This Is Why Olive Garden's Alfredo Is So Delicious

When you think of authentic Italian food, what comes to mind? Brodetto di Pesce? Ribollita Soup? Or how about Bucatini alla Puttanesca? If you're scanning our list for fettuccine Alfredo, that delish creamy white cheese sauce for which Olive Garden has garnered a legit claim to fame, you might be disappointed. When Italian immigrants came to this country in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, fettuccine Alfredo, as Americans know it today, wasn't even thought of. No matter. All food diaspora includes changes to the ingredients based on availability and local taste preferences, and while the whole American continent isn't exactly local, Americans definitely have taste preferences that require Americanized Italian food to have cheese, lots and lots of cheese, preferably in gooey, creamy form with lots of garlic.

That's where Olive Garden's Alfredo comes in. While it does honor the traditional Italian cooking tendency to include plenty of garlic, the chain's Alfredo is more pleasing to the American palate, which begs the question. What is it, exactly, that makes Olive Garden's Alfredo taste so dang good that we can't get enough of it? We're glad you asked. Here's the scoop.

Fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna are Olive Garden's two most popular dishes

In a land where macaroni and cheese is the unspoken king of childhood comfort food, it should come as little surprise that fettuccine Alfredo — the grown-up version of mac and cheese — should rank as king of the mountain on Olive Garden's most popular food list. Filled with ingredients like fresh garlic, cream, cheese, and then some more cheese – Parmesan, to be exact – it really is the answer to those cravings we get for the mac and cheese of our youth. But it's lonely at the top. Fortunately for Olive Garden's fettuccine Alfredo, it's in good company. If the bubbling dish of white cheesy goodness ranks as king, then it's fair to say that lasagna is the mountain's queen. The two dishes share the top spot as the Italian food chain's top two favorite menu items, according to an ABC News report

It's likely that if you asked people why those two rank on top, a spirited debate would ensue. Certainly, they're delicious, and together, they create a nearly unbeatable study in contrasts. The cheesy Alfredo, set against the acidic bite of the lasagna's tomatoes, prevents our taste buds from getting bored. Or maybe it's just that science has discovered that cheese contains a substance called casein, which sets off the same opioid response in our brains that certain drugs do. Turns out that we really can't stop eating Olive Garden's version of adult mac and cheese.

On-site pasta makers used to make fresh pasta each day

That Olive Garden's pasta tastes fresh isn't a doubt, and it tastes fresh because it is freshly made. The company's Alfredo sauce already possesses a to-die-for taste, so, naturally, we wouldn't want to ruin it with some subpar noodles from the backlot of a big box store. And Olive Garden's wide fettuccine noodles ensure that the creamy cheese sauce sticks to the noodles until they make it to our mouths. When a dish is pretty much platter-lickin' good, no one wants drops of cheese left on the plate.

But there's more to the story. Once upon a time in decades past, that fresh pasta used to be made onsite at the local Olive Garden stores, usually in the front of the store in the host area, where guests could watch their noodles being made while they endured the sometimes hour-long wait for a table on a Saturday night. That's right. Olive Garden restaurants used to hire someone to make that pasta fresh right in front of the guests. Alas, the front-of-house pasta makers are a thing of the past. Too bad, it was great dinner rush entertainment while it lasted.

Other sauces similar to Alfredo at the Olive Garden

Olive Garden's white Alfredo sauce can be pretty much summed up as the gateway sauce to other sauces, and the Italian restaurant chain has a number of other delicious white sauces worth boasting about. Despite looking similar in appearance — in some ways — to the Alfredo sauce, their tastes couldn't be more different. Despite having a number of dishes, like lasagna and spaghetti with meatballs, the Olive Garden offers plenty of options to the vegetarians of the world, and one of those options is its creamy mushroom sauce. From a taste and texture perspective, it's a bit like cream of mushroom soup, only thicker and with bigger chunks of meaty fresh mushrooms to give the dish a bit of tangy taste kick. Eating this dish at the Olive Garden also means that you have the option of having it smothered in a layer of freshly grated cheese. So yum.

The other sauce that's worth mentioning is the carbonara sauce, which makes an appearance on dishes like the chicken and shrimp carbonara. If you're one of those people who chuckled and clicked the "Like" button on Facebook every time some ode to bacon went around the social media site, then the carbonara is the sauce for you. It's flavored with chunks of bacon, swimming happily in a creamy cheese sauce. And yes, it's also better with a big pile of that grated cheese on top, just in case you were wondering.

Many diners love to order a dish of Alfredo to dip their breadsticks in

If mac and cheese ranks as comfort food No. 1, then it's fair to say that grilled cheese sammies rank as No. 2. There's just something about the combination of cheese and wheat in these various forms that make everything right as rain, even on the stormiest of days. Usually, as adults, we can't go into a restaurant and find a good grilled cheese sandwich on the menu unless we look at the kiddie menu. And usually, as adults, we're not allowed to order from this menu. The reason for this travesty boils down to economics. The foods on the kiddie menu are loss leaders for a restaurant – aka, the bait that brings adult wallets in the door — to order the expensive stuff like that $60 steak dinner and $10 glass of wine. 

Anyway, so what's an adult bread and cheese lover to do? Simple, just head to the Olive Garden. Once there, you only need to order a nice big vat of Alfredo cheese sauce,  wait until the basket of bread comes, and start dipping those fresh breadsticks into all of that cheesy goodness. Few would argue that the breadsticks at the Olive Garden don't rank right up there as some of the best items on the menu. And while this isn't the grilled cheese sammy that your grandma used to make, it's an awfully tasty substitute.

It tastes even better with grated Romano cheese on top

Here's a pop quiz for you: What's the difference between Parmesan and Romano cheeses? The former comes from our bovine friends, while the latter comes from Little Bo Peep's charges. And it's the differences between cow's milk and sheep's milk that contributes to the unique flavor signatures of each of those cheeses. One — Parmesan — produces a cheese that tastes sweet and produces a nutty aftertaste. From the other — Romano — arises a flavor signature that's sharply robust and a bit salty.

At this juncture, you're probably wondering what a lesson in hard cheeses has to do with Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce. Here's the skinny on that. The restaurant makes its famous Alfredo from Parmesan cheese. Servers, when they carry your food out to your table, bring along a cheese grater stuffed to the brim with Romano cheese, just waiting to top your food. When it comes to making Olive Garden's already delicious cheese sauce even more delish, there's just one way to do it. Ask the server to add a little — or a lot — of that grated Romano cheese to the top of your dish. The combination of the sweet and salty cheeses together in the same dish is a palate-pleasing combo, one that will convince you that cheese is a miracle conjured up by culinary fairies to make life's challenges, and your lunch, just a little more palatable.

Lots of Olive Garden pizza-themed appetizers feature Alfredo

Pizza ranks second, just behind hamburgers, as the most popular fast food in the US. Given that the Olive Garden specializes in Italian food, it's not really feasible to start featuring hamburgers on its menu. Pizza, however, it can do. Logically speaking, the chain could just go with a 10-inch cheese pizza on its appetizer menu, but that would be kind of boring. And given that Alfredo is the king of the sauces at the Italian food giant, it probably comes as no surprise that it would feature a number of pizza appetizers with Alfredo sauce as a central ingredient.

For those who love Olive Garden's take on the pasta dish chicken Alfredo, and who love pizza, Olive Garden has offered a couple of appetizer options that represent the ultimate foodie mash-up made in heaven. The first qualifies as the most traditional of all of the Alfredo and pizza combos: chicken Alfredo pizza. Judging from the number of copycat recipes to be found online, it looks like people missed the chicken-Alfredo-and-pizza-hybrid recipe once Olive Garden discontinued the item. Other Alfredo-pizza-inspired appetizers include the chicken Alfredo pizza fritta and the chicken Alfredo pizza bowl. While some foodie purists may not like the idea of mixing their chicken Alfredo with their pizza, it's highly likely the foodie curious have tried at least one or more of these mash-ups during one of their regular trips to the Olive Garden.

Olive Garden's Alfredo stars in a lot of dishes

A comparison can be made between the current trend of Hollywood churning out endless superhero films, and the ubiquity of Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce. This isn't as far-fetched as it seems. Superhero films are a surefire bet for production companies. They feature characters that people already love, and there are dozens of them, most of which are sequels or are at least in the same fictional universe. One need only look at the 23 films in Marvel's "Infinity Saga" to see it's a handy formula. Find a product people love. Alter it only slightly. Rinse and repeat.

Now, consider the number of Olive Garden dishes and specialty promotions that feature the Alfredo sauce. Chicken Alfredo. Never-ending pasta bowls. Tour of Italy. Ad infinitum. The Alfredo sauce's versatility makes it the chain's superhero. Lasagna is complicated, with its layers of flat noodles, red sauce, cheeses, meats, and the works. On the other hand, it's easier to separate the Alfredo sauce from fettuccine noodles and feature the sauce — a surefire sales item — in other dishes. Like Marvel, the main dish, fettuccine Alfredo, has its sequels. Think shrimp Alfredo and crab Alfredo. Also, like Marvel, there are dishes in the Alfredo universe that don't feature noodles, like the chicken Alfredo pizza and the Alfredo dipping sauce for the bread. Alfredo equals surefire sales, no matter where it shows up in the saga. It's a parallel lesson worth re-eating. 

Fettuccine Alfredo was part of the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl campaign

Limited-time offers turn something tasty at restaurants — we're looking at you, fettuccine Alfredo — into feeding frenzies among ardent fans. In Olive Garden's case, the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl (NEPB) campaign has proven this point year after year. This perennial campaign started more than a quarter century ago, and with the exception of the hard-core pandemic years of the early 2020s, the unlimited pasta bowl feeding frenzy has been a staple of Olive Garden's core marketing strategy.

Naturally, fettuccine Alfredo lands on this menu. Okay, technically, fettuccine noodles and Alfredo sauce appear on the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl campaign, though if you want them to snuggle together in your bowl, some assembly is required. That's because the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl campaign offers a list of pastas, a list of sauces, and a list of proteins on the NEPB menu that you can mix and match to your pleasure. If you want to end up with an unlimited supply of fettuccine Alfredo — while supplies last, of course — you just need to order those two items together. And just to sweeten the proverbial bowl, you get unlimited salad or soup and breadsticks, too. Hard-core fans of the campaign get the Never-Ending Pasta Pass, allowing them to eat as much unlimited pasta for the duration of the weeks-long promotion for $100. The Lifetime Never-Ending Pasta Pass allowed a lucky few to eat unlimited pasta for a lifetime, for the bargain price of $500.

The Alfredo sauce pairs well with a number of wines

It's only a slight exaggeration to say that wine, and not blood, flows through the cultural veins of most Italians in Europe. What can you expect from a country whose pantheon of gods once included the wine god, Bacchus? Rolling hills covered with lush wine grape plants epitomize the Italian experience and cuisines. As such, to have a truly Italian experience when you're eating your favorite Alfredo dish at the Olive Garden, it's practically a must to order a glass of wine to go with dinner.

Fortunately, fettuccine Alfredo (and other similar dishes on the Olive Garden's menu) pairs nicely with a number of wines. For those who like to stick with the "wine rules" — that is, pairing white wines with white sauces – it's hard to beat a good white wine like Pinot Grigio. If you're eating your Alfredo with a protein like chicken, chardonnay offers an excellent option.

However, Olive Garden's website offers a number of pairing suggestions for the types of wines that would taste good with dishes like the Alfredo options, and a number of them feature red wines like Chianti classico. It's worth mentioning that adding wine to a meal should enhance the meal, so you should choose a wine that you like, even if it doesn't fit the rules. And when in doubt, you can always ask your server — Olive Garden servers are trained in wine service.

You can take some fettuccine Alfredo home for $6 under certain conditions

Here's the lowdown on how to nab some fettuccine Alfredo way cheap, like $6 an order cheap. Olive Garden implemented a take-home offer that includes three of its classic offerings; spaghetti and meatballs, five cheese ziti al forno, and of course, its fettuccine Alfredo. So how do you get the $6 fettuccine dish? Each dish is essentially a side special, meaning that you have to order one regular entree first. After that, you can tack on the additional classic offering, like the fettuccine Alfredo, for an additional $6.

Here's a price comparison: The Alfredo on the kids' menu is about the same price as this take-home option, which costs less than the lunch-sized fettuccine Alfredo at $8.99, and much less than the $14.99 dinner portion. It's an economical way to enjoy your favorite Alfredo dish as a midnight snack after you've finished your Olive Garden order to go.

The sauce is still delicious after being reheated at home

With specials like the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl and generous portions of fettuccine Alfredo on the dinner menu, it's not unusual to have a bit of your favorite Alfredo-covered pasta to take home with you. And while nothing beats eating Olive Garden's fettuccine Alfredo in the restaurant, having a bit of cheesy pasta goodness at home isn't a bad compromise.

Fortunately, the Italian restaurant chain's sauce still tastes great when you heat it up at home. If you truly can't wait to indulge in more of that creamy goodness, popping it in the microwave for a few minutes is the way to go. The trick to ensuring that it's not overcooked is to heat it for 20 to 30 seconds, with a good stir between revolutions. You also have the option of adding a bit of cream or half-and-half, along with the leftover pasta, to a saucepan and heating it up that way. For this to work, it's best to stir constantly so that the pasta and the sauce don't scorch or stick to the pan.

Finally, if you also nabbed some extra breadsticks to go with your pasta, heating everything up in the oven is a great way to fill your home with those garlicky Italian scents, and cook your leftovers at the same time. Heat the pasta in an oven-friendly dish for fifteen minutes, and warm up the breadsticks on a baking sheet at the same time.