- Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse, and LongHorn Steakhouse are the leading steak-centric restaurant chains in America.
- 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.
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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.
Outback’s bread was presented on a plastic plank that would melt if it were placed in a bread oven. The bread was pre-stabbed with a bread knife.
The bread and butter were unbelievably soft and light. It was almost like eating air.
The butter was very spreadable, and the honey oat bread was hot and very sweet, if not very substantial.
LongHorn’s bread had an eerily similar presentation to that of Outback’s bread, except it was missing the oh-so-important bread knife.
I was mildly peeved that I had to cut my bread with my heavy steak knife. It was hot and dense but doughy in the middle, and it crumpled under the weight of my knife.
The butter was harder to spread, but once it was spread, it melted beautifully. The bread had a whole-wheat taste with little to no added sugar, but it tasted slightly undercooked.
Every table at Texas Roadhouse was equipped with a bottomless peanut bucket, just in case the rest of your meal doesn’t fill you up.
Sweet rolls and cinnamon butter are provided at the start of every meal.
The rolls were oily and crispy outside, and they were piping hot. The whipper butter was cloud-soft.
These tasted sweet, buttery, and bread-y, like miniature premeal cinnamon rolls.
Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion is the chain’s most popular and most notoriously caloric appetizer. I went with the single diner’s size: the Bloomin’ Petals.
The horseradish sauce was addictive: spicy, savoury, and slightly tart — it carried the dish.
The petals themselves were greasy, unevenly cooked and tasting of burnt flour and pepper.
My server at LongHorn told me that the Wild West Shrimp are one of LongHorn’s most popular appetizers.
I wasn’t sure what was so wild or Western about these. They were plain popcorn shrimp with some pickled peppers and jalapeño slices tossed on top.
But they were surprisingly good. The shrimp were fried to perfection — neither over nor undercooked — and the breading was light and crispy.
Texas Roadhouse is famous for its Rattlesnake Bites, which are deep-fried balls of pepperjack cheese and jalapeño bits.
It’s served with ranch and Cactus Blossom sauce, which is the chain’s house horseradish sauce. The Cactus Blossom sauce tasted a lot like Outback’s Bloomin’ sauce.
These were perfect petite pockets of spicy, gooey cheese and hot, crispy breading. If mozzarella sticks had a smouldering affair with queso, these would be their lovechild.
Outback’s house margarita is the Sauza Gold Coast ‘Rita, which is a much more confusing, branded way of saying “house margarita.”
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.
Outback’s bone-in ribeye seemed at first glance to have a lovely char.
But a scratch of the fork revealed that the char was, in fact, burnt spice mixture. The steak tasted as if it hadn’t been cooked at a high-enough temperature to achieve char.
Oversalted in places, the steak was gristly. Where it wasn’t gristly, it tasted pretty good, but the uneven texture and heavy seasoning didn’t impress.
LongHorn’s bone-in ribeye came with a film of salty white butter, which I thought was unnecessary.
This steak was less gristly than its counterpart at Outback, but it still had its share of sinew.
However, it was the most watery steak of the three. It was undersalted and unevenly cooked.
The bone-in ribeye at Texas Roadhouse was the only steak with a legitimate char. The skin was crispy and the steak was plump.
It was cooked remarkably evenly, and there was also almost no gristle or sinew to speak of. It was smooth, buttery, and nicely salted.
Texas Roadhouse’s flawless steak was a clearly higher-quality cut of meat than the other two. It was also cooked with more expertise.
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.
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