On December 18, global travel site TripAdvisor revealed a new ranking of the top American restaurant chains for 2019. The ranking lists the top 30 American chains and is broken down into three categories based on the size of the chains. Fine dining, casual dining, quick service, and fast casual brands were all included in this new list.
“Chain restaurants are integral to the American dining experience as they offer consumers convenient and satisfying meals for all occasions,” Bertrand Jelensperger, senior vice president for TripAdvisor Restaurants said. “For the first time, TripAdvisor is ranking restaurant chains that provide exemplary food, service and value to diners. Every company featured in these rankings should be proud of the recognition they are receiving from TripAdvisor’s community of millions of travelers and locals searching our site for a great place to eat.”
Top U.S. Restaurant Chain rankings are based on the quality, quantity and recency of reviews from TripAdvisor diners from December 1, 2017 through November 30 for each chain’s property locations and/or franchised businesses listed on TripAdvisor. Recognized chains have a minimum average rating of 4 out of 5 bubbles across all properties listed on TripAdvisor and an average of at least 100 reviews per property and/or franchise location listed on TripAdvisor.
Small chains are classified as those with 10-50 U.S. locations listed on TripAdvisor, medium chains have 51-100 U.S. locations listed on TripAdvisor, and large chains have 101 or more U.S. locations listed on TripAdvisor.
For almost two decades, the iconic restaurant chain has been a place for diners to sit back and savor some of the freshest seafood and fine steak across the country. The first location opened in 2000 in Austin, Texas. The company became a part of the Darden Restaurant Group in 2011 when it was sold for $59 million. Today the brand has 22 locations across 11 states. Each location has a unique design with varying artwork and décor.
Seasons 52, a mix between a wine bar and fresh American grill, has been offering customers a casually, yet, sophisticated dining for more than 15 years. The chef-driven, seasonal menu changes frequently, as does its vast wine menu, which is hand selected and made up of more than 100 bottles. If diners don’t want to splurge on a full bottle, 52 wines are available by the glass.
The Darden brand was founded in Orlando, Florida, and has expanded to 44 locations across 21 states.
The menu at Houston’s is focused on American classics, like cheeseburgers and rotisserie chicken. However, the restaurant elevates the dishes by making them from scratch each day. Bread is baked fresh each morning and the beef patties are made from chuck and brisket that is ground in-house. The menus vary at each location and sometimes include a sushi bar with fresh sushi made at the restaurant.
The first Houston’s opened in Nashville, Tennessee in 1977. In 1976, the Hillstone Restaurant Group was formed and owns Houston’s along with 14 other restaurant brands including, Hillstone, Bandera, Cherry Creek Grill, East Hampton Grill, Grill at Bal Harbour, Gulfstream, Honor Bar, Los Altos Grill, Palm Beach Grill, R+D Kitchen, Rutherford Grill, South Beverly Grill, White House Tavern, and Woodmont Grill. Today there are 15 Houston’s in eight different states.
There are some seafood restaurants that are all about the laid-back island lifestyle. Not Cameron Mitchell Restaurants’ Ocean Prime, where glamour and decadence are the name of the game. Though the first restaurant opened as Mitchell’s Ocean Club in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006, the name quickly changed to reflect their premium menu offerings when the group began expanding out of state. Ocean Prime specializes in over-the-top dishes like their “smoking shellfish tower,” lobster mashed potatoes, and juicy steaks, alongside a premium wine and cocktail list. Now the brand has 14 locations coast-to-coast, their expansion won’t be slowing down any time soon: new locations recently opened in Denver, and another location will open in Chicago in spring 2019.
The first J. Alexander’s restaurant opened in 1991 in Nashville, Tennessee. The contemporary American restaurant focuses on wood-fired cuisine featuring American classics like prime rib, steaks, and fresh seafood. Today the company operates 46 restaurants in 16 states.
The 52-unit churrascaria Fogo de Chão first opened in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1979. It grew in popularity in Brazil and finally made it stateside in 1997. The Brazilian steakhouse appealed to American diners seeing that the experience was different and more entertaining than the traditional American steakhouse.
Is “sea-to-table” a thing? Because that’s probably how you should categorize Pappadeaux. This family-owned seafood chain is so invested in freshness that they even own their own fleet of trucks to bring the fish straight from the docks to their restaurants. Since opening their first restaurant in 1986 in Houston, the brand has been steadily expanding across Texas, with additional locations in seven other states; their 40th store opened last spring in Lawrenceville, Georgia. And while the Louisiana-inspired menu may include etouffee and po’ boys, dishes like the Texas Redfish Pontchartrain ensure that there’s still plenty of Lone Star State style to go around.
The first Half Shell Oyster House opened in the summer of 2009 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Known for its charbroiled oysters, the concept also offers a menu of other Southern specialties like gumbo and specials made with freshly caught fish and seafood. In the decade the company has been in business, it has grown to 10 locations in Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama.
After graduating from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management MBA program Todd Hovenden wanted to open a restaurant that served authentic Italian food at affordable prices. On March 8, 1999, the first location in Bloomington, Illinois with construction of the second location in Champaign, Illinois underway on the same day. In the two decades since opening, the privately held company has grown to 19 locations in nine states across the U.S.
For 27 years, Brinker-owned Maggiano’s has been the dining destination for authentic family-style Italian dining. The concept was born in Chicago, but after opening a few locations in Illinois, the brand decided to expand to different markets. Today, Maggiano’s has locations in 24 states across the U.S.
At Darden's The Capital Grille, the atmosphere is just as important as the meal. The elegant design extends across every element of the restaurant from African mahogany paneling on the walls to extravagant Art Deco chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. The philosophy behind its menu—‘Exceptional Ingredients, Artfully Prepared’—allows the chefs to use the freshest ingredients to create interesting dishes like lobster and crab burgers, filet mignon, steak frites, and tuna tartare. The original Capital Grille opened in Providence, Rhode Island in 1990. Over the next 17 years the company successfully opened in new markets until it was acquired by Darden in 2007. Today there are 57 locations operating in 26 states.
The first Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar opened in Newport Beach, California in 1998 by restaurateurs Paul Fleming and Bill Allen. The pair had a “vision was to create a unique steakhouse experience with an emphasis on generous hospitality, an inviting atmosphere and the very finest aged USDA Prime beef,” according to the restaurant’s website. Owned and operated by Bloomin’ Brands, Fleming’s has 70 restaurants in 28 states.
Since 1998, Texas de Brazil has brought the traditions of Brazil’s legendary feasts, known as churrasco, to American diners. The first location opened 1998 in Addison, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Today, the company operates 52 restaurants across the U.S.
Yard House may be known as the restaurant chain with the world’s largest selection of draft beer, but the concept has more to offer than good brews. The extensive menu offers everything from classic pub bites like burgers and nachos to snacks like truffle fries and quesadillas. The menu is comprised of more than 100 items that are made fresh every day from scratch. The company was founded in 1996 and the first restaurant opened in Long Beach, California. Until 2010 most of the new locations opened on the West Coast and Midwest region of the U.S. In 2010, Yard House started expanding down the East Coast. The company was bought by Darden Restaurants in 2012 for $585 million. Today, there are 66 locations open across 24 states.
Following the $100 million sale of 110-unit Bravo Brio Restaurant Group to Spice Private Equity, a Swiss subsidiary of investment firm GP Investments, American restaurateur Bradley D. Blum and the Brazilian-based firm announced the formation of a new restaurant company, FoodFirst Global Restaurants, Inc. The company said it “intended to be a progressive, relevant, diverse, and highly successful restaurant company for the 21st century. The company is focused on refreshing the two brands, especially from the culinary side.
FoodFirst Global Restaurants announced culinary hires dedicated to the “Italian Mediterranean Way of Dining.” Target No. 1 is significantly improving the quality and sustainability of the brand’s ingredients, the simplicity and authenticity of the recipes, the freshness and taste of food, and furthering the company’s trademarked mission for providing “Good Food for the Planet.” “We are on a mission,” said Brad Blum, owner-partner, chairman and CEO of FoodFirst Global Restaurants, Inc., in a statement. “FoodFirst is the name of our new company for a reason. Our entire organization, including importantly our partners at GP Investments, is aligned and passionate about having the best food in all of Italian casual dining. What I truly love is helping people do things they didn’t believe were possible—and doing it as a team to delight our guests.”
Today, there are 58 Brio locations in 20 different states.
The first Portillo’s hot dog stand opened in 1963 in Villa Park, Illinois. Private-equity firm Berkshire Partners bought the Oak Brook, Illinois-based brand for close to $1 billion in 2014.
Per The Chicago Tribune, Portillo’s was growing its unit count at a rate of 10–15 percent each year under former chief executive officer Keith Kinsey’s leadership, opening its first restaurants in Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Central Illinois. It planned to have 57 total units by the end of the year after adding 19.
The Chicago icon recently topped TripAdvisor's first fast casual rankings to date.
The first Morton’s opened in 1978 on State Street in Chicago. Built on a culture of genuine hospitality for both customers and employees, the 40-year-old brand wants to continually exceed customer expectations when they dine at the steakhouse. Since opening in 1978, the brand has undergone different sales and acquisitions. In 2012, Landry’s Inc. complete the acquisition of the chain of Morton’s locations. Today there are 65 locations across 27 states.
In 1975 just outside of Orlando, Florida, the first Melting Pot opened. Back then the menu consisted of just three items: Swiss cheese fondue, beef fondue, and chocolate dessert fondue. Since opening, the restaurant has become the fondue dining destination. Expansion continued and in the late 1980s the company decided to start franchising. Today there are 108 locations across 33 states.
While farm-to-table is a term you usually hear at a fine dining or casual-dining establishment, it’s not normally something you hear associated with a buffet-style concept. Even before the term farm-to-table became popular, Sweet Tomatoes has had a vision to bring the best and freshest ingredients to the restaurant. The first restaurant opened in San Diego, California in 1978. Since opening, the company has grown to 97 locations.
The Southern-inspired restaurant Another Broken Egg Café first opened in Old Mandeville, Louisiana, in 1996. Using fresh ingredients and creative recipes, the breakfast chain has become a popular place for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. The company has continually expanded and grown with franchises throughout the South and operates 66 locations.
The classic steakhouse came to life when founder Ruth Fertel purchased a New Orleans restaurant—Chris Steak House—in 1965. After a fire forced the restaurant to relocate, she found out she couldn’t bring the name to the new location. So instead, she added her first name onto the front of it to create Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Known for its fine dining atmosphere and extensive menu, the restaurant has become a destination for special occasions and celebrations. Today the company operates over 140 locations worldwide.
The Cheesecake Factory is known for three things: Giant portions, giant slices of cheesecake, and a giant menu. The origins of the company begins back in the 1940s in Detroit when Evelyn Overton found a cheesecake recipe in a local newspaper. Overton continued to bake at home, but it wasn’t until her children were out of the house that Overton, along with her husband Oscar, decided to start a business selling cheesecakes and other desserts. Overton’s son David decided to open a restaurant to showcase his mom’s cheesecakes and the first Cheesecake Factory opened in Beverly Hills, California in 1978. Today the company operates more than 200 locations across the U.S.
If wood-grilled seafood is your thing, then Bonefish Grill is where you want to be. From a single St. Petersburg, Florida, restaurant in 2000, the group has grown dramatically to include 199 restaurants in 32 states. The vibe is laid-back and comfortable, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t outstanding—high-quality, seasonal ingredients, combined with details like locally created “Neighborhood Catch” dishes, mean that guests can enjoy gourmet food without the fine-dining trappings. Bloomin' Brands' Bonefish maintains its quality by keeping all but two of its stores under company control, helping it to provide consistency of experience from California to Kentucky, and everywhere in between.
We are thrilled about this recognition and we’ll continue to make the Bonefish Grill experience unique at each of our locations by catering to local tastes,” David Schmidt, president of Bonefish Grill, said in a statement. “We are grateful that our guests are excited about what we offer, including our locally-inspired dishes, and that they share their positive experiences with TripAdvisor.”
In 1993, Kent Taylor had the vision to create a restaurant that was more than a simple family restaurant and not just another steakhouse. Texas Roadhouse was the perfect balance between the two. The first Texas Roadhouse opened in Clarksville, Indiana, in 1993. The affordable menu, occasional line dancing, and casual dining atmosphere allows diners of all ages to enjoy a special night out, a family dinner, or lunch with co-workers. The company has continued to expand and grow in new markets across the U.S. and operates 537 restaurants in 49 states.
Mellow Mushroom first opened its doors in 1974 in Atlanta. Over the past 40 years the business has grown and expanded throughout the South and East Coast. Besides its mellow and creative culture, the experience at Mellow Mushroom is elevated by the fresh, stone-baked pizza crafted from fresh, high quality ingredients and spring water crust that adds unique flavor to the pizza. Today there are over 150 Mellow Mushroom restaurants.
For 70 years, In-N-Out Burger has marched to its own beat and emerged a cult phenomenon. Today, In-N-Out Burger is one of the nation’s top restaurant chains and a roughly 320-unit system with estimated annual sales over $600 million. From businessmen in tailored suits to Snapchat-happy teens, and from laborers in blue jeans and steel-toed boots to Hollywood starlets and culinary luminaries like Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay, In-N-Out continues to attract folks from all walks of life.
“We opened the original First Watch in Pacific Grove, California, with a mission of finding the best eggs, best bacon and the freshest ingredients available,” said Chris Tomasso, First Watch CEO. Since the first restaurant opened 35 years ago, First Watch has expanded throughout the country. Over the past 12 years, the company has grown rapidly from 60 units to more than 250 today.
Jason’s Deli was founded by Joe Tortorice Jr. in Beaumont, Texas in 1976. The deli began expanding in the 1980s and stepped into the future when it began offering online ordering in 1999. The menu is focused on using fresh and natural ingredients to create specialty sandwiches, salads, and soups. To ensure the food offering is the best it can be, Jason’s Deli has eliminated processed MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, dyes, artificial colors, and artificial flavors from the menu. Today there are more than 275 locations operating in 28 states.
Once a small neighborhood bakery on a street corner in Chicago, Corner Bakery Café is now a major brand that can be found nationwide. Even though the company has more than 190 locations, the artisan breads and desserts are still made fresh each day. Paninis, sandwiches, and egg scramblers are made-to-order and the open kitchen allows diners to take a peek at how their food is prepared.
Gaining popularity with celebrity investors like NBA superstar LeBron James, journalist Maria Shriver, Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, and film producer John Davis, Blaze Pizza’s momentum hasn’t slowed down since it opened in 2011. This past summer the fast-casual pizza chain opened its 300th location in the U.S., expanding the brand’s footprint to 40 states. Expansion on the franchise side of the business is also a high priority for the brand as it announced the addition of 30 new franchise partners to its current group of 55 multi-unit franchise developers.
“Now that our current franchise partners are established, we’re excited to add the next wave of new franchisees to our family,” said Carolyne Canady, chief development officer and president of Blaze Pizza’s international division. “We’ve just opened up a hand full of territories and we invite experienced multi-unit operators who are looking to partner with an amazing, fast-growing restaurant brand to get in touch with us.”
Domestically, Blaze Pizza currently has restaurants open in 40 U.S. states. Additionally, the company has seven locations in Canada, and plans to add 11 new sites in 2018, including three new locations in Vancouver. This year, Blaze has seen record sales in its first Middle East locations in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia through a partnership with M.H. Alshaya Co.