Chain Restaurant Shepherd's Pies, Ranked Worst To Best, According To Customers

When you're warming your winter-weary bones or swigging Guinness on St. Patrick's Day, shepherd's pie is without a doubt the default dish in the scenario. It's cozy and rich, with a delectable combination of ingredients that soothes the harsh chill away. Classic recipes call for simmering minced meat and vegetables in a savory sauce before crowning the casserole with fluffy mashed potatoes, often elevated with melted cheese for a toasted element. The origins of this humble concoction are in Scotland (not England or Ireland, contrary to popular belief), and whereas initial offerings were created from food scraps, restaurant chains today have transformed it into an elevated menu special. 

Ground lamb is traditionally used in the U.K. for shepherd's pie, but when dining out in the United States, most eateries recreate the pub staple with a ground beef filling, thereby making it cottage pie. Distinctions aside, comfort food fans love digging into the starchy delicacy. If you can track down a franchise that offers it regularly, you'll want advice on whether it's worth ordering — thankfully, we're here to assist. Basing our findings on customer reviews, we've gathered shepherd's pies from 10 dining establishments using a process that we'll elaborate on in more detail, with consideration toward budget, ingredients, and the pros and cons each eatery brings to the table.

10. Black-eyed Pea

Haven't heard of Black-eyed Pea? We wouldn't blame you. The franchise once gobbled real estate all over the South, but financial woes eventually trimmed its footprint down to under a dozen restaurants. Now, you'll have to go to Colorado or Arlington, Texas, to sample the homestyle cooking that banks on feel-good staples like pot roasts, ribs, and chicken fried steak. On Mondays, shepherd's pie greets the menu as a special — a very affordable one at that ($11.99, as of January 2024). We've rated it at the bottom because according to customers, it tastes (and looks) nothing like the cozy baked casserole. Instead, it resembles meatloaf, a delicious comfort food for sure, but not interchangeable by any means. 

This culinary violation really baffled one diner, who was aghast at the treasonous meat patty hidden below a mound of spuds. "If I had wanted meatloaf and mashed potatoes I would have ordered that," they said. Think this was the result of a single botched dish? A different diner warned against the menu item altogether for the same reason. "Don't ever order the shepherd's pie unless you have never eaten one anywhere else, and have no idea what one is supposed to be like," they wrote, concluding: "The only good thing I can say about the dish is that it was hot. Otherwise, forget about it." Even the sloppy appearance, frankly, is enough to turn our stomachs. Let's defer our hard-earned dollars to some better options below. 

9. Marie Callender's

We may see her kind face in advertisements, but Marie Callender's isn't just a TV dinner logo. Granted you're in California or Las Vegas, there are brick-and-mortar eateries slinging the sort of comforting eats (and famous pies) you've likely stumbled upon in the frozen aisle of the grocery store. Dining in, the shepherd's pie provides a decent deal, albeit the combo-style dish served with a salad and dessert features a few subtle differences. Ground meat is swapped out for stewed beef chunks, while the casserole's base, a mushroom burgundy gravy, amps up the savoriness on top of a mashed potato coating melted with not one, but three different cheeses. 

We're not going to mince words, here: Customer satisfaction is low on this one. Unsurprisingly, the primary sentiment among reviewers is the dish's generic feel, which brings to mind a pre-packaged frozen entree, automatically lowering its spot in the running for best shepherd's pie. Plenty of criticisms attack the presentation; for example, the chopped bits of zucchini and bell pepper violate the traditional recipe according to one reviewer, while the thicker hunks of beef are a texture turn-off. Allow this diner to set the record straight: "I mean, if I was a dog I probably would've enjoyed the texture but if you're a picky eater like me, play it safe: go for the chicken pot pie instead." 

8. Maggie McFly's

Unless you reside in the Northernmost region of the U.S., then consider this an introduction to Maggie McFly's. The franchise is concentrated in its home base of Connecticut (along with Florida, New York, and Virginia) and channels a lived-in tavern vibe that patrons frequent for brews and bites. You'll find the usual suspects such as pizza and burgers, but like any neighborhood pub, there's a generous array of dishes that don't fall into any one culinary category. In other words, the perfect place for comfort foods to shine — like shepherd's pie. 

Other than the dish's year-round availability (a plus), Maggie McFly's remains too weak to climb the ranks. The runny texture looks as though the restaurant neglected to boil off the rest of the liquid, and was just one out of many unpleasantries discovered in our research. "Be warned that their shepherd's pie is more like a soup, not what I was used to with the layers of meat, potato, veggie," cautioned a reviewer whose disappointment echoed across other fault lines. Add to that the dull taste and excess moisture from the gravy and it doesn't look good. Sure, it's served hot at least, and the portion is decently heaped with some yummy-sounding spuds. But do we feel like dropping $20 for it? Disposable income is sacred, so you might want to hesitate on that order. 

7. Beef 'O' Brady's

Retreating to cozy haunts in search of a draft and hearty meal is what a cold night is for, and what better place to scope out than an Irish pub? Beef 'O' Brady's isn't quite the rugged tavern as depicted in our imaginations, but the Florida-based chain, established in the mid-1980s, channels the high-spirited feel with grub that's casual and on-theme. Our hopes were high for this franchise in particular, given that some (not all) of its dining rooms sling a classic shepherd's pie. In fact, the dish continues to be prepared in the same fashion that founder Jim Mellody made it decades ago. 

Of course, the chain's website doesn't divulge all but the recipe's main characteristics, which include a ground beef base, the array of mixed vegetables commonly employed in American versions (peas, carrots, and corn), and creamy mashed potatoes layered with browned, oozing cheese. The savory filling and gooey yet toasted topping are signifiers of the cottage-style casserole and to diners, and to diners who've sampled it first-hand, the taste is quite decent. But our checklist requires a stomach-stuffing — or at least mildly generous — portion to score higher in the ranking. If you have a bigger appetite, you might want to maximize your dining-out budget somewhere else, as one restaurant-goer's comments, "the shepherd's pie was SO little, it could be an appetizer!!" Still, this can be forgiven on our end knowing the coziness is in high gear. 

6. Rí Rá

Labeled as "Cottage Pie" on the menu, Rí Rá slings the beef-based staple with some stylish rusticity. For one thing, the meal arrives in a stainless steel soup crock, which is crowned with whipped, cheddar mashed potatoes. But the main course doesn't come alone — the chain tops it off by tossing in a slice of Irish soda bread and butter. This is a plentiful amount of grub for just $19, and maybe the one option we've encountered so far that actually features a complimentary side grab.

But while the above perks necessitate some credit on behalf of the Irish pub's offering, visitor feedback demonstrates a mediocre quality, thus reducing its standing to the middle of the pack. Negative reviews allege the entree used to be much denser. Now, the filling barely takes up the width of the bowl it's served in. Multiple restaurant-goers have also voiced grievances with the inadequate ratio of meat to potato crust. Foodies know the pleasures of diving a fork into mountains of spuds, but in this case, it's only working to shield consumers from the semi-full helping of simmered stew. "This would have been good if there was a little more meat involved," one guest remarked.

5. Bennigan's

Finding a Bennigan's near you may be somewhat tricky. That's because while a handful remain open across the U.S., these days, the Irish-inspired company's focus is purely global; Pakistan, Guatemala, and El Salvador are on the books to join the contingent of overseas locations, which currently override its domestic presence by a long shot. If you're in the vicinity, wait until the chillier months to visit, because that's when the eatery trots out its housemade cottage pie.

From one diner's perspective, the entree, as tasty as it was, could be improved by "a thicker consistency" to truly delight the taste buds. Otherwise, this hearty casserole attracts a decent amount of press, as many people agree on its satisfying features. Combining sausage and ground beef in the base makes the filling very substantial, and the addition of tomatoes deepens the savory aspects effectively. The mashed potatoes zipped up with garlic and parmesan cheese are especially noteworthy. "My husband had the cottage pie that he described as tasty," attested one reviewer about their overall positive experience. "Great comfort food on a cold winter day or evening," a second customer added. Judging by the swath of positive write-ups, customers are largely in agreement that Bennigan's offering sticks to the ribs, green-lighting the satisfying ingredients that culminate in a worthwhile meal.

4. The Cheesecake Factory

Often relegated to the whims of a rotating special, shepherd's pie can be a difficult choice to find, at least in the chain restaurant sphere. With that in mind, there's no doubt that The Cheesecake Factory, standing tall with over 200 locations, is virtually uncontested in availability. Scour the enormous menu for the specialty section, because that's where the shepherd's pie is at. The inviting casserole consists of ground beef with assorted vegetables, plated with whipped spuds layered with toasted parmesan, coming together in a rich mushroom gravy. 

Plenty of feedback testifies that the chain dishes out huge plates worthy of the price. "My shepherd's pie was great. Tasty and hearty on a cold day," reported one diner. Yet despite possessing wider accessibility than other chains on the list lack, The Cheesecake Factory's shepherd's pie fails to match the level of its other popular menu items — let alone other eateries in our round-up — due to the preparation, and primarily, the filling. Complaints over the meat included comments about parched and scorched chunks of hamburger that, according to one diner, resembled the kind stuffed between a bun. "I also have a sneaking suspicion that they save the hamburger patties they really screwed up for the dubious honor of being covered with gravy and hidden in mashed potatoes," they speculated. It has lagged behind other popular menu items in the past, so only give this one a go if your expectations aren't high.

3. Yard House

Hosting a wide selection of craft ales with inventive mains and appetizers, American fare gets an adventurous twist at Yard House. Nationwide it's just shy of 100 restaurants, unsurprisingly located in bustling meccas like Las Vegas and Times Square. Rolling out the red (or green?) carpet with Irish delicacies seems to be an annual occurrence for St. Paddy's Day, and the sit-down chain nails a truly gourmet shepherd's pie. For starters, it's not a traditional baked casserole, and it's made with minced lamb, not ground hamburger. In this version, the meat and veggies are actually stuffed inside a flaky pastry, while the creamy potatoes are scooped on top and covered in gravy. 

It wasn't all rainbows for one customer, who found the filling delectable but could have passed on the pie crust. But for many starry-eyed patrons, it's truly a pot of edible gold, meriting its elevated position in the round-up. The classy presentation is impressive, complementing the elevated taste of the ingredients. It's not just pretty to look at; those who've tried it also claim the pocket pie is fairly hefty, making it plentiful enough for multiple people. Even the bystanders who witnessed others at their tables order it had to chime in on its greatness. "My friend had the shepherds pie St Patrick's Day special, and she said it was very good," one reviewer reported back. 

2. TooJay's

As a bakery, deli, and dining room tucked into one, Toojay's showcases a welcoming array of lunch and dinnertime favorites. The "Classic Comforts" side of the menu is where specialties like country fried steak, fish & chips, and a Thanksgiving-style turkey feast promise a heartier meal compared to the lighter nibbles on board (think bagels and sandwiches). Shepherd's pie, a customer favorite, ticks the boxes for a mouthwatering meal that's not only permanent but reliably executed every time. Because of those factors (and priced at a tempting $13.99 at the time of this writing), TooJay's towers above most restaurant chains in the game.

Restaurant-goers credit this tempting casserole for containing a good balance of textures and flavors. For one diner, the savory meat filling and copious amounts of cheesy potatoes stood out the most, particularly the use of Muenster cheese blanketing the dish with a proper melty layer. "The shepherd's pie was absolutely delicious with a flavorful gravy, ground beef and veggies," they wrote, also praising the well-whipped spuds dolloped on top. The entree's freshness deserves a shoutout too, as it eliminates any fears of digging into a cold center with your fork. "My shepherd's pie was hot and flavorful," confirmed another visitor happy with their order. It's easy to see in photos that servings are beyond generous, and the extra soup or salad on the side garners a bonus edge to top the competition. 

1. Salt Factory Pub

This micro-chain, limited to four outposts in Georgia and Alabama, pays tribute to British watering holes down to the decor and abundant drafts. But one look at the menu demonstrates that the cuisine is anything but old-fashioned. Shepherd's pie gets tweaked relatively often, but even Salt Factory Pub pushes the envelope and earns our pick for comfort food bliss. First of all, the casserole contains braised lamb as the base — not something we see at typical restaurant chains. This is followed by plump pearl onions as well as a rosemary demi, which is an herbaceous version of a savory glaze regularly seen in French-style cooking. Finally, the hot entree is blanketed with whipped potatoes, which are further enhanced with cheddar cheese for a tangy flourish. 

While some of these changes could garner bitter words from traditionalists, the chain seems to land upon a hearty recipe that plays to its strengths. One diner awarded it a 4/5 and praised it alongside the other entrees they sampled, gushing about how "each dish was fresh and flavorful." To no surprise, a second reviewer was bowled over by the sublime ingredients that completely defied their previously-held expectations, saying, "It was perfectly seasoned and packed with incredible flavors." Repeat visits are also a great sign that this entree is a slam-dunk; as proven by a satisfied guest, "I get it almost every time." 

The micro-chain's offering currently costs $19.95, so it isn't much more expensive than the glaringly inferior pies we examined earlier. In return, however, patrons are treated to an increasingly upscale, luxurious banquet that goes above and beyond expectations. Due to this, Salt Factory Pub races to the finish line and lands first place.

How we picked our shepherd's pies

To rank the following shepherd's pies from worst to best, we closely examined customer reviews provided on internet platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. During our research, we took account of personal opinions and recommendations made by visitors, in addition to factoring in the dish's price and value. Restaurant chains were selected on the basis of prominence and notoriety, with equal consideration paid to smaller, regional franchises when major names weren't applicable.