Like Irish pubs and Chinese takeouts, you'd be hard-pressed to find a moderately-populated town without an Italian restaurant. And for much of the country, that Italian restaurant is a chain. We canvassed the country, and from corporate behemoths like Olive Garden to family-run chains like The Old Spaghetti Factory, we've tracked down the 12 best casual, non-pizza Italian chains.
Needless to say, Italian cuisine is one of the most popular types of food in America. Because seriously, what's not to like? Heaping bowls of pasta, comforting and hearty sauces... it's comfort food at its finest and it also allows for lots of creativity. Just like Chinese food has adapted to suit American palates, Italian food has also changed since it was first brought over by immigrants more than 100 years ago. For example, spaghetti and meatballs are a completely American invention; in Italy, the meatballs (called polpette) are eaten on the side as a separate dish.
But while the massive portion sizes and creative interpretations of Italian cuisine served at these restaurants might make native Italians wince, there's certainly a home for chain Italian restaurants in the American culinary landscape, and there's one fact you can't deny: the majority of their offerings are hearty and delicious. While they all offer traditional red-sauce fare like lasagna and ravioli, the chefs have the freedom to create entirely new menu items, and many have become classic standbys at their home restaurants.
In order to assemble our ranking, we first had to define exactly what a chain Italian restaurant is, which is trickier than you might imagine: all restaurants needed to mention Italy or Italian food somewhere on their website and offer a roster of Italian-American favorites. Uno's Chicago Grill, for example, serves deep-dish pizza and a couple varieties of pasta, but the rest of its menu is far from Italian so it didn't make the cut. We also cut out pizza chains because those are a whole other type of restaurant. After assembling our list of restaurants, we narrowed it down according to the following criteria: menu variety, low price point, whether the food is made fresh on-premises daily, value, ambiance and design, a good mix of red sauce classics and creative new dishes, special menus like those for kids, seniors, and gluten-free folks, special offers, and extras like online ordering, catering, delivery, and charity work.
So read on to learn which chain Italian restaurants are America's best!
- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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