Culture

The 6 Most Underrated Restaurants

Taco Bell in Morgan Hill, Calif. (Shutterstock)

My article ranking the 6 most overrated restaurants brought with it a rash of comments disagreeing with me. That’s fine. More than fine, in fact. That’s the fun of lists. However, the verve with which people defended fast-food restaurants kind of proved my point. I mean, my own editor wanted to have me excommunicated for daring to slight Chik-fil-A (she wasn’t alone, people in my own church were also aghast at my culinary apostasy).

Flipping the script somewhat, I’m now going to deign to tell you which restaurants are the most underrated. By underrated restaurants I mean those that people love to turn their noses up at, when, in fact, those restaurants exceed what they’ve set out to do. By no means am I claiming that any of the restaurants on this list (except one) even come close to reaching the culinary heights of whatever happens to be your favorite locally owned restaurant.

And, remember, as one person commented on my previous article, “Let your own taste buds be the judge, not John Ellis’ palate.” However, I must confess that I’m at somewhat of a loss as to how to apply that sentiment since I am John Ellis.

I hope you enjoy my list.

6. Texas Roadhouse

I love a good chef-prepared steak. In fact, if a real-to-goodness chef is not running the kitchen, I will most likely not be ordering steak. Texas Roadhouse is the one exception. The chain restaurant never freezes their steaks and does a good job of preparing them, to boot. More steak snobs should give Texas Roadhouse a try. They’re missing out on some pretty good steaks that are all mostly under the astonishingly low price of $20.

5. Bojangles’

Growing up in the Deep South, fried chicken was a staple in my house. Sadly, I rarely eat it anymore. My wife is Canadian and I only cook meat over an open flame. While not my mom’s fried chicken, Bojangles’ rarely disappoints. Plus their dirty rice and mac and cheese are both quite tasty. 

4. Firehouse Subs

Why would anyone go to Subway or Jimmy John’s if a Firehouse Subs is nearby? Not only are the restaurants generally cleaner than your average fast-food place, the subs are several notches above Subway’s in both taste and bang-for-your-buck.

3. Bonchon Chicken

The only reason Bonchon Chicken is underrated is that most people have never heard of this chain that specializes in Korean double-fried chicken. Based in South Korea, there are fewer than 100 Bonchon locations in the United States. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area that has two locations within five miles of my house. The servers at the closest Bonchon know my family so well they bring me my beer before I can even order. Whenever I take someone there for the first time, I tell them, “By the end of the meal, you’ll be saying, ‘That was good, but I think you’ve overhyped it.’ But, at some point during the next week, you’re going to find yourself craving Bonchon Chicken, and you’re going to understand.” Over the last five years, I’ve probably eaten more Bonchon chicken than any other single food.

2. McDonald’s

People hate on McDonald’s, but with very little reason. Yes, their hamburgers pale in comparison to Five Guys and Whataburger. Yes, their milkshakes pale in comparison to Chik-fil-A’s milkshakes. That being said, you know exactly what you’re going to get at McDonald’s, and they deliver what they promise. Not to mention their French fries are the best in the business. And the Egg McMuffin may be the perfect fast food item.

1. Taco Bell

I’m old enough to remember when Taco Bells first started popping up in malls and on corners outside of K-Marts. So, whenever I take a bite of a hard shell taco at Taco Bell, I’m immediately taken back to when my granddad used to treat me to Taco Bell whenever my family would visit him. But nostalgia is not why Taco Bell is #1 on this list. Like McDonald’s, people love to hate on Taco Bell. And like McDonald’s, Taco Bell delivers exactly what they promise and at a price point that makes me wonder how they stay in business. If you’re hungry, in a hurry, and without much cash, Taco Bell is almost perfect.