6 Petty Chain Restaurant Hills On Which I’m Willing To Stand (But Not Die)

If you invited me to meet you for lunch at a chain restaurant seven years ago when I first started my blog, I would have recoiled in absolute horror. I was a food snob.

Now, it’s not that I think chain restaurants are the pinnacle of dining, but I like eating at them from time to time. I just do and understand if you don’t. Also, I’ve grown up and learned it’s crappy to make some one feel bad about where they like to eat.

Variety is the spice of life. That’s my motto, anyway. Let’s begin with the hill I’d be more willing to die on.

Buffalo Wild Wings Mango Habanero Sauce is Good

Yes, I know boneless wings are essentially torn up, heavily breaded pieces of chicken tenders. The sauce probably comes out of a jug. But it hits the perfect sweet, savory, hot balance. Especially when paired with blue cheese dressing. Other hot wing sauces are good and probably more homemade, but this sauce always makes me physically hurt because it’s so spicy and I sometimes I want that assurance going into a meal.

Happy hour until seven p.m. Monday-Fridays (at our nearest location) offering cheap appetizers and drinks, a decent loyalty rewards program, and McDonald’s-like french fries.

The Original Pancake House Is Worth Waiting In Line For 

The Original Pancake House in Roseville, MN is fairly new. I like to say that we are going to the original pancake house.  The chain as actually founded in Portland in 1953. There are even locations in Asia. There are seven locations in the Twin Cities open every day between 6/6:30 am and 3 pm.

If you go during weekend brunch hours, you will wait. The Maple Grove and Minnetonka has a webpage that mentions guests can use the No Wait app. The other MN site doesn’t. The menus vary a bit. The Roseville location offers “Breakfast Ribs” while a Chicago one has pigs in a blanket made with pancakes and sausages. However, all will offer the breakfast classics and all types of pancakes. Giant dutch babies, pancakes with many toppings, potato, Danish Kijafa Cherry Crepes, and Swedish pancakes. There’s a pancake for every mood.

The reason why people stand outside the Old Pancake House and wait for ungodly lengths of time is because the food is good, prices are reasonable, and portions are huge. Omelets are as large as small babies. Many dishes come with a SIDE OF PANCAKES. One sweet dish that I like is the Danish Kijafa Cherry Crepes.

Taco Bell’s Nachos Bel Grande Are OK

I’m always trying to find the perfect craft cocktail pairing for Nachos Bel Grande.

Taco Bell is not my personal favorite fast food chain, but when loved ones make me go there, I always order the Nachos Bel Grande

There’s nothing outstanding about these nachos. You’ll typically find a lot more beans than meat. And there’s not much going on besides the a handful of diced tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream. Each hot sauce packet contains about one teaspoon of sauce so you have to use about 20. I have no idea why I like Nachos Bel Grande so much but I just do. Fake cheese sauce covers a multitude of sins.

Benihana Teppanyaki Shrimp Sauce Tastes Good on Everything 

lol remember that one time Benihana sued a food blogger in Kuwait for $18,000 and lost?

For around $20-30 (before tax and tips and drinks) at Benihana, you can enjoy a multi-course meal including a small bowl of brothy onion soup, green salad with the orange creamy salad dressing, zucchini slices and shrimp cooked on the teppanyaki, steamed or fried rice, and your entrée. If you want steak or a seafood symphony, obviously expect to pay more.

You should definitely upgrade to fried rice. It’s light and fluffy and full of veggies, scrambled egg, and chicken.

The teppanyaki chefs throw eggs behind their backs into the tops of their hats. They make flaming volcanos out of onion rings and create hearts or “I love you” messages with scrambled eggs. Part of the Benihana ritual is the pouring of the dipping sauces into hexagon-shaped dishes. The soy-ginger sauce is fine but the shrimp sauce is the best. If you wander around the dining room, you’ll observe people spreading thick layers of shrimp sauce over their entire meals. It’s essentially glorified mayo and it’s puzzlingly good.

I like ordering the Seafood Diablo which is a big heap of udon noodles cooked in a spicy sauce (spicier than the other spicy sauces) with a couple of scallops, shrimp, calamari, and vegetables. With fried rice on the side, it’s way too much starch. So, take some home!

It’s Hard To Beat An Arby’s Jamocha Shake

If you’re going to serve a shake and charge more than a Jamocha shake, it should taste better than a Jamocha shake.

One of my parents used to work for Arby’s, back when they served real roast beef cooked medium rare. I giggle imagining the exact day they switched from real roast beef to lunch meat. What a mind trip to walk in one day and get real roast beef and the next and receive a warm deli meat sandwich.

Anyway, I like Arby’s. There’s something satisfying about an Arby’s roast beef sandwich thoroughly dressed in squeezey packet horseradish sauce. Or the roast beef and cheddar sandwiched in an onion bun with Arby’s sauce. When I order jalapeño bites, I like to pretend that the bronco berry sauce is made with local bronco berries. I never try new things here. Pork belly?! An Arby’s roast beef gyro? No thanks. I’ll stick with a big beef and cheddar.

Sometimes it feels like an Arby’s night.

Chili’s Must Never Die

Jake and I got into one of our biggest fights in Fargo about Chili’s. We had a very structured Saturday night system where we alternatives who got to choose where we ate dinner. On this particular Saturday, Jake chose Chili’s. I didn’t want to go. “But it’s a chain,” I pleaded. Exasperated, he drove to some random non-chain restaurant where we paid a lot more money and ate an ok meal ending with creme brûlée topped with burned blue raspberry sugar.

Eventually, we visited Chili’s. We ordered warm queso and drank cheap margaritas. The chips and salsa tasted good and the fajitas were fine. I found that the experience was not bad and that I may have even enjoyed it. While I may never choose Chili’s on Jeni Nights, I’ll go with the flow and even enjoy myself if I ever end up there on Jake nights.

Thoughts on the matter? Feel free to leave a comment below. 


  1. Beth Ann Chiles

    Nachos Bell Grande have always had my heart and Chili’s chips and salsa always win. And Jamocha shakes were my daddy’s favorite so I am all in on those as well. My fav fast food chain now is Chick Fil A —— never have a bad experience there and the one closest to us has the BEST service!

    • Jeni

      Thanks Beth! Good to know. Cheers (with a jamocha shake)

  2. Feisty Eats

    Blue raspberry sugar? Yikes! Living in rural ND I have not been to most of these places. I do know many people who really love a late night Taco Bell run though! I appreciate chain happy hours. Applebees & Old Chicago were some faves back in the day.

    • Jeni

      Yes! That place is now closed in Fargo. That is a good thing about chains – they have such desperately good happy hours.

  3. Amy

    OPH is great. I will also admit to having a soft spot in my heart for Applebee’s. Haven’t been in years, but it was the transition restaurant when we had young kids–training them how to behave in a non-fast food environment, in a venue that expected small children and noise, and had a bar (SO much better than the Playplace). Didn’t love the food, but it was OK, and it helped teach our kids how to behave before we took them to more grown-up restaurants where kids’ antics aren’t tolerated as well as they are at Applebee’s.

    • Jeni

      Yes to OPH! Their food is delicious. Love that a place like AB’s was a good training grounds. That totally makes sense!

  4. Bre

    Do local chains count? Because Tasty Tacos has my heart.
    They now have a choice between nacho cheese or queso. And I appreciate those rare times in life where there are no wrong answers or choices you may later regret.

    • Jeni

      I wish we had Tasty Tacos here! They had a puffy taco place in St. Louis but it wasn’t as good as Tasty Taco.

  5. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

    I love your posts like this 🙂 I know Applebee’s was mentioned in the comments and I have to admit, it is one of my favorites. And I personally think Hardee’s has the best milk shakes!

    • Jeni

      Thanks Val! Will have to try the milkshakes some time.

  6. Katy F

    We are big Arby’s fans! I don’t care if it’s lunch meat, it’s yummy!

    • Jeni

      Oh it is!

  7. Katie

    McDonald’s just got rid of the #2 (2 cheeseburger meal) and it is something that is going to torment me for years. There aren’t many problems that can’t be softened with a #2 and a diet coke. And now I don’t know what to do. Also, if I’m going to Red Lobster (which I love) I will not be purchasing alcohol, those delicious biscuits also need a large diet soda to sip.

    • Jeni

      What is going on with their menu changes? I hope they replace it with something similar. Red Lobster is delicious. I’m glad we could go that one time.

  8. Michelle

    Totally agree about the chips & salsa at Chili’s. Sometimes I go there just to get an order (or two) of those to-go.

    • Jeni

      The first time I tried them I was pleasantly surprised. Not the typical stale chips and sweet jarred salsa.

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