Chain restaurants are the epitome of the American culinary dream because they have spread from one-location eateries to worldwide success stories all thanks to their “delicious” food. We have a love/hate relationship with most of them but who hasn’t craved a cheeseburger from you-know-where or tried the sauce at the chain that doesn’t need naming? The dishes—if you could call them that—speak for themselves and so do the number of restaurants. So which are the best? Here’s a list of five American chain restaurant locations actually worth visiting, whether for the food or the vibes.
Worth the Ride columnist Elina Eronen Piper is a London-based Finn who binges on new travel experiences, snow-capped mountains and salty liquorice. Follow her and her adventures on Instagram.
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Cheesecake Factory, Beverly Hills: The list can't begin without a restaurant that's been rated as the American favorite over and over and over again. Whether or not it's actually the cheesecake that's won us over, we all seem to have a soft spot for Cheesecake Factory's creamy creations. There's the chocolate chip cookie-dough cheesecake, red velvet, toasted marshmallow s'mores galore and the original cake of cheese, of course. The best location in which to indulge? Inside the Beverly Hills Golden Triangle where the first ever Cheesecake Factory opened in 1978 and where the nation's love story with the infamous dessert began. Let's make sure it continues.
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Red Lobster, Coralville: Many times a sentence begins with "Yes, it's a chain restaurant…" but hardly ever does it finish with "…and it's amazing?" Somehow, the Red Lobster in Iowa breaks the mold. It's cherished by locals, delivers great service, and has a wonderful atmosphere, all of which can be seen in the carefully produced food that makes your mouth water. Simply put, cheddar bay biscuits, lobster and shrimp never tasted better.
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In-N-Out-Burger, Baldwin Park: Classic American burgers made to perfection at a great location with delicious milkshakes, greasy but not too greasy crispy fries and a super friendly staff; In-N-Out-Burger in California has it all and more.—a bit like their sauce which, let's face it, is the secret weapon to their juicy burgers. It has a brilliant balance of mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle and something mouth-wateringly good that manages to continuously satisfy. The In-N-Out-Burger in Baldwin Park offers the perfect location because not only can you visit the flagship restaurant, you can also visit the replica of the first ever store next door. Food always tastes better with a side of nostalgia.
Photo by Wayne Hsieh/Flickr CC BY-NC
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Wow Bao, Lakeview: It's time for the East to shine in the Northeast. If you're hoping for a six-pack, don't order a six-pack of steamed bao at Wow Bao in Lakeview, Chicago. The hot Asian buns are the cornerstones of the small but successful franchise, especially at the Lakeview location where each bite ignites a craving for Asian cuisine. The food is light and healthier than you might expect and as a bonus, the space has a great, clean and crisp design. The menu has a variety of other Asian delicacies worth trying, for instance the Thai herb broth, but the buns are always a safe bet.
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Five Guys, Navy Yard: There's a certain guilt that comes with indulging in two differently topped cheeseburgers or enjoying one Cajun spiced fry after another while slurping a bottomless cup of can't-decide-which-flavored soda. Until you see President Barack Obama eating it, and then you feel proud. You can find that feeling by visiting the Five Guys in Southeast Washington, where our very own President once ordered and chowed down on burgers.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty