The Most-Popular Dishes at America's Top Chain Restaurants
Find out if your go-to order tops the menu at each of these tried-and-true chains.
Applebee's: Bourbon Street Chicken and Shrimp
For customers of this iconic and ever-evolving chain, nothing embodies "eatin' good in the neighborhood" quite like the Bourbon Street Chicken and Shrimp — a heap of Cajun-seasoned chicken and blackened shrimp in garlic butter, served on a sizzling cast-iron platter along with sauteed mushrooms, onions and crispy red potatoes. Since December 2015, Applebee's has served more than 46 million of these dishes.
Red Lobster: Ultimate Feast
Come for the often-imitated, never-duplicated Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Stay for the Ultimate Feast, Red Lobster's fan-favorite entree. In this case, "feast" is not hyperbole: It's a platter heaped with tender Maine lobster tail, steamed North American snow crab legs and garlic shrimp scampi — in addition to butterflied, hand-breaded, golden fried shrimp. Remember to save room for the parade of all-included salad, coleslaw and biscuits.
California Pizza Kitchen: Original BBQ Chicken Pizza
California Pizza Kitchen offers over 20 different pies on its menu — four of them gluten-free! But the most popular, hands down, is the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza, invented at the chain's first location in Beverly Hills in 1985. The hand-tossed crust, made from a top-secret recipe, is a canvas for CPK's legendary BBQ sauce plus smoked Gouda, red onions and fresh cilantro.
LongHorn Steakhouse: Rib-Eye Steak
LongHorn serves more than 10 million fresh (and never-frozen) rib-eye steaks annually — and this item's popularity is no surprise. Each location nationwide has a team of certified Grill Masters who specialize in selecting the right cut, pairing it with one of six signature seasoning blends and grilling it to each guest's taste. Diners can order the rib eye either of two ways: the hand-trimmed, 12-ounce rib eye or the signature fire-grilled Outlaw Ribeye — an 18-ounce, perfectly marbled bone-in cut.
Carrabba's Italian Grill: Chicken Bryan
Carrabba's isn't your typical red-sauce Italian joint. First and foremost, it's a grill — and each of the menu's meaty entrees, from steak and chops to chicken and veal, gets the wood-fired treatment. Take the Chicken Bryan, for example. This fan favorite is lightly brushed with Carrabba's signature grill baste made up of olive oil and 14 different herbs and spices. Once grilled, the rustic white meat is topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and a lemon butter sauce.
TGI Friday's: Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta
TGI Friday's frequently refreshes its menu, so the most-popular entree changes with every rotation of brand-new dishes. Most recently, the Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta has been dominating order slips; according to a spokesperson, it's the most-commonly ordered dish per store, per day. This flavor bomb features sauteed, all-natural chicken, shrimp and red bell peppers tossed with fettuccine in a spicy Cajun Alfredo sauce.
P.F. Chang's: Mongolian Style Beef
The sheer volume of menu options at this Asian-themed casual-dining restaurant is dizzying, encompassing everything from sushi to street fare — and let's not forget the separate Dim Sum menu featuring traditional Chinese-style rolls and dumplings. Still, P.F. Chang's patrons have managed to identify a clear favorite: the Mongolian Style Beef, garlicky soy-glazed flank steak topped with snipped green onions.
Golden Corral: A Blue-Plate Tie
It doesn't get much more "Sunday supper" than fried chicken, pot roast or meatloaf. It's no coincidence, then, that these quintessential blue plates are all tied for the most-popular spot on the menu at Golden Corral, a big American buffet chain known for its comforting, stick-to-your-ribs classics.
Arby's: Traditional Greek Gyro
With a slogan like "We have the meats," it's no surprise that the reigning No. 1 overall order at Arby's is the Classic Roast Beef — with small fries and a fountain soda, of course. Recently, though, fans have been migrating toward the new Signature Sandwiches — specifically, the Traditional Greek Gyro. This hearty newcomer features sliced gyro meat (a blend of ground beef, ground lamb and Mediterranean spices) in a warm flatbread along with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, tzatziki sauce and Greek seasoning. After Arby's sold 6.5 million of them in April 2018, the fan favorite became a permanent menu item in May 2018.
Carl's Jr.: Famous Star with Cheese
What started in 1941 as a humble Los Angeles hot-dog cart, manned by husband-and-wife team Carl and Margaret Karcher, would ultimately grow into a multinational destination for charbroiled burgers and fries. Customers' favored dish is true to Carl's Jr.'s all-American roots: To date, the chain's most-frequently ordered menu item has been the Famous Star with Cheese, a beef patty and gooey American cheese with lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickles, mayonnaise and special sauce on a seeded bun.
Cracker Barrel: Momma's Pancake Breakfast
At Cracker Barrel, all-day breakfast is more of a birthright than a lifestyle choice. It's also the reason why Momma's Pancake Breakfast is the restaurant chain's most-popular dish. This plate is nothing short of an ode to breakfast: Three hot-off-the-griddle buttermilk pancakes come outfitted with butter and syrup plus two eggs and thick-sliced bacon or sausage on the side.
Outback: Center-Cut Sirloin
The philosophy "Less is more" is anathema to devotees of Outback Steakhouse, a chain famous for big, meaty, over-the-top plates like its filet mignon and steamed lobster-tail entree. However — and this may surprise you — the most-popular main dish at this internationally known temple of red meat is none other than the simple, lean and seared Center-Cut Sirloin. Pair it with a house salad and Outback's signature baked potato and you've got yourself a well-rounded plate.
Olive Garden: Chicken Alfredo
With dozens of mix-and-match pasta possibilities (or, should we say, pastabilities), it's the big, creamy bowl of Olive Garden's Chicken Alfredo that continues to top the restaurant's list of most-popular entrees. Sliced grilled chicken is served over tender fettuccine pasta and doused in OG's signature homemade Alfredo sauce, which is made from scratch daily. We think that's exactly what the restaurant's iconic breadsticks are for — mopping up all that rich cream sauce.
Chick-fil-A: Chicken Sandwich
In 1961, restaurateur and Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy set out to create a flawless chicken sandwich. After years of experimentation, he cracked the code to what would ultimately become the No. 1-selling entree at the nation's largest chicken-restaurant chain. Five decades later, Cathy's cooking method hasn't changed — and his Chicken Sandwich recipe is still a secret. All we know is that pressure-cooking boneless, hand-breaded chicken breast in refined peanut oil, and adorning it simply with dill pickle chips and a toasted, buttered bun, is central to the magic.
Panera Bread: Broccoli Cheddar Soup
At Panera, the hands-down fan favorite is a no-brainer: Broccoli Cheddar Soup. The recipe features chopped broccoli and shredded carrots simmered in a velvety smooth cheese sauce with a top-secret blend of seasonings. The iconic soup is available in a cup, bowl or bread bowl. Let's face it — you want the bread bowl. We all want the bread bowl.
Chipotle: Chicken Burrito Bowl
We were relatively surprised to discover that it's not the Burrito but rather its lower-carb alternative, the Burrito Bowl, that tops the popularity chart at Chipotle. Specifically, it's the Chicken Burrito Bowl — a flavor festival of rice, beans, fajita veggies and other essentials, such as salsa and sour cream (and guac, if you're willing to cough up the extra $1.95), united around a foundation of smoky, spicy adobo grilled chicken that's deliciously charred for subtle caramel flavor.
When McDonald's introduced the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders in October 2017, many people speculated that the good old-fashioned McNugget eventually would go the way of the dinosaur. However, according to a McDonald's spokesperson, the golden-crusted nuggets we all pined for as youngsters continue to shine as customers' favored meal, regardless of their age. Made with 100 percent white meat and no artificial preservatives, the nuggets have more in common with their healthier-seeming cousins than you might have imagined.
The Cheesecake Factory: Chicken Madeira
With a menu that boasts more than 250 items, it's unbelievable that The Cheesecake Factory has been able to identify a definitive favorite. And yet, somehow, a clear winner has emerged: The Chicken Madeira, according to a Cheesecake Factory spokesperson, is the most-frequently ordered entree on the menu. Smothered with fresh mushroom Madeira sauce and melted mozzarella, the tender chicken breasts come topped with fresh asparagus and a side of fluffy mashed potatoes.
KFC: Original Recipe Fried Chicken
It seems as if KFC customers around the globe live by the old mantra "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." According to a KFC spokesperson, despite the regular introduction of new menu items, the Colonel's most-prized offering is the Original Recipe fried chicken, seasoned with an oh-so-secret signature blend of 11 herbs and spices. Despite operating roughly 21,000 locations worldwide, the megachain prides itself on the fact that its cooks meticulously inspect each individual piece of chicken before it is seasoned, floured and pressure-cooked.
Burger King: The Whopper
True, at Burger King you can "have it your way." But it seems as though customers are more than happy sticking to the fast-food chain's tried-and-true Whopper formula. This straightforward quarter-pounder comes with all the classic fixins: juicy tomatoes, fresh lettuce, creamy mayonnaise, ketchup, crunchy pickles and sliced white onions on a soft sesame-seed bun.
Denny's: Build Your Own Grand Slam
It turns out the breakfast-all-day crowd spans far and wide. At Denny's, where the most-popular menu item is the Build Your Own Grand Slam, diners customize their plates around the clock with a choice of two fluffy buttermilk pancakes, two eggs cooked to order, two sizzling bacon strips and two sausage links. No wonder it's been said that all the best things in life come in twos.
Taco Bell: Crunchy Taco
Of the roughly 2 billion tacos ordered at Taco Bell each year, the most-popular item is the Crunchy Taco, which can be ordered a la carte and famously cost just 19 cents on the original menu in 1962. Though it's been served the same way since then (a basic trio of seasoned ground beef, shredded cheddar and chopped lettuce), it has spawned countless variations, such as the Doritos Locos Tacos, which launched in 2012.
Wendy's: Dave's Single
Dave's Single is Wendy's most-popular main, not to mention an all-around classic and menu staple. Just as Wendy's founder, Dave Thomas, intended, Dave's Single is made with a juicy quarter-pound of fresh beef. The burger is dressed with crinkle-cut pickles, sliced tomatoes, sweet onions, lettuce, melted American cheese, and ketchup and mayonnaise, all on a warm toasted bun — the same way it's been served since its introduction in 1969.