My Top Ten Casual Dining Restaurants

The other night, Sidney and I sat across from each other at Outback. As we waited for our food to come, we discussed what national corporate restaurants we would choose to work at if we had no other choice. It all started when I asked her if she would rather wait on tables at Outback or Olive Garden.

Well, this discussion sparked a blog post in my head. Because I haven’t written enough about food and eating over the years, I figured you would be interested in hearing my top ten casual dining chain restaurants. When compiling this list, I kept in mind my own criterion for what a “casual dining chain restaurant” is:

– Not a glorified fast food place such as Waffle House or Fuddruckers
– A place that would be acceptable to go for a birthday dinner. Thus, the restaurant puts in enough effort to sing “Happy Birthday” or an equivalent song for guests on their special day.
– A place that is “national” enough so that my friends on both the east coast and west coast know what I am talking about.

Here is my list…

10. Applebees – I use to despise this place on the same level as Red Robin but over the past couple years my attitude has changed. I have come to tolerate and mildly appreciate the theme. Having traveled to a bunch of them now, I do appreciate that each location tailors the “junk” that it keeps based on the community it is in. While I don’t care for the main entrees, I do enjoy the appetizer sampler and the yummy milkshakes.

9. Texas Roadhouse – I love that Texas Roadhouse restaurants offer peanuts. I also enjoy the large portions that they give out. Conversely, I also hate the large portions that they give out. No, that is not a typo.

A meal I had (the closest plate to the camera) at Texas Roadhouse about four years back.

A meal I had (the closest plate to the camera) at Texas Roadhouse about four years back.

8. Hooters – While I am not a big fan of the signature item at Hooters (just to clarify, I am talking about the wings), I do love their burgers. There might not be anything better than ordering a western BBQ burger and a cold Blue Moon. I just wish the restaurant wasn’t as tacky as the slogan happily brags about.

7. Olive Garden – This is another restaurant I didn’t always care for. I will still go to my deathbed saying that the breadsticks are completely overrated. But over the years I have warmed up a little more to the Olive Garden. A couple of experiences with outstanding service and a couple others with pretty good food when I was really hungry has helped to change my tune.

6. Outback Steakhouse – I really enjoyed my dinner with Sid the other night. I had a 12 ounce steak that was cooked perfectly and topped with blue cheese crumbles. Food is always pretty decent but I do think items are a bit overpriced and I have never been too impressed with a blooming onion.

Enjoying dinner at Outback on this past Saturday night.

Enjoying dinner at Outback on this past Saturday night.

5. P.F. Changs – When I think of P.F. Changs, I think of special dinners with my family. The five of us would go out on occasion to the restaurant and we would each order an entrée. We would then pass them around and share. The white and brown rice that comes before the main course is nice and the show the server puts on while mixing the sauce is cool too. Also, the lettuce wraps are completely legit.

My family loving life at P.F. Chang's in November of 2011.

My family loving life at P.F. Chang’s in November of 2011.

4. Carino’s Italian – This is probably the most obscure restaurant on the list but it is a national chain. Wikipedia says it has 130 restaurants. Carino’s is an Olive Garden competitor with a similar menu. In my mind, however, Carino’s is quite a bit better than its more well-known opponent. In my opinion the food is less expensive, but better, than the Olive Garden. I also would say that the bread offered at Carino’s is 5X superior to that of OG. Last but not least, I find the restaurants at Carino’s quite cozy, a far cry from what you find at Olive Garden.

3. Longhorn Steakhouse – I apologize because this restaurant violates the final condition of my criteria. You see, I am pretty positive most people out west don’t know about Longhorn Steakhouse even though the chain has almost 400 restaurants in 35 states. In fact, I actually had never heard of such a restaurant until I moved to Myrtle Beach. Good thing I did though because I love the place. The steaks are better here than at Outback and I think the value is a step up too. I also don’t eat that much salad but at Longhorn I will gladly chomp away because their mix is always so fresh and light. Also, I enjoy the fact that Longhorn is a well-lit restaurant. Many steakhouses like to dim all the lights and I don’t particularly care for that. Don’t get me started on their fantastic desserts.

2. Buffalo Wild Wings – I am a Buffalo Wild Wings fanatic. You know what? I never really even liked wings until I tried out BWW. It doesn’t matter what location you go to, the food always tastes great. My favorite thing to do is go to the restaurant with Sidney or my brother and split 20 boneless wings divided up among four different sauces. However, if for some reason I am not feeling wings that day I have no problem ordering a burger as I think the chain does a great job at creating delicious and unique selections. Of course BWW does the sports theme better than any other casual dining restaurant and the beer selection at the bar is always vast. I will never turn down an invitation to go to Buffalo Wild Wings.

1. The Cheesecake Factory – I have always enjoyed the Cheesecake Factory. In fact, without any influences the restaurant would be highly rated on this list. However, I think Sidney and her family helped me decide to catapult it to the top spot. When the Mathis family goes to a town that has a Cheesecake Factory, they are going to eat there no matter what. When we were in Atlanta together this past summer the first Cheesecake Factory location we went to had a two hour wait. Instead of going to another nearby restaurant, we drove to the other Cheesecake Factory location across the city and dined there. But you see, the food really is that good.

Sidney and I enjoying the Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore

Sidney and I enjoying the Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore

You sit down and receive different types of bread to munch on while you look through the most expansive menu in the restaurant business. You then enjoy an entrée that tickles your taste buds and makes you think it must be coated in butter. Next comes the signature dish, a decision where you can’t go wrong no matter how many different types of cheesecake you have to choose from. Plain and simple, the Cheesecake Factory is just delicious and fun.


This isn’t the first nor will it be the last time I make myself hungry while writing a blog post. If only there was a Cheesecake Factory in Myrtle Beach. Don’t Blink.

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