Most Popular U.S. Chain Restaurants, Ranked
When restaurateur Alan Stillman opened the very first TGI Friday's in New York City in 1965, he launched a casual-dining craze. Soon, restaurants like Applebee's, Olive Garden and Red Lobster were also serving satisfying staples in a relaxed atmosphere and opening outposts across the U.S. These days, chain restaurants are a dime a dozen. But which are the best?
We looked at Restaurant Business' 2021 "Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report" to find out which chain restaurants in the United States are the most popular. Honing in on casual-dining restaurants (eliminating fast-food and quick-service hot spots), we took the top restaurants in terms of sales and ranked them by customer love, also using the Market Force Information 2019 survey of top chains, Yelp and Tripadvisor average rankings, and social media as our guides.
The following are the cream of the crop when it comes to the most popular chain restaurants in the country.
Annual sales: $96 million
* All 2020 sales numbers were sourced from Restaurant Business, unless otherwise noted. Because of the particularity of the COVID-19 pandemic, these annual sales numbers are lower than usual.
The Story Behind Sizzler
It may be one of the oldest steakhouse chains appearing on the list — it opened in 1958 — but it's still in the top 40 chains with the more modern big boys.
The first restaurant opened in Culver City, California, to provide "a great steak dinner at an affordable price." Then, it was only 99 cents, but today, it continues to provide bargain steak dinners in a buffet setting.
You'll find the restaurants in the western part of the country, and reviews are mixed. Either you love this place or you hate it. Go in with the right expectations, and you'll be OK, like this reviewer: "This was a convenient stop yesterday, and my expectations weren't that high. The food is about the quality you'd expect, and the steak was better than I'd expected."
The Food: Sizzler
What to avoid: Call us crazy, but whenever a steak place serves up seafood, we steer clear.
What to try: They only feature two steaks, a tri-tip 8-ounce sirloin and a 14-ounce ribeye — either of which will satisfy your steak craving.
How well do you know American restaurants? Test your knowledge with this top U.S. restaurant chains quiz from Huge Quiz.
44. Romano's Macaroni Grill
Annual sales: $107 million
Menu: A full Italian homestyle menu from antipasti to pasta to mains and dolce
The Story Behind Romano's Macaroni Grill
Romano's Macaroni Grill was founded in Texas in 1988 by Philip Romano. The restauranteur imported ingredients from Italy to bring true Italian flavor to the southwest. Just a year later, Brinker International bought the right to franchise the restaurant, and it took off — until recently, that is.
Macaroni Grill has seen its franchises closing, Brinker letting go of its majority stake and a bankruptcy, but diners still love it. Yelpers average it at four stars — this is comfort food that works. If only the restaurant chain can get its finances in order.
Even one Yelper who admitted to not typically being a patron of chain restaurants called the Shrimp Portofino "hands down the best pasta I've ever had."
The Food: Romano's Macaroni Grill
What to avoid: We're not sure how authentic the Signature Mac + Cheese Bites are to an Italian restaurant, considering it's an American dish.
What to try: Mom's Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti for that true, home-cooked meal you've been craving.
43. Brio Tuscan Grille
Annual sales: $115 million
The Story Behind Brio Tuscan Grille
Opened in 1992, the Brio original management team sold the chain in 2018, and in 2020, the team filed for bankruptcy. Wonder if they'll continue to make the list in years to come?
Reviews vary from three to four stars, as the chain gets its footing back. Says one reviewer, "I hadn't been to Brio in a few years. I remember last time being a little underwhelmed, but either things have changed or maybe I just had a weird experience last time because it was great."
It has some steep competition in the Italian market, but we hope they make it.
The Food: Brio Tuscan Grille
What to avoid: Spaghetti Pomodoro, you can make that at home.
What to try: The signature Pasta Brio — rigatoni with grilled chicken, spinach, mushrooms and red peppers in roasted red pepper cream sauce.
42. Bar Louie
Annual sales: $143 million
Menu: Standard bar fare, some with a special take or kick
The Story Behind Bar Louie
This self-proclaimed "gastrobar" that wants to be your neighborhood watering hole got its start in Chicago in 1991.
When one of these restaurants opens, it excites newcomers. But it begins to lose its thrill with the years, as one Yelper described. "When Bar Louie opened up, it was such a novelty. Tons of quality beers on tap, creative cocktails, good food. We were all obsessed with the tater tots, and it was a happening place for birthdays and graduation parties. But it's been open for a few years now, and I really feel like the quality has slowly dropped."
Although Bar Louie pulls in millions around the country, it closed 38 of its locations in February 2020 (even before the pandemic hit). Will fans save it?
The Food: Bar Louie
What to avoid: The chicken quesadilla — everyone has one and this one isn't any different.
What to order: Try the chicken and churros, which are a unique twist to chicken and waffles. The beer-battered chicken is covered in a buffalo maple glaze then drenched in syrup and served with an onion ranch dip.
41. Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen
Annual sales: $144 million
Menu: Lobster, crab, fried seafood, oysters, steak
The Story Behind Pappadeux
Market Force finds that seafood restaurants are slugging behind other casual dining options and have fewer visitors than other chains. Still, Pappadeaux makes it onto the list. One of the largest family-operated restaurants, it dates back to the Pappas brothers, who opened their first location in 1976.
Sharing recipes passed down from Greek ancestors and combining Louisiana-style favorites, there are nearly 100 locations, mostly in Texas, where the company is based (Houston). Six other states have their own loyal customers.
Family-owned seems to make a difference as reviewers love Pappadeaux, raving about generous portions, good service and high-quality foods.
The Food: Pappadeux
What to avoid: We suggest passing on filet mignon — the specialty here is seafood, not beef.
What to order: The Pappadeaux Platter fried shrimp, crawfish, stubbed crab, oysters and fish fillets
40. Bahama Breeze Island Grille
Annual sales: $164 million
The Story Behind Bahama Breeze
One of the newest restaurants on this list, Bahama Breeze was first introduced to the country in Orlando in the mid-1990s. Fittingly as kitschy as the nearby amusement parks, the concept was to make diners feel as if they were transported to the Caribbean islands.
You'll find Caribbean-inspired dishes and tropical drinks in a colorful atmosphere mostly found in the southeast of the country. One reviewer on Yelp who had to move to Hawaii makes a point to return every time she gets back east — "Omgggggg, this restaurant is absolutely one of my favorite restaurants!"
If that isn't a testament, we don't know what is!
The Food: Bahama Breeze
What to avoid: Beef empanadas, which one reviewer says has Middle Eastern seasoning instead of Caribbean.
What to try: If you're going to pretend to be in the Caribbean, do it right and sample the Rum Raid Drink Flight. (Just make sure you have a designated driver!)
39. Dave & Buster's
Annual sales: $172 million
Menu: Greasy appetizers, salads, burgers, steaks, ribs, chicken, pasta
The Story Behind Dave & Buster's
You probably don't go to Dave & Buster's for the food — and that's for good reason.
Basically a Chuck E. Cheese for grownups, this entertainment center/sports bar that debuted in Arkansas in 1982 provides a plethora of games at its 130-plus locations across the U.S. and Canada. There's plenty of noise and plenty of drinks and plenty of people who have fun. But the food? Well, let's just say it's about as good as what you'll find at Chuck E. Cheese.
This chain suffered a lot in 2020, having to shut down multiplayer games and reconfiguring arcades for social distancing. Major layoffs and a possible bankruptcy could be in its future.
The Food: Dave & Buster's
What to avoid: Skip the salads — it's not about healthy eating here.
What to order: Stick with apps like the Asian Chicken Wonton Nachos and Five Cheese Lazy Fondue. Grease and goodness go hand in hand with arcade games and brews.
Annual sales: $177 million
Menu: Japanese steakhouse, sushi
The Story Behind Benihana
Hiroaki Aoki opened the first Benihana in 1964 with money he had saved from driving an ice cream truck around New York City.
By 1965, guests of the small restaurant had included members of the Beatles and Muhammad Ali. Much of its popularity was due to it being the first establishment to bring the Japanese concept of teppanyaki to the U.S. The now-popular cooking style uses an iron griddle, with the chefs preparing the food right in front of guests while performing impressive maneuvers.
Benihana's popularity hasn't faded, with people still marveling at the cool experience of seeing chefs throw and catch knives as they slice meat at seemingly impossible speeds.
The Food: Benihana
What to avoid: The California roll, simply because you can get it at any other sushi restaurant.
What to try: The Benihana trio will give you deliciously grilled filet mignon, chicken breast and shrimp with a good show to pair.
37. Texas de Brazil Churrascaria
Annual sales: $184 million
Menu: Brazilian steak
The Story Behind Texas de Brazil
As its name suggests, this steakhouse was founded in Texas. But instead of focusing on American steak, it chose to bring the magic of Brazilian churrasco to the U.S.
The result is a delicious mix of the steak-centered traditions of two of the best BBQ countries in the world. Texas de Brazil provides meat-lovers with a different kind of dining experience that still guarantees juicy, tender steaks. All the meats are cooked over a wooden charcoal flame.
Meats can be complemented with salads, hot veggies and breads as well as wine or cocktails.
The Food: Texas de Brazil
What to avoid: Fried bananas may be good, but they're not the best side to accompany a juicy steak.
What to try: The picanha, a cut of meat that's very popular in Brazil.
36. Uncle Julio's
Annual sales: $185 million
The Story Behind Uncle Julio's
Uncle Julio's tagline is "Mexican from scratch." The restaurant has spread throughout different states, bringing an interesting twist to the Tex-Mex chain menu.
Part of it is that it uses fresh ingredients, like in the made-to-order guacamole and the margarita of the month, which includes the fresh fruits of the season. But it also innovates items diners have come to expect. Its fajitas, for instance, are grilled with mesquite, an ingredient native to the American Southwest and Mexico. For dessert, you can order a chocolate piñata, consisting of a chocolate ball stuffed with homemade churros and fresh fruit.
The Food: Uncle Julio's
What to avoid: The cheese and onion enchiladas don't hit the spot like other items do.
What to try: You can't leave without trying the chocolate piñata.
35. Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
Annual sales: $188 million
Menu: American; burgers, pizza sticks, sandwiches, noodles
The Story Behind Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
The vibe of this California-based restaurant is modern rustic, evoking the feeling of staying in a cabin in a cozy mountain town.
In true California fashion, the chain has a seasonal menu and sources some of its ingredients locally. Every meal is also made entirely by hand, including the sauces. This is the key to the restaurant's famed freshness.
Another key feature that makes Lazy Dog stand out: True to its name, it's a dog-friendly restaurant, where you are welcome to bring your pups.
The Food: Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
What to avoid: The pizza sticks are OK, but they're not good enough to recommend.
What to try: The Bison Burger — it doesn't get much more American than that.
34. Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub
Annual sales: $215 million
The Story Behind Ninety Nine Restaurant
Another staple of Boston and the state of Massachusetts is the Ninety Nine Restaurant chain, considered a pioneer in casual dining after it first opened in 1952.
It's such a family joint that it's become a traditional dining spot for residents like this Cape Cod reviewer who tries to go once a week. "Love your food, atmosphere and employees!! See you soon!"
Founder Charlie Doe would be quite pleased.
The Food: Ninety Nine Restaurant
What to avoid: Nachos — one reviewer noted she could have done a better job making them herself.
What to try: Grilled Lemon Rosemary Turkey Tips, a different, healthy and savory take on beef tips
33. On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina
Annual sales: $221 million
Menu: Tacos, enchiladas, fajitas and burritos
The Story Behind On the Border
From the same company that operates Chili's Bar & Grill is a similar restaurant with a bit more emphasis on the Mex in Tex-Mex. The original restaurant got its start in Dallas in 1982 and was merged with Brinker International by the mid-1990s.
As the name suggests, these are the dishes you'll find near the Mexican border and across Texas. But many reviewers rate the food as just "average," allowing its Chili's big brother to get all the glory when it comes to Tex-Mex.
As one reviewer put it, "What you would expect from a chain, basic Mexican with large portions that are not very exciting."
The Food: On the Border
What to avoid: The fajitas are similar to Chili's (since they are owned by the same company), so try something you can't get at the other chain.
What to order: Do not miss the Signature Queso that is so good they now sell it in stores. But trying it fresh in the restaurant is far better.
32. Famous Dave's
Annual sales: $254 million
Menu: Ribs, brisket, pork, chicken and burgers
The Story Behind Famous Dave's
Located in 31 states, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, Famous Dave's is famous for its barbecue. What began as a man with a grill opening his first restaurant in 1994 has become what Dave Anderson calls the "longest-running backyard BBQ party."
The 'cue at this joint has racked (pun intended) up more than 700 awards. Said one TripAdvisor reviewer, "Everything was DELICIOUS! The ribs and chicken were so tender that they fell off the bone with the first bite."
The Food: Famous Dave's
What to avoid: The burnt ends. Even though this 1,270-calorie option is seared and caramelized, we recommend sticking with the more tender meats.
What to order: Don't miss the award-winning ribs. You can have them in Sweet & Zesty sauce or a Memphis-Style rub.
31. Logan's Roadhouse
Annual sales: $256 million
Menu: Steak, ribs, burgers, chicken and other grilled items
The Story Behind Logan's Roadhouse
Logan's invites its diners to come as you are, although we'd advise against flip-flops so you don't cut your foot on the peanut shells tossed on the floor. The roadhouse began in Kentucky to provide a casual dive with good food. It's not a dive, it just acts like one.
There are more than 200 restaurants in nearly half the states of the country. The Nashville-based chain keeps to its Southern roots with its steaks and grilled meat dishes. It definitely has its fans, but reviewers complain about overcooked, dry meat fairly regularly.
The Food: Logan's Roadhouse
What to avoid: The salmon is OK, but there are better options here.
What to order: Of the steak options, your best bet is the Onion Brewski Sirloin, stacked with beer-braised onions and served in a sizzling skillet.
30. Saltgrass Steak House
Annual sales: $272 million
Menu: Steak, shrimp, chicken, ribs and other grilled foods
The Story Behind Saltgrass Steak House
Saltgrass Steak House honors the legacy of cattle ranching in Texas with its name. Its original location in Houston opened in 1991 along the trail where cattle herders would historically take their livestock to graze of salt grass.
Calling itself "the original Texas steakhouse," the restaurant is proud of its roots. The menu may vary slightly from location to location, but it's always focused on great steak and other grilled goods.
The Food: Saltgrass Steak House
What to avoid: Unless you have restrictions against red meat, don't order the grilled seafood and chicken (unless it's paired with steak). While they're delicious, it's simply not the reason you come to a Texas steakhouse.
What to try: Gulf Coast steak and shrimp offers a taste of true regional food. Pair it with a Range Rattlers appetizer, which stuffs jalapenos with shrimp and pepper jack cheese.
29. Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants
Annual sales: $286 million
The Story Behind Cooper's Hawk
It may have only recently launched in 2005, with the first location in Orland Park, Illinois, but it has quickly been becoming one of the most popular chain restaurants.
This isn't just a restaurant; this is a winemaker sharing his wine. Tim McEnery launched the combination and provides a Napa-style restaurant for those who can't get to Napa Valley. These wines, made in Illinois from grapes sourced from around the world, have won nearly 550 awards.
The reviews are great, too!
The Food: Cooper's Hawk
What to avoid: Ratings are so good that any complaint is due to a cooking error.
What to try: Red wine braised short rib risotto, a favorite of one Yelper who considers this one of the best restaurants in Chicago
27. O'Charley's (Tie)
Annual sales: $307 million
Menu: Southern comfort food like chicken pot pie, fried green tomatoes and fried catfish
The Story Behind O'Charley's
Named for its founder Charley Watkins, this chain is found mainly across the South and Midwest. While it appears to be bringing in the dough, in July the chain closed eight restaurants in one day — and it shuttered a total of 20 in the last three years. There is talk that the chain is failing.
Perhaps it is due to the low Yelp and TripAdvisor ratings, where 2.5's and 3's are common. It's not the food, however, but the service that is driving away loyal customers. With good reviews on the eats, we still rank O'Charley's higher on this list than a few others, despite the lackluster customer service and restaurant closings.
The Food: O'Charley's
What to avoid: As one of our North Carolina-born Southerner dads claims: "It's all good."
What to try: O'Charley's Famous Chicken Tenders are twice-breaded and buttermilk-dipped, and so popular that some locations offer endless chicken tender specials.
27. Mellow Mushroom (Tie)
Annual sales: $307 million
Menu: Beyond pizza, Mellow Mushroom offers hoagies, salads, appetizers and desserts
The Story Behind Mellow Mushroom
If you have ever lived in Atlanta or nearby, Mellow Mushroom is probably a staple in your life. Founded here in 1974, the pizza joint was one of the first to offer fresh, local and organic ingredients — way before organic became a craze.
Today, the artistic and eclectic chain brings good karma and good pizza across most of the Southeast. And it's beginning to spread further across the country as well. Reviewers are generally pleased, singling out not only the food, but the quirky atmosphere.
The Food: Mellow Mushroom
What to avoid: The Great White Pizza landed on a list of the most unhealthy pizzas in America. This pizza is saddled with so many cheeses, it has 480 calories per slice.
What to order: You can build your own pizza with a choice of 10 cheeses (one of which is vegan) and 34 toppings like applewood smoked bacon, portobello mushrooms and tofu.
Annual sales: $321 million
Menu: Tex-Mex, including tacos, burritos, nachos and enchiladas
The Story Behind Chuy's
First opened in 1982 in Austin, Texas, Chuy's differentiates itself from other chain restaurants by having each location have different decor. You'd think this would work against it, given that consistency is what brings people to chains, but it's actually helped cement its reputation.
But while the restaurants are different, they all do have the same funky atmosphere, complete with hand-carved fish that hang from the ceiling. Another thing that stays consistent is the food, which is good-ol' Tex-Mex you can count on when you want refried beans, tortillas and spiciness.
The Food: Chuy's
What to avoid: The Chuychanga. Despite being a house specialty, people claim it's OK but not the best or most flavorful item on the menu.
What to try: The fajitas are a must. Each tortilla is made in-house on an authentic Mexican comal, and your meat of choice is marinated in a special sauce that contains spices, beer and lime juice.
25. Ruby Tuesday
Annual sales: $325 million
Menu: Steaks, pasta, ribs and chops, burgers, sandwiches, salad bar
The Story Behind Ruby Tuesday
After Fridays kicked off the casual-dining trend, four fraternity brothers from the University of Tennessee brought the concept down south with the opening of the first Ruby Tuesday in Knoxville in 1972. There are far fewer restaurants from this chain than its counterpart (under 600), but it fares a bit better with customers, with more restaurants in the 2 1/2- to 3-star range.
Still, many say the restaurant is pretty meh, offering so-so food at not-that-great prices. Maybe that's why it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020 and is set to close more than 180 locations across the U.S., leaving only about 230 left.
The Food: Ruby Tuesday
What to avoid: The salad bar — it's not bad per se, but there are lots of complaints about it lacking options and not getting replenished enough.
What to try: Sample Tennessee-style cooking by ordering the pork chop glazed with hickory-bourbon barbecue sauce.
24. Miller's Alehouse
Annual sales: $327 million
Menu: Flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches, salads, fajitas, steaks and seafood
The Story Behind Miller's Alehouse
This casual American food chain began in 1988 when a couple, The Millers, opened their first ale house in Jupiter, Florida. With a mission to make locals gather and feel like friends, the chain is growing by eight to 10 restaurants every year.
Currently found in 13 states, the chain is more beloved by customers than many more traditional options, though there's some grousing about the service. We bet once more states feature MIller's Alehouse restaurants, the brand will quickly climb the ranks.
The Food: Miller's Alehouse
What to avoid: The secret is in the sauce, so avoid plain-old fare like grilled chicken or salmon.
What to order: Miller's is known for its 16 sauces. Try a few on the boneless, breaded chicken Zingers, which are served over French fries.
23. Maggiano's Little Italy
Annual sales: $338 million
Menu: Bruschetta, salads, steak, veal, chicken, seafood and pasta
The Story Behind Maggiano's Little Italy
Serving family-style Italian meals — meaning giant plates full of food for sharing — Maggiano's can be found in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
While other Italian chains have more locations and have brought in more revenue, those who have been enjoying the food since it first opened in Chicago in 1991 turn to Maggiano's for special events, even though it's a casual joint.
The focus on sharing makes families want to celebrate here — plus the food is fantastic! In fact, Americans love Maggiano's so much, they ranked it No. 1 in the Market Force Information survey.
The Food: Maggiano's Little Italy
What to avoid: We dare you to find something to skip.
What to try: Sample various bruschetta at the Bruschetta Bar, where you can mix and sample numerous options for your own private tasting.
22. Bonefish Grill
Annual sales: $404 million
Menu: Mostly seafood, plus steak, seafood and pasta
The Story Behind Bonefish Grill
The newest chain to join the American food circuit is Bonefish Grill. Originating in St. Petersburg, Florida, its expanded rapidly over the past 19 years, and earned many fans along the way.
Yelp reviewers average 3.5 stars, while TripAdvisor rankings average 4.5 stars. Diners especially love the Happy Hour deals.
The Food: Bonefish Grill
What to avoid: The steak's just fine, but the seafood's better.
What to try: Sample the pasta with chunks of lobster and shrimp in a lobster-sherry cream sauce.
21. California Pizza Kitchen
Annual sales: $419 million
Menu: Lots of pizza, obviously, plus flatbreads, soups, meat and veggie bowls, salads, fish, pasta and tacos
The Story Behind California Pizza Kitchen
The only casual dinning restaurant known for pizza to land in the top 25, CPK, as it is often called, opened in Beverly Hills, California, in 1985.
The first chain to bring California cuisine across the country, it favors innovative toppings and fresh ingredients and has rapidly expanded; it is now in more than 30 states with over 250 locations. Reviewers across the board like or love CPK, appreciating its consistently tasty food, cleanliness, variety of available wines and cauliflower-crust pizza options.
Sadly, it, too, is another one that filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020, though it managed to remain open.
The Food: California Pizza Kitchen
What to avoid: The pizza is what shines here, so it's best to choose that over more off-the-beaten-path choices like the tilapia or garlic chicken.
What to try: The original — and extremely popular — BBQ Chicken Pizza transformed the pizza world when it was introduced.
20. Yard House
Annual sales: $427 million
Menu: Salads, steaks, burgers, street tacos, pizza, sandwiches
The Story Behind Yard House
Yard House is a chain mostly found west of the Mississippi, and it's the rare sports bar that isn't tied to hot wings. (Beer is the main focus; we can get on board with that!)
Launching in the mid-'90s in Long Beach, California, it now has more than 80 locations. A smaller chain, it's impressive that it lands in the top 20 for revenue, and consumers like it too, favoring its lively, affordable Happy Hour and nice mix of drinks and satisfying fare.
The Food: Yard House
What to avoid: Everything's good here!
What to try: [Mac + Cheese]² — yes, that's how it's listed on the menu — is a heavenly combination of chicken, bacon, wild mushrooms, truffle oil, parmesan and cheddar.
19. Ruth's Chris Steak House
Annual sales: $429 million
The Story Behind Ruth's Chris Steak House
We can thank a single mother in New Orleans for using all of her money to buy the Chris Steak House in 1965. Ruth Fertel's steaks were so renowned she began to franchise in 1977, and it's one of the most popular steakhouses found around the country.
A bit less casual and often visited for special occasions, reviews for Ruth's Chris Steak House are typically high.
The Food: Ruth's Chris Steak House
What to avoid: Maybe skip on the appetizer, so you have plenty of room for the main course!
What to try: The signature 11-ounce filet is as tender as they come.
18. Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen
Annual sales: $493 million
Menu: Soups and salads, steak, burgers, ribs, sandwiches and pasta, as well as "lighter side" fish and chicken dishes
The Story Behind Cheddar's
Haven't heard of Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen yet? You may soon.
Founded in Arlington, Texas, in 1979 to provide down-home-cooked comfort food, the chain is found in 23 states — and counting!
Reviews are solid, if not awesome, with Yelpers and TripAdvisor reviewers typically giving the chain between 3 and 4 stars. "Decent" is a word that comes up a lot.
The Food: Cheddar's
What to avoid: The pasta, which many describe as ho-hum and, at times, cold.
What to try: If you're going to a place known for comfort food, dig into the homemade chicken pot pie.
17. Carrabba's Italian Grill
Annual sales: $529 million
Menu: Pretty similar to Olive Garden's, with lots of pastas, seafood and wood-fired pizzas
The Story Behind Carrabba's
Besting Olive Garden not by revenue but by taste, Carrabba's is the first chain to enter the top 10 on our list when it comes to customer love.
Founded by "Johnny" Carrabba III in Houston in 1986, Carrabba's uses family recipes passed down from Sicilian ancestors. Even Yelp reviewers are generally into this Italian grill, with people commending its good food at good prices.
The Food: Carrabba's
What to avoid: There are better things on the menu than the steak, which is often just ok.
What to try: Oh, the meatballs! Like grandma used to make. Have them over spaghetti and go Old School.
16. P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Annual sales: $601 million
Menu: Asian staples including dim sum and sushi
The Story Behind P.F. Chang's
Bringing Asian food to the masses, P.F. Chang's first opened in the Scottsdale, Arizona Fashion Square in 1993.
Founded by Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang, lines wrapped around the door for a chance to sample the popular menu. Today, you can try its food in 40 states across America.
TripAdvisor reviewers love this chain — giving it four stars, on average. But Yelp reviewers don't seem to care for it as much, dropping its ranking. Troublingly, there are even a few reports of weird items like hair and "round smelly paper" found in the food. (Yikes.)
The Food: P.F. Chang's
What to avoid: While some people like the hot and sour soup, there are a fair number of complaints about it being bland and inauthentic.
What to try: Maybe you tried lettuce wraps before, but P.F. Chang's perfected them.
Annual sales: $605 million
Menu: Burgers, wings, seafood, salads, sandwiches, tacos
The Story Behind Hooters
Another sports bar beloved for its wings (among other things) is Hooters. The creators were so unsure their Clearwater, Florida, concept would succeed, they opened it on April Fool's Day in 1983. It definitely succeeded.
Infamous for its scantily clad Hooters Girls, we're not so sure the popularity of this restaurant has anything to do with its food.
The Food: Hooters
What to avoid: The fries come out lukewarm or cold more often than is desirable...
What to try: Hooter's hot wings are a different beast than Buffalo's, but pretty good in their own way, though customer mileage tends to vary. These are breaded with 11 signature sauces.
14. Golden Corral
Annual sales: $663 million
Menu: America, buffet
The Story Behind Golden Corral
This restaurant's goal when first opening in North Carolina in 1973 was to make dining out affordable. Needless to say, the Golden Corral succeeded, with its buffet serving nearly 300 items.
There are now restaurants found in 42 states and growing.
As with any restaurant that is affordable, you'll sacrifice quality, but they must be doing something right because they just missed the top 10 by revenue.
The Food: Golden Corral
What to avoid: The No. 1 rule of eating in a buffet, in our opinion, is to avoid fish, just to be safe.
What to try: It's a buffet, so pile up on the foods you'd enjoy at a BBQ.
13. TGI Friday's
Annual sales: $672 million
Menu: Burgers, salads, sandwiches, soups, steaks, chicken, seafood, pasta
The Story Behind TGI Friday's
TGI Friday's has been a fixture of the American chain-restaurants scene for over 50 years. Originally designed to be a cocktail-focused singles bar, the chain practically created the concept of casual-dining chains and was all the rage by the 1980s.
Today, however, TGI Friday's fails to live up to expectations, with most of its establishments earning a rather dismal 2 or 2.5 stars on Yelp. TripAdvisor reviewers favor other chains on this list, as well. Most complaints focus on the service (described, at turns, as "pathetic" and "extremely horrible") and subpar food, with many noting that the meat dishes in particular are not cooked properly.
While the restaurant chain previously had 385 locations as of early 2020, the pandemic has not been kind to it, with reports that it may close up to 20 percent of its locations.
The Food: TGI Friday's
What to avoid: The steak — reviewers have called it "the worst I've ever eaten" and a "rip-off."
What to order: Given that it began as a cocktail spot, sample one of the establishment's many drinks, including margaritas, rum punch and a few different versions of Long Island ice tea. After all, nothing says "TGIF" like boozy mixed drinks straight out of a college dorm.
12. BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
Annual sales: $779 million
Menu: Salads, soups, pasta, sandwiches, burgers, pizza, tacos and (for the healthy-minded) quinoa bowls
The Story Behind BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
California cuisine is popular among hungry Americans, as evident by it appearing again among the top 10 chains with the Huntington, California-based BJ's Restaurant.
Here, you'll find award-winning craft beers and a hefty menu of dishes for every craving. The first location opened in Santa Ana in 1978, and there are today 13 states with a BJ's.
Based on reviews of the restaurant, which praise its diversity of food and drink offerings, it seems a lot of states are missing out.
The Food: BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
What to avoid: Nothing in particular; the menu's pretty consistent here.
What to try: Fully enjoy the California way of eating with the Enlightened Kale and Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad. Or go in the complete opposite direction and indulge in one of the restaurant's signature pizza-cookies, aka "pizookies."
11. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews
Annual sales: $1.1 billion
Menu: Burgers, burgers and more burgers (oh, and some wraps, salads, soups and sandwiches, too)
The Story Behind Red Robin
Now that you have the "Red Robin... Yum!" commercial in your head, you shouldn't be surprised to see that the chain is among the most successful casual-dining spots in the country.
The gourmet burger joint is generally well-liked by diners, with the bottomless fries in particular earning kudos. But there are enough complaints about poor service and food that doesn't quite deliver to keep it from a higher ranking.
You'll find Red Robin (Yum!) in nearly every state.
The Food: Red Robin
What to avoid: The soups and salads — they're generally fine, but that's not what you go to a Red Robin for!
What to try: It's a gourmet burger joint: Try one! The Banzai with Pineapple Burger, Chili Chili Cheeseburger, Guacamole Bacon Burger and Royal Red Robin Burger (shown) are especially good choices.
9. LongHorn Steakhouse (Tie)
Annual sales: $1.6 billion
Menu: Steak, obviously, plus the usual suspects (burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups, seafood)
The Story Behind LongHorn Steakhouse
We may love Outback, but LongHorn had our hearts first. Initially opening in Atlanta in 1981 as a steakhouse and a saloon, the restaurant today touts 500-plus locations. While this isn't as many as Outback has, steak-lovers give this chain higher marks — an average of 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor.
Yelpers, too, tend to have good things to say, applauding the quality of the food as well as its elegant presentation.
The Food: LongHorn Steakhouse
What to avoid: The seafood here is by no means gross, but the steaks are better.
What to try: Flo's Filet is 6 to 10 ounces of melt-in-your-mouth tender-cut beef.
9. The Cheesecake Factory (Tie)
Annual sales: $1.6 billion
Menu: Basically everything you can imagine and more
The Story Behind the Cheesecake Factory
With a menu that feels as big as a dictionary, choosing something from the never-ending pages of dishes at the Cheesecake Factory is only part of the popular chain's appeal. Add on the namesake cheesecake and food that typically earns at least 3 stars from Yelpers and 4.5 stars from TripAdvisor reviewers, and you can see why the Cheesecake Factory has been a hit since 1972.
Fun fact: This is yet another California-launched chain.
The Food: The Cheesecake Factory
What to avoid: The pasta preparation can be a little spotty; it's probably best to turn your attention elsewhere.
What to try: Cheesecake is the name of the game, so sample one of the 34 menu offerings, like the tiramisu.
7. Cracker Barrel (Tie)
Annual sales: $1.8 billion
The Story Behind Cracker Barrel
When Dan Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel in Tennessee in 1969, he just wanted to provide home cooking for those traveling along the interstate. Today, it offers the epitome of made-from-scratch Southern comfort foods.
Not only is it in the top 10 based on revenue, but Cracker Barrel is No. 4 on MarketForce's list of best casual dining restaurants.
When bad reviews appear, they're complaints about poor service. So, you can eat food like mom used to make, just without the loving attention of mom.
The Food: Cracker Barrel
What to avoid: This is Southern food. If you order something healthy and without a coating of gravy, you're missing out.
What to try: You could make an entire meal out of the sides alone: dumplings, fried okra, mac 'n cheese, hashbrowns casserole, mashed potatoes and more.
7. Red Lobster (Tie)
Annual sales: $1.8 billion
Menu: Seafood, plus some soups, salads, and chicken and steak dishes
The Story Behind Red Lobster
One of only three seafood chains on the list, Red Lobster has been bringing crab, shrimp and, yes, lobster to areas of the country nowhere near an ocean since 1968.
While it began in Lakeland, Florida, 44 states now boast this restaurant known for its "endless" feasts. One of the biggest chains in America, it's most liked by TripAdvisor's eaters, who give it a 4-star average and enjoy its variety and quality.
Yelpers are more lukewarm, though, giving it on average 2.5 to 3 stars, with some lamenting a lack of freshness in the seafood and deeming it a bit overpriced.
The Food: Red Lobster
What to avoid: Anything not seafood-related; if you're eating chicken at a Red Lobster, you're doing it wrong!
What to try: Go big or go home, right? The Ultimate Feast includes Maine lobster tail, sea scallops, garlic shrimp scampi, breaded shrimp and snow crab legs.
6. Outback Steakhouse
Annual sales: $2.1 billion
Menu: Mostly meat, including steak, ribs, chops and chicken, as well as some fish dishes
The Story Behind Outback Steakhouse
Immediately upon opening in 1988, there were two-hour waits to get into Outback. Today, the Australian-themed restaurant still has long lines because, well, the steak is worth it.
Debuting first in Tampa, Florida, there are today more than 700 locations across the U.S., as well as 22 international countries.
There are complaints here and there about subpar service, but nothing egregious, and most customers typically dig the tried-and-true menu.
The Food: Outback Steakhouse
What to avoid: The fish is generally solid, but you can find better elsewhere.
What to try: The steaks are good but it's the addictive — and first of its kind — Bloomin' Onion that we crave. Bet you can't stop after one bite.
5. Texas Roadhouse
Annual sales: $2.7 billion
Menu: Meats dominate — steaks, burgers, ribs, you name it — with some seafood and salads in the mix as well.
The Story Behind Texas Roadhouse
Funnily enough, Texas Roadhouse actually began in Indiana, debuting in 1993. It currently holds top reviews from Yelp and TripAdvisor reviewers, which is why we rank it ranks in the top five.
Diners love the warm, fresh bread that comes to the table before each meal, and the perfectly cooked meats.
The Food: Texas Roadhouse
What to avoid: You really can't go wrong!
What to try: Ignore the gruesome name, and sink your teeth into the Road Kill chop steak smothered in onions, mushrooms and Jack cheese.
2. Chili's Grill & Bar (Tie)
Annual sales: $3.1 billion
Menu: Salads, soups, chilis, burgers, ribs, steak, tacos, quesadillas and "guiltless grill" healthy options
The Story Behind Chili's
Chili's brought Tex-Mex food beyond the southwest after its successful opening in Dallas in 1975. Sizzling fajitas took off in the 1980s, and now there are thousands of restaurants serving that popular dish (and others) across the globe.
As with all the restaurants on this list, Chili's isn't universally beloved — there are a few complaints about slow service and subpar food — but on the whole, diners enjoy going here for a satisfying meal out. And there are plenty of options to make everyone happy.
The Food: Chili's
What to avoid: The deep-fried appetizers are divine to some and too much for others. It's your call!
What to try: You know the commercials: Who's hungry for some baby back, baby back, baby back, baby back ribs?
2. Buffalo Wild Wings (Tie)
Annual sales: $3.1 billion
Menu: Standard sports-bar fare, like nachos, mozzarella sticks and onion rings, plus burgers, sandwiches, wraps and sandwiches in addition to the wings
The Story Behind Buffalo Wild Wings
When owners Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery couldn't find Buffalo-style hot wings in Columbus, Ohio, where the duo had relocated, they decided to introduce them to the Ohio masses in 1982. We wonder if they ever thought their hunger would land them on this list of most successful casual-dining chains in America?
It seems everyone loves a good Buffalo wing, as this chain now has more than 1,000 locations — all with sports packages available to root on your favorite team, any time of year.
But be warned: A fair amount of reviewers complain about long wait times here.
The Food: Buffalo Wild Wings
What to avoid: The food here is pretty consistently in the range of mediocre to pretty good.
What to try: The Buffalo wings, duh. And by the way, there are 23 different sauces to choose from!
2. Applebee's Grill + Bar (Tie)
Annual sales: $3.1 billion
Menu: Chicken, salads, sandwiches, burgers, wraps and tacos, pasta, seafood
The Story Behind Applebee's
The biggest chain in the U.S. had a mouthful of a name when it debuted in Atlanta in 1980: T.J. Applebee's Rx for Edibles & Elixirs.
Thankfully, the name was shortened, and today, the chain boasts a massive presence: There are nearly 2,000 locations around the world, each offering a place to "eat good in the neighborhood."
But while prices are right, reviewers don't entirely agree that the eating here is "good." Many Applebee's have just 2 stars, with only a handful nabbing 2.5 or 3 stars.
There are definitely complaints about the food itself, described as generic and underwhelming, but most of the scorn is directed at the service, with consistent complaints about rude servers, mistakes with orders and food delivered long after it was expected.
The Food: Applebee's
What to avoid: The salads, which lack fresh ingredients or quality dressing.
What to try: The "Loaded" fajitas, introduced in 2019, have quickly become a favorite.
1. Olive Garden
Annual sales: $3.4 billion
Menu: Americanized Italian specialties, so mostly pastas and pizzas
The Story Behind Olive Garden
Is it the never-ending breadsticks that make Olive Garden such a hit? Or is it the family-style Italian dining, featuring heaps of pasta and other delectables brought to the table, ensuring every person seated leaves with a full belly, as if an Italian grandmother cooked specifically for them?
Whatever the reason, Olive Garden is wildly popular. It's the second-biggest chain by revenue, despite having fewer than 1,000 locations.
In 2020, the restaurant jumped to the top of Casual Dining in the Top 500 rankings. The restaurant has a lot of fans on Yelp and TripAdvisor, too, though there are a decent amount of complaints about poor service.
The Food: Olive Garden
What to avoid: Nothing is particularly bad here.
What to try: In this traditional family-style restaurant, go for the lasagna with several helpings of salad and breadsticks.
Honorable Mention: Legal Sea Foods
While Legal Sea Foods didn't make it in our official ranking of top casual dining restaurants in the U.S., its quality of service, freshness of food and ranking from previous years have earned it an honorable mention.
The Story Behind Legal Sea Foods
One of the most popular seafood restaurants of Boston began its expansion in the 1990s and is now beloved up and down the Eastern Seaboard. As one Yelper exclaims, "Legal Sea Foods is such a Bostonian classic!"
The majority of restaurants are still in the Boston area, which shows just how well "Legal" (as it is called) compares with nationwide chains. The restaurant's beginnings date back to 1950 when founder George Berkowitz sold fish in an Inman Square market next to his father's grocery store. Nearly 20 years later, he opened a restaurant beside the market, ensuring diners were getting the freshest fish.
The Food: Legal Sea Foods
What to avoid: A burger, added to the menu only to satiate landlubbers.
What to try: The award-winning New England Clam Chowder (which is now sold in grocery stores).