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10 Chain Restaurants Worth Visiting

Posted: 04/19/11 10:42 AM ET

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The world has changed in some fairly huge and achingly obvious ways since milkshake-machine salesman Ray Kroc bought a small-scale restaurant franchise called McDonald's in 1954. One way is that, as the "food revolution" meets an increasingly impecunious American public, chain restaurants are thriving. The good news is that chains aren't necessarily what they used to be -- which is to say places whose sole goal is to render us fat and stupid with huge portions of mediocre food at bargain prices.

While we were busy watching Alice Waters plant edible schoolyard gardens, some enterprising franchisers went out and hired chefs and folks who know a thing or two about what tastes good, and along the way they've gotten wise to the fact that we're starting to expect things like organic milk on kiddie menus and sea salt on fries. That's smart: Restaurant business executives say that to thrive in this economy, chains of every stripe, from fast-food stands to "dinner houses" are going to have to raise the quality of their food without substantially raising prices.

The fact is that some chains have gotten pretty good. There are worse ways to spend dinner on a busy weeknight than bent over a plate of miso salmon at the Cheesecake Factory.

Below then is a list of the chains that bind us.

- Kelly Alexander, The Daily Meal

More from The Daily Meal:
10 Best Athlete-Owned Restaurants
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8 Truly Farm-to-Table Restaurants
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The Cheesecake Factory
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Founded in 1978 in Los Angeles by David Overton, whose parents owned a small cheesecake bakery, The Cheesecake Factory is admittedly pretty cheesy; witness the faux Italianate columns decorated with Pharoah faces, the soaring trompe l'oeil ceilings, and the red glass wall sconces the size of toddlers. But it's much better than a mere last resort if you happen to be snowed in at an office park in Cleveland or someplace similar. The place may have way too many menu items (more than 200, not counting more than 30 types of cheesecake), but a whole lot of it tastes really good.

Don't miss: Nation's Restaurant News hailed the miso salmon entree - inspired by Nobu Matsuhisa's famous black cod with miso - as the "Best New Menu Item" of 2002, and believe it or not, it's even tastier than the original. Also, the bartenders make gigantic, perfect, reliably ice-cold martinis.

Recipe: The Best Cheesecake Recipes
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