Friday, July 29, 2011

Acceptable Chain Restaurants

I'm visiting family in Texas right now, and like most people, I struggle finding acceptable places to eat when I'm away from my familiar haunts and dealing with a large crowd of eaters with different tastes. It seems like for every seasoned world traveler who happily eats cold jellyfish salad, there's at least two more that seem to subsist on nothing but chicken fingers with ketchup as a side. If I'm at home, I can easily navigate everyone to a local, independent place. But on the road? I'm pretty much at anyone's mercy.

That's where chains step in. As much as they get a rap for boring, mediocre food, they do serve a very real need on occasional. Sometimes that lowest common denominator is the best everyone can agree on. And the dirty secret of hipster food bloggers like myself? Some of them aren't terrible. In fact, some of them can be good. Here's my list of acceptable chain restaurants that you don't have to twist my arm to get me to.

My go to spot for quick, casual and healthy eating is Panera Bread. Panera has fresh made salads, soups and sandwiches. Best of all, they post the calorie counts right there on the menu board so I never worry that I'll accidentally eat a thousand calorie salad.

Panera Bread on Urbanspoon

If I'm in the mood for a burger, 5 Guys hits the spot. Not nearly as good as the offerings at Oak Street Cafe, or even The Counter, 5 Guys still manages to put together a decent burger and more fries than a human being should really eat. Sure, you can do better. But you can also do much, much worse.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

For sit down meals, I'm fond of Chili's. Most of their menu is crap, but every location I've been to can grill a decent steak and I can order a double portion of steamed broccoli to go with it. (I am slightly more like to indulge my weakness for mashed potatoes and gravy though. Okay, not slightly. Very likely.) And my husband and I used to go to Chili's all the time when we were dating. Nostalgia!

Chili's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

For fast food, my favorite is Chik-fil-a. I'm under no illusions that it's healthier for you than any other fast food. But it's much tastier than McDonalds. The chicken is an honest to go chicken breast, not extruded "chicken", which reassures me that I'm eating food and not a chemistry project. On Sundays, when they are closed, Wendy's is my next choice. There I have the option to replace my fries with chili or a side salad, which helps me not be such a fatty mcfatterson.

For other chain dining suggestions, I recommend "Eat This, Not That" from Men's Health. They have comparison guides telling you the worst thing, diet wise on national menus and offering a much more reasonable substitute.

How about you? Any suggestions on where to eat when on the road?

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1 comment:

Terez said...

Chik-fil-a is evil. They give money to all sorts of anti-GLBT agendas. IMO the best McD alternative is Wendy's. Outback was once one of the best, but they've gotten cheap in the last five years or so. Smaller salads, and like to have a bowl full of yellow, too. Chili's is crap; I should know, since I worked there once. Outback still has the best caesar dressing in the world (aside from good steaks), but they are stingy with it these days.