I went to the Outback Steakhouse in Manhattan, the LongHorn Steakhouse in Queens, and the Texas Roadhouse in Teterboro, New Jersey, to see how the dining experiences compared.
I ordered the same meal at each restaurant: a house salad, the chain’s most popular appetizer, a house margarita, and a bone-in ribeye steak with a loaded baked potato and a side of vegetables.
While Outback had great service and LongHorn’s food had its strong points, Texas Roadhouse distinguished itself with its memorable hospitality and honest, hearty food. Its steak was also by far the best.
A good steak is a rare and precious thing, like a newborn child or a cool day in August.
That’s why going to a steakhouse is such a risk. There are many ways to cook a good steak, but even more ways to cook a bad one. And if you’re going to shell out for steak, you don’t want to shell out for a bad one.
Outback Steakhouse, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Texas Roadhouse are the three biggest steakhouse chains in America, according to a 2019 Nation’s Restaurant News report. But when it comes to restaurant chains, size doesn’t matter.
Like the woman in those old Wendy’s commercials, I had a mission: to find the beef. And not just any beef. I embarked on a search for the best beef in steak-chain-restaurant America. It was to be a long and arduous journey through mountains of deep-fried appetizers, forests of steamed broccoli, and rivers of house margarita. My destination: bone-in ribeye steak, medium-rare.
I went to three New York City-area locations – the Outback Steakhouse in Manhattan, the LongHorn Steakhouse in Queens, and the Texas Roadhouse in Teterboro, New Jersey – to see how the dining experiences compared.
I ordered the same meal at each place: the chain’s most popular fried appetizer, a house margarita, a side salad, and a bone-in ribeye steak medium-rare with a side of vegetables and a loaded baked potato.
Here’s what it was like:
From the outside, Outback looked like any other New York steakhouse.
Inside was also fairly nondescript, with very little to evoke “Australia” except for paneled wooden booths and framed photos of the Outback.
And, of course, pictures of kangaroos.
LongHorn Steakhouse is supposedly Texas-themed even though it was founded in Georgia.
Inside was sleek, dark, and eerily inviting, like the great room of an oil tycoon’s hunting lodge.
There were a lot of horse sculptures. It was all very cowboy-chic.
Texas Roadhouse looked pretty “Texas” from the outside even though the chain was founded in Indiana.
The decorators had gone ham with the roadhouse decor: neon signs, an iridescent jukebox, and wood-plank everything.
I could appreciate the sheer attention to detail, even if staring at animal skulls while eating meat seemed somewhat macabre.
Texas Roadhouse welcomes its guests with a steak display. There’s an in-house butcher ready to carve your beef any which way.
It’s gritty, sour, and way, way too sweet. I found it hard to drink.
LongHorn’s house margarita, the ambitiously named Perfect Margarita, is actually 2 1/2 margaritas in one. It’s shaken and poured at your table, and then a large bottle full of refill is left at your table.
This margarita was as close to perfect as it gets. Unlike Outback’s margarita, it wasn’t blended.
It wasn’t too tart or too sweet. Instead, it had a deceptively light fruity flavour that hid the sneakily high alcohol content of the drink. It’s endlessly drinkable.
Texas Roadhouse had the most distinctive house margarita: the Sangria Margarita. It was kaleidoscopic red and blended to smooth perfection with a thick crust of salt on the rim.
It was tart, fruity, and very sweet. Even though it’s by far the most photogenic of all the margaritas, it was a little bit too sweet for my taste.
Outback’s side salad appeared to consist mostly of cheese and croutons.
The balsamic dressing was strangely sweet and the lettuce watery. It didn’t feel as if I were getting much nutritional value out of this salad.
LongHorn’s salad was a beautiful mélange of mixed greens, diced tomatoes, and the odd crouton and cheese.
It was light, refreshing, and balanced, even if the balsamic dressing tasted less like balsamic and more like white vinegar.
Texas Roadhouse’s salad looked hearty and hospitable. It had the added protein bonus of chopped hard-boiled egg.
It wasn’t stunning, but it wasn’t bad. The ingredients were fresh. They just didn’t add up to anything worth writing home about. Perhaps a mixed-greens base would have made me feel differently.
Outback’s loaded baked potato was soft, moist, and doused in sour cream and green onions.
Under the sour cream was a reservoir of gooey melted cheese. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this baked potato. It was light on the bacon, but I didn’t mind. Everything else worked so well together.
LongHorn’s baked potato put cheddar cheese on top and sour cream underneath. It somehow managed to outdo Outback’s tasty tuber with a generous helping of all toppings.
The bacon, which was freshly cooked and chopped rather than prepackaged bacon bits, was the standout topping.
Texas Roadhouse’s baked potato was covered in a mountain of shredded cheddar and prepackaged bacon bits.
Although I appreciated the generosity of the cheese, this potato was the least balanced of its brethren. I’d have appreciated more sour cream and green onion in place of all the cheese.
Steamed vegetables are bland …
… but for some reason, all three places served steamed vegetables. LongHorn’s broccoli had the best texture. They were fresh and had bite, but they seemed unseasoned.
Texas Roadhouse’s broccoli were the least bland of the bunch, probably because they were soaked in butter. But they were mushier than broccoli should be.
While most of the food at Outback didn’t impress me, my server, Michael, left an amazing impression. The service was so great that I wished I’d liked the food more.
However, LongHorn Steakhouse was a different story. While I liked most of LongHorn’s food (except for the steak), the service was all but absent. I did appreciate that my server was careful to ask if I had any food allergies while I was ordering.
Texas Roadhouse’s exceptional hospitality blew its competitors out of the water. From the moment I stepped through the doors, I felt taken care of.
All of the food reflected attention to detail, especially the steak, which was several steps above the steak at Outback or LongHorn. The food wasn’t flashy or overtly branded like the food at the other steakhouses. Like the service and decor, the food had an honest, unpretentious charm that won my heart — and this comparison.