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The Most Underrated Menu Item at 9 Popular Restaurant Chains

Why go for the same order as everyone else when you can try one of these nontraditional options?

The boneless wings at Applebee's. The chicken and dumplin's at Cracker Barrel. The Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse.

There's a reason these chain restaurant dishes are so iconic. Fans have been ordering them consistently over the years, and they're standout offerings from the restaurants. But chains aren't one-trick ponies, and there are likely plenty of hidden gems on the menu at your favorite restaurant.

OK, so you probably wouldn't expect to get, say, perfectly slow-smoked barbecue at Chili's, or a made-from-scratch tiramisu at Olive Garden. But there are still great menu items at your favorite chains that lie outside of the most popular orders. For example, Red Robin serves a tasty plate of battered fish and chips, and Steak 'n Shake's hot dog is just as good as its burgers.

Here are some of the most underrated chain restaurant menu items—this list might just inform your next dinner choice.

And for more, check out The 9 Best Restaurant Chains To Visit For Happy Hour.

Panera Broccoli Cheddar Soup

panera broccoli cheddar soup
Courtesy of Panera

With its fresh bread, a sandwich may seem like the go-to move at Panera. But we recommend a classic: the Broccoli Cheddar Soup. It's a simple dish of just cheese and broccoli. But it's rich and creamy, and it pairs perfectly with a baguette.

Also, check out The Best Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheddar Soup Recipe

Chili's Skillet Queso

bowl of chilis skillet queso with basket of tortilla chips and salsa

You probably know all about the Big Mouth burgers and fajitas, but there is another gem in Chili's appetizer section: the skillet queso. It's a creamy cheese peppered with seasoned beef and perfect for dipping tortilla chips in until your entrée arrives.

Want to make a homemade cheese dip? Try this Appetizer-Ready Queso Fundido Recipe.

The Cheesecake Factory Avocado Egg Rolls

cheesecake factory avocado egg rolls on white serving dish with green dip
Courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory

Sure, most people probably go to The Cheesecake Factory for, well, cheesecake. But they're missing out on the greatness that is the Avocado Egg Rolls. An egg roll wrapper is stuffed with avocado, sun-dried tomato, onion, and cilantro, and fried for ultimate crispiness.

 13 Secrets About The Cheesecake Factory Every Fan Should Know

Grand Lux Cafe Asian Nachos

Grand Lux Cafe Asian Nachos
Grand Lux Cafe / Facebook

As at The Cheesecake Factory, the extensive menu at Grand Lux Café can be overwhelming. Go in with a plan and order the Asian Nachos. It's listed as an appetizer, but the loaded "chips" (made from fried wontons) are the perfect portion for a meal.

Looking for more iconic foods? Don't miss the 100 Most Popular Fast Food Items.

Olive Garden Toasted Ravioli

Courtesy of Olive Garden

A dish made popular in St. Louis, toasted ravioli is just like it sounds: seasoned beef ravioli that's breaded and fried. And it's delicious. Some Olive Gardens offer it as a standalone appetizer, whereas at others, you'll have to get as part of the Sampler Italiano. It's worth the splurge!

Red Lobster Lobster and Langostino Pizza

Red Lobster Lobster and Langostino Pizza
Red Lobster / Facebook

It might feel odd ordering a pizza at a seafood restaurant. But just trust us. Fresh lobster is added to a crispy thin crust alongside juicy tomatoes, sweet basil, and a thin layer of mozzarella. Don't let the "appetizer" name fool you—order it for yourself as a meal.

 The Best Copycat Red Lobster Biscuit Recipe

Red Robin Arctic Cod Fish & Chips

red robin arctic cod fish and chips basket
Courtesy of Red Robin

We know—it's strange to go into a place famous for burgers and order the fish. And the fish and chips, no less! But this battered cod is fried to a golden crisp and served alongside the restaurant's Bottomless Steak Fries. The Dill'd & Pickl'd Tartar Sauce is a perfect complement.

And if you prefer burgers to seafood, here's The Absolute Best Burger in Every State.

Steak 'N Shake Classic Steak Frank

steak n shake steak frank with fries on a white plate
Courtesy of Steak 'n Shake

Steak 'N Shake is famous for its steakburgers, but there's something incredibly satisfying about the plain Steak Frank. There's not much to say other than that it's a tasty hot dog with a buttery bun, and you won't be disappointed.

Texas Roadhouse Fresh-Baked Bread

texas roadhouse rolls
Holly C./ Yelp

Why spend money on a steak at Texas Roadhouse when you can fill up on the free bread? OK, yes, they will probably make you order something. But get a salad and triple up on these buttery, fresh, warm rolls that are served with cinnamon butter. Who needs surf and turf when you have this combo?

It's always fun to get the popular menu items, but sometimes it's nice to branch out of your comfort zone, too. Consider trying out these menu options the next time you're at these chains—you might just be pleasantly surprised.

A version of this story was originally published on February 7, 2020. It has been updated to include new information.

Dalene Rovenstine
A New York-based freelance journalist, Dalene Rovenstine often writes about food and drink and health, as well as entertainment, beauty, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about Dalene