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Below-the-Radar Local and Small Regional Chains That Are Worth Knowing About

  • johnb Aug 16, 2012 04:42 PM
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Pretty much everyone knows, and has opinions of, the big national chains (you know the ones), and even the big regionals such as In-n-Out, Chick-fil-A, etc. But further down the scale there are many smaller, less well-known, local and regional chains, many of which are serving good food that is worthy of more attention than they typically get.

Here are three picks of the types of chains I’m talking about:

Cook Out: Cook Out is a North Carolina-based burger chain with some additional locations in Va., Tenn., and S.C. Their claim is that their burgers resemble those you’d make yourself at a cook-out. I don’t know about that, although they are good and to me are somewhat reminiscent of the In-n-Out style, even complete with references to biblical passages on the wrappings. But while the burgers are good, their best thing is the huge variety and high quality of milkshakes. For example, if you order a blueberry pie milkshake they literally slice off a piece of pie and mix it into the shake, crust and all. Excellent. Most locations are double drive-throughs with outdoor seating, but some have indoor seating. The company is extremely secretive and has no website of its own. Here is a link to a fan website: http://eatcookout.com/

Runza: Runza is a Nebraska chain, with a few outlets in adjacent states. They serve, well, runzas. A runza is a type of turnover, a yeast pastry crust filled with savory ingredients including meat, cabbage, onions, and sometimes cheese. A very tasty pocket sandwich. Runza the chain serves a variety of runzas, as well as other more typical fast-food items. Well worth checking out if you’re ever in Nebraska. http://www.runza.com/

Pollo Campero: This is a chicken chain (“Country Chicken” in English) from Guatemala, now with many locations in the US, focused in areas where there are large populations of Mexicans and Central Americans such as NY/NJ, DC, Houston, Los Angeles and others. IMO their fried chicken blows away the US chains. It apparently is long-marinated in a spice mixture, and that seems to work. Many of their sides are also excellent – their side of pinto beans, really a soup, is the best restaurant bean soup I know of, and they have fried yucca, plantain, and other treats. http://www.campero.com/

What and where are some below-the-radar chains you know about that you would recommend to a Chowhound passing through?

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  1. In California, there's the Squeeze Inn (search the California Board for reviews and posts). Eight locations, total. There are several locations in and around Sacramento, and one each in Galt, Tracy, Vacaville, and Napa. Ridiculously good burgers. A Squeeze with cheese is my current favorite burger.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ricepad

      Holy cow! I didn't known there was a Squeeze In in Vacaville! Sweet!

    2. Aladdin's Eatery is mainly a midwest chain, started in Ohio. But there are also a few mid-Atlantic locations. They make very high-quality and innovative foods inspired by Middle-Eastern flavors.

      http://www.aladdinseatery.com/index.php

      Also distinctive here is their strong line-up of vegetarian and vegan dishes. It's a health-conscious operation. Because I am a devoted carnivore, I was a bit concerned at finding the foods a bit meh, but the flavors are really great in the meat and veggies dishes.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bada Bing

        Oh yes, we have an Aladdin's in Raleigh, NC. It was a go-to place for quick take out and relaxed weekend lunches before my parents moved.

        1. re: Bada Bing

          I love Aladdins falafel rolls and tabaoullah for a quick lunch.

          They are one of the few places that sell lamb shawarma.

        2. In the Washington, D.C. metro area we have Moby Dick kebab houses. (The unsuitable name comes from that fact that the owner took ver a fish place and then stuck with the name.) They have great lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs, served with rice, fresh bread from a tandoor style oven, and home doog (a yogurt drink). They also have home cooking-style lunch specials during the week. Very generous, fresh, and reasonably priced.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jayjaymom

            Moby Dick has been a favorite for me, as well. My 78-yr-old aunt thinks their rice is the best she's ever had.

            I'll add Hard Times Cafe to the DC mini chains that do a very good meal. Several styles of chili (Terlingua is my favorite), great grilled wings, and one of the better burgers around.

            1. re: Terrie H.

              Second Hard Times. Simple food simply prepared. A great value price wise, particularly the NY strip. A steal at $15.

          2. The best one I can offer up is that if you ever find yourself in the Des Moines, Iowa metropolitan area, then seek out a place called Tasty Tacos. I think there are 5-6 in Des Moines and adjoining suburbs. It is a small family restaurant chain started in the early 1960's on the East Side of Des Moines and the regular flour taco, which is nothing like the dinky flour tortilla with beef served at Taco Bell-type fast food joints, with plenty of hot sauce is one of my favorites [and to qualify this, I lived in Texas for over a decade and am a huge fan of Tex-Mex, Mexicali, New Mexico fare, and authentic dishes from Mexico].

            1. Liang's Kitchen.

              Southern CA (Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego), Northern CA (San Jose and Cupertino), as well as an outpost in NYC.

              http://www.liangskitchen.com/#!__page-1

              1. Two local chains in the DC area that are worth knowing about. Both a little more upscale than, say, Pollo Campero. Good for business meals, lunch with grandma, date night. Both feature fresh, local fare and I've always found the quality of service good, the atmosphere nice, etc.

                http://www.greatamericanrestaurants.c...
                http://www.clydes.com/main/index.cfm

                1 Reply
                1. re: tcamp

                  Are we talking about fast food only? Would Black Restaurant Group (BlackSalt) be cosidered a chain? These are nicer than Clyde's.

                2. Sharky's Mexican Grill is a regional chain that has a presence in L.A. Their tempura cod taco is as good as it gets. Can't really speak to their other menu items.

                  1. Here in New Jersey, the Surf Taco chain is popular with my daughter and her friends. Surf Taco calls it "coastal cuisine", which I interpret as a Jersey Shore implementation of a Californian concept.

                    1. In California, and a few other western states, El Pollo Loco. You can get a bucket of chicken with sides, but the chicken is all grilled. You can get traditional sides, like mashed potatoes or more Mexican-ish dishes.

                      http://www.elpolloloco.com/uploads/Me...

                      In the Portland, OR area Burgerville is great. Looks like a fast food place, but they use local ingredients and have some seasonal specials. Walla Walla onion rings in summer, sweet potato fries in the autumn. Rogue Creamery blue cheese in salad. Tillamook cheese on the burgers. Real ice cream milk shakes change seasonally too.

                      http://www.burgerville.com/wp-content...

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: pamf

                        Over ten years ago there was an El Pollo Loco in Tokyo. It was amazing, but lasted less than two years. Great chicken -- crispy grilled on the outside, tender on the inside. Somehow there were only flour tortillas, as I remember. Nothing at all like it, now, but there are plenty of great other foods in Tokyo.

                        1. re: pamf

                          Didn't realize El Pollo Loco was local! Good stuff.

                          1. re: pamf

                            Yes! to Burgerville. They serve fish and chips made with halibut as well as acceptable burgers.

                            1. re: pamf

                              Another big thumbs up for Burgerville. Consistently good food and a great business model.

                              1. re: pamf

                                There's actually an El Pollo Loco here in Connecticut, granted it's in the casino, but still.

                                1. re: pamf

                                  I cast my thumbs up vote for El Pollo Loco. The chicken is marinated (and possibly injected) with some kind of spices and something that tastes like salty lime juice and incredibly moist and juicy. As far as I know, it's the only chicken chain that specializes in non-breaded and fried KFC/Church's/Popeye's-style chicken. Their sides are great. I haven't been to Southern California since the 90s, and I miss EPL sumthin' fierce.

                                  We have Burgerville here in Portland, and yes, it costs probably 140% of what you will pay at other bigger chain fast food restaurants (for two adults it usually runs $17-$20), but to me it's worth it to splurge once in awhile. Also, it's the only actual fast food that I never feel guilty feeding my 7 year-old, due to the quality.

                                  They have seasonal shakes made with whatever fruits are in season locally, such as marionberry (not the guy who got busted for cocaine, it's a hybrid berry I've only heard of in this area), raspberry, strawberry, etc. A child-sized shake is around $2.75, and it's just the right size, small, delicious and fresh.

                                  Burgerville's salads are amazing and if you don't want a full-sized one, they offer them in half-size too. They use a lot of organic ingredients and always try to buy locally when possible, which is great because it puts money back into the local economy, and results in fresher, better-tasting foods. They actually LIST the souces they buy from on their site.

                                  Aside from the great food and menu choices, the staff is exceptionally friendly, consistently. This is the only fast food restaurant I have eaten at where the employees really seem to enjoy their jobs, amazing, since fast food is always seen as one of the worst gigs going. I am certain this is due to the company actually treating them well, see their philosophy here: http://www.burgerville.com/about-us/m... and trying to follow their motto "Serve with Love".

                                  Basically Burgerville is the antithesis of every other fast food restaurant I've ever eaten at.

                                2. In Ventura\ Santa Barbara county in CA there is a burger chain named The Habit. Very good grilled burgers as well as a decent tritip sandwich.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: mike0989

                                    They're also in the San Fernando valley. I've been to 2 of their locations and I, as well as others who've been there with me, have not been impressed with their burgers.
                                    Another small chain that just happens to be located right next to a Habit, is Daphne's, serving Greek style FF.

                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                      I enjoyed Daphne's for a short year while I lived in California. They seem to be doing their best to have a good variety of vegetable-laden fare in a fast-food format.

                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                        I like Habit. I've been eating their burgers since their original location in Santa Barbara in the '70's.

                                        Most Daphne's I know of [3 in Ventura County] are gone now..

                                        1. re: Tripeler

                                          Daphne's is a small local chain out of San Diego. It's been around awhile. It went belly up about 3 years ago and was bought out by a venture capitalist who "had always wanted to be in the restaurant business". He restructure the company, followed by a menu overhaul. It's been reasonably effective. They've emerged from Chapter 11 (or was it 13) and seem to be doing okay.

                                          Like the Greek Salad w/Chicken, and their pita and hummus are nice.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            Interesting. Thanks for the update, DD

                                      2. re: mike0989

                                        The Habit is also in Orange county now.

                                        http://www.habitburger.com/

                                      3. D'Angelos in New England. The sandwich of choice is the Number 9 Pokket.

                                        http://www.dangelos.com/index.html

                                        1. Two Michigan Sub shops that are really terrific in their own ways:

                                          Tubby's Submarines (MI & FL) My favorite is a Mushroom Steak and Cheese. Been eating this joy for 30 + years.

                                          Bellacino's--out of Holland, MI, still trying to find traction in the rest of the state. Company pitch is : "It's toasted". High quality, tasty.

                                          1. West Central GA has Big-Chic, Eight or a dozen locations I think. They make a fried chicken breast sandwich that puts chick fil a to shame. Their regular fried chicken pieces are very good also. Locations differ, some have only a window to order at and some have a sit down dining area.

                                            1. Newicks in New Hampshire. Simply prepared excellent seafood and good service.
                                              Fantastic onion rings and lobster pie.

                                              1. Around LA, there are a few Zankou Chicken locations - love the chicken tarna and garlic sauce!

                                                1. Two come to mind:

                                                  Cousin's Subs is, as far as I know, only in Wisconsin & the Minneapolis area. Good breads, fresh fillings, tasty pepper relish. Someone tried to bring the stores to Tucson but they didn't last.

                                                  Mariscos Chihuahua, in Tucson & Phoenix. Maybe not really a 'franchise' in that each is individually owned, & menus & hours vary a bit from store to store. They're strong on fish & seafood. Their fish tacos are really good, & if you can find one that serves micheladas you're in for a treat. There was one in Sierra Vista but it closed last year, alas, & there's a wings place there now. Ug.

                                                  Cheers!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: FishTales

                                                    I know if at least one Cousinsthat was in the L. A, area but didn't last very long

                                                  2. In Trinidad and Tobago:

                                                    Royal Castle - Fried chicken, fries, cole slaw etc but slightly more "local" than the foreign brands.

                                                    Wok and Roll - American style Chinese take-out but catered more to Trinidadian taste.

                                                    El Pecos - A huge variety of Trinidadian food from buttered cassava, jerk chicken, stewed pork, corn pie.
                                                    Anyone visiting Trinidad needs to eat at El Pecos!

                                                    1. In PDX metro, besides Burgerville, there is the Pizzicato's pizza chain. I like the pizza--even though I seldom get to eat it. http://www.pizzicatopizza.com/

                                                      In StL, Lion's Choice is a chain of roast beef sandwiches and other menu items. I like the roast beef sandwich and the chili. I wish they'd update their W. County location though. I like the sandwich with extra meat, no butter, and with au jus and horseradish sauce for dipping the veggie sticks I like to buy there. http://www.lionschoice.com/

                                                      Also in StL, Crazy Bowls and Wraps is a chain with a few locations sprinkled around the area. I had to quit eating there when I went low carb, but I liked their brown rice bowls a lot. http://www.crazybowlsandwraps.com/

                                                      For pizza in StL, the chain Pi is very good. I violated my diet several times in the last year to eat at their Kirkwood location. I really liked every thing I ate there, and when we sold our house that's where we went to celebrate. (We eat pizza illegally, so to speak.) http://www.restaurantpi.com/

                                                      For Italian in StL, the Pasta House chain fills the bill for moderately priced family fare. I don't eat pasta any more, but if I did, I would want some of their spaghetti. And I love their version of St. Louis salad. I could eat that every day, I think. Their menu isn't highbrow Italian, but you should be able to find something on it that you like. http://www.pastahouse.com/

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                        I'm a big fan of Pizzicato! they use good ingredients and have some really tasty selections. I don't think they get nearly the attention that some of PDX's other artisan pizza places get, but it's always good when I go there.

                                                        1. re: bards4

                                                          We stopped at McMenimans for lunch today, but I know Mr. Sueatmo really wanted Pizzicato. Actually, McMenimans is a local chain too. Had an excellent lunch by the way. Both of us need to stay away from pizza, unfortunately.

                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                            Oh yeah! I'd forgotten about them. We have two in town, and theirs is one of the few menus I have trouble deciding what to get. I'm a picky eater.

                                                            1. re: tracylee

                                                              I'd had a meh impression of McMenimans, but I've had two recent meals there and I like the food.

                                                              Another very small chain in the PDX area is the Elephant Deli and Grill. There are several locations. I've only eaten at the one off W Burnside. I've raved about them before. I love the food. I could eat there every day. http://www.elephantsdeli.com/

                                                      2. & one more:

                                                        Surf Rider in SE Virginia. Fresh seafood & fair prices. The one on the water in Virginia Beach is only open in season but the open-air tables are worth it.

                                                        Cheers!

                                                        1. Central west Florida coast - Anna Maria Oyster Bar, Half Shell Oyster Bar, Peaches, Columbia, Ceviche.

                                                          Mexico City - Sanborns, La Rana.

                                                          Dallas - Houstons, Blue Goose Cantina. El Paisa, Blue Mesa Grill.

                                                          20 Replies
                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            How does FL seafood compare with NE?

                                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                                              Good question. A few comparisons:
                                                              oysters - FL lacks the variety available in NE (Fellfleet, Blue Point, and colder varieties like Malpeques) but FL Apalachicola oysters are praiseworthy
                                                              clams - not local in FL. Rosie in St. Pete flies in Ipswich clams to fry up for expats who miss the Glenwood
                                                              lobsters - Maine lobsters are available but goofy expensive. That takes the fun out of it. There is very little commercial market in FL for spiny lobsters - I had many more of those in Turks & Caicos and the Yucatan
                                                              shrimp - Florida pink Gulf shrimp are hard to beat - firm and flavorful
                                                              crabs - not much here, lump meat from elsewhere is available
                                                              conch- not harvested anywhere in the US, if it's to be found it is from the conch farm in Turks & Caicos
                                                              fin fish- FL has fresh fresh grouper and seasonal pompano that I doubt is available in NE, those are my go-to panfish. FL yellowfin tuna is probably available in NE, among other flash frozen varieties like wahoo. Both areas have local swordfish. FL lacks NE seasonals like shad and shad roe, and bluefish. Dover sole anywhere seems to be of questionable provenance.
                                                              My favorite fin fish of all is hardly available in either area but I eat a lot of it in Mexico - known as hogfish in the US, it's boquinette in Mexico but I see less of it over the years even there.

                                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                                They are growing clams at Alligator Point in North Florida. Look for them, they are delicious.

                                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                                  There's also seasonal cobia down here, which I'm not sure makes it to NE. I'm not sure how widespread amberjack distribution is, but it can be a nice budget option in my part of the FL panhandle.

                                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                                    My memory of FL seafood is limited to the delicious shrimp; butterflied and stuffed with crabmeat.

                                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                                      you forgot stone crab claws, veggo!

                                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                                        Did I ever! Oct. 15, opening day.

                                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                                          ah….good stuff, man, goooood stuff!

                                                                  2. re: Veggo

                                                                    Sanborn's is everywhere :-) I like them for breakfast, their freshly squeezed juice combos are great

                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                      They are a Mexican chain, right? Are they in the US Southwest/Texas too? I enjoyed their fresh fruit with lime juice, or something similar. Not exactly a dish that you need to go to Sanborn's to get, but I did twice. That was only when the licuado stands by the Belle Artes theatre were closed.

                                                                      1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                        Sanborn's is a small department store with a large restaurant operation. As far as I know there are none in the US. They do have branches in Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali.

                                                                        They have an item on their menu called "Squash" tha is pineapple and strawberries muddled together and then topped with mineral water. It's surprisingly refreshing on a hot (and often humid) day.

                                                                    2. re: Veggo

                                                                      The Hillstone Restaurant group owns Houstons and they have restaurant locations throughout the country. Rutherford Grill in Napa Valley and Gulfstream in Orange County are "Houstons" restaurants with a different name.

                                                                      1. re: suburban_mom

                                                                        Exactly Houstons is a huge chain. The location by my wife's office Changed its name to Hillstone to avoid having to put nutritional and calorie info on the menu since its the only Hillstone.

                                                                        1. re: roro1831

                                                                          Hillstone restaurant group owns the Houston's chain and a several others. According to their web site there are currently 11 Hillstone locations.

                                                                          http://www.hillstone.com/

                                                                          The location in San Francisco changed from a Houston's to a Hillstone a few years ago. It's more likely that they re-branded the restaurants in certain locations in order to create a more upscale menu and raise prices accordingly.

                                                                          1. re: pamf

                                                                            I meant the only Hillstone in NYC, that way they don't have to post the nutritional info.

                                                                      2. re: Veggo

                                                                        the Houston's in Austin is now Bartlett's. wonder if it is just this one.

                                                                        1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                          I wonder why all the different names? In any case, the Houston's in Addison TX is well run with very good food.

                                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                                            The Rutherrford Grill isn't a Houston's because the Napa Valley doesn't allow chains. The story is that the owner of Houston's wanted to open a restaurant there so he renamed it to get around the regulations. I think that was the first Houston's that wasnt a Houston's. I'm not sure about the name change on the rest.

                                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                                              Looks like the Houston's in Austin became an independent operation after 20 years as a franchisee of Hillstone Restaurant Group (which controls Houston's and a number of other restaurant names.

                                                                              http://www.bartlettsaustin.com/about-us

                                                                              It's interesting................ maybe because of where it is, but Rutherford Grill (Napa) has always seemed to be just a notch above the Houston's I've been to, as far east as the one that was in Georgetown until 10+ years ago.

                                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                                I'd rather go to Taylor's/Gott's, and eat on a bench. Now THERE'S a chain! Is three places a chain?

                                                                        2. Buddy's Pizza in Detroit..square pizza that is very good. Flat Bread Pizza in Boise Idaho...thin crust pizza with nice chopped salads.

                                                                          1. In MD, VA, PA, NY, and along the Jersey Turnpike, Roy Rogers still makes the best chain chicken sandwich available, the Gold Rush Chicken sandwich. Superior to Chik Fil A in every conceivable way. Their fried chicken skews salty, but for those who remember Hot Shoppes, it's a dead ringer for Pappy Parker's Fried Chicken. The Double R Bar Burger is a treasured childhood memory, and their fixings bar lets you load it it up the way you like. And if you remember Arby's back when they actually hand carved real roast beef instead of heavily processed lunch eat, Roy's Real Roast Beef is a real treat. So nice to have a roast beef sandwich where the beef tastes/chews like beef instead of beef bologna.

                                                                            And in the either "you love it or hate it" department, there's Ledo's Pizza: thin, square, buttery, crackery crust, sweet sauce, thick pepperoni.

                                                                            http://www.grubgrade.com/2009/07/30/f...

                                                                            http://www.royrogersrestaurants.com/l...

                                                                            http://www.ledopizza.com/location.cfm

                                                                            21 Replies
                                                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                              +1+ for Roy Rogers, though I'm the Double R Bar Burger fan. My nephew (who won't eat ANYTHING) loves their Gold Rush sandwich, but I just can't stray from my Double R since I don't get there often enough to sample. Many years ago, I loved their roast beef sandwiches, too.

                                                                              1. re: Terrie H.

                                                                                There are still Roy Rogers around? Dag, there used to be a few in suburban NYC (not an area known, back twenty years ago at least, for its fast food places), and if I recall well, they had a salad bar too? Do the ones you visit @Terrie H. have salad bars?

                                                                                1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                  Dag! I remember saying that when I was a kid in New York. Is that local too? I remember Roy Rogers, and I thought It was Arby's here In California. No?

                                                                                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                    I don't think Roy Rogers lasted very long in CA. IIRC there was one on Bevery and Orlando in WeHo that didn't last more than a few years.

                                                                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                                                                      Roy Rogers was started in 1968 by the Marriot Corporation to replace their Hot Shoppes Jr brand, peaking at 650 stores. Eventually, Hardees bought them out and converted most to Hardees stores. A Germantown MD company bought the brand and now has around 50 stores total.

                                                                                  2. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                    It's not a salad bar but a fixings bar for burger toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, jalapeños, relishes, and sauces.

                                                                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                      Used to order a 2 pc fried wing order and fill the paper boat with a full salad from the fixins bar.
                                                                                      Also LOVED the Double R Bar Burger, sadly the Roys in CT mostly became Wendy's.
                                                                                      Back in the 70s my brother would eat in the Roy's in Carle Place, Long Island, NY. At that time the Roy's Sauce (a sweet BBQ0 was on the fixins bar in plastic squeeze bottes. They didn't sell the sauce. Bro would swipe a squueze boittle for home use and bring it back when empty. After about 6 months the manager caught on and gave my bro a gallon bottle with his compliments.

                                                                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                        The roast beef sandwich didn't come in a boat, but that foil wrapper could sure hold a boatload of pickles. I've cut back on my pickle greed.

                                                                                      2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                        wendy's used to have "fixings bars," too.

                                                                                  3. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                    i do miss our local roy's that was here in arlington, va. they had good roast beef sandwiches.
                                                                                    they also had good fried chicken.

                                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                                      When the Hot Shoppes Jr chains were closing, Marriot developed the Roy Rogers brand and kept the Pappy Parker's chicken recipe and it's distinctly thick, salty crust.

                                                                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                        I recall reading an article in the Washington Post many years ago in which a number of famous local chefs at that time were asked what they like to eat when they eat outside their own places. Several of them included Roy Rogers' fried chicken in their lists.

                                                                                        1. re: johnb

                                                                                          it's not bad, unless you're on I-95 at a rest stop and it's been sitting under the heat lamp too long.

                                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                                            Those rest stop Roy Rogers were the only locations retained by Marriot when they sold most of RR off to McDonalds. Considering the amount of business they do in them, it is not surprising. But I think it is generally agreed the quality of food in those locations is significantly inferior to regular RR's then or now.

                                                                                            1. re: johnb

                                                                                              I always thought of them as kind of Carl's Jr. with a smaller selection.

                                                                                              1. re: johnb

                                                                                                Second this. The difference between the Jersey Turnpike Roy Rogers and the franchise stores is night and day. I'm fortunate enought to have three near me in Fairfax, VA. Clean, snappy service, fresh food, and lots of older folks chatting over breakfast about how much better everything was back in the day and how the metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!

                                                                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                  now listen, you have to talk HORSEpower if you're talkin' roy rogers. (hogshead????).

                                                                                                  i wonder if trigger preferred the fried chicken or the roast beef?

                                                                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                    I'm sure Trigger never even tried the stuff. The only thing the Marriot chain got from Roy Rogers was the right to use his image.

                                                                                      2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                        While I am in the camp that thinks ledo's has some nerve calling what they serve pizza. Last time I was with a friend who wanted it and he ordered an onion one to share, I enjoyed what I ate. Still isn't pizza, reminds me of the pillsbury canned pizza mom used to make when day was out of town.

                                                                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                          When RR opened up their shop in Greenvale, Long Island in 1970 or so, they made their burgers with FRESHLY GROUND BEEF daily! OMG! Unbelievable. Made the 'burger belch' around the corner taste anemic.

                                                                                          It didn't last but less than a year.

                                                                                          The roast beef was only OK in comparison.

                                                                                          RR went the same way as Wimpy's on LI as well.

                                                                                          1. re: algct

                                                                                            the UK based Wimpy's? god they deserve to go belly up.

                                                                                        2. Jim n' Nicks in the South and Colorado. Real deal bbq in a nice setting. The one here in West Nashville always has a full parking lot.

                                                                                          1. On the Space Coast of Florida, we have Long Doggers for all things hot dog. While Bizarro's Pizza has numerous outlets, the original in Indialantic on the boardwalk serves the best New York Slice around.

                                                                                            1. Another great Oregon chain is Cafe Yumm!
                                                                                              http://www.cafeyumm.com/index.html

                                                                                              Rice bowls of all varieties, with some great sauces that can be purchased for home use.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: tracylee

                                                                                                Only in SoCal, only 4 locations. A very local kosher fish restaurant called The Fish Grill. Locations in the Beverly-La Brea area, Beverly Hills, Brentwood and on PCH in Malibu. Great grilled fish, love their fried fish, and their Cole slaw is great. It's kosher so be aware that you won't find shrimp or other shellfish, but youbwill get tasty fresh fish and side dishes!

                                                                                              2. Are there still Shakey's in California? Have they taken a bit of Japan with them back home and now serve tuna and corn pies in Sacramento?~

                                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                                  There are still quite a few in Southern California, but sadly, there's only one left in Northern California, and I just can't see driving to Oroville just for Shakey's....

                                                                                                  1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                    I ate there a couple of times in Tokyo, that's the only reason I thought to mention it. Actually, there's a convenience store chain in Japan (among other countries) called Lawson's, and I always thought they were Californian too. Just curious, 'tis all! Maybe an odd question: is there a Californian pizza chain that isn't Shakey's that is also lauded?

                                                                                                  2. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                                    There were Shakey's in Nashville, TN when I lived there in the mid-70's. I also ate there in Japan in the 80's. Couldn't get enough of that tuna, corn and shrimp pizza! (not!)

                                                                                                    1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                                                                                      There were Shakey's all over the DC/MD/VA area in the 1970s, but they all died off. Speaking of MD chains, the Gino's Burgers brand is attempting a comeback. I recall their burgers being pretty decent by 1970s standards.

                                                                                                      http://www.ginosgiant.com/

                                                                                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                        the Shakey's in the Midwest also played silent Laurel'n'Hardy, Buster Keaton and Keystone Kops movies on the walls. and as a kid that meant more than the food.

                                                                                                  3. In California, Tender Greens -http://www.tendergreensfood.com/

                                                                                                    Doing a great job with seasonal, sustainable, local and organic.

                                                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                      Carrabba's Italian Grill. I love their Chicken Pollo Rosa Maria, a chicken breast stuffed with fontina and prosciutto, topped with mushrooms and a basil lemon butter sauce, cooked on a wood burning grill.

                                                                                                      http://www.carrabbas.com/

                                                                                                      1. re: MysticYoYo

                                                                                                        I would challenge Carrabba's being a small regional chain but I wholeheartedly agree that the Pollo Rosa Maria is delicious.

                                                                                                        1. re: MysticYoYo

                                                                                                          Carrabba's is in 32 states, hardly small regional.

                                                                                                          1. re: LikestoEatout

                                                                                                            Bloomin' Brands Inc owns Outback Carrabbas Roys Bonefish. This is the definition of a chain...........

                                                                                                            1. re: cwdonald

                                                                                                              You forgot Fleming's (Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar) as well - so that makes Carraba's part of a 5-brand gargantuan chain. http://www.bloominbrands.com/home/ind... I haven't tried counting how many places that comes up to in total - but I am guessing they outnumber Olive Garden... Heh.

                                                                                                              Besides, Carraba's website has this annoying muzak which you cannot seem to turn off on the page itself and you need to use your computer "mute" settings to make it go away.

                                                                                                              ETA:
                                                                                                              • Outback is said to have >900 locations in 21 countries. (http://askville.amazon.com/locations-...) Domestically (USA) - 669 locations as of EOY2011. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outback_...)
                                                                                                              • Carrabba's has 231 locations + 1 franchise as of EOY2011. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrabba...)
                                                                                                              • Roy's has 31 locations, from their website. (http://www.roysrestaurant.com/about/)
                                                                                                              • Bonefish Grill has 151 company-owned locations and 7 franchises at EOY2011. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonefish...)
                                                                                                              • Fleming's has 64 locations at EOY2011. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleming%...)

                                                                                                              I would say there are more locations than there are Olive Gardens. :-D

                                                                                                            2. re: LikestoEatout

                                                                                                              Although they do actually make their own food in house, so I give them a bit of leeway in my avoidance of big chains.

                                                                                                              1. re: NanH

                                                                                                                their fire grilled pork chops are top notch….also their sausage lentil soup. very high quality and delicious.

                                                                                                        2. Tudors Biscuit World (yes, really) out of WV is my favorite part of going home. They have an extensive menu of biscuit sandwiches, and make the biscuits from scratch in house every day. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in one, I recommend the Mountaneer.

                                                                                                          1. There's a chain called Roasters in the Atlanta area - sort of a meat and three place - nothing fancy but very consistent and priced right.

                                                                                                            1. In Indianapolis, there is a local chain under the general umbrella name "Patachou" that serves decent-to-good food, what I would think of as American-French. There is also a pizza place within the chain, which seeks to serve its version of "Neapolitan" pizza with mixed results. Locally the place/chain is well-regarded (almost a cult within some circles) especially amongst a certain kind of demographic that shares characteristics with what one might consider "yuppies"/upscale-currently-wealthier-former-refugees-from-the-flower-generation. ;-)

                                                                                                              [The 49th & Illinois location was the "original" sole location before they began expanding]

                                                                                                              I liked the Cafe Patachou in Broad Ripple on Westfield, temporarily closed for repairs. It was their wonderful tomato-fennel soup that inspired me and turned me on to making my own variations of pure, simple, clean, tomato-ey soups from juicy fresh tomatoes.

                                                                                                              http://www.cafepatachou.com/

                                                                                                              1. Miami Subs has 70 stores in Florida, but has expanded. I like the gyro.

                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                  They were up in PA ten years ago... thankfully they went under. They were awful.

                                                                                                                  1. re: cwdonald

                                                                                                                    Died in CT, too. Tried to operate in Milford, home of Subway Int'l HQ, stupid idea. Now we got a Dibella's from the midwest. One try and never again. They've no clue what Italian deli is supposed to taste/loo/smell like.

                                                                                                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                                      There's a small chain in the L.A. area called Giamela's Subs. Nice Italian name, right? The one I went into was run by an Asian couple. I walked right out.

                                                                                                                  2. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                    We have (had?) them in North Carolina as well, and have for at least 15 years.

                                                                                                                  3. Sheetz in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina..mostly Western PA. Gas Station/ Convenience/ Made to order food. 24 hours, killer breakfast sandwiches.

                                                                                                                    10 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                      Wawa is way better than Sheetz!

                                                                                                                      1. re: NanH

                                                                                                                        Interestingly enough Wawa and sheetz do not really compete. They make a point of not being close to each other.

                                                                                                                        1. re: cwdonald

                                                                                                                          Really? They each have four or five stores apiece in Richmond.

                                                                                                                        2. re: NanH

                                                                                                                          NanH - no.

                                                                                                                          cwdonald - agreed.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                            Rodzilla- yes.

                                                                                                                            1. re: NanH

                                                                                                                              no.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Rodzilla

                                                                                                                                I've had relatives that work for Sheetz and friends that worked for Wawa and both have told me more then once that the corporate vision for their chain is that they have no plans to compete with each other. I forget which person told me they'd been told by a manager more then once "there's enough 7-11's to deal with, why compete with (insert name of other company here)."

                                                                                                                                You will find them in the same city, but in the same way there might be multiple locations of company in one city, not close enough to cannibalize each other really. Hubby's from Western PA, I'm from Eastern, we love both Sheetz and Wawa. There are plenty of things in common, but there are so many things you can't get at the one that the other does sell. Since he's living down here now we go out of our way to visit Sheetz when we get near their territory.

                                                                                                                                One good thing though, if one starts doing something and its a big success eventually the other one will add something similiar. Wawa just recently got the new coffee bar where I can get an actual latte made with espresso like Sheetz has had for awhile. Having said that, I still prefer Starbucks for that but for regular coffee you can't beat Wawa.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Ariadanz

                                                                                                                                  I was a Sheetz girl all the way for years but I'm warming up to Wawa. PA also has Rutters.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                                    Good fried pickles at Rutters.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Ariadanz

                                                                                                                                    Similarly, it was about the time that both stores moved into the Richmond area that Sheetz adopted Wawa's longtime free-ATM policy. I think that's the only market where they compete directly, but the policy is chain-wide.

                                                                                                                        3. In SE Florida, Flanigan's serves better than average pub-grub and don't get me started on the fried, tumbleweed onions.

                                                                                                                          http://www.flanigans.net/

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. re: cavandre

                                                                                                                            The combination liquor store / restaurant is a little off-putting at first. Right?

                                                                                                                          2. Go Chicken Go is a much loved local chain with several places in KC.
                                                                                                                            http://gochickengo.com/
                                                                                                                            Gizzards and livers for your pleasure.

                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                            1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                              bbqboy - FRIED livers and gizzards? in gravy? with beans and dirty rice? my fave small family chain in STL closed shop years ago (London and Sons Wing House) haven't had a decent, even self-made, version since.

                                                                                                                              <edit> menu finally unloaded, so no red beans or dirty rice. still sounds worth a shot.

                                                                                                                            2. Blakes Lotaburger, best chain burger joint in the USA, but they are only in New Mexico.

                                                                                                                              http://lotaburger.com/

                                                                                                                              1. In New York now and slowly spreading is the award winning Dinosaur BBQ. There's one in NYC now and soon to be one in Newark NJ. Barbeque is one of my favorite kinds of food and I've eaten at many good joints. Dinosaur tops the list. Best ribs I've ever had.

                                                                                                                                1. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), there is a fabulous mini-chain "California Sandwiches", which has nothing to do with California, and everything to do with enormous Italian inspired sandwiches. The signature sandwich is the veal, breaded, deep fried, topped with their homemade tomato sauce, and your choice of mushrooms, green peppers, rapini, onions, and cheese. Other choices include steak, sausage, meatball, chicken, and vegetable.

                                                                                                                                  Sides are limited to salads and olives, but the sandwiches are so big, you don't need much. No fries! $8 might seem a bit much for a sandwich, but they easily feed two. Ten locations around the GTA, and they've been in business since the original spot opened in downtown Toronto over 50 years ago.

                                                                                                                                  1. Pollo Tropical in Florida is fast-food Cuban, and it just might be my favorite chain. Plenty of great condiments from which to choose, and the balsamic tomato side dish kicks butt.

                                                                                                                                    http://www.pollotropical.com/

                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: GroovinGourmet

                                                                                                                                      Balsamic tomato sounds good and timely. Can you describe it?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: GroovinGourmet

                                                                                                                                        I'll second Pollo Tropical.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: GroovinGourmet

                                                                                                                                          Oh I so miss Pollo Tropical!

                                                                                                                                          1. re: GroovinGourmet

                                                                                                                                            Good condiments, tasteless food.

                                                                                                                                          2. This should really have been a "yay or nay" thread.

                                                                                                                                            From Ohio:

                                                                                                                                            Nay: Hot Head Burritos - they started in Dayton and I think they are expanding into western PA (Pittsburgh area.) Everything we've gotten here has been mediocre and tasteless. Taco Bell is actually better.

                                                                                                                                            Nay: Oinkadoodlemoo BBQ based in Dayton. Limited sides and meats and poor value (expensive) compared to another regional BBQ chain which I really like (next).

                                                                                                                                            Yay: City BBQ, based in Columbus, Ohio. Great value for BBQ, excellent smoked meats, great sides like greens.

                                                                                                                                            7 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: donw9876

                                                                                                                                              Go ahead and spin off a new thread, "Below-the-Radar Local and Small Regional Chains That You Should Avoid At All Cost"

                                                                                                                                              1. re: donw9876

                                                                                                                                                Oinkadoodlemoo??!?!??? Someone had W-A-Y too much to drink one night...or they came up with what they thought was a GREAT name an then decided they needed to build a chain around it?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                  Yup - http://oinkadoodlemoo.com/

                                                                                                                                                  Like I said, it's OK BBQ, but it's expensive compared to CityBBQ.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: donw9876

                                                                                                                                                  Can't agree on City BBQ. Gas with wood chips -- and not terribly many chips at that. No smoke ring. No discernible "BBQ" flavor. So-so and underseasoned sides. And chicken with an offputting "damp" texture.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: jmckee

                                                                                                                                                    Maybe it depends on the location. We went to the West Chester (n. Cincinnati) location a while back and it was poorly run (kids were messing in the condiments bar with restaurant staff doing nothing to discourage it) and the meats were not very good. We mainly go to the Centerville location and everything - meats, sides - is great. I've been to several locally owned one unit BBQs in the area and this City BBQ beats each one... as well as Oinka doodlemoo.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: donw9876

                                                                                                                                                      I've had the food from a couple of City BBQ locations, and I've had nothing to shake my above-given opinion. It can't hold a candle to Just Q'in, Eli's, or Pit To Plate. Jim Dandy's, however, has gone waaaaaay downhill.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: jmckee

                                                                                                                                                        > Jim Dandy's, however, has gone waaaaaay downhill.

                                                                                                                                                        I found that out this summer and I can agree completely. Yech.

                                                                                                                                                        I dunno. I liked BBQ Revue when I worked around Oakley but some reviews say it's mediocre.

                                                                                                                                                        To get back to the thread topic, Oinkadoodlemoo is a clone of City BBQ. If one likes City BBQ they should like Oinkadoodlemoo.

                                                                                                                                                3. Central Florida Area

                                                                                                                                                  Millers Ale House - They are starting to expand http://www.millersalehouse.com

                                                                                                                                                  Tijuana Flats (quick tex mex with hot sauce bar) http://www.tijuanaflats.com/

                                                                                                                                                  Bahama Breeze - Darden Restaurant Mainly in Florida - http://www.bahamabreeze.com/

                                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                                                                                                    I like our local Tijuana Flats quite a bit. You just have to be okay with the idea of thoroughly inauthentic but tasty.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                                                                                                      Bahama Breeze has numerous locations, three here in Jersey

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                                                                                                        According to the Bahama Breeze website there are 19 non-Florida locations and 12 Florida locations.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                                          Right. It was a Florida Chain, Founded internally in 1996 by Darden Restaurants, Inc., their first location was in Orlando, Florida on International Drive. They grew to 12 locations in Florida and then spread out to 14 different states.

                                                                                                                                                          This means Florida hold the most locations than any other state.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                                                                                                            Then by that argument I'll say Popeyes since there was once only one location just outside New Orleans

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: roro1831

                                                                                                                                                              Popeyes is now a National chain. There is a large difference when there are only 26 locations in the nation of them 12 are in one state.

                                                                                                                                                      2. Tugboat Fish & Chips, Sacramento area. I make a point of stopping there whenever I'm in Sacramento. Variety of fish & shellfish in addition to cod, and IIRC tempura-style vegetables.

                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: fogeylv

                                                                                                                                                          I didn't know any Tugboat Fish & Chips places were still around. The only two I knew about (Downtown Plaza and Elk Grove) both closed years ago.

                                                                                                                                                        2. I love a good full-service buffet.

                                                                                                                                                          In Latvia (and one in Tallinn), Lido. http://www.lido.lv/eng/
                                                                                                                                                          In North and Central Italy, Brek. http://www.brek.com/english/en.php

                                                                                                                                                          1. In New York City, there's the Pio Pio chain for Peruvian rotisserie chicken. Their green hot sauce is the stuff of legend.

                                                                                                                                                            http://www.piopio.com/

                                                                                                                                                            Also in New York City is the small Xi'an Famous Foods chain which specializes in food from the Western region of China.

                                                                                                                                                            http://www.xianfoods.com/index.php

                                                                                                                                                            7 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Robotron

                                                                                                                                                              http://www.xianfoods.com/index.php

                                                                                                                                                              OMG! I want to move back! ;o]

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Robotron

                                                                                                                                                                wow -- added that place to my next nyc itinerary!

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                                                                  alka - what are you doing posting at this hour? I'm 'in between engagements' or 'consulting' or 'pursuing individual projects' at the moment and not on the East Coast right now. so spill, you told off your boss again, right?

                                                                                                                                                                  Xi'an does look good for a future visit.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                    i am my boss.

                                                                                                                                                                    and i guess i do tell myself off on occasion. ;-).

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                                                                      HA! a good friend's FB profile describes her job as "Tyrant/Lackey at Self Employed"

                                                                                                                                                                      maybe I was confusing you with KTM...

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                        " Tyrant/Lackey at Self Employed"

                                                                                                                                                                        I'm stealing that!

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                                                                                          it IS a good one if a little bi-polar, isn't it?

                                                                                                                                                              2. Delaware gave birth to Jake's Wayback Burgers, which has now grown to around 56+ locations. They're still mostly Mid-Atlantic but they're working their way up and down the coast and have 1 location in Oregon. Think 5-guys sorta, but with onion rings, chicken sandwiches, salads and milkshakes added to the mix. Personally I prefer a 5 Guys burger, but I like Jake's onion rings better then 5G's fries and I wish I could get a milkshake at 5G. Don't get me wrong, I admire 5G for sticking to their minimalist menu and refusing to add things, its just sometimes hubby wants to eat at 5G and I feel more like a grilled chicken sandwich over a burger, or (more likely) I'd like a real milkshake.

                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Ariadanz

                                                                                                                                                                  Any place that reliably puts out good onion rings is for sure worth knowing about.

                                                                                                                                                                2. Speaking of Delaware, Capriotti's is a Delaware-based chain of sandwich shops (franchise) that really does it right. They feature cheesesteaks and some specialty sandwiches such as "The Bobbie", which is (shredded) fresh-roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing on a roll -- they call it "Thanksgiving on a Bun". I haven't tried much there that I didn't like -- great ingredient quality.
                                                                                                                                                                  http://www.capriottis.com/index.html

                                                                                                                                                                  Several locations here in Las Vegas, and scattered among other regions.

                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Steve Green

                                                                                                                                                                    +1 for Capriotti's!

                                                                                                                                                                  2. Pamelas
                                                                                                                                                                    Sharp Edge.
                                                                                                                                                                    What should I say, I don't get out much.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Roti Grill in Chicago is my favorite middle eastern/Mediterranean fast food. About 4-5 locations mostly or all downtown.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. Two other ones I love:

                                                                                                                                                                        1) Versailles Cuban restaurants in southern California. They have better Cuban food than I could ever find in NYC, where there is actually a decent-sized Cuban population. Go figure. They have only four stores (which begs the question how many stores does it take to be considered a "chain"), but I've eaten at two of them and highly recommend them to anyone visiting the area.

                                                                                                                                                                        Get the garlic chicken or the Cuban Pork, and make sure to try the rice and the plantains. I have no clue what they do to that rice, but every time I've tried to duplicate it at home, it's never as good as the rice is there.

                                                                                                                                                                        It's not too expensive (I always get the Lechon Asado - Cuban Style Roasted Pork - priced at $11.99 now), but it's a far nicer place to go (even date-worthy) than a similarly-priced place such as Denny's or Red Robin.

                                                                                                                                                                        http://www.versaillescuban.com/

                                                                                                                                                                        2) Bellagios Pizza in Oregon, the humble and unknown treasure of Oregon pizza. They have 14 stores (some franchises, some corporate-owned) and since I have tried them I refuse to get pizza anywhere else.

                                                                                                                                                                        Portland has a lot of really delicious "gourmet" pizzas (see Pizzacato mentioned above, my previous favorite until now), but they all come with gourmet price points. Bellagios is really affordable, and they even have daily specials each day of the week, that run $13.99 for a large and $16.99 for an XL.

                                                                                                                                                                        The pizza is so delicious (underline that TWICE) and best of all, they don't skimp on toppings (we ordered extra cheese, bacon and artichokes last time and boy, they didn't fu<k around). They also offer toppings you can't get at similarly-priced pizza restaurants, such as Gorgonzola, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                        They have suggested combos listed on the menu, but you can also get a custom pizza with lots of toppings and not run the price up ridiculously fast as it does ordering from Domino's or Pizza Hut. You can build the large pizza of your dreams for under $20, and it feeds 2-3 people.

                                                                                                                                                                        http://bellagiospizza.com

                                                                                                                                                                        Damn, now I wish I hadn't already eaten dinner. This review is making me drool just thinking about it. I know where I'm eating tomorrow night, nom nom...

                                                                                                                                                                        1. Cheeseburger in Paradise. Tasty burgers...and Jimmy Buffet...what more could you ask for?

                                                                                                                                                                          1. In Fairfield & New Haven Counties - Connecticut there is a local chain called Dutchess who made their bones serving "hot dogs with the works".

                                                                                                                                                                            Sort of like a McD but somewhat better tasting food. They used to have a juicy turkey burger, but lately, not so. The doggies are still good - for a chain.

                                                                                                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: algct

                                                                                                                                                                              al....

                                                                                                                                                                              Juicy Turkey Burger can be had at the Duchess in Milford. Their cooking is vastly superior to the others. Yes it's a chain of differnt owners and they don't all meet the same standards.

                                                                                                                                                                              Monroe is by far the worst cooking and the smallest portions.

                                                                                                                                                                              But Milford still makes great soups, including lobster bisque on most Saturdays, and is the only one that has Liver sandwich or dinner plates still on the menu.

                                                                                                                                                                              Live 5 minutes from Monroe, but drive to Milford twice a week for my wife's Duchess fix.

                                                                                                                                                                              The hot dog is Hummel's made in New Haven.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                                                                                                That figures on the hot dog.

                                                                                                                                                                                The drier turkey burger I had was on Rt 1 & Racebrook Road in Orange, btw. The fries were a little too crispy too.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: algct

                                                                                                                                                                                  Orange is a 'poor' Duchess.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Consensus (family and friends ranking:

                                                                                                                                                                                  Milford

                                                                                                                                                                                  Shelton

                                                                                                                                                                                  Wallingford

                                                                                                                                                                                  Fairfield Black Rock

                                                                                                                                                                                  Wallingford

                                                                                                                                                                                  Danbury

                                                                                                                                                                                  Fairfield Kings Highway

                                                                                                                                                                                  Orange (bad food, but great Tomato Soup)

                                                                                                                                                                                  Monroe

                                                                                                                                                                                  Danbury RT 6 was mid range. Closed in 2012, and reopened as a quick food store BUT there sign says they still serve Duchess food. Haven't tried.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                                                                                                    You left out the original(?) on the Boston Post Road in Bridgeport opposite CTMVD.
                                                                                                                                                                                    You don't know if you are getting a car wash or a hot dog.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. Harry's Hofbrau, SF Bay Area, Cafeteria-style German food
                                                                                                                                                                              Turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, multiple types of gravies, etc

                                                                                                                                                                              I get the sense that this was once a much more popular style of restaurant, only a few of its type left now. I've never seen its like elsewhere.

                                                                                                                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                                                                                                                                                multiple Luby's along I-44 served similar in a more lackadaisical and louche manner.

                                                                                                                                                                                not many left? the Darwin principle.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                  We still have a lot of Luby's in Texas. Definitely less than before. And no other chain cafeterias that i know of.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                                                                                                                                    Luby's still does some nice rectangular fried fish and mac and cheese.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                      wow, I haven't been to one since 1981 (in Tulsa?) on the way to NM.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I sorta thought they'd mostly folded after that shootout shortly after.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                        Nope, haven't folded with 92 restaurants in Texas, 2 in Oklahoma, and 1 in Arkansas. They're owned by the Pappas family, head of another small/regional chain of Pappadeaux, Pappasitos, and Pappas Seafood House. The details of the shootout, really mass murder, are pretty grim. I'll not get into details but will supply a link for the curious.

                                                                                                                                                                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luby%27s...

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                          The relationship between the two companies is somewhat opaque. Two Pappas brothers are on the board of Luby's, which is a publicly traded company, while Pappas itself is privately owned by the family. It appears that Pappas has an important stake in Luby's, but Luby's remains a separate company with other shareholders (I didn't bother to check the 10K to get the complete lowdown). Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that Luby's owns Fuddruckers.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: johnb

                                                                                                                                                                                            Good info johnb, I was not aware. One thing is certain, Luby's has a polarizing affect on the locals here in Houston, and the business has suffered. Many believe the quality has slipped and the prices jacked up, indeed it can cost two twenty-five bucks to eat unless you cut down on drinks and desserts. Anyway, judicious ordering can yield excellent fried fish, fried chicken done in quarters, chicken fried steak, notice a trend, medium rare roast beef, baked fish, not tiliapia unless you want it, good salads, and mac and cheese. I skip the iced tea and get water, and skip desserts as the last time I had a piece of pecan pie it had way over the top sugar. They opened a Luby's/Fuddrucker's in a small hospital here in place of the cafeteria, but it just didn't work.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                            92 locations? wow. that's not exactly weak. shows how often I've made it down that way since then.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                              I wish we still had decent cafeterias around DC. I miss Scholl's and the Hot Shoppes Cafeterias, but given the way both Morrison's and Picadilly's continue to go Chapter 11, it seems unlikely.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                                                                                                                My take is that we live in an era where we respond to bling in everything. You can have bling in a restaurant meal at just about any price point as long as the kitchen, or a corporate lab a thousand miles away, can plan and prepare the thing on offer. But that just doesn't work in the cafeteria style, "meat n three" format where the customer chooses from a range of items on a steam table and makes up his own plate. It's just dowdy--few folks are attracted to it any more, and the ones who are tend to be the poor and the elderly. Not a recipe for bling.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: johnb

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yet there are dozens of mediocre chain buffets in the DC suburbs, Chinese and otherwise, where the poor and the elderly can get their chow on. Great American Steak & Buffet, Old Country Buffet, and Golden Corral further out in the sticks. What you have is urban cafeterias gone the way of the automat; if you serve cheap food, you have to make your profit on volume, and you can't do that in a tiny joint on K Street where the real estate prices are through the roof. The cafeteria demographic has essentially been displaced by chain food, food trucks, salad bars, and your upscale eateries.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Luby's cafeteria here in Houston seem to get most of their business from the office worker lunch crowd, which seems to work well here with the lack of zoning and major clusters of office buildings all across the city. They virtually give food away on Saturdays to attract customers with all you can eat for less than eight dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                                                                                                                      monkey - yeah the by-the-pound "hot and cold" salad bars in downtown DC have mostly moved to the basement. and even at an OK one you still have to choose your food carefully. (ugh).

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. interesting and useful topic

                                                                                                                                                                                    for those of you in the upper central plains (or as we call them in Canada, The Prairies) - Salisbury House burger place (and other menu items) in Winnipeg is a long-time institution. It was founded in the 20's i think - by a man from Nebraska - a travelling actor (road show).

                                                                                                                                                                                    my fav location is on the pedestrian bridge between "The Forks" (the big train station area) - across to St Boniface - where you have to speak francais. It's really fun. (small tho)

                                                                                                                                                                                    http://www.salisburyhouse.ca/location...