Is there anything more American than an Italian chain restaurant? Whether it specializes in pizza, pasta, or soft, garlicky breadsticks, these Old World-style restaurants hold a special place in our hearts. Since it’s impossible to pick a favorite, here are a few of the greats.
Carrabba’s Italian Grill
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flickr: Mike Mozart
Carrabba’s Italian Grill
When the founders of Carrabba’s Italian Grill talk about the family, they don’t mean the mob. They mean the generations of Sicilians that passed down the recipes that Johnny Carrabba and Damian Mandola, two Texas boys, used to launch their first restaurant in Houston in 1986. Since then, they’ve kept it mostly in the family, with most stores being company-owned, even as their success has spread across 29 states, with 225 individual restaurants. Their lively exhibition kitchen, where they cook everything to order using their wood-burning grill, keeps customers coming back again and again.
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If you’re looking for homemade Italian food, it’s hard to do better than Bertucci’s. Since opening its first Somerville, Massachusetts, location in 1981, the brand has grown to include more than 57 locations across the U.S. From pizzas baked in a brick oven, to handcrafted pasta, to freshly made rolls, Bertucci’s is all about executing at the highest level. “Bertucci’s has a longstanding tradition in New England as a place where friends and families can gather in the spirit of ‘la dolce vita,’ or ‘the good life.’ It’s all part of the legacy that has brought people back for more than 35 years,” said Robert Earl, Chairman of Bertucci’s.
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Deep dish pizza may be a uniquely Chicago specialty, but that’s not all they offer at this classic chain. Since 1974, Giordano’s has been serving up pies like the Chicago Classic, with pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions, along with other Italian eats like bruschetta, lasagna, and chicken florentine. If you aren’t in one of the eight states where you can find one of their restaurants, never fear: you can have a frozen pizza shipped to anywhere in the U.S.
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There’s more to Italy than just food (though the food is pretty stellar) and at Pinstripes you can participate in another staple of Italian culture: bocce. Try this game of skill and luck, which is traditionally played on outdoor courts in Italy, as you snack on made-from-scratch dishes like prosciutto-fig flatbread and spaghetti and meatballs. Right now there are 10 Pinstripes locations, but the company has plenty more in the pipeline, so it’s a safe bet that you’ll be seeing more of this “EATertainment” concept soon.
Buca di Beppo
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flickr: Thomas Hawk
Buca di Beppo
If you’re looking to feed a crowd, you can rest assured that everyone will find something to love at Buca di Beppo. This Minneapolis-based chain has been dishing up family-style Italian classics like fried calamari and chicken cannelloni since 1993, and its come a long way since its humble beginnings in the basement of an apartment building. Guests love the eccentric decor, which features everything from family photos to portraits of well-known Italian-Americans to statues of the Pope. “I love the concept for Buca di Beppo. We wanted guests to feel like they were gathering together for a big, fun family dinner with Italian family-style dishes for the table and an interesting and eclectic ambiance to keep the conversation flowing for hours,” says Robert Earl, chairman of Buca di Beppo. Now with 79 locations in the U.S. and nine abroad, it’s clear that they’re doing something right
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Beloved even within its highly competitive category, the Olive Garden stands among the most quintessential American chains. It was an immediate hit upon opening in 1982 in Orlando, and by 1989 there were 145 restaurants across the country. The brand has experienced ups and downs, with significant dips in profits in the mid-1990s and again in the 2010s. But promotions like the Never-Ending Pasta Pass and more updated decor have helped keep the Olive Garden strong in recent years. With nearly 900 restaurants worldwide, you can now find an Olive Garden whether you’re in Kuwait, Ecuador, or Boise. Because you never know where you’ll be when that craving for unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks hits.