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Need your favorite recommendations for sit-down chains

Work is going to take me bouncing across the country in various locales, some of which will be non-cosmopolitan (at least food-wise).

I'll also be on a tight travel schedule and won't have much time (or energy) to explore all the nooks and crannies that places have to offer.

Which leaves me with chains (e.g. Denny's, Carrow's, etc.).

So, I need to know if there are hidden gems you can recommend at any and all chains?


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  1. Ipsedixit, To avoid risking your Chowhound status I suggest you pick up a copy of Jane & Michael Stern's "Road Food". That way you can eat at actual Chowhound destinations.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Leper

      Why are you giving this answer on a board devoted to chains? You're not helping the OP at all. Ipsedizit's Chowhound status will be secure no matter where he/she eats whilst on the road.

      My suggestions:

      Outback Express-their salmon w/rice & veggies is good
      California Pizza Kitchen-I like the pizza w/goat cheese & roasted veggies, and their apps are good too
      Romano's Macaroni Grill-it's been a while since I've eaten there but most everything is good*
      The Cheesecake Factory-their salads are huge and very good
      Mimi's Cafe-I like their onion soup
      BJ's Brewery-I like their Field of Greens Salad. Get a macadamia nut or oatmeal raisin pizookie for dessert!

      *I had a service issue (very slow service!) the last time I was there, and the manager comped the whole check on the spot. A very gracious and quick response to my complaint. Usually the service is very good.

      I have to note that I'm also a Weight Watcher, so I tend to stick to low cal/salad items (except for the CPK pizza!).

      Good luck, and please let us know where you end up eating.

    2. If at all possible, avoid Dennys. As a Chowhound and a Weight Watcher, I've noticed it's close to impossible to eat healthy and satisfactorily there - cheese-drenched side salads and soups with bizarrely high calorie/fat counts. I avoid going there even on long quiet stretches of highway.

      Good luck - I'll be traveling on business frequently this year, so I'm going to keep an eye on this thread.

      1. I don't know about "hidden gem" but Ruby Tuesday's doesn't use trans fats while the others do.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chowser

          Silver Diner is also trans fat free. You can get breakfast all day there, which is another benefit.

        2. Bone Fish grill seems to be spreading - I have consistently had good meals there - http://www.bonefishgrill.com/index_fl...

          1. We enjoy Texas Roadhouse. If there is one along your trip, stop by, good ribs, decent prices.

            1 Reply
            1. I will second the Bonefish Grill - I think their food is quite good, especially for a chain. They also have a good bar and a good wine list.

              For lunches (someone is going to flame me for this) we always seek out a Schlotsky's Deli if we're in the Chow Desert and in a hurry. You can always get a good soup and a pretty good sandwich from them. I always feel better eating there than a greasy cheeseburger. (You people up North with REAL delis just be quiet. I'm down here in non-deli land.)

              Also for lunches, Atlanta Bread Company or Bear Rock Grill usually have good soups and decent sandwiches as well.

              1. Ruby Tuesday has a turkey sandwich on a kaiser roll and this paired with a salad bar makes for a fairly decent lunch. You could do worse.

                1. I liked Steak and Shake when I rolled through the Midwest. Only had it once though.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Xericx

                    Another goo dchain in the midwest is Culvers -

                  2. Ditto Steak 'n Shake for fast-ish food. My mom's side of the family is in St. Louis and Chicago, and my dad's is from Illinois, so we are familiar with Steak 'n Shake from way back. (Originated in Normal, IL). Anyhow, they used to be hard to find, but they've spread, so if you're traveling Midwest and South/Southeast, you can find them.

                    Steak 'n Shake has breakfast food, too, and most (all?) are 24-hour places. I wouldn't do Denny's, and I'm not familiar with Carrows. A good pancake/breakfast/general type place is Perkins, if you like those kinds of places. Although I rarely frequent them, Waffle House & IHOP are decent enough in a pinch.

                    Medium-priced places ($7 - $15/entree) that I've found pretty reliable are Houston's & Carrabba's.

                    la Madeleine is good, but I've only eaten at the ones in Louisiana.

                    I never do Applebee's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, or any cafeterias.

                    The other thread on this similar topic has lots of good suggestions. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/356271

                    If you're going to be in Louisiana, I can give you some non-chain suggestions for New Orleans, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.

                    I'd suggest posting on the boards for some specific places you'll be traveling and get some good, non-chain suggestions from locals.

                    1. California Pizza Kitchen would be my first choice for a sit-down chain:


                      1. I'll 2nd/3rd Bonefish and add PF Changs, Cheesecake Factory, McCormick & Schmick's and Red Robin but only as a last resort. I travel for work a lot and these are some of my staple dinning destinations.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: alki_chick

                          I'll second PF Changs.

                          It's one of the few chains I eat at.

                          Check to see if there will be any Lettuce Entertain You restaurants at your destinations. www.leye.com.

                        2. If you like seafood, Red Lobster is good. Also, try an Olive Garden if you find one!
                          Safe travels...

                          1. We had a great meal at the Bahama Breeze. We liked the atmosphere, too. http://www.bahamabreeze.com/

                            1. One possible hidden gem could be Five Guys. They started as a regional VA. chain, but now they are opening all over. D.C. North Carolina, All over Virginia. They have excellent cheeseburgers, fries and free peanuts. Hope this helps choppedonion.com

                              1. where exactly are you going? A lot of chains are regional...

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                                  Parts of Arizona (incl. Nogales, Tucson and others points of interest by the border)

                                  Someplace called Angier in NC (as well as Charlotte)

                                  Chatfield, MN

                                  Beaumont and Vidor in Texas

                                  Monroe and Hammond (and possibly others) in Louisiana

                                  More to come I am told, but those are the ones on the list currently.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Joe's Crab Shack in Tucson.
                                    If you get to Tombstone, there's a great little steakhouse in the downtown area(it's the only one)

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      In Hammond, there's a little restaurant (not a chain) in the old section of town on S.W. Railroad called Brady's. It's pretty good for a college town with not-overly-demanding customers. (Meaning serious chowhounds who are ultra critical probably wouldn't like it, but people who can occasionally go out to eat and realize it's not going to be like home or like a $$$$ chef meal will be fine with it.) The tuna salad stuffed tomato I had there this summer was good, and we were there in October again and had several good dishes, including a decent salad. It's mostly a sandwich/salad place. It's in a cool, old building. Thank goodness they finally put doors on the bathroom stalls, too. (Didn't have them when I was in college!)

                                      If you're the drive-in/diner type, Lee's used to be good. I haven't been there in longer than I'd like to admit. It's kind of around the corner from Brady's on W. Thomas.

                                      For a nicer place, Jacmel's used to be good, but it's been even longer since I've been there than Lee's. Don't get talked into Middendorf's. Lots of locals love it, but no foodie I know has said much good about it (given price, etc.)

                                      Someone just told me about a place in Ponchatoula (Hammond & Ponchatoula are kind of melded towns) that had great beignets - stuffed with delicious fillings. I can't remember the name of the place or who told me! If you ask around, though, a local can probably tell you. Ponchatoula has a few restaurants that locals like. Taste of Bavaria is one. I got an excellent sandwich there once, and once I got a HORRID meal. Their sweets are supposed to be good, but I can't attest to that.

                                      If you add more Louisiana places, I'll try to help you out.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        are you into fishing? I know a guy in Vidor who is a world-class fisherman. If you're interested, email me off-list

                                        1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                                          Hey, thanks to both of you (calabasas trafalgar and luv2bake) for the great local recs.

                                          Very much appreciated.

                                          Unfortunately, I never really took to fishing (much to the displeasure of my uncle) ...

                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                          Angier NC is south of Raleigh, and easy driving distance to the Triangle. Many folks live in Angier and commute to Raleigh for work. For that part of your trip, I wouldn't worry too much about chains, but check out the South board, there's quite a few of us locals that are quite active on Chowhound! Also, there's a thread here for good Southern chains, where you might find a few that are fairly local (Smithfield's Barbecue for example).

                                      2. Bad news from Jfood who just spent the last 2 years looking for a positive answer to your question. Of the ones listed above I can give you my 2-cents. But first let me say that it got to the point where I would order 2 appetizers and 2 entrees, hoping that I could at least scrounge a semi-good meal. I failed.

                                        Inedible from other posters:

                                        - Carraba's, Outback, Texas Roadhouse, Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Macaroni Whatever,

                                        Breakfast not bad/okay
                                        - IHOP, Denny's (hey a guy needs his cholesterol fix)

                                        I agree that you should check out www.roadfood.com and see what they have as far as reviews. They have been pretty accurate in finding the one-offs in various places.

                                        Good luck in your travels.

                                        1. Original Pancake House

                                          In and Out Burger in California and Western Arizona

                                          1. A California/Arizona chain that provides good value, decent Italian is Pasta Pomodoro.


                                            1. I travel a lot too and I can always count on Ruby Tuesday's for a healthy meal - the salad bar or Chicken Club (sans bacon) are 2 good ones. Or if I'm splurging, the crab cake burger (yes, it's a big crab cake on a bun), and the Triple Prime burger.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Turtle177

                                                I love the RT salad bar. If I were to buy the equivalent amount of produce at the grocery store, it would cost me a fortune.