Chicago Chain Restaurants That Don't Suck

Last week I catalogued Chicago's unique dishes, which I realized later was something of a celebration of the city's independently owned restaurants. That's where the majority of the dishes originated, from the famous (Chicago-style hot dog, deep dish pizza) to the not-so-well known (tamale boat). So this week I decided to go in a completely different direction and take a look at the many chain restaurants that started here.

Before the bashing begins, it's important to remember what chains happen to do well: they promise to deliver the same experience in every store. Undoubtedly, this leaves behind a sheen of corporate gloss, but at least you know what to expect.

Little did I know that the one thing Chicagoans love more than oddly named dishes (looking at you, mother-in-law) is brainstorming restaurant concepts, coming up with design themes, crafting logos, and then expanding. What gets lost in this rush is the food, which explains why most are so mediocre. Not necessarily terrible, I might add, just annoyingly middle of the road.

But there are exceptions. These chains might not serve the absolute best version of a dish in the city, but they serve an extremely good one, and they do so with remarkable consistency. That's especially true of some of the newer chains, which are seriously upping the quality of the food.


McDonald's Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit [Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Of course, it's impossible to talk about chain restaurants and Chicago without briefly mentioning a certain fast food chain headquartered in the western suburbs. I speak of McDonald's, which just happens to be the largest fast food chain IN THE WORLD. But while we have something of a soft spot for its breakfast offerings, it was disqualified from the list immediately because it was actually founded in California.

But there are still plenty of chain options left. Check out the slideshow to see them all. Did we miss your favorite spot? Let us know!

Large Chains (More Than 10 Locations)

Al's Beef
Lou Malnati's
Harold's Chicken Shack
Protein Bar
Garrett Popcorn Shop

Medium Chains (Fewer Than 10 Locations)

Hannah's Bretzel
Tortas Frontera
M Burger
Bánh Mì & Co.
Epic Burger
I Dream of Falafel
Wow Bao