Carve A Path From All The Things They Sell

My first Sunday Lists post featured my favorite restaurants in Omaha … My favorite local restaurants, that is.  And while I generally prefer to hit up local places, I also enjoy some chain restaurants.  Yeah, that’s right … I actually like going to chain restaurants from time to time.

I know some people absolutely hate chain restaurants.  And while I like to imagine I’m too much of a “foodie” to appreciate them, let’s be real … I can be found in the Taco Bell drive thru on a pretty regular basis.  Hey, sometimes I just need a 780 calorie Volcano Burrito.  (And yes, that’s really how many calories are in one of those.)

This week’s list: My Top Ten Favorite Chain Restaurants (Including Fast Food)

10.) Buffalo Wild Wings

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Image courtesy of http://www.buffalowildwings.com.

Eric and I go to Buffalo Wild Wings pretty regularly.  He loves it because he can watch sports while he chows down on tasty bar food and beer.  I love it because I love boneless wings.  I typically go for the Medium and Spicy Garlic, though sometimes I’ll change it up with Parmesan Garlic, Asian Zing, Thai Curry … There are a lot of good options!  Add a side of potato wedges or french fries with salt and vinegar seasoning, and I’m good.  (And I don’t even mind that Eric’s attention is mostly on whatever games are on.)

9.) Noodles & Company

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Image courtesy of http://www.gogoraleigh.com.

I don’t go to Noodles & Company as often as I would like, but that’s probably because I would gain 1,000 lbs.  Their Wisconsin Mac & Cheese topped with parmesan-crusted chicken and a healthy dose of Sriracha sauce is the shit.  Seriously.  I could eat that every day and be a very happy girl.  Unfortunately, I’d also be a very fat girl … So I have to limit my visits.

8.) Taco Bell/Taco John’s

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Image courtesy of fast-food-nutrition.findthebest.com.

I know Taco Bell is gross.  I know this … Yet I love it for some reason.  I often joke around that they put “Kristen crack” in their food because, to be perfectly honest, I will actually crave it.  It’s so bizarre.  I typically order 3 items when I go there (yeah, I’m a pig), and that usually includes a Black Bean Burrito, Volcano Burrito, and either a Cheesy Potato Burrito, Chicken Burrito, 7-Layer Burrito, or Crispy Potato Soft Taco.  (Obviously I like a lot of things on their menu.)  Their new breakfast items are pretty damn good as well … Especially the A.M. Crunchwrap with sausage.  (I’m not going to lie, Eric and I each had one of those this morning.)

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Image courtesy of http://www.helloky.com.

I allowed a tie between Taco Bell and Taco John’s because, let’s face it, they’re pretty similar.  I do have to say that there’s something about those Potato Olés, though … They are so good.  I mean, I know they’re just glorified flattened tater tots … But whatever.  They’re delicious, especially paired with one of their Crunchy Chicken and Potato Burritos or their Breakfast Scrambler Burrito with sausage.  Their breakfast burritos are some of my favorites (and they’re cheap!).

7.) Pepperjax Grill

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Image courtesy of http://www.tripadvisor.com.

This is another fast food restaurant with food I will actually crave.  The steak rice bowls are so good.  I love that they offer quite a few toppings and sauces, and the portions are huge (which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it).  It’s also kind of fun to watch them grill your meat and vegetables in front of you.  Mmmm … Now I want a steak rice bowl!

6.) The Cheesecake Factory

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Image courtesy of blogdenuria.com.

Some people get really annoyed with the ridiculously huge menu at The Cheesecake Factory, but I actually like it.  I have tons of options every time I go, and I’ve honestly never had a bad meal.  I almost always start off with the Fried Macaroni and Cheese (these are little balls of heaven!), and then try to change it up a bit with my meal (some of my favorites include Shrimp Scampi, the Macaroni and Cheese Burger, and Chicken Di Pana).  After eating all of that, I still need a piece of cheesecake (it is The Cheesecake Factory, after all!).  I almost always have to get my cheesecake to go because, let’s be honest, I can eat a lot but my stomach actually isn’t a bottomless pit.  My absolute favorite cheesecake is the Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, but I’ve tried (and enjoyed!) many others.

5.) Village Inn

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Image courtesy of http://www.yelp.com.

I didn’t have a Village Inn in my hometown.  I’d actually never heard of it until I visited Omaha for the first time.  I remember Eric taking me there and being very pleasantly surprised by this unassuming little diner.  Since that first visit, we’ve eaten at Village Inn numerous times.  Eric almost always goes for the Ultimate Skillet, but I typically choose the Rio Grande Skillet with pork carnitas or the California Skillet without mushrooms.  The best thing on the menu, though, is a seasonal item … The pumpkin pancakes with pecan caramel syrup.  Eric and I wait impatiently all year for these to make an appearance on the menu, then hit up Village Inn as many times as possible during fall and winter.  So good!

4.) Fuddruckers

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Image courtesy of aht.seriouseats.com.

I always tell myself I’ll try something new at Fuddruckers, but I just can’t give up on my favorites: a buffalo burger (medium) and a side of chili cheese fries.  The burger is simple, but so juicy and delicious.  I really like the toppings bar as well … I typically add ketchup, mustard, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and banana peppers.  And, if I decide to go with regular fries, they also offer malt vinegar (my absolute favorite thing to slather all over fries).  The Fuddruckers I frequent also has one of the new awesome Coke machines (I don’t know if they all do, though) with the 5,000 options.  Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke is the best!

3.) Chipotle/Qdoba

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Image courtesy of blogs.knoxnews.com.

Obviously the food at Chipotle is of much better quality than the food at Taco Bell.  Their guacamole is actually really delicious (especially considering it’s a fast food restaurant!), and I absolutely love their steak burritos (with black beans and hot salsa, of course).  I don’t go to Chipotle as often as I go to some other fast food places (mostly because there are a lot of places that are closer to my apartment), but every time I go I always wonder why I don’t make it a point to go there more often.

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Image courtesy of http://www.yelp.com.

I allowed another tie here since Qdoba and Chipotle are very similar.  Eric and I usually choose Qdoba over Chipotle simply because it’s much closer to our apartment (like 2 minutes away).  We also have a rewards card there, so we earn free burritos (at a somewhat embarrassing rate).  Although I have to admit that I think Chipotle’s ingredients are better and fresher, I love the fact that Qdoba offers queso to top their burritos … And that queso is so delicious!  I almost always get a steak queso burrito (with black beans, hot salsa, and guacamole), but I’ve tried pretty much everything on the menu and the shredded beef is also really good.  My one complaint is that they stopped offering the poblano pesto sauce … That used to be one of my favorite things to get there.

2.) Le Peep

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Image courtesy of http://www.yelp.com.

Le Peep is one of my favorite breakfast/brunch places ever.  Eric and I try to go pretty often on the weekends and even though the wait is usually pretty long, it’s well worth it.  They have amazing eggs benedict options (my favorites are the Harvest Benedict without mushrooms and the Salmon Benedict), awesome breakfast burritos (I always get the chorizo), and delicious omelets (like the Bacado and Sir Benedict Omelet without mushrooms).  Another great thing about Le Peep?  Their coffee bar.  I’ve tried a large number of their specialty coffee drinks, including the Cafe Vienna Latte, Turtle Latte, Coconut Almond Delight, Chocolate Covered Cherry, and Salted Caramel Mocha.  They’re all incredible.  And, if I’m not feeling a “fancy” coffee, they also have good regular coffee (as well as vanilla flavored coffee) … Not to mention the fact that they’ll leave an entire carafe at your table.

1.) Panera Bread

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Image courtesy of agbeat.com.

Panera is, in my opinion, the best chain restaurant out there.  They offer a ton of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the food always tastes fresh and flavorful.  It’s a go to for me when I need to bring treats to work and didn’t have time to make something the night before (because who doesn’t love bagels?).  Eric and I also love going there for the soups, salads, sandwiches, and pastas.  Their mac and cheese, broccoli cheddar soup, baked potato soup, New England clam chowder, Fuji apple chicken salad, and roasted turkey artichoke panini are among my favorite menu items.  (Clearly I love a lot of things!)  Their bakery items are always awesome as well … You really can’t go wrong!

What are some of your favorite chain restaurants?  Do you agree with this list, or would you add and/or remove something?

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