Chain Restaurant Pasta Carbonara Ranked Worst To Best, According To Customers

Though massively indulgent, Pasta Carbonara consists of an incredibly basic recipe. Thin pasta (usually spaghetti) and cured pork tangle together in a cream sauce rendered from raw eggs and shredded Italian cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano. The texture is creamy and rich, with a hint of smokiness that unfurls on the tongue. No surprise then, that the Italian-American entrée is a staple among trattorias and an addition to both countries' national cookbooks. U.S. eaters would have encountered the decadent noodles sometime in the early 1950s, and to date, many restaurant chains have taken to offering the dish, though with a little creative liberty at times. 

Where would a good option exist that's delicious and worth parting with your hard-earned cash? It's common for eateries (even the Italian ones) to crank out a standard fettuccine Alfredo and ascribe the carbonara label anyway, so attempts to seek out "authentic" plates are guaranteed to take a tumble. That's why, in ranking these pasta carbonaras with the help of consumer feedback, we factored in execution and freshness, and kept purity standards to the sidelines, so to speak. Hear what customers have to say on the following dishes, ranked worst to best.

12. Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday is a joint where nibbling on chicken wings or potato skins is equally welcome to grabbing a ribeye — after all, the restaurant chain started as a dive-y college hangout back in the early 1970s. In 2020, Chicken Carbonara hit the menu alongside three other "old-world recipes," but we're not entirely sure that alluring mystique is earned here. Wide, floppy fettuccini is used instead of spaghetti, and there's bacon, peas, and Baby Bella mushrooms accompanying grilled chicken, all plunged in Parmesan sauce. But lacking authenticity isn't why it flops so hard. By the droves of poor responses, the entrée is a shell of its former self.

Case in point? A diner on Yelp described receiving penne pasta and definitely not enough of the chopped poultry that typically arrives plentifully. "I was looking forward to my favorite Tuesday's entrée, Chicken Carbonara," the reviewer wrote. "What came was not recognizable." The dissatisfaction was mutual, with another Yelp diner complaining over the congealed noodles and parched sauce possessing zero moisture. "Luckily for me I had some heavy cream and parm so I doctored it up so it was edible." Give or take, $16.49 isn't the priciest sum we'll see, but if you have to tweak the dish you paid for to choke it down, we might as well stay in. "Microwaved," you say? We'll pass. 

11. Brio Italian Grille

Campanelle is a sophisticated, flowery-looking noodle that translates to "little bells" in Italian. How sad that Brio Italian Grille couldn't showcase this pretty pasta in the dish that it deserved. We had high hopes for the Sausage Carbonara Campanelle, given that it blends pancetta and sausage on top of fennel, peas bubbling away in a Parmesan sauce. However, the decadent presentation fails to mask that the disappointing dish has little to do with pasta carbonara — or to that end, a good dinner. 

For one, the clumpy sauce leaves behind an unpleasant texture which one taste-tester speculated occurred from lingering under a heat lamp, while another commented on the one-dimensional flavor. But the biggest flaw, according to more feedback on Tripadvisor we found, is the unauthentic presentation that spurred a visitor to remark that "someone needs to check the recipe." Not to mention the dish's ta-da moment — a sunny-side-up egg garnishing the surface — made customers do double-takes, and not out of a curious itch to sample it. "Now, I have had spaghetti carbonara numerous times and never have I had a fried egg on top of it," a particularly dismayed OpenTable reviewer stated, calling the topper "strange" and lamenting the overall dining experience as a bust. 

10. Johnny Carino's

Johnny Carino's longtime beat has been Tuscan-style Italian, so nobody will be phased by seeing Shrimp Carbonara on the menu. A choice only offered at select locations, this "Carbonara di Mare" boasts plump shellfish, bacon bits, and spaghetti in a lemony cream sauce that's also tossed with peas and onions, then showered with grated Parmesan. One outpost charges $19.99, so it's definitely higher in price than other restaurant chains serving the staple. But are the dollars justified? Not according to customers who've sampled it first-hand.

With how many restaurants pass off thinly veiled Alfredos as carbonara, Johnny Carino's could have knocked it out of the park with the egg-based sauce alone. It's a shame then, how many issues stem from the restaurant's preparation. A Tripadvisor diner who went out to eat with their mother reported how their respective meals, including the carbonara, were below average.  "Both dishes were very oily and the sauces were separated, which usually happens when a sauce has been reheated," they said, further elaborating on the flavorless feel and the shrimp's "slimy" taste, which is an irredeemable misfire. Other commenters have also encountered greasy, bland noodles. Whatever romantic dinners may lay on the horizon, Johnny's is best left out of your plans. 

9. Domino's

Enlisting Domino's for our carbonara fix was not on our bingo card. One of four pastas delivered back in 2009 is a Chicken Carbonara, which mixes bacon, mushrooms, onions, and chicken in Alfredo-coated penne pasta. Restaurants typically package it in a tin foil pan, but if you can find a location that offers it, your noodles can be dumped into a bread bowl. Frankly, it's the loosest interpretation on the docket, and for that, we wouldn't suggest it if you're seeking out a true (or at least serviceable) representation. 

It's tough digging into a fast food pick. We don't want to make the standard too high, but being cheap shouldn't insulate it from criticism. Maybe that's why some of the YouTube creators who tried it out have both praised and scrutinized this rendition. Peep This Out concluded that the pasta was worth sampling, while also wishing for stronger seasoning to boost the mildness. Timmy's Takeout, on the other hand, was not fond of the sautéed mushrooms and found that the chunks of onions tasted crispy as if raw pizza toppings were tossed into the creamy sauce rather than baking it all together. Domino's carbonara is easy to find, and we'll give it points for affordability. However, there's just little that captures the rich decadence. At a minimum, we'd visit an Italian place before going the delivery route.

8. Piada Italian Street Food

Those who crave carbonara but not extended sit-down service (red sauce spots don't mess around), might want to check out Piada Italian Street Food. In addition to making hand-held wraps and salads to order, the chain lets you craft your preferred pasta down to the types of sauce, noodles, and various mix-ins. Carbonara Pasta is one of the pre-set entrées, and it consists of pancetta, spinach, and jammy bruschetta tomatoes intertwined in a "housemade" Alfredo sauce. Visitors can opt for a small or regular helping, and select the noodles (either spaghetti or penne) and proteins encompassing eight varieties spanning meatballs, hot fried chicken, and calamari. 

While the customizable format is enticing, the charm quickly fades to disappointment among visitors eager to share their mixed experiences online. For one customer who paid almost $20 for their meal, the mediocre ingredients made the value fall flat. Another Yelp diner whose partner ordered the carbonara in question was incredulous about how it was classified. Rather than resembling the silky, savory Roman specialty, they argued, "It was more of a bland Alfredo with a bit of bacon added." Still, a few hold-outs were happy with their Pasta Carbonara, with one customer piling on the recommendations for the fried squid. 

7. The Cheesecake Factory

In prior times, The Cheesecake Factory would be the big cheese in any chain restaurant carbonara showdown. The spaghetti, coated in a garlic-infused Parmesan sauce with bacon and peas, has been declared divine by former employees (as well as the Mashed team) and the creamy simplicity certainly echoes the dish's traditional aspects more accurately. Yet something about this rendition curdled, as evident by a more negative tone running through public opinion. This isn't to say folks have stopped salivating over the "beautifully cooked" noodles; only that it might be consistently less outstanding than other competitors. 

Take complaints over the sauce. Some find it a bit starchy which resulted in the pasta massing together into a sticky glob — not ideal for piping-hot noodles. The cheesy taste isn't absent per se, but a visitor did notice how strongly the butter came through, which competed with the tangy sharpness. Even the grandeur of a Cheesecake Factory-sized portion isn't guaranteed, since several visitors reportedly attest to getting plates that are skimpy and anything but loaded. As a customer mused in regards to its apparent downward spiral, "This has always been my go-to order," they wrote "but it's not as good as I remember it." Thankfully there's plenty of garlic kicking in the sauce. 

6. Corner Bakery Cafe

Joining Shrimp Scampi and Cavatappi Marinara under the pasta section, Chicken Carbonara from Corner Bakery Cafe arrives chock-full of tender linguine, sliced grilled chicken, peas, and bacon, with the choice to order a regular helping or upgrade to the larger bowl (packing 1,280 calories). Overall, the restaurant chain stays true to the cozy mouthfeel of the original dish, while offering multiple serving sizes to account for the indulgence and customers' appetite for it. It also seems sincerely popular with guests. Here's what the food blog Chicago Foodie Sisters had to say about it: "There have been dozens of times that I have craved the chicken carbonara from Corner Bakery and wished there was one nearby." 

On the other side of the coin, several have been disheartened by the generic ingredients that contributed to a lower-grade effort. According to one Yelp customer formerly enamored with the chain, they had to immediately trash their entrée, claiming the poultry "reminded me of thicker sliced deli meat," concluding with a request to the franchise personally: "Please go back to the old way." Plus, your dish might be bitten by clammy noodles like one customer's. It's apparent Corner Bakery has promising pasta on its plate, but oftentimes the "fast-casual" feel foils its success. 

5. Fazoli's

Though the Chicken Carbonara fell in the middle when ranked against Fazoli's other pastas, we find the Italian-ish chain hawks a promising pasta at an attractive bargain. Roasted chicken, bacon, and broccoli florets (coated in Parmesan, we might add) mingle in Parmesan-sauced spaghetti pasta, all of which can be enjoyed for $10.99 location notwithstanding, or bulked up as a combo for extra — which in this context means taking a small salad or pizza slice to your order. There's also the fact that it can be purchased via drive-thru, and this portability pleased guests itching for an easy bite of takeout. 

That being said, it's easy for the negatives to outweigh the positives. Go to social media, and you'll witness aggrieved customers lamenting some of the changes made to the Chicken Carbonara. "Not liking it anymore since they added the Parmesan roasted broccoli," a Facebook user wrote on a company post, emphasizing dramatically how much these green little buggers "mess with perfection." But another customer, for the most part, liked how Fazoli's prepared the Chicken Carbonara, although they were slightly let down that the bowl didn't taste creamier, remarking it would be perfect if it had a little more sauce. 

4. Buca di Beppo

Nonna's got nothing on our next carb-loaded carbonara folks seem to polish off in droves. The Chicken Carbonara from Buca di Beppo laps up mouthfuls of praise for its homespun taste and downright humongous serving sizes. A YouTube video with a chef from the restaurant is shown assembling the dish, where he reveals that the base consists of a heavy Alfredo sauce, one of many condiments the chain crafts on-site across its kitchens. There's chopped prosciutto, sautéed chicken, a scattering of peas, and garlic that all blend into the tumble of fine, stringy spaghetti.

Helpings feed three people at a minimum, so gathering a larger party comes highly recommended. Then again, one happy diner shared that they adore it enough to opt for the larger bowl "so we have leftovers to bring home." Another visitor on Yelp who was left speechless by the "creamy and tender" offering called it "a hidden gem." "I couldn't put down my fork," they confessed. As was the case of some feedback balking at the pasta carbonara's lack of authenticity, one harsh critic on OpenTable wasn't thrilled with the oversized portions. "When the food is not good, there is no temptation in taking home what does not get eaten," they remarked. 

3. Olive Garden

"A bonanza of flavors." This is how one restaurant-goer described Olive Garden's Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara, and they're not in the minority. This version gobbles up approval like anyone with a basket of endless breadsticks. The creamy jumble of shellfish, bacon bits, roasted pepper, and chicken seared to perfection — plus that luscious spaghetti — are worth every calorie. By all means, cooking up a copycat of Olive Garden's chicken and shrimp carbonara is easy to do thanks to the ripple effect that is word-of-mouth, but trust us: book a table first to understand why patrons have raised their glass to the O.G. concoction.

Skimming through favorable thoughts on this entrée usually highlights the luscious sauce and bounty of tender meat, all resulting in a mouthwatering meal. Combining poultry and seafood really kicks the entrée up to grander heights. One Tripadvisor diner expressed nothing but delight with the abundance of meats and the stunningly simmered cream sauce gliding across the noodles. "It is not traditional because it has shrimp and chicken added, whereas in the authentic version, a little bacon is the only meat. But I prefer this," they said. No lunch-appropriate helping is served sadly, but that might be for the best. The unadulterated decadence will really come alive during a special occasion, particularly at night over a flute of Cabernet. 

2. Old Chicago Pizza

Deep-dish pies may be the Windy City's crowning contribution, but it's far from the only Italian-American eats on display at Old Chicago Pizza. One of the pastas is a Chicken Carbonara that, without fail, pleases the public's appetite at large. It's not an accident that, from the heavy approval this meal draws that diners have vowed to pencil in a return trip to savor the dish once more, or to treat their taste buds to other hidden gems. We don't blame them; who'd be able to pass up the fresh ingredients and unbridled flavors?

Yelp customer who normally dines at mom-and-pop restaurants was truly bowled over by this chain carbonara, fawning over the perfectly cooked spaghetti that was "the absolute definition of al dente." The jammy, seared tomatoes enhance the sultry sauce (a sharp garlic-Parmesan hybrid), while black pepper and arugula provide a fresh touch to the hot, creamy pasta — which, by the way, is artfully piled high for enhanced enjoyment. Though the price will vary by location, $15.99 is more than fair granted that it's as consistently excellent as can be. A negative score we did find pointed to a lackluster meal (blamed on mealy, mushy chicken breast), but luckily, those encounters are fortunately not the norm. Nice work, Old Chicago!

1. Maggiano's Little Italy

Wherever you are Chef KB, please collect your James Beard Award. In all seriousness, if you want a chain rendition of pasta carbonara that's exceedingly gourmet, Maggiano's Little Italy has really stepped up to the plate. Customers overwhelmingly go to bat for this chef-created dish, and it's easy to see how. Not only does it burst with rich lobster and chopped bacon, but the meal is composed entirely homemade down to the simmered sauce. A cooking demo with the chain's executive chef Matt Delano confirmed that Chef KB's Lobster Carbonara sizzles with mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, and white truffle oil, with sugar snap peas brightening the warm robustness, and garlic complementing the funky Parmesan cheese. 

Internet consensus can agree: this savory concoction is a stunner. Though not the most traditional semblance, those smitten by the pasta carbonara frequently cite the huge chunks of seafood (it is classified under the seafood section, after all) that, with the luxurious sauce, silences a hungry belly in no time. The quality is upscale, and as a result, regularly garners raves. "Recommend the lobster carbonara but everything we had was delicious," commented one Tripadvisor visitor. "You won't leave hungry!" Toss in a Caesar salad and some garlic bread, and you'll score a feast fit for the ages. 

How we chose our restaurant chain pasta carbonara

To rank the pasta carbonaras from worst to best, we sought out well-known and widely accessible eateries to compare against one another. We then compiled feedback provided by reviewers on popular digital platforms, including but not limited to Tripadvisor, Yelp, and YouTube, and formatted our rankings to reflect the personal opinions, recommendations, and suggestions. Value and price were taken into consideration, but our rankings were primarily based off of the spectrum of public sentiment left by diners.