Let's not lie to ourselves: Pasta and pizza are arguably some of the best foods around. And luckily for foodies, there's no need to travel to Italy to indulge in some delicious Italian cuisine these days. Enter: Romano's Macaroni Grill, the American casual dining chain with a slew of tasty Italian-American favorites.
Because the options are endless while dining at the popular restaurant, we checked in with Amy Tao, MS, of Based Wellness, to educate us on the best and worst menu item options there. From antipasti and pizza to pasta, meat, chicken, and seafood, you'll want this handy list to help you make smart decisions while enjoying a hearty meal at one of the 88 Mediterranean-inspired locations.
Here are the best and worst items you can order from the Romano's Macaroni Grill menu.
Best: Goat Cheese Peppadew Peppers
These flavorful goat cheese and breadcrumb-stuffed peppadew peppers are pickled with ingredients like sugar and vinegar, which is likely why the sugar content is so high. However, this option is low in fat.
"Despite having 40 grams of sugar, this option has less than half the fat of the next best choice, which is the Crispy Brussel Sprouts," Tao says, noting that the popular green veggie is also a smart choice. "Even though the Crispy Brussel Sprouts have more fat, they are not a bad option because they contain almost three times the amount of fiber and half the sugar as the Goat Cheese Peppadew Peppers."
Worst: Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Shrimp
While this savory and creamy blend of spinach, artichokes, parmesan, mozzarella, white wine, spices, and shrimp with garlic-brushed rosemary bread sounds scrumptious, it's not a great decision health-wise, according to Tao.
"The dish packs a crazy 29 grams of saturated fat per serving, which is about the same amount of saturated fat that you'd find in three Big Macs," Tao says. "In addition to containing tons of fat, this selection also contains a whole day's worth of sodium." Yikes!
Soups and Salads
Best: Tomato Basil Soup
To save the amount of fat and sodium you consume in your meal, Tao suggests starting your meal with a cup of this soup and then splitting an entrée with a friend or eating half of your entrée and bringing the rest home.
Worst: Chicken Florentine
When you think "salad," you probably think "healthy." But this mix of roasted chicken, chopped spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh pasta, Roma tomatoes, capers, olives, and pine nuts with a Mediterranean vinaigrette is quite the opposite.
"This salad is packed with calories, fat, and sodium, and has the second most amount of sugar of the 22 choices," Tao says. "Even the pepperoni pizza has fewer calories and less fat."
Best: Italian Pesto Caprese
This fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil pesto, arugula, and Mediterranean vinaigrette on ciabatta bread sandwich contains a good amount of fat, but it likely comes from healthier sources such as olive oil, nuts, and cheese, according to Tao.
In addition to getting this sandwich as part of the mix and match option, which comes with half a sandwich and soup, Tao recommends improvising with a full-size sandwich portion.
"Save even more calories by taking the top half of the bun off of the sandwich, and up the healthy factor by asking for extra veggies on the sandwich," she says.
Worst: Chicken Parmesan
Even though a Chicken Parm sandwich is a warm, saucy, and cheesy favorite, this is one of the worst options on the Romano's Macaroni Grill menu.
"This sandwich contains almost double the fat, including seven more grams of saturated fat, than the Italian Pesto Caprese," Tao says. "Much of the fat in this option is likely due to the fried chicken, so look for chicken options that are not breaded and fried."
This tasty green vegetable is by far the best choice for a side dish. "While it contains fewer calories and fat [than the other sides], it is also full of beneficial vitamins and minerals," Tao says.
Worst: Parmesan Truffle Fries
While crispy and full of flavor, "this 'side' contains as many calories as a standard meal might, in addition to a lot of sodium," Tao says.
But we know truffle flavor is hard to pass up, so just "see if the restaurant can add some truffle oil to some broccolini or asparagus instead," Tao says.
Best: Pomodoro Tortellacci
Tortellacci stuffed with a four-cheese blend, imported Pomodorina sauce, and charred tomato may sound like it's not the best choice, but it's quite a healthy option, Tao says.
"This is a vegetarian-friendly dish that is definitely the best pasta choice with a very reasonable 460 calories total and 280 calories from fat," she says.
Worst: Mama's Trio
As much as we'd love to indulge in Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna Bolognese, and Fettuccine Alfredo, Mama's trio is far from the best option.
"This meal choice has a crazy 2,110 calories, 129 grams of fat, 57 grams of saturated fat, and almost 4,000 milligrams of sodium," Tao says. "To put this into perspective, an entire stick of butter has 88 grams of fat, 56 grams of saturated fat, and 720 milligrams of sodium. This dish has the same amount of sodium as an entire pack and a half of bacon."
Best: Pollo Caprese
This light and tasty grilled chicken breast with imported buffalo mozzarella, Pomodorina sauce, and capellini has landed itself as the healthiest chicken option, as it contains the least amount of calories, fat, and cholesterol.
"This option contains almost one-third of the calories and fat compared to the worst pick from the category, which is Chicken Parmesan," Tao says.
Worst: Chicken Parmesan
Similar to the pollo Caprese, except with breaded and fried chicken, "one Chicken Parmesan meal is packed with a bulk of the day's worth of calories and more fat than you need to consume in a day," Tao says.
Best: Grilled Mahi Mahi with Pesto Gnocchi
While this grilled mahi-mahi filet with bruschetta tomatoes, pesto gnocchi, and basil is similar calorie-wise to the Lobster Ravioli and the Grilled Salmon, "the Grilled Mahi Mahi with Pesto Gnocchi contains less than half the fat calories compared to the Lobster Ravioli, and more than 100 fewer fat calories when compared to the Grilled Salmon," Tao says.
The Grilled Salmon is a great option, too. "The Grilled Salmon also contains less saturated fat and 850 fewer milligrams of sodium," Tao says.
Worst: Shrimp Portofino
This combo of sautéed jumbo shrimp, capellini, spinach, mushrooms, garlic, pine nuts, and lemon butter sounds rich and inviting. However, "this dish contains 1,200 calories in one serving, almost 700 calories in fat, and the max amount of trans fat (two grams) that you should consume in a day in just one dish," Tao says.
Best: Steak and Potatoes With Oreganata Sauce
While this 10-ounce sirloin, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and sautéed broccolini with Oreganata sauce is far from the best choice on the menu, "the Grilled Steak and Potatoes with Oreganata Sauce contains the least amount of calories and fat compared to the other options under the Carne section," Tao says. "But it also has the most amount of sodium compared to the other choices."
Worst: Porterhouse Steak
Porterhouse steak with rosemary lemon butter and crispy Brussels sprout halves with a balsamic glaze sounds yummy, but it's far from good for you. Honestly, it sounds like you're better off skipping the Carne section entirely.
"The Porterhouse Steak contains a whopping 1,480 calories, and more than two times the amount of trans fat one should consume in a day," Tao says. "In addition, this dish contains 115 grams of fat, which is just a little bit less than the amount of fat that's in five orders of large McDonald's fries."
Topped with plenty of fresh ingredients, this pizza has fewer calories than the cheese pizza.
"This option contains more sodium than the cheese pizza, but also contains no trans fat, whereas the cheese pizza has half a gram," Tao says.
That said, Tao adds that both the cheese and Margherita pizzas are a toss-up, nutrition-wise. "It would be great to share one of these pizzas with one or two other people, and then add a cup of Italian Herb or Tuscan Bean Soup and a side of broccolini or asparagus," Tao says.
The downside of this butcher-chopped bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni, sautéed spinach, fresh mozzarella, and Parmesan-packed pizza is that it's packed with sodium.
"It contains 3,030 milligrams of sodium, which is equivalent to one-and-a-third teaspoons of salt," Tao says.
Best: Premium Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
"You don't have to say no to dessert when a serving of vanilla bean ice cream contains just 310 calories," Tao says of the creamy and delicious treat. "Check with the restaurant to see if they have any fresh fruit that you can add to the ice cream, or even see if anyone at your table wants to split the ice cream with you."
Worst: Decadent Chocolate Cake
This intensely rich chocolate cake is layered with chocolate ganache, chocolate buttercream, fresh whipped cream, and toffee crumbles, which you can imagine is the perfect recipe to bump it to the worst dessert menu option.
"A slice of this cake contains more calories than a meal should," Tao says. "On top of the extreme amount of calories, this cake also contains 88 grams of fat." But what sets it over the top is the shocking 48 grams of sugar, "which is equivalent to 12 teaspoons of sugar and is the same amount of sugar you'd be eating if you ate two full-size Hershey bars," Tao says.
Next time you go to Romano's Macaroni Grill, keep this list in mind when you place your order.