- The restaurant chain Applebee’s is known for its appetizers, so we tried all 20 options on the menu and ranked them.
- The chips and chipotle-lime salsa, house salad, and Caesar salad received low marks because they weren’t as exciting as other dishes we tried.
- The crispy wonton tacos, bone-in wings, and Brew Pub Pretzels with a beer-cheese dip were some of our favourites.
- The boneless wings earned the best-appetizer title because they were scrumptious, easy to eat, and covered in tasty sauces.
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If you’re a fan of Applebee’s like I am, you know that eatin’ good in the neighbourhood starts with a great appetizer.
With a menu that includes classic bar fare like buffalo wings, lighter options like soup and salad, and Tex-Mex dishes like brisket tacos, it makes sense that the casual-dining chain is famous for its shareable starters.
Overall, its appetizer menu boasts 20 different dishes, and that’s without the combo deals.
Determined to figure out which appetizer was the best of all, I grabbed a few of my closest friends and headed down to our local Applebee’s.
We spent two days and over $US150 trying every single app on the menu and then ranked them from worst to best.
Keep reading to see how each starter stacked up.
The chips and chipotle-lime salsa had a slight kick to it, but we felt it was mediocre when compared to the other appetizers.
I understand that most chain-restaurant salsas are going to err on the mild side to be palatable for most guests, but this one was probably the tamest dip I’ve ever tasted.
Sure, it had a nice blend of chunky tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and peppers – but it was seriously lacking in terms of heat.
The white-corn chips, however, were light and perfectly salted. Each chip was sturdy enough to hold up to the weight of the chunky tomato salsa without breaking but was still airy enough to provide the perfect crunch.
I probably wouldn’t order this dish again because it was quite boring overall. Plus, so many other dishes on the menu come with salsa anyway; it didn’t make sense to me to pay nearly $US5 just to get some more of it with chips.
The house salad was a refreshing, simple starter, but we wish they had more light dressing options.
Applebee’s house salad is essentially a bed of romaine topped with diced tomatoes and cucumbers, croutons, and your choice of ranch, honey mustard, blue cheese, a Tex-Mex ranch, or oriental vinaigrette.
Balsamic or Italian are usually my go-to toppers for simple salads like these, so I was a little disappointed that there weren’t as many vinaigrette options as there were heavy, creamy dressings.
But since I can’t resist the herbal, tangy flavours of restaurant ranch, I chose that as my dressing.
I personally appreciated that the ingredients were diced rather than sliced since it made the presentation a little nicer. But otherwise, the salad wasn’t anything to write home about.
I think if you’re dining with one other person and looking for a low-calorie starter, this is a great choice – but it ranks low on our list because it’s pretty indistinguishable as an appetizer.
Line it up with a bunch of other house salads, and I probably wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from the next one.
The Caesar salad had a yummy garlicky dressing, but it wasn’t anything special.
Applebee’s Caesar salad came out with no surprises: a blend of chopped romaine, croutons, and freshly shaved parmesan cheese all tossed in a creamy, caesar dressing.
The portion size was ideal for one hungry person, but could easily be shared by two.
Of course, I think a Caesar salad is only as good as it’s dressing – and this one hit all the right notes. Hints of herbs, garlic, and lemon came through with each bite, which made it taste homemade.
But even though the dish tasted great, I wasn’t a fan of how the dressing heavily coated the lettuce; It sort of made me not want to eat the dish after a few bites.
I suggest ordering the dressing on the side for this one since I feel like if you let it sit for more than a few minutes, the lettuce would become soggy.
The chicken-tortilla soup was super filling, but I think it could have been spicier.
Since I visited on a chilly winter afternoon, I was more than ready to devour a bowl of Applebee’s signature chicken-tortilla soup.
The moment the waiter placed the bowl at the table, I got aromas of peppers and cooked chicken that stood out from the other soups. Among a thin broth was a mixture of chicken, green peppers, corn, and softened tortilla strips.
It comes down to personal preference, but I think this soup could have used a little more salt and spices. When I think of Tex-Mex dishes, I anticipate some heat and this had very little of it.
But I’d still recommend it to anyone who’s craving a hearty soup that doesn’t have a ton of cream in it.
The taco-topped queso blanco has a luscious, creamy texture, but we wished the cheese flavour was stronger.
Applebee’s offers both a vegetarian version of its queso blanco and a version topped with ground beef.
Queso blanco usually consists of a mild, cow’s milk cheese, peppers, spices, and either cream or milk and this one was served with a bed of tortilla chips (which seems to be the staple carb at Applebee’s).
This creamy, cheesy concoction had a smooth texture that put a smile on my face the moment it hit my taste buds.
This meaty version of the dish also came topped with a heaping scoop of lightly seasoned ground beef. It reminded me of eating deconstructed nachos.
In my opinion, the beef topping was a little on the greasy side, which overpowered the already subtle cheese flavours.
The flavours, however, were very mild, so I can see this dish being ideal for a wide range of taste buds, especially kids’.
We thought the queso blanco without the taco topping tasted a little better than the meat version, but we still weren’t huge fans of it.
I felt like I was able to taste the subtle flavours of the queso blanco a lot more since it had no ground-beef topping. This time, I got more of a cheesy taste, but the cream flavour still dominated.
I also noticed that the dip had peppers in it, which I didn’t catch when tasting the other version of the dish. Even so, this dip still didn’t knock it out of the park for me.
We all agreed that the dip might taste better on top of macaroni or some other carb – but as a standalone dip with chips, it wasn’t our favourite.
The French onion soup had a rich broth and yummy cheese topping, but some people may find it too salty.
The Applebee’s take on this traditional soup had a pleasant blend of rich, beef broth with perfectly cooked sweet onions.
The cheese topping on the soup also had a nice, chewy texture that had our group fighting over who would get the next spoonful of it.
But in my opinion, this soup was incredibly salty – between the beef broth and globs of cheese, I found myself reaching for water after a few bites.
Still, I can see this being a great entree for someone who isn’t too hungry.
The spinach and artichoke dip is a solid vegetarian option, but it wasn’t our favourite meatless appetizer on the menu.
As a former vegetarian, I’ve had my fair share of spinach-based dip appetizers and I’ve learned that every restaurant that offers this meatless staple puts a different spin on it.
Instead of being paired with pita or bread, Applebee’s dip comes in a ceramic ramekin alongside a generous portion of white-corn tortilla chips and a side of its house salsa.
Some people may view this as a plus since thin chips can make the dish feel a little less like a carb overload. It also shifts the focus away from the dipper itself and onto the blend of warm, gooey cheese and spinach.
The dip itself is served piping hot, which is always a great sign because that means it could be fresh out of the oven. It was also served with a side of salsa.
My primary complaint is that I had trouble distinguishing the artichoke flavour.
I know it was in there somewhere, buried beneath the layers of spinach and cheese, but I found myself checking the menu to make sure that it was, in fact, called “spinach and artichoke dip.”
The loaded, baked-potato soup was a delicious, hearty starter.
This soup is essentially what you’d get with a regular baked potato if you made it a little creamier and ate it by the spoonful.
Crispy bacon chunks and shredded cheese top the dish for a concoction that can best be described as a warm hug for your taste buds.
I usually don’t care for thick, cheesy soups because they err on the heavy side, but I think the portion size of this soup was perfect for a starter.
I also enjoyed the way the salty, bacon flavour permeated through the soup with every bite, even after we ate all of it off the top.
The tomato-basil was our favourite soup because it tasted fresh.
In my opinion, everything about this tomato soup was divine.
Between the herbaceous flavour, the fresh tomato taste, and yummy crouton topping, this soup had an upscale quality to it that stood out from the others on the list.
And although it had a creamy texture, it wasn’t at all heavy.
The onion rings earned high marks for their crispy breading and yummy dipping sauce.
I’m a firm believer that onion rings are the ultimate shared appetizer for when you want something dippable that’s a little more impressive than fries. These rings did not disappoint.
Our plate was piled high with golden, fresh-out-the-fryer rings that were hot to the touch. A large ramekin of honey-barbecue sauce accompanied the platter of fried deliciousness.
Fortunately, the onion stayed inside the crispy breading after each bite. The breading also had a mouthwatering buttery taste to it that we all agreed made it one of our favourites.
On the inside, the onions were cooked perfectly and had a slight sweetness that paired beautifully with each dip of honey-barbecue dipping sauce.
In my opinion, this appetizer also gets bonus points for its generous portion size, which makes the dish quite the bargain at $US6.99.
The Neighbourhood Nachos Beef were an instant crowd-pleaser.
These nachos basically take all of Applebee’s signature Tex-Mex flavours and throws them into one place.
The order comes with tortilla chips topped with a blend of fresh, melty cheddar cheese and gooey queso blanco. Seasoned ground beef, Pico de gallo, sour cream, and onions, form the second layer. Cilantro and crispy, fried jalapenos top it all off.
This is one of the chain’s pricier appetizers, but I think it could easily serve three to six people.
The only thing that caused the appetizer to lose points was that we felt the ground beef could’ve used a bit more seasoning to play off the spices in the pico de gallo and jalapeno.
We thought the Neighbourhood Nachos Chicken had a better balance of flavours.
Nothing against the ground-beef version, but the flavorful chicken made this dish feel more restaurant and less snack bar.
Like the beef version of this dish, this platter came piled with all the essentials – just swap the beef for mouthwatering, chipotle-lime chicken.
In my opinion, the layers of spice from the jalapeno and pico de gallo only enhanced the flavours of the chicken.
The mozzarella sticks had a praiseworthy cheese-to-breading ratio.
Applebee’s has been serving mozzarella sticks for several decades, so I’m not surprised that the chain knows how to do them well.
Each melty cheese stick comes wrapped in a lightly seasoned breading that allows the mozzarella to be the main attraction. Pair that with house-made marinara, and these sticks become scrumptious bites of classic Italian flavours.
Unlike other mozzarella sticks, these didn’t have the overly chewy texture that usually signals a frozen cheese.
But other than their perfect texture rating, these mozzarella sticks are pretty standard. If you’re looking for an appetizer that’s reliably good that everyone will like, I’d say definitely order this during a visit.
But given that the menu has so many other solid, more unique options, this dish wouldn’t be my top pick.
We appreciated the concept of Applebee’s shredded beef-brisket quesadilla, but found that the execution wasn’t as great as we’d hoped.
For the most part, quesadillas are pretty straightforward, and it’s their simplicity that makes them beloved by both kids and adults.
The Applebee’s version of the dish comes with a side of sour cream and house lime salsa.
But as far as the quesadilla itself goes, I really liked the use of shredded beef brisket. It had a slightly smoky flavour that caught my attention and tasted so different from a standard quesadilla.
However, I wasn’t a fan of tasting the pico de gallo inside the quesadilla. I loved the combination of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro – but I feel like it would have made a better topping than a filling.
It buried the flavours of the brisket and cheese and diced tomatoes kept falling out of the side of my quesadilla while I ate it.
On the other hand, the chicken quesadilla had a bright, citrusy flavour that highlighted the dish’s Tex-Mex flavours.
Even though the only real difference between this dish and the brisket version was the type of meat, I felt like I was eating an entirely different dish.
The combination of the tender, lime-marinated chicken, melted cheddar cheese, and zesty pico de gallo came together as a delicious symphony of citrus-forward tastes.
I especially loved dipping my quesadilla piece sour cream and then spooning a dollop of salsa on top to add to the tang.
Overall, I was very pleased with the way everything tasted and found the portion size appropriate for one to three people.
We were practically obsessed with the Brew Pub Pretzels with beer-cheese dip and honey dijon.
These pretzels have a crunchy crust and the fluffiest, most heavenly centre imaginable, and they are topped off with the delightful salt crystals on the outside.
The sticks are also served warmed and pre-cut into four individual pieces that are perfect for sharing.
In terms of dips, Applebee’s gives you its housemade Blue Moon-beer pub cheese and honey dijon.
I think if you like the flavour of beer, you’ll definitely appreciate the chain’s take on pub cheese. It’s got a luscious, creamy texture with a slight bitterness that brings out the salt on the pretzel.
But personally, I couldn’t stop dipping my pretzel in the honey dijon. It had a kick to it that awakened my taste buds and had me practically scraping the bottom of the ramekin for more.
The chicken wonton tacos were a standout dish because of their unique blend of spicy and salty flavours.
Price $US8.99 for four
These tacos immediately caught our attention because there was nothing else like them on the appetizer menu.
Instead of being wrapped in a tortilla, marinated grilled chicken chunks are stuffed in crispy, wonton shells.
In my opinion, whoever thought to use these in place of a tortilla is a genius, since these crispy shells held all of the ingredients without crumbling. The wonton shells also had this airy quality to them that allowed for the other ingredients to shine.
But what really sold us on these was the unique flavour combination of the refreshing carrot, cabbage, and cilantro slaw that gets piled on top of each taco, giving each bite a scrumptious blend of textures and tastes.
The delicate balance of acid from the slaw’s vinegar and sweetness from the Asian chile sauce formed an incredible symphony of flavours.
The “double crunch” bone-in wings won us over because they were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I really think Applebee’s knows what they’re doing when it comes to chicken.
Applebee’s “double crunch” wings get their signature name because they are twice battered, fried, and tossed in one of three signature sauces. Regardless of what flavour you choose, Applebee’s serves these wings with a side of house-made ranch or blue-cheese dressing.
For the bone-in wings, we opted for a traditional buffalo sauce and a side of ranch.
First of all, props to Applebee’s for never skimping on the sauce. Each wing was coated in a bright, orange sheen of flavorful goodness. The sauce definitely had a nice kick to it, but it wasn’t super spicy, either.
But what really won us over was the texture of the crunchy breading and its contrast to the tender chicken.
I don’t know how the chain achieved this textural contrast so flawlessly, but I’m confident that my view of restaurant wings has been forever changed because of it.
But the boneless wings took home the crown because they were scrumptious, easy to eat, and covered in a tasty sauce.
Applebee’s is famous for its boneless wings and I can definitely see why.
Like the bone-in variety, these had a nice bite to them on the outside and tender chicken in the centre. The flavorful also sauces clung beautifully to the breading.
But we all collectively agreed that they deserved the top spot because they were easy to share, less messy than the bone-in wings, and allowed for three different flavour options.
Plus, they’re available on the chain’s happy-hour menu, which means you can enjoy tons of wings for a super reasonable price.
These come in three flavours: honey barbecue, buffalo, and spicy-sweet Asian chile.
I liked the honey-barbecue sauce more than the buffalo because it was tangy without being overly sugary. The buffalo tasted fine, but it lacked the heat I was craving.
Overall, if you had to choose just one flavour of these scrumptious bites I’d recommend the Asian chile sauce. It had a delicate balance of sweet and spicy that was pretty much unrivalled by anything else we tasted that day.