No matter where you live, or what your background is, everyone has that nostalgic chain restaurant they grew up with. Since I moved around a bit growing up, and I also think there are just phases in your life where you ate with your parents, and then with your friends, I’ve got a good list going. This conversation came up when my friend Cathy took me to my first Sweet Tomatoes experience (RIP Sweet Tomatoes). To her, that restaurant was her middle and high school life in a nut shell. It got us talking about our favorite old school chain restaurants that we love. Everyone has one. And I feel like everyone has very strong opinions about them too. Whether it’s Chili’s, or Olive Garden, or PF Changs, there’s always one that stands out as a favorite to folks.
My Favorite Chain Restaurants
When we lived in Montreal as kids, I have fond memories of visiting the Chinese buffet. No idea what it was called, it was just the Chinese buffet to us. I vividly remember piling up the fried rice and fried chicken. And you wouldn’t dare end the meal without getting some of the ice cream in little metal sundae cups. I always went for the bubblegum ice cream. It had actual bubblegum balls in it! What a freaking cool thing for a 6 year old to get all on her own, right?
We also visited Pizza Hut often. Now, this isn’t the Pizza Hut you now know of. It was the one that had a full menu and pasta bar. Did any of you have this? It was the best. I remember ordering fettuccini alfredo all the time. Clearly, I wasn’t aware of my lactose intolerance back then. And when we moved to Oregon, it was a lot of Denny’s with friends. It was all that our allowance would allow us to buy really. But a Grand Slam is really one of the best things. I miss them here in the South. And no, it is nothing like Waffle House. Denny’s is the elevated Waffle House, more like an IHOP.
The One Chain Restaurant I Still Visit
I didn’t get my first job until I moved to Atlanta a month after I turned 16. I got a job at Outback Steakhouse and now THAT restaurant is my go-to chain spot. In fact, I know the menu inside out and it just feels like home to me. I love a good cheese fry appetizer (always ask for it layered, little insider hack). And they really do make a great soup from scratch. Plus, a ribeye with a baked potato is basically heaven. Their baked potatoes are wrapped in chunky kosher salt making them the superior baked potato. And always, always, always ask for honey butter to go with that warm pumpernickel bread.
I rarely frequent chain restaurants now. Mostly because they just aren’t in the city. They’re definitely a more suburb thing. But we have a few here and there in Atlanta. And the one remaining Outback isn’t too too far from me and is worth the visit once in a blue moon.