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The Most Underrated Menu Item at 13 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 dumplins 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.


TGI Friday's Oreo Madness

Oreo madness from TGI Fridays
TGI Fridays/Facebook

With a wealth of apps and burgers galore, it's easy to fill up before making it to dessert—but don't. The Oreo Madness features two larger-than-life Oreos with cookies and cream ice cream sandwiched in between and chocolate sauce drizzled on top. It's big enough to share, but you probably won't want to.


Chili's Skillet Queso

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

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.


Applebee's Brisket Tacos

applebees bbq brisket tacos on white plate
Courtesy of Applebees

You may consider Chili's the go-to chain restaurant for Tex-Mex, but Applebee's has a taco that is not to be missed. The BBQ Brisket Tacos entrée features three flour tortillas loaded with mouthwatering brisket and topped with crispy onions. It's the perfect bite.


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.


Grand Lux Cafe Asian Nachos

grand lux cafe asian nachos on white plate
Art G./Yelp

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.


Outback Steakhouse Bloom Petals

outback steakhouse bloom petals on white plate with chipotle dipping sauce
Outback Steakhouse/Twitter

You know about the Bloomin' Onion at Outback. Everyone knows about the Bloomin' Onion at Outback. But just a few rows over on the menu is its better brethren: the Bloomin' Petals. You don't have to do the work of pulling apart the onion, and each onion piece is completely breaded and crisped, ready for dipping.


Olive Garden Toasted Beef and Pork Ravioli

olive garden toasted beef and pork ravioli in serving tray with plate of three ravioli and tomato sauce
Courtesy of Olive Garden

A dish made popular in St. Louis, toasted ravioli is just like it sounds: 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 langostino pizza
Courtesy of Red Lobster

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.


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.


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.


Cracker Barrel Apple 'n Cinnamon Oatmeal

cracker barrel apple n cinnamon oatmeal
Courtesy of Cracker Barrel

Pancakes are the star of the Cracker Barrel breakfast menu. But this slow-cooked oatmeal is just as delectable. (And you can still order it with one of those signature mini syrup bottles, too.)

RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you'll actually look forward to eating.


Texas Roadhouse Fresh-Baked Bread

Texas Roadhouse Rolls with cinnamon butter
Texas Roadhouse/Facebook

Why spend money on a steak when you can fill up on the free bread? Okay, 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?


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.

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.

Dalene Rovenstine
Dalene Rovenstine is a freelance food and lifestyle writer specializing in restaurants and food product coverage. Read more