                          No need to feel guilty! When we're traveling home from visiting my parents down in southeastern Kansas, we always time our departure so we get to Steak and Shake in Topeka (the only one on that road between here & there) at lunchtime. Then after we eat we get a sack of singles for later. I'm glad the nearest one is five hours away, or else we'd always be there!

                                                                                                          1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                            Triple ditto! The fries are da bomb! And if I allow a malt indulgence... yummmmmmmmmmmmm.

                                                                                                            When we would go visit my uncle in St. Louis, he'd always get mad because I'd want to go to S 'n S. He wanted me to go to some great non-chain places. Hey, I can do that, too, but give me one shot at my S 'n S!!

                                                                                                            Now there's one on the way to my mother's and one on the way to my father's. Yeah, boy, I rejoiced!! haha

                                                                                                            1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                              Yep the fourth. Great road trip food -- and I'm vegetarian. Love their honey mustard salad dressing and the super thin cut fries. And grilled cheeses are a definite guilty pleasure... Also, if I'm being extra bad, I'll get a strawberry shake. I agree that it's a good thing the closest one is a good 450 miles or so away...

                                                                                                        2. Wendy's
                                                                                                          Fire and Ice

                                                                                                          I love them all and I am not afraid to admit it...lol.

                                                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                              I forgot about Cheesecake Factory...I love that place.

                                                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                My children are dying to try Souplantation, but the Marina Del Rey location is always packed.

                                                                                                                And while I'm willing to give a salad bar/buffet situation a try, the crowds are a real turn off. Those slow moving lines past the peas and potato salad have a "herding the cattle" feel to them.

                                                                                                                Is it worth the stress?

                                                                                                                1. re: PaulF

                                                                                                                  I would go during off-peak hours (e.g. between the lunch and dinner crowds like 2 to 5 pm).

                                                                                                                  The place isn't going to rock your world, but for around 10/person, it's not a bad value. You get fresh cut greens (mostly), good selection of well-made soups and chili, and a variety of muffins, breads, and pizza/focaccia, plus pasta (which I would avoid) and old-school frozen yogurt/soft-serve.

                                                                                                                  Would I go everyday? No. Would I even go regularly? Probably not.

                                                                                                                  But is it worth frequenting every once in a while for a change of pace? Sure.

                                                                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                    No doubt ... I don't have really high expectations ... I mean, I've eaten at Sizzler's all-you-can-eat salad bar twice in the past month (after not going for about 20 years) ...

                                                                                                                    I'll try it on the off hours, thanks ...

                                                                                                                    1. re: PaulF

                                                                                                                      High expectations notwithstanding, Souplantation is MUCH BETTER than Sizzlers.

                                                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                        LOL -- that's not saying much ...

                                                                                                                        What happened was, we went into the local branch (across from Fox Hills Mall) on some sort of weird whim ... I had a steak and a salad I dunno what everyone else had. But the all you can eat salad was sort of pointless with the steak, because how much could I eat anyway? The fresh veggies with the steak were actually pretty good, fwiw.

                                                                                                                        And for some reason we decided that the salad bar was the way to go -- order nothing else but salad bar for everyone. That way wasn't so bad. I sort of liked the taco fixings and had a salad with taco fixings mixed in to it. Their chicken wings weren't bad either.

                                                                                                                        We've ended the Sizzler experiment permanently ... but for some reason we felt we had to go twice to learn that.

                                                                                                                        What I noticed was that Sizzler was filled with many seniors. And it occurred to me that Sizzler serves a purpose as a place where you can have a steak and a salad and a potato for not much money, compared to a "real" steakhouse. Lots of families with kids, too. So, Sizzler does have it's place.

                                                                                                                        1. re: PaulF

                                                                                                                          Not to take this thread off on a tangent, but when I was in HS after practice we would always go to our local Sizzlers.

                                                                                                                          We once had a "eat-off" to see who could eat the most deep-fried cheese-garlic toasts that Sizzlers makes.

                                                                                                                          Winner? 34 in one sitting. Not me, btw.

                                                                                                                          (Full disclosure: I used to work at Souplantation back in the day.)

                                                                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                            I gotta say, one of the best meals I've ever had was at a Sizzler. My now husband and I had driven from Memphis to Atlanta in a broken-down dump truck that guzzled oil with all of our worldly possessions (which included a donated 30-year-old mattress and no bed or box springs) right after I graduated from college. (If you're envisioning the Clampetts now, that's about right.)

                                                                                                                            We arrived in Decatur at 4:00 AM, filthy and utterly exhausted and slept about four hours before waking up on said mattress and unloading the dump truck. We finished about 4:00 PM and headed out of town to return the dump truck to my father in Arkansas (who was none too pleased about the entire situation and wanted his truck back). We'd not had showers because there was no hot water at the apartment yet. We were completely done in and to make matters worse, we drove right into a terrible thunderstorm. We pulled into a Comfort Inn and had the best showers EVER and then walked right across the parking lot to the Sizzler and had a steak and a baked potato and a salad. After having had nothing but a cup of coffee and a package of little chocolate donuts all day, that still goes down as one of the best meals I have ever had. The storm was so bad the power went off at the Sizzler in the middle of our meal. We could have cared less.

                                                                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                              I used to love it Sizzlers in high school, too. I could have steak or salad bar, depending on how fat I felt that day. haha

                                                                                                                    2. re: PaulF

                                                                                                                      Try Brentwood -- the parking's a horror but it's not usually the zoo that the MdR one is. The one in Beverly Connection's also better.

                                                                                                                  2. Has anyone mentioned Panera? I LOVE their sandwiches & soups. Great bread. They just started making pizza also that I have heard is good, but takes a long time.

                                                                                                                    1. Jack in the Box

                                                                                                                      Especially their shakes now that they include the whipped topping and a cherry on top!

                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: michele_corum

                                                                                                                        I'm sorry, but JITB is just revolting!


                                                                                                                        1. re: michele_corum

                                                                                                                          That right there -- the "whipped topping" -- is an example of why I don't like Yack-in-my-Crack. But hey, that's why it takes all kinds, so enjoy!

                                                                                                                        2. Cheesecake Factory
                                                                                                                          Buca di Beppo
                                                                                                                          Yardhouse (only for happy hour)

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. re: OCAnn

                                                                                                                            Yeah, I'm OK on Buca. It's not anything revelatory but it's not inedible, and unlike Maggiano's it's not horribly salty.

                                                                                                                          2. I love the Texas Roadhouse and I'm not afraid to admit it. No, my ribeye isn't prime, which makes perfect sense because we're not *paying* for prime. I'm paying for consistency, friendly (but not cutesy) and competent service, and a tasty meal. (And oddly, a side salad which I find addictive for some reason.)

                                                                                                                            Bonuses - jeans are expected attire, kids are welcome, and I don't have to consider a 2nd mortgage if said kids dine with my husband and I.

                                                                                                                            Spaghetti Warehouse is a different story - I'm convinced their fried calamari is about the best I've ever had - but hate just about everything else. Oh, well, the canneloni isn't bad. Not what I'm used to from when I lived in NY/CT, but really not bad.

                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                            1. re: shanagain

                                                                                                                              God, I haven't thought about Texas Roadhouse since I lived in Iowa. We used to go to the one in Cedar Rapids to drink and play pool.

                                                                                                                            2. Sweet Tomatoes (the NorCal version of Souplantation). I like the broccoli salad & chowder, my hubby and daughter like the chicken soup and foccacia. It's a great place for fast, inexpensive, semi-healthy food. In second place: Chipotle, which uses a lot of Niman Ranch products and just got sold by MacDonald's.

                                                                                                                              For worst chain, I vote for anything by Wolfgang Puck. I've eaten many times at several of his restaurants in LA and Vegas (on business expense accounts) and have yet to have a good meal.

                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                              1. re: Claudette

                                                                                                                                Sweet Tomatoes is also the national name for this chain, and I have to agree on their broccoli salad - it's the best thing they have there. But in my Texas location the premade salads are limp and underdressed, the rest of the salad bar is fresh but unexciting, the soups are inedible - my GOD, the salt - and don't get me started on the vile pastas. But will I go back? Probably, as it's the only thing remotely like it in this state, and it CAN be healthy if you choose carefully.

                                                                                                                              2. Sweet Tomatoes, yes I agree, Claudette! I usually avoid any salad bar type establishment but this was clean and the selections were good. We found this chain when we were visiting an elderly relative in Florida. She and her "girlfriends" love it for the prices. (LOL, she even gave us advice about making free lemonade with the water and lemon wedges.)I wish there was one here in the Westchester area.

                                                                                                                                1. I like Famous Dave's for BBQ pretty well. But now that I have a smoker at home, it doesn't have quite the pull it used to have.

                                                                                                                                  1. I'll eat at baja fresh sometimes. Also my mother and I go to Newport Bay,(Or/Wa chain) every now and then, the food is so/so.

                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                    1. re: amopdx

                                                                                                                                      Baja Fresh arrived in Portland about six months before we left, and we visited there quite frequently in those six months. Really liked it!

                                                                                                                                      Newport Bay is probably only a step or two up from Red Lobster, given the other seafood options in the Pacific Northwest, but it had the advantage of being fairly affordable and there were two of them within a mile of our house. (One of them was about two blocks from my school, so some of us could occasionally go there on a lunch break during a seminar or something.)

                                                                                                                                    2. Papa Ginos
                                                                                                                                      Tony Romas
                                                                                                                                      Olive Garden (but the wait puts me off every time)
                                                                                                                                      Cheesecake Factory (ditto)

                                                                                                                                      Went to Wahoo's Fish Taco once and liked it very much - unfortunately a second trip is tough since we're in Massachusetts.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: ns538bmk

                                                                                                                                        Buffalo Chicken Sandwich @ Tony Romas!


                                                                                                                                      2. Outback definitely rules for an inexpensive and descent meal. Add a lobster tail for ten bucks, can't go wrong. As far as chains I have never been let down by the Cheesecake Factory. Huge menu everything is good. Don't get me wrong I also like fine dining but fast and tasty is okay most of the time

                                                                                                                                        1. I forgot to mention Daily Grill. Good as far as chains go (IMHO).

                                                                                                                                          1. I like to try local fare when I travel, or maybe a chain that's not available in my area (Cheesecake Factory being my favorite away from home). But sometimes if I can't figure out where to go, it's nice to have a chain there that I know will be consistent, especially since I'm very health-conscious and will already know which items are healthy. Ruby Tuesday being my favorite with their salad bar and ever-changing menu. Second is probably Chili's, yes sorry for the haters on here, but I do love Chili's because of the very wide variety. I used to like Applebees too but after going about once-a-week with my elderly in-laws, that got old fast. The one thing I'll say for Applebee's is that they have a yummy weigh-watchers menu and some new items recently that are pretty darned-good. Happy Eating.

                                                                                                                                            1. If you have good local joints to frequent, why go to a chain?? Wouldn't you prefer to keep ALL of your money in your community? I don't care how the food is, as long as my money is ending up in the pocket of a person or people 200 or 1000 or 3000 miles away, I'm out.

                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                              1. re: G Goo

                                                                                                                                                but chains provide jobs and money for local people, what if there aren't many talented chefs/people interested in opening restaurants in your area? most of the profit goes to the owner of the franchise, no?
                                                                                                                                                maybe you're right, but isn't it like refusing to buy a car or something that was made out of town? I'm wondering what percent of money really goes to corporate in these places.

                                                                                                                                              2. Because:

                                                                                                                                                1)Because sometimes it is just easier to do logistically. I ate at the Cheecake Factory recently while shopping at the mall with a friend. We were not going to leave the mall, go up the street to a local place that I like, and then come back to the mall. It was expensive for what it was, but it was decent, our server was nice, I was able to smoke in the bar
                                                                                                                                                1.b. Sometimes they are the only ones open.
                                                                                                                                                2)I don't have kids, but I can speak for those who do in that a lot of chains make it quite easy to feed a whole family, especially with picky kids. Yes, one should seek out local family oriented places, but sometimes it might be easier to take the rugrats to Red Robin.
                                                                                                                                                3)We like the food, as the title of the thread states,one can not always be a food snob.
                                                                                                                                                4)Sometimes you are with company that prefers a chain, sometimes compromises are to be made. I'd rather have a sh*tty meal and good company, than a great meal with an a-hole.

                                                                                                                                                I, like you, do not normally choose to go to a chain, but it happens, and I make the best of it.

                                                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: RaleighRocker

                                                                                                                                                  Very well said. Once-in-awhile, I get the chance to go eat lunch with my co-workers and they want to eat at chain restaurants always. I could refuse to go and then eat at a local place by myself but for the friendship and good will, I go and have a good time even if I would never choose to go to that restaurant on my own. In this case, is has nothing to do with the food we are eating.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: RaleighRocker

                                                                                                                                                    Sorry I didn't mean to sound judgemental.....Good points all, and well stated also. I guess being from a large gastro-centric city (Philadelphia) I take for granted the fact that if I choose to not eat at chains (which I do) I can easily do that with so many great local places to eat.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: G Goo

                                                                                                                                                      This comes back around to a question that gets asked around here all the time-how do you turn somebody into a chowhound? Believe me, I would love to expand their horizons and have tried throwing out alternate suggestions but, they are pretty firmly set in their ways. I guess it has to start long before you reach 50 years old.

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: RaleighRocker

                                                                                                                                                      Excellent response! I agree with you on all points.

                                                                                                                                                    3. 1. El Torito Grill
                                                                                                                                                      2. Round Table Pizza
                                                                                                                                                      3. Yardhouse
                                                                                                                                                      4. Finbar's
                                                                                                                                                      5. Carl's Jr. (Western Bacon Cheeseburger)

                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: bahamafoodfiend

                                                                                                                                                        Round Table was the only place to get an unusual pizza prior to the whole "gourmet" pizza revolution, and has largely been supplanted by CPK.


                                                                                                                                                        1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                                                          Round Table's Italian Garlic Supreme is my favorite pizza, much better than anything from CPK.

                                                                                                                                                      2. I've never actually had to make an excuse for it, but I really dig Schlotzky's.

                                                                                                                                                        1. Starbucks - I like their roast and their coffee is decent even if there are better options in Seattle

                                                                                                                                                          Chipotle - Pretty decent. Better than any other Mexicanish chain other than the local Tacos Guaymas.

                                                                                                                                                          Pagliacci(local pizza chain) - It may not be as good as whatever you had back in NYC/Chicago/Naples but it isn't trying to be that either. It is a damn slight better than any of the national chains and even most of the local ones.

                                                                                                                                                          Jack-in-the-Box - My guilty pleasure for largish burger joints. Sure their stuff is over-processed but I like it way better than anything I've had at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, or Dairy Queen.

                                                                                                                                                          Quiznos - better than the alternatives.

                                                                                                                                                          Chain grocery stores - convienient, good selection, good sales, open late/24hours, not too horrible for the fresh stuff if you shop carefully.

                                                                                                                                                          1. I finally thought of one that no one else had mentioned and I MISS...John Havard's. They don't have tons of locations but there was one on Long Island that I used to go to and LOVED it. The beer was respectable and the food was totally decent. That is one chain I do miss and would purposely make a point to go to next time I see one!

                                                                                                                                                            1. Mitchell's Fish Market (Cameron Mitchell)
                                                                                                                                                              The Oceanaire
                                                                                                                                                              Lettuce Entertain You
                                                                                                                                                              Select Restaurants
                                                                                                                                                              McCormick and Schmick's
                                                                                                                                                              Maggiano's (Brinker)
                                                                                                                                                              Cheesecake Factory
                                                                                                                                                              PF Chang's
                                                                                                                                                              California Pizza Kitchen

                                                                                                                                                              1. Arby's. I can't eat the fries anymore - they upset the stomach but I still love the sandwiches. I have to admit that I really miss Roy Rogers.

                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: hooliganyouth

                                                                                                                                                                  Oh my gosh, Roy Rogers. Wow I miss them. Cheeseburger plain, small fries and a medium orange drink. I must have eaten that once a week when I was a little kid. (I had to go to the doctor a lot and that was the reward meal for being good.)

                                                                                                                                                                2. PF Changs and Maggiannos (70 minutes away when we hit Trader Joes and Wild Oats)
                                                                                                                                                                  In and Out, Macayos and Red Robin (when we visit my niece in AZ)
                                                                                                                                                                  Locally we hit Outback, Chilis, Chipotle and Rotelli for a chain but mostly stick to locally owned places.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. Outback - Great steaks for the price
                                                                                                                                                                    Bonefish - Good selection of fish, bang bang shrimp, not a fan of the sauces
                                                                                                                                                                    Cheesecake Factory - the mediocre food is balanced by the cheesecake
                                                                                                                                                                    Chipotle - love the salad with all the toppings

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Wings and Things... I can't help it.

                                                                                                                                                                      Applebees and Olive Garden are proof that Satan exists.

                                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dagney

                                                                                                                                                                        I live in the Orlando area(home to Darden,the parent co. of Olive Garden) ,and i too used to hate the 'Garden,but we have the ne re-do of this chain near my house,and i gotta say the food is really good.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. claim jumper - love the soup and salad.
                                                                                                                                                                        starbucks - green tea latte... i can't find it anywhere else, and i can't make at home nearly as tasty.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. the Cheesecake factory...a few good things, 2 or 3 great things(dulce de leche cheesecake especially) ,and a bunch of stuff that is not much better than Denny's

                                                                                                                                                                          1. Honestly, all of them. Chains, barring the occasional totally out there experience, deliver largely the same thing each time. you shouldn't be suprised about what your'e getting and getting into for the most part. I like KFC, Taco Bell, In N Out, etc etc at different times. Those times are few and far between, but when I've got a craving or when I'm on a road trip and other options are quick and easy and knowable...I do turn to the chain and having to "defend" the option or the restaurant itself gets old pretty quickly.