Upscale Chain Restaurants, Ranked From Worst To Best

If you plan on spending a nice chunk of change dining out, it's reassuring to know exactly what you'll be getting for your pricey meal. For this reason, choosing a restaurant with multiple locations may be to your benefit. The main factor at play is consistency: If you enjoyed your dinner at a chain in Los Angeles, you'll likely have a similar experience at the restaurant's outlet in Des Moines.

That reliability is particularly useful when you're traveling and aren't well-versed in the dining landscape of an unfamiliar city. Whether you're on a business trip and need to find a formal spot to help land that deal, or on a romantic vacation and in search of a restaurant that will impress, having a familiar fallback in the area will put you at ease.

And even in some cases, like high-end chain steakhouses and seafood restaurants, dealing in such large volume allows these popular spots to access the best absolute ingredients, making them better options than local standalone restaurants.

Below you'll find a list of upscale chain restaurants that are always dependable along with a few franchises that are only worth the price of admission in desperate situations.

16. The Melting Pot

There's a reason fondue hasn't been relevant since the Carter administration. For some reason our parents and grandparents once thought it was romantic to impale random chunks of food on a stick and submerge them in a bubbling cauldron of cheese. Crazy, right? Then again, these are the same people who had no problem spending their hard earned money on pet rocks and Tony Orlando albums.

Anyway, it's the 21st century and somehow The Melting Pot is still going strong. The Florida-based fondue chain which bubbled up in 1975 now has nearly 100 franchises across the United States (as well as one location in Edmonton).

Seriously? Aside from Steve Urkel, who really wants this?

Maybe the concept would make sense in a hipster enclave with the kitsch factor jacked up to 11, though ultimately it would be the rage on TikTok for all of three months, shut down, and then end up being converted into Charles Entertainment, an ironic Chuck E. Cheese knockoff.

To be fair, a pot of chocolate fondue isn't a bad dessert option (though sadly, at the Melting Pot, that liquid goodness isn't dripping from a fountain). But cheese? Come on!

Bottom line: If your Tinder date happens to suggest The Melting Pot for your first rendezvous, you definitely swiped in the wrong direction.

15. Chart House

The views are unbeatable at this pricey Landry's chain, but unfortunately the same can't be said about the food. Launched 60 years ago by surfers Joey Cabell and Buzzy Bent (who also served in the U.S. Navy), the Chart House has established a bi-coastal presence offering stunning beachside dining in California locales like Redondo Beach and Cardiff by the Sea, and over to the east, a Manhattan skyline vista from its Weehawken, NJ location.

It's a shame that puny portions and sky high prices seem to be the restaurant's M.O. And when you're selling a high-end pedigree but only earning a paltry three stars from Yelp, you're probably doing something wrong. "Really, really poor service and the food was just ok," complains Neale A. Joan W. wasn't a fan either, noting, "The food was served dry, cold and quite inedible."

If the views prove to be too enticing to pass up, saddle up at the bar during happy hour (though be sure to arrive early because it gets busy), enjoy some discounted cocktails and starters like Seared Ahi Nachos and Firecracker Shrimp, and be thankful you didn't shell out big bucks for a disappointing meal.

14. Maggiano's Little Italy

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Maggiano's Little Italy continues to crank out crowd pleasing takes on Italian-American red sauce favorites. What the chain lacks in unlimited breadsticks, it more than makes up for with plenty of appealing comfort food served in massive portions.

Though first timers may consider the prices high, keep in mind the overflowing plates of chicken picatta and shrimp scampi can easily feed two, especially if you load up on apps like mozzarella marinara and garlic bread which is slathered with a gourmet white truffle ricotta butter.

Pasta is essential and Mom's lasagna offers a taste of home, while the Rigatoni "D" is a Maggiano's signature, loaded with herb-roasted chicken, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, then topped with a marsala cream sauce.

The menu isn't all carbs. Salads (which are available as side portions and entrees) include the familiar chopped, Italian, and Caesar, along with a grilled salmon salad and Maggiano's Salad which includes smoked bacon, blue cheese, red onions, and house dressing.

In major cities, there are certainly more upscale options to enjoy an Italian feast, but for the rest of America you won't do much better than Maggiano's when you're hungry for pasta and Parm, and that's just fine.

13. Benihana

This teppanyaki specialist is the de facto birthday dinner spot for kids and adults alike and it's not just because the person of the hour is gifted with a $30 gift certificate (though it certainly does play a factor).

Started in 1964 by former wrestler and Mister Softee truck driver Rocky Aoki (father of Devon and Steve), Benihana is the type of place you have to try at least once in your life so you can bare witness to the onion volcano, shrimp tail flip to the pocket, knife juggling, and all the theatrical slicing and dicing performed right at your table.

Oh, and the food's pretty good too. Don't even think about ordering sushi. If you truly want to experience Benihana it's hibachi or bust. There are multiple land and sea options (plus some mix and match combos), but we advise ordering the steak with housemade teriyaki sauce. The mains come packaged in either a five or six course meal that includes soup, salad, and the famed made-to-order fried rice.

If you're a discerning gourmand, Benhiana will likely fall short, but if dinner and a show sounds like fun and you don't want to eat with your hands or inhale the aroma of horse droppings, you'll have a blast.

12. P.F. Chang's

If you happen to reside near one of the 217 domestic P.F. Chang's locations, it's very likely the global sensation is gonna be the classiest Chinese spot in town. But despite the chain's claim, don't come expecting an "authentic" experience. This is predominantly fusion food with plenty of Chinese-American favorites and pan-Asian influences (Japanese ramen and sushi, Korean bulgogi, Vietnamese chocolate lava cake) thrown into the mix.

It's best to stick with the dishes you can't find everywhere, because if it's served at your local Chinese restaurant it's almost certainly cheaper there (and possibly better).

Slow-braised Northern-style pork ribs rubbed with five-spice seasoning is among our favorite starters, while Oolong Chilean sea bass is a winner on the entree portion of the menu. P.F. Chang's helped popularize the chicken lettuce wraps and the chain's version, prepared from "a secret family recipe" always hits the mark.

For those with dietary restrictions, P.F. Chang's serves vegan dishes and offers a gluten-free menu which debuted all the way back 2003, long before many people had any idea what gluten-free even meant.

Looking to unwind? Choose one of the creative cocktails like the Asian Pear Mojito and Rising Dragon, which blends Casa Noble tequila with pomegranate, lime, agave, black lava salt, and rosemary aromatics for a touch of herbal essence.

11. Mr. Chow

A-plus-listers from the Beatles to Andy Warhol have dined at Mr. Chow, the ultra-lux chain that opened in London over 50 years ago and now includes outlets in major U.S. cities such as New York, Miami, Las Vegas, and Beverly Hills. 

From the minute you set foot inside the restaurant, you know you're in for a unique experience. According to New York magazine, "The fleet of handsome, Italian-accented waiters and the dramatic sunken dining room — mirrors and black lacquer everywhere, like something out of Pacino's Scarface do nothing to suggest Chinese food is on the menu."

But this is indeed a Chinese restaurant with dishes that are both traditional and prepared with an East meets West fusion. The food can be hit or miss, sometimes disastrously so, which is all the more shocking considering the hefty price tag. But the food isn't the point of the Mr. Chow experience which is why fans keep coming back.

"Just as there are superhero movies and hit songs that continue to rally a wide audience despite the wincing disapproval of critics," notes The New York Times, "the allure of Mr. Chow does not seem to dim no matter how many times customers are told that they're crazy to pay that much for stir-fry."

If you're a newbie and want to play it safe, order the Gamblers duck and some cocktails, then sit back, relax, and enjoy the people watching. And, perhaps most importantly, remember to look your best. 

10. Bonefish Grill

Our absolute favorite national seafood chain, Bonefish Grill earns high marks for stellar seafood and incredible value. Over the last two decades, the Florida-based favorite (which currently has nearly 200 locations coast-to-coast) has cultivated a massive following and deservedly so. There is something for every aquatic taste, from lightly seasoned grilled ahi tuna and rainbow trout, to specialty options like crab-crusted cod and gnocchi thermidor, a fresh take on the lobster stalwart (save some bread to sop up every last drop of the decadent lobster-sherry cream sauce).

It wouldn't be a trip to Bonefish Grill without an order of Bang Bang Shrimp. The crispy, creamy crustaceans are available solo or tucked into tacos. If you're bringing the whole brood, be sure to order from the Family Bundles menu for extra large portions of the chain's most popular items.

The bartenders serve up superior cocktails, especially when it comes to the wide selection of martinis. If you want to turn heads towards your table, the dual-glassed smoked old-fashioned is a clever twist on a classic.

As far as the ambiance, Bonefish Grill is a bit of 'tweener. It bills itself as "polished casual" which is why it falls in the middle of this list, but if you're not in the mood to get all gussied up and spend a bundle for a festive night out, a meal here won't bring a bone of contention.

9. Sugarfish

Sugarfish may be polarizing. but its success is undeniable. The trendy Los Angeles sushi chain (which also has a trio of locations in New York) keeps things simple with a limited selection of nigiri sushi and rolls prepared with sustainable and accurately labeled seafood. The main draw are the set "trust me" menus, the "me" being famed sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa known for his "my way or the highway" attitude (requesting overstuffed rolls or substitutions and modifications is a major no-no.)

For some, Nozawa's schtick doesn't impress. In a scathing zero-star review for The New York Times, critic Pete Wells found plenty to criticize, including the limited menu options, over-vinegared rice, the lack of wasabi, and perhaps most notably, the quality of the fish. "The menu and website make much of Mr. Nozawa's connections among elite fishmongers," he writes, "but the selection at Sugarfish rarely rises above entry level."

But over on the West Coast there continues to be plenty of love for the chain. According to The Infatuation, "What's usually a kiss of death to most restaurants, Sugarfish's eye-popping expansion has continued to work because of Chef Nozawa's unwavering integrity given to every piece of fish served." Fans like Seth Rogen are willing to drop $267 on a single Sugarfish Postmates delivery (you can only imagine what inspired the dude behind Pineapple Express to order that much sushi). We fall in the pro-Sugarfish, camp and are hopeful that the chain makes its way beyond LA and NYC.

8. Javier's

If you want to get your budget taco, burrito, fajita, or quesadilla fix there are plenty of casual Mexican chains that will satisfy your cravings. But if you're in the mood for an upscale Mexican dining experience your options are, much like the heat in Taco Bell hot sauce, woefully lacking.

Enter Javier's. The popular cantina made its debut in Laguna Beach over a quarter of century ago, impressing locals with its romantic setting, impressive pan-Mexican menu, and stiff margaritas. The chain has slowly established more links over the years and there are currently six locations — four in Southern California, a spot at the Aria in Las Vegas, and an outlet in Los Cabos — but we need a whole lot more.

The OC Register describes Javier's Irvine location as a, "tropical, luxury, plant-filled open-air cabana," a far cry from the funky environs of Moe's Southwest Grill. As for the food, Las Vegas Weekly notes that a meal at Javier's is "a feast you won't soon forget," with the highest praise reserved for the ceviches (there are five different selections), the chili negro braised short rib, and the Cabo Azul, a seafood spectacular that brings together a Maine lobster enchilada, a poblano chile stuffed with shrimp and dungeness crab, and an Ensenada style shrimp taco.

Be sure to peruse the incredible selection of tequilas which, to be clear, are not of the salt, shot, lime variety.

7. Hillstone

Hillstone is like that guy and gal in every high school (let's call them Dan and Dana) that everyone seems to love — the jocks, the nerds, even the goths. According to Bon Appétit, "It's never going to win a James Beard Award. Or try to wow you with its foam experiments or ingredients you've never heard of. But it is the best-run, most-loved, relentlessly respected restaurant in America."

The combination of a universally appealing menu and sparkling hospitality is the winning formula that keeps regulars like Danny Meyer, David Chang, Shaquille O'Neal and plenty of other non-famous fans coming back again and again.

It's a no-brainer for a semi-formal business lunch or a chill date night venue. You can keep things simple with a fresh-ground chuck cheddar cheeseburger or pan-seared ahi tuna salad. Amp it up by choosing the pan-crisped Faroe Island salmon, which is hand-filleted daily, or an herbaceous rotisserie chicken with a sweet and sour apricot glaze. And if you really want to go big, a dover sole (the pricey authentic stuff) and USDA Prime center-cut filet are available too.

While the menus may be consistent, no two locations are alike. According to Hillstone, "our spaces match the unique and sophisticated settings that surround them." And if you're a fan of Houston's take note: It's part of the Hillstone family and several locations have been rebranded as Hillstone restaurants.

6. Fogo de Chão

Step aside Arby's, because Fogo de Chão truly has the meats. This Brazilian import is the ultimate carnivore's dream. You can go a la carte, but the reason you're here is for all-you-can-eat traditional churrasco.

As you enter the dining room, you'll immediately notice waiters carrying imposing sword-sized skewers impaling multiple cuts of grilled beef, chicken, lamb, and pork. If you're a first timer, it's best to try a bit of everything (the waiter will slice off as much or as little meat as you want.) Steak lovers will definitely want to leave room on their plate for the picanha. The prized Brazilian cut is taken from the prime part of the top sirloin and is loaded with beefy flavor. Fogo de Chão even offers a pork picanha, which is an absolute porcine powerhouse.

While it may seem overwhelming, the process is easy breezy. Each table is given a card which you flip to green when you're hungry and red when you're on a break. According to The Washington Post, "The chain has the meat-and-service thing down pat."

There's also a salad bar, and you'll reluctantly want to incorporate some greens into your meal to counterbalance all that gluttony. Also be sure to try the pão de queijo, warm and fluffy orbs of cheesy bread, and a side of sweet caramelized bananas which can double as dessert.

5. Roy's

Long before poke mania swept across the nation, James Beard award winning chef Roy Yamaguchi was sharing the flavors of Hawaii (and Japan) across the mainland. Along with the original Roy's, which opened in Honolulu in 1988, there are five additional locations in Hawaii and 16 across the lower 48.

Once you scan the starters, you'll realize that Chef Yamaguchi loves to have fun with his creations like the lobster potstickers served with a spicy togarashi miso butter, and the Maui Wowie salad which combines shrimp, lettuce, feta, butter leaf lettuce, avocado, and a caper lime vinaigrette. Move over to the Signature Sushi portion of the menu, and you'll find an assortment of inventive rolls. The luxury Lakanilau Roll certainly stands out, bringing together wagyu beef and snow crab with avocado, tempura asparagus, and sesame miso truffled greens.

Surf and turf is also a top attraction for the mains with Roy's Classic Combo which highlights two of the chef's signatures: Misoyaki Butterfish and a sublimely tender braised short rib which the South Florida Reporter deems "incredible."

If you want to go easy on the wallet, keep an eye out for the chain's rotating specials which include a $34 Sunday lobster meal and the Mahalo Monday three-course pre-fixe which is an absolute bargain at $39 (some locations charge an additional ten bucks but it's still well worth it). There's also a happy hour (Aloha Hour around these parts) with a menu of discounted appetizers and tropical drinks.

4. The Palm

If you're looking for that quintessential steakhouse experience, The Palm will hit the mark, especially at the flagship in New York's midtown, which is still going strong after 95 years. But whatever location you end up dining at, you know you'll be getting outstanding food and service in a formal but not too stuffy environment with those amusing caricature portraits, a long time Palm tradition, on the walls.

It's that total package which earned The Palm the top spot on our list of favorite national steakhouse chains. The steak, of course, is the main thing, and here you'll be served top quality Prime corn-fed beef that's been aged at least 35 days. The center-cut filet mignon is as tender and juicy as it gets, but New York strip and ribeye fans will be satisfied too. If you're with a group or happen to be extra famished, the massive 48-ounce double porterhouse (which combines the tenderloin and NY strip) is the order. The seafood is stellar and oversized too — how does a six pound lobster sound?

Order plenty of sides — creamed spinach and the half and half (onions rings and potato chips with a guest appearance from shisito peppers) should be at the top of the list — and dessert, especially the chocolate layer cake with a chocolate ganache that will satisfy your cocoa cravings. For booze, stick with a classic cocktail or a bottle off the extensive wine list.

3. Truluck's

You know a seafood restaurant takes itself seriously when it employs its very own crabbers. Not only is Truluck's hauling its own stash of Florida fresh stone crab (112,000 pounds during the October to May season), the upscale chain also vows, "We serve seafood captured and prepared sustainably, humanely, and responsibly. We follow all Ocean Conservancy guidelines, and never serve overfished species."

That commitment to quality is reflected across the menu, be it crustacean, mollusk, or those of the gilled-persuasion. The prime steaks don't disappoint either, and there are even some plant-based options, but of course, seafood reigns supreme.

When in season, the stone crab deserves top billing for the succulent, sweet meat nestled in those imposing claws. Sticking with the hard shells, we can't say enough about the lobster whether it's in a bisque, served by the tail, or folded into fluffy mashed potatoes. Other hits include "colossal" New England pan-seared scallops and, for dessert, a towering carrot cake that's prepared in-house daily.

This type of extravagance doesn't come cheap. According to Crain's Chicago Business, "It's expense-account-worthy, special-occasion dining." But Truluck's is worth every clam. And if location isn't in your area, not to worry. The chain is in the process of expanding.

2. The Capital Grille

While The Capital Grille may be a steakhouse at heart, its success goes beyond the beef. Certainly the steaks are standouts whether it's the simple yet spectacular dry-aged New York strip or more exciting fare like the porcini-rubbed bone-in ribeye with 15-year aged balsamic. But the chain, which now has 62 locations covering 25 states, plus Washington DC and Mexico City, is such a hit because it does plenty of other things right too.

Over on the seafood side, there is a lot to love, starting with the appetizers. Chilled options such as oysters on the half shell and shrimp cocktail taste as if they were just plucked from the water, while the crispy crab and lobster cake doesn't skimp on that precious meat. For entrees, we're big fans of the sushi grade grilled sesame tuna "prepared to your liking" (do yourself a favor and order it medium rare) and the pan-seared sea bass with miso butter which also takes its inspiration from Asia.

End your meal on a high note with The Capital Grille cheesecake, which sports a sweet, crackling brûlée topping.

Beyond the food, the dining room hits that "not too fancy but still feels like a special occasion," sweet spot, and as for the service, Saint Louis magazine lauds it as "meticulous."

1. Nobu

When chef Nobu Matsuhisa, restauranter Drew Nieporent, and (needs no introduction) Robert DeNiro joined forces nearly 30 years ago, little did they know it would be the start of a culinary empire.

Back in 1994, Nobu opened the doors to its New York flagship and it was an instant blockbuster. Chef Matsuhisa had already made a name for himself, literally, with his Beverly Hills sushi sensation which bore his surname. DeNiro, who was among the star-studded clientele who frequented Matsuhisa, encouraged the chef to head east and the rest is history.

Nobu, which offers modern Japanese cuisine with a detour into Peru, is now a global sensation with 47 restaurant locations (not to mention the 12 Nobu-branded hotels) spread across four continents. While you can't deny the scene is a major draw to the restaurant, its longevity wouldn't be possible without an ever-reliable menu that sticks with the hits but also continues to evolve.

According to The New York Times, "Some of the best dishes are the simplest — pristine pieces of fish dressed in brilliant citrus juices, seasoned with a concentration of dehydrated miso or a minuscule dab of chile paste or a single, tender leaf of cilantro."

But, of course, you'll also want to order the signature black cod with miso and creamy rock shrimp tempura, which Chef Matsuhisa put on the map.

If you're looking for a place to be seen but also eat extremely well, Nobu is one the few restaurants to check both boxes.