The truth about Olive Garden's unlimited soup and salad

While Olive Garden may not offer the best-tasting Italian food this side of la bella Napoli, they do have a pretty decent breadstick. In fact, the breadsticks, which have been a fixture at Olive Garden since the first restaurant opened in 1982, are pretty much the chain's signature item. While the breadsticks are as inauthentic as anything else on the Olive Garden menu, these "glorified hot dog buns smothered in garlic and parmesan cheese" still have legions of fans. As Cleveland chef (and not-so-secret OG breadstick fan) Kenneth Scott told Thrillist, "Who doesn't love garlic and butter on bread?"

As far as salad goes, well, it's kind of hard to screw up a salad. The soups are okay, decent-enough comfort food. But put them all together, charge a not-too-high price, and then make it an all-you-can-eat deal? Now you've got a winner.

The deal according to Olive Garden

Olive Garden offers unlimited breadsticks, salad, and soup on both lunch and dinner menus, but at different price points. At lunch the meal costs about $7.99, while for dinner it's about $9.99 (depending on location). During that in-between time of 3 to 5 p.m. (the early dinner hours, as Olive Garden calls them), the combo runs about $8.99. Pretty much a steal at any time if you're carb-loading or just have a super-size appetite. If you're more of a normal portion eater, well, the deal, like the food, is... okay. You could do better, you could do worse.

One Trip Advisor user offers a caveat based on their experience at a location in Oklahoma — they felt as if the server were trying to limit the number of breadsticks and of bowls of soup they were served. While it is not company policy to cut off customers at any point, the fact is that you may have to ask for that third bowl of soup or extra basket of breadsticks, and if you feel any embarrassment at so doing... well, in that case, yes, you might be better off stuffing your face at Golden Corral or a similar buffet-style restaurant.

Olive Garden's soup and salad offerings

While the soup may not be the star of Olive Garden's show — that honor will always belong to those delicious breadsticks — still, you might as well have a bowl or two, seeing as how it comes free with the unlimited deal. The four soups currently on offer are Chicken & Gnocchi, Minestrone, Zuppa Toscana, and Pasta e Fagioli — this last-named, pronounced "pasta fazool," was famously name-checked in Dean Martin's hit "That's Amore", in case you're wondering why it sounds familiar.

According to Chowhound, the Pasta e Fagioli, which is a beef-based pasta and bean soup, was a bit bland, the Minestrone was "simple yet satisfying", and the creamy Chicken a& Gnocchi (potato dumplings) "felt like a warm hug on a cold winter's day". The Zuppa Toscana, however — a sausage, kale, and potato concoction — was the clear winner for its chunky texture as well as its slightly spicy flavor.

As for the salad — Chowhound mentions that this is mostly iceberg and onions, sparsely topped with tomatoes, pepperoncini, and black olives. Good croutons, though. Olive Garden clearly excels in all things bread-related. In fact, as long as they keep those breadsticks coming, Olive Garden will always find a welcome in every suburban strip mall.