Outback Steakhouse Vs LongHorn Steakhouse: Which Is Better?

With countless steak restaurants in America, our job here at Mashed includes testing the food to let you, dear reader, know what you're getting for your money. Two of the most ubiquitous chains are LongHorn Steakhouse, with its Texas-sized Old West vibe, and Outback Steakhouse, with an Australian theme that sets it apart from most others. Given the popularity of these two joints, why not see how they fare in a head-to-head showdown?

For this epic steak faceoff, I sat down for dinner at both places. It was actually surprisingly easy to find a comparable four-course meal, with my ultimate choice being onion rings as an appetizer, a 6-ounce sirloin for the entrée, a side of mac and cheese, and a piece of cheesecake for dessert. Though I didn't have the opportunity (or appetite) to try more from the menus, these choices gave me a pretty good idea of overall quality. So let's dig in, and see whether Outback or LongHorn is the better American steakhouse. 

Who offers more for the money?

Nobody goes to a steakhouse looking for a cheap meal, but price is still important, sometimes even a deciding factor when choosing between two similar establishments. The question is, which one offers better prices: Outback Steakhouse of LongHorn Steakhouse?

At a glance, the two menus seem fairly comparable, but a deeper dive reveals some differences. Prices may vary by location, but where I live, LongHorn's appetizer menu, for example, offers nothing costing more than $12.99, with lowest priced item being Spicy Chicken Bites at $6.99. Outback, meanwhile, has appetizers starting at $7.99 (Steakhouse Mac & Cheese Bites), with other items ranging from $10.99 (Bloomin' Onion) to $17.99 (Seared Pepper Ahi). 

The menus continue from there in similar fashion, with LongHorn's steaks going from $14.99 (6-ounce Renegade Sirloin) to $33.99 (The LongHorn Porterhouse). Over at Outback, prices for steaks are a bit steeper, with the 6-ounce Outback Center-Cut Sirloin coming in at $16.79 and the Melbourne Porterhouse at $34.99. While that might not sound like much of a difference, almost every dish is a dollar or two more at Outback, and that adds up, especially if you're ordering for a group. In fact, higher prices may in fact be why Outback Steakhouse has been struggling lately. 

Comparing the atmosphere

Deciding on a night out at a steakhouse hinges on how good the food is, sure, but there's a lot more that matters, including the atmosphere. Some chains might offer a more light-hearted, family-friendly vibe while others may provide a more classy, refined experience for an upscale feel. How do Outback and LongHorn compare? They're similar, but they are not the same.

For starters, the Outback Steakhouse I visited just outside of Philadelphia has an open layout with lots of space between tables and few obstructions. Pretty much every diner can see around the entire restaurant. It never feels cramped, and as a bonus there's a good view of the TV behind the bar from almost any seat, if that's important to you (multiple local games were being shown). From poking around online this seems to be common for the chain.

LongHorn, by contrast, has dimmer lighting, a more closed-in feel, with segmented walls breaking up the tables and booths. This can have a strange psychological effect where customers tend to speak in hushed tones, making it a better choice for a date night or private dinner with a close friend or even a group of coworkers looking to talk business. Outback has a more lively feel, which I appreciate, but there's certainly nothing wrong with either location, depending on what you're looking for. I'll give this one to Outback, with its more open design and brighter lighting, which made my night out a bit more pleasant.

Free bread - is there any difference?

We're certainly going to weigh our criteria accordingly — after all, the quality of the entrée is going to be the biggest deciding factor for most — but there's still the small matter of the pre-meal offerings. Even before appetizers, both restaurants provide a selection of free bread and butter. While I might not normally put much stock into who gives away better bread, there's at least one reason to consider this a minor factor: Outback's bread is uniquely amazing.

Possibly my favorite free bread — even over Olive Garden's bread sticks — the loaf of pumpernickel is soft, luscious, and tasty all on its own, without the butter. LongHorn offers honey wheat bread made from a house recipe that is quite good. It even beat out Texas Roadhouse's bread in a head-to-head matchup in my recent comparison of bone-in-ribeye steaks. Unfortunately for LongHorn, this time its bread isn't going up against some mediocre rolls from the Lone Star state, but facing off against a personal favorite from the land down under.

Ultimately, as good as LongHorn's bread is, I have to give this category to Outback. Its fluffy pumpernickel is unlike any bread offered at a national chain and is a perfect way to start off a meal. The only problem is that it's so good that you might end up filling up on too much bread and not have room for the rest of the food you've ordered. 

Appetizers offer quite the taste test

When it comes to appetizers at a steakhouse, there are few options more ubiquitous than onion rings (with mozzarella sticks a close second). And nobody makes a more famous fried onion appetizer than Outback Steakhouse. The Bloomin' Onion was invented by restaurant co-founder Tim Gannon in 1988, and it's been wowing customers ever since. Not just because it's delicious, but because of its unique form: a massive onion splayed open using a specially designed machine, making it appear as a colossal, deep fried flower.

A staple of the restaurant, the Bloomin' Onion is a must-try if you're planning on eating at Outback. It's crispy, greasy, and fun to eat — perfect for a night out with friends. As beloved as this appetizer is, can LongHorn's Texas Tonion even hope to compete? Let's take a look.

Seen as a direct response to the popularity of the Outback's offering, the restaurant's Texas Tonion doesn't try to be the Bloomin' Onion. Instead the restaurant batters individual onion petals and serves them in a long ceramic dish. The sauce is nearly identical to Outback's, but the fried onions themselves are entirely different. They're crispier, crunchier, and far less greasy. For some this might be a drawback, but for me, this elevated the appetizer. As good as the Bloomin' Onion is, I was pleasantly surprised by LongHorn's Texas Tonion, which edge out its competitor just enough to get the win in the appetizer category.

Steak showdown - which sirloin is best?

First the free bread, then the appetizer — now we get to the meat of our review: the entrée. For our taste test I tried to order identical meals. Thankfully, the menus were similar enough between the two establishments that I was able to get a 6-ounce sirloin at both. At Outback, my meal consisted of a medium-cooked steak that came with a side of broccoli and potatoes — in this case, I chose classic mashed potatoes.

Outback's steak earns strong marks in every category used to evaluate a good steak: doneness, appearance, overall impression, taste, and texture. "Doneness" refers to how properly and evenly the steak is cooked to order (in this case medium), and Outback's sirloin delivered as promised. It had a nice pink center throughout, with a well-browned outside that never felt burned. It looked good when served and even better when cut into.

LongHorn's Renegade Sirloin also delivered — evenly cooked, juicy, tender, and full of flavor. The difference here is marginal, but I preferred Outback's. One thing that took LongHorn's entrée down a peg was the lack of broccoli. It did offer a free salad, but it was fairly generic (though still good). Outback's roasted broccoli really helped the meal stand out. And because the salad came to me before the meal itself, the presentation of the steak — with just a scoop of mashed potatoes — seemed lacking.

Whose side are you on?

In addition to an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert (more on that later), I picked out a comparable side from both Outback and LongHorn steakhouses: the Steakhouse Mac & Cheese. They're nearly identical sides, at least in name and description. There are differences, of course, and there is indeed a clear winner. 

First up was Outback Steakhouse's mac and cheese, which was a robust bowl filled to the brim, so much so that some of the pasta was practically spilling over the side. If you want a healthy portion, this is it. My only issue was that this mac and cheese was a little dry — not nearly as much melted cheese as I would have liked from a nice sit-down restaurant like Outback. By comparison, the Steakhouse Mac & Cheese from LongHorn was a smaller portion but had all the creamy, melty, stretchy cheese I sought and a crispy skin too. There was also a healthy smattering of bacon bits throughout, adding a layer of texture and flavor contrast that Outback's version lacked.

All in all, if you're looking for the better mac and cheese (which also did well in our ranking of all of LongHorn's sides), go to LongHorn. You won't be disappointed.

Sweet after-dinner treats - which takes the cake?

When it comes to dessert, Outback and LongHorn steakhouses have plenty of options. And it's not just the usual slice of chocolate cake either, as both establishments have a solid variety of desserts. For this review, I chose the cheesecake. But don't be fooled. Each offers drastically different versions of the New York style staple, which is very different from an ordinary cheesecake.

At Outback, the dessert that greeted me was a plain, triangular slice topped with jam that dripped off the sides. On the flip side, LongHorn handed me a ball of cheesecake topped with loads of pecans, whipped cream, and a veritable avalanche of caramel. Going by appearance alone, both will get your mouth watering. It's worth mentioning the presentation at LongHorn is unmatched. Though it's priced at a fairly reasonable $10.49 (on par with other, similar desserts, including at Outback), there's no denying it looks like it came out of a much pricier restaurant. But is it better?

To be honest, there's something about the sheer simplicity of Outback's cheesecake. Plus, LongHorn's take has a lot less pie crust because of its strange form. The pecans, whipped cream, and caramel were delicious — and definitely set it apart from what you might find elsewhere — but it was also a lot of flavors and textures that I don't necessarily want in a cheesecake. 

Is there any difference in service?

No, we're not going to compare how good the wait staff was — that variable can differ wildly from one location to another — but we did note how Outback and LongHorn take orders, deliver food, and close out the meal. These days, it can be a lot more than just getting a customer's order, delivering it to the table, and bringing the check. 

At Outback Steakhouse I was pleasantly surprised to see the wait staff arriving at tables with a tablet. Though I didn't get a look at the screen itself, it was nice to see a restaurant embracing technology to streamline the ordering process. Instead of scribbling down a patron's wants on paper where handwriting might cause confusion in the kitchen — or even a mistake made by misunderstanding an order — wait staff can select exactly what a diner wants, make adjustments with a tap, and ensure everything gets to the kitchen quickly and without error.

LongHorn's wait staff didn't have a tablet, but they did have a mobile pay device at every table. It wasn't a complicated process to pay for the meal. Simply scanning a QR code brought us to a screen that showed everything we ordered. This allowed me (and others) to avoid having to wait for a server to visit the table multiple times to deliver a receipt, collect a credit card, and return for a signature. All in all, this category is a wash. 

Booze battle - a comparison for the over-21 crowd

If you're headed to a steakhouse, it's likely that at least one member of your party is over 21 years of age. After all, a good steak is pricey and not the kind of meal you'd have often with friends as a teenager. If you're over 21 and headed to LongHorn or Outback, the drinks menu will be an important factor in deciding where to dine.

Unlike many other chains, Outback Steakhouse actually has a lot of its own, unique drinks in addition to the ordinary beer and wine selections. This includes the Bloomin' Blonde Ale, which the chain's website says was crafted to pair perfectly with steak. But that's not all. It also offers the Suaza Gold Coast 'Rita — the propriety house margarita — as well as the Croc-Tail, a limited-time offering that mixes vodka with kiwi, mango, citrus juices and includes a toy alligator to take home. 

While Outback's drink menu has a decidedly exotic flavor to it, LongHorn features a more traditional menu. On it you'll find bottled beers, wines, and mixed drinks like the LongHorn Old Fashioned, a Moscow Mule, Jack & Coke, and Texas Tea. For my tastes, Outback Steakhouse offered a selection that made more sense for the kind of dinner I'm typically seeking: a fun, lively night out with a partner or friends.

Who has the better overall menu?

Comparing the food I ate is one thing, but what about the rest of the menu? If you're unfamiliar with these chains, you might be surprised that the menus differ quite a bit. For example, Outback's menu of steak alone is a bit broader, offering nine options, including prime rib, New York strip, seared prime, and porterhouse, among others. LongHorn has seven options, leaving out both prime cuts and the Filet Sheila, while the only steak it has that Outback doesn't is the T-Bone. 

Outside of steaks, the two restaurants have similar menus, with shrimp, pasta, and chicken all to be had. The main difference is a big one, though, as Outback has an entire mini menu of burgers and sandwiches, while LongHorn's sandwiches and burgers are only available at lunch time. Appetizers set the two apart as well, with Outback featuring Seared Pepper Ahi and Sydney Shrooms, while LongHorn's menu showcases starters like Texas Brisket Queso, Firecracker Chicken Wraps, and White Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms. 

On the dessert side, both offer cheesecake, but Outback's Salted Caramel Cookie Skillet and the Tim Tam Brownie Cake seal the deal with the better offerings. Oh, and did we mention that Outback has a mobile exclusive Kookaburra Wings Entrée? If you want a broader menu, like me, you should consider picking Outback.

Which chain is more convenient?

At the end of the day, no matter which steakhouse has better food, customers may be at the mercy of geography. Because there's still the matter of which location is easier to find and more convenient to get to. Not all restaurant rivalries are equal, after all, with KFC, for example, beating Chick-Fil-A in the chicken wars but needing 22,000 more locations to do it.

LongHorn Steakhouse has nearly 600 locations, a number that has risen slightly over the last couple of years. The restaurants are clustered in the eastern half of the United States, with not as many restaurants as you might expect in Texas, and a scant few in western states. Interestingly, Outback has about 75 more locations overall, but it's where they are that matters. Outback has a number of locations in Southern California and definitely more in western states overall. The biggest gap in the Outback map is in the upper Midwest, where restaurants are few and far between. 

In the grand scheme of things, this might not be as big of a deciding factor as it could be. Because in most places, where one of these steakhouses exists, the other probably does too. However, we'll give a slight edge to Outback.

And the winner is ...

We've gone over everything from price and atmosphere to menus — and even a direct taste test of select items. So now we finally get to answer the big question: Which is better — Outback Steakhouse or LongHorn Steakhouse? Well, if you've been following along, you may have been able to figure out the answer because it's not close. It's Outback Steakhouse.

With a more varied menu, its popular Bloomin' Onion, and a better cheesecake, Outback is our clear choice. That doesn't even factor in the Outback steak itself, which edged out LongHorn's version to take the crown. The Outback restaurant chain has quite a few more locations, the atmosphere is more relaxed, and the drinks menu is a bit more fun. And let's not leave out the unforgettable complimentary bread. Though tastes will certainly vary, for my money it's not a difficult call — I'll take Outback Steakhouse every time. So unless you really want to save a few bucks (which would certainly be understandable, especially these days), you're better off in the land down under.