These days, trendy menus abound with kale salads, designer beef and precious small plates. But even the snobbiest eater experiences moments when nothing but a big, sloppy, cookie-cutter meal of gluttony will do. So, we asked our social media pals to share their favorite chain-restaurant bites — the ones they hit when nobody's looking. Below, we share a few of their — and a few of our own — guilty pleasures:
Ozzie Rolls at Sweetwater Tavern
Why We Love It: Offered gratis at the beginning of any meal at a Great American Restaurants spot — which also includes Mike’s American Grill and Artie’s — this Northern Virginia chain has created a following so passionate, the Ozzie rolls even have their own Facebook page. These unsweetened donut holes are served with whipped honey-poppy-seed butter — and perhaps sprinkled with unicorn dust.
Carnitas Anything at Chipotle
Why We Love It: We know, we know — they don’t exactly have a stellar track record with the health department. But we can’t deny the powerful cravings for carnitas tacos topped with corn salsa, lettuce, beans and sour cream. And when we feel bored with tacos, we go for the rice bowl — and even the occasional burrito. And don’t even think about walking out without a bag of chips and guac.
Toasted Marshmallow Shake at Good Stuff Eatery
Why We Love It: Shake Shack might have our hearts with those crinkle-cut fries, but our local Good Stuff has it all over the NYC import when it comes to shakes. Our favorite — and perhaps chef-owner Spike Mendelsohn's most famous — features broiled marshmallows that unlock all the best camping memories from your childhood. We're also huge suckers for the Spike's Sunnyside burger topped with bacon, cheese and, of course, a runny egg.
Pizza at Ledo
Why We Love It: "Literally any pizza from Ledo. That sauce is magic. Judge me, please," wrote one commenter on Facebook. Others soon piped up praising the sauce. Purists know to head to the original Ledo, which opened in Adelphi, Md., in 1955 and later moved to College Park — somewhere along the line sparking a very successful franchise. Now, it's so ubiquitous in this area that you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't tried a rectangular Ledo pizza.
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sundae at Friendly’s
Why We Love It: This garnered a few votes via Facebook, where it was nominated and seconded before kicking off a feverish hunt for a local Friendly’s from a third commenter. (There are locations in Crofton, Md., and Sterling, Va., by the way.) This throwback spot serves a tall glass dish of vanilla ice cream, peanut butter “topping,” hot fudge, sprinkles and, of course, peanut butter cups to really bring the nostalgia.
Sweet Potato Casserole at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Why We Love It: Chain steakhouses seem to have all received the same memo regarding sides — creamed spinach, roasted mushrooms, baked potatoes. Sound familiar? We were pleasantly surprised when we ordered the decadent sweet potato casserole that admittedly could double as a dessert. But it’s so buttery, nutty, comforting and evocative of Thanksgiving that we found ourselves going back for more again and again.
Chips and Queso at California Tortilla
Why We Love It: Before this burrito chain exploded up and down the East Coast, it was a homegrown shop operating out of Bethesda. And while most folks are likely drawn here for the hulking burritos, we find ourselves sneaking in for a tiny tub of decidedly un-fancy nacho cheese dip in all its glory. (While we're at it, local mini-chain Tippy's Taco House also has a killer queso — regardless of the fact that it may or may not have any actual cheese in it.)
Sausage and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich at Starbuck’s
Why We Love It: Like it or not, we all end up at a Starbuck’s from time to time — and sometimes you happen to be hungry on top of being desperate for a decent caffeine source. When that happens, don’t even look at those dry, crumbly scones or the cardboard-esque croissants. (And why are you eyeballing those cake pops? It’s 7 AM!) Go straight for the sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on an English muffin. It doesn’t just fill the hole in your stomach, it’s dang delicious — and not nearly as greasy as some of its competitors.
Lettuce Wraps at P.F. Chang’s
Why We Love It: We got more than a few votes for this crazy-popular starter at the ubiquitous Chinese chain that dots suburban America. The question is never whether you’ll order them or not — it’s whether you opt for the wok-seared chicken or the tofu. Served with crispy rice sticks and a wedge of iceberg to envelop your protein of choice, they are every bit as integral to the P.F. Chang’s experience as those hokey horse statues.
Chili Half-Smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl
If you've lived in DC for five minutes, you know that this chili-smothered sausage is a must-try — if only to decide for yourself if it's the best thing ever or completely overrated. We know that plenty of sausage purveyors and restaurants have come up with upscale riffs on the original, but we happen to love its unpretentious, delightfully messy diner dog.