After reading Ten Chain Restaurants Worth Visiting on The Daily Meal, I decided to write my own personal top ten list of my favorite chain restaurants. Now I will admit to being a little annoyed with the foodie snob-types who like to denounce all chains. Sometimes we just want the comfort of the convenient, familiar and (relatively) affordable.That being said, here are ten restaurants, in no particular order, that, whether fast food, “fast casual,” or sit-down, I feel offer something above-and-beyond the generic.
1) The Cheesecake Factory
Apparently the Cheesecake Factory has a lot of naysayers. I personally enjoy it quite a bit on the one or two occasions a year that I visit. The restaurant is infamous for its huge portions, but if you get a doggie bag you can get two meals for the price of one. And if you don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the vast menu, there’s always something new to try. Some of my favorite items at the Cheesecake Factory are appetizers, especially the Avocado Egg Rolls and the Crispy Crab Wontons with a delicious sweet chili sauce.
Another one that I’m taking from the Daily Meal list. Chipotle’s quest to use sustainable, antibiotic- and pesticide-free meat, dairy, and veggies is admirable, and their quick and affordable Mexican fare is delicious. The menu is pretty simple (burritos and tacos) but is assembled in front of you using your choice of fresh ingredients, and their cilantro-lime rice is amazing.
Chick-fil-A is well-known for being owned by devout Christians who close the store on Sundays. Good for their employees, but not so great for me when I’m craving one of their yummy chicken sandwiches on a Sunday. I’m not quite as obsessed with this place as a few of my friends (they dress up like the cow mascot on Chick-fil-A day for free chicken), but among the fast food options it’s one of my favorites, with cheap and delicious original and spicy chicken sandwiches, strips, and nuggets, not to mention awesome tea, lemonade, and tea-lemonade mix!
4) Chop’t Creative Salads
This isn’t a national chain; it’s only found at several locations in Washington D.C. and New York. It is, however, one of my most recently discovered addictions. As the name suggests, Chop’t will “chop” up your salad for you, and you can eat it in a bowl or as a wrap or “sandwich”. I love the concept, as I can feel like I’m eating healthy without gnawing on a bunch of leaves, but if you’re not as down with it, just ask for less chopping. The menu is extensive and features fresh and customizable ingredients and house-made dressings, along with “Chop’t Classic” combinations like Mexican Caesar, Monterey, and Cobb. The only drawback is the price, but huge portions almost make up for it.
5) Noodles amp; Company
Noodles amp; Company has been featured in magazines on lists of the healthiest fast food. Despite what the name may suggest, they are not just noodles anymore, having recently added to their menu a line of sandwiches, soups, and salads. The menu is grouped into “American,” “Mediterranean,” and “Asian” selections, though my favorites tend to be Mediterranean, like the Pesto Cavitappi and the Penne Rosa, noodles tossed in a tomato cream sauce with spinach, tomatoes and onions. American options include marinara, macaroni and cheese, and buttered egg noodles, the last one of which seems too easy to make at home for far less than $5. On the whole, though, Noodles amp; Company is a healthy, quick, and affordable treat.
6) Five Guys
Five Guys started in Northern Virginia by, well, five guys (brothers, I believe), and has since expanded through the eastern United States. It makes my list because I’m not a huge burger person (in fact, I rarely eat them anymore), and yet I love Five Guys’ burgers and their choice of fresh toppings. Make mine with grilled onions and peppers, and that almost makes up for their huuuge portions of salty “boardwalk-style” fries drowned in peanut oil. Maybe.
Cosi, a casual sandwich chain located in 16 states and the District of Columbia, earns my vote for the excellent flatbread on which its sandwiches and pizzas are served. The restaurant also features coffee and smoothies, bakery items, and salads.
As the name suggests, Eggspectation is based around the egg. However, even if you’re like me and not a huge egg person, Eggspectation is sure to have something you’ll enjoy from it’s extensive, brunch-style menu featuring crepes and pancakes, salads and sandwiches as well as omlettes and eggs-Benedict dishes. Both the food an the atmosphere are several steps above IHOP, and the juice selection ranges from blueberry and blackberry to banana, mango and pineapple.
9) Bucca di Beppa
We went to this chain in Minnesota to celebrate my cousin’s law school graduation, but I was happy to learn of branches in Maryland and Washington, DC. Bucca di Beppa (say that five times fast) offers Italian classics served “family-style,” so it’s perfect for groups and special occasions. If you want your own portion of your own choice of dish, however (admit it, this is why many of us go out to eat), drop in at lunch time.
10) P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
P.F. Chang’s may not be the place to go for authentic Chinese food, but honestly, neither is your local takeout. What P.F. Chang’s does offer is yummy Asian-inspired food in a nice atmosphere, from their signature appetizer of chicken and veggies wrapped in lettuce cups to their own takes on standards like Kung Pao chicken and Moo Goo Gai Pan to a large dessert menu including banana spring rolls and “the great wall of chocolate.”