Hearty and comforting, meatloaf is typically made by combining ground beef with other ingredients such as eggs, vegetables, breadcrumbs, and seasoning. Sometimes minced pork is also added to the mix. These ingredients are then blended, shaped into a loaf, and baked. The dish is usually smothered in gravy, but also sometimes comes topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions.
Meatloaf, or the concept of mixing ground meat with other ingredients, was already a culinary practice in ancient Rome. A recipe for an early version of the dish can be found in a Roman cookbook dating back to about the 5th century A.D. entitled "Apicius." This ancient rendition of the dish called for a mixture of meat, bread, and wine. Despite its long history, the meatloaf only became popular in the 19th century, following the invention of the meat grinder. Meatloaf came into its own in North America during the Great Depression and World War II due to its cost-effectiveness. Today, the savory dish remains a cherished comfort food, both due to its versatility and hearty nature.
Craving the comforting taste of meatloaf? Take a look at our roundup of the top-notch and the not-so-great meatloaf options available at various chain restaurants, as ranked by diners! To get a more in-depth look at how we compiled our list, take a look at the methodology slide at the end of this article.
Read more: The Best Steakhouse In Every State
11. Golden Corral
Golden Corral has become a staple on the American dining landscape since first opening its doors in 1973 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Beginning with one restaurant, the chain has grown to almost 400 locations across North America. The chain's wide variety of dishes includes grilled-to-order steaks, pot roast, and fried chicken, as well as a vast array of side dishes, salads, and desserts. One of the offerings available as a part of the buffet menu is the meatloaf.
Unfortunately, Golden Corral's meatloaf has garnered poor reviews from diners. Eddy from Wichita By EB describes the dish as horrible, adding that it had the same bland quality as the chain's pizza and pork chops. Another diner agrees with this sentiment, saying that the chain's meatloaf tasted like something you would get at an elementary school cafeteria. Additionally, several other unimpressed diners describe the menu item as mushy and bland, dry and salty, and overly heavy on filler.
Priced at just $11.29, Perkins' Homemade Meatloaf might seem like a bargain at first glance. However, it's worth considering the overall value of the dish. After all, the desirability of a menu item is about much more than its price tag — it's also about the quality of its ingredients, taste, and portion size. Topped with a savory sweet glaze, beef gravy, and crispy onions, and served with mashed potatoes and a side, the restaurant's meatloaf sounds great on paper. Unfortunately, it appears to fall short in a variety of areas, as evidenced by online feedback.
Diners have expressed dissatisfaction with the taste and lackluster appearance of Perkins' Homemade Meatloaf. The preparation of the dish has also come into question. One Doordash reviewer states their disappointment with the dish, elaborating, "Unappealing describes what I received, [the dish] looked like it was an order that was left under the heat lamp for a considerable time. [...] The mashed potatoes were dry and pasty." Another diner on Yelp also isn't impressed with the menu item, saying, "[The] meatloaf dinner [was] very flavorless."
9. Cracker Barrel
Founded by Dan W. Evins in 1969 in Lebanon, Tennessee, Cracker Barrel is an iconic American restaurant chain with a distinct Southern country theme. Today, the restaurant boasts over 680 locations, standing testament to the appeal of its home-style comfort food. Some of the options on Cracker Barrel's menu include an all-day breakfast, smoky Southern grilled fried chicken, and mac and cheese. The restaurant also serves meatloaf with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers. The dish is accompanied by corn muffins or buttermilk biscuits.
Cracker Barrel's Meatloaf has failed to win over diners. A notable example is one patron on Tripadvisor who complains that the dish comes with too much filler, noting, "The meatloaf was served cold, but the problem was not the temperature. It tasted like it had sawdust as a filler. It was not a 'meatloaf' taste at all. [...] Other ingredients did not mask the taste of the filler." Another reviewer on Facebook says that while the meatloaf was tasty, it was very small. "It was almost see through because it was so thinly sliced," they say.
8. Marie Callender's Restaurant & Bakery
Renowned for its American-style comfort food, Marie Callender's is a chain of restaurants and a frozen meal brand. The venture started out as a home pie business in the 1940s, with the first restaurant opening in 1964. Over the years, the dining establishment has expanded its menu beyond pies to serve classics such as steaks, pot roasts, and chicken fettuccine. Carnivores can also opt for Marie Callender's baked meatloaf made with Angus beef, green peppers, carrots, and seasoning. The dish comes with mashed potatoes and veggies, as well as a mushroom cabernet gravy. Alternatively, patrons can choose Marie's Meatloaf Sandwich, which comes with lettuce, tomato, and mayo on parmesan sourdough bread.
The meatloaf at Marie Callender's has received mixed reviews from diners, with some complimenting its flavors and others criticizing it. On the positive end of the scale, some customers have said that the meatloaf is fantastic, moist, and flavorful. However, not everybody agrees with this assessment, with one Yelp diner saying, "The portion [was] a size for a four year old. [The] meatloaf had no peppers, no onions, as advertised. [...] It was bland, horrible." In a similar vein, another reviewer describes the meatloaf as bland and strange tasting.
7. Claim Jumper Steakhouse & Bar
Since its opening in 1977 in Los Alamitos, California, Claim Jumper Steakhouse & Bar has gained a reputation for its large servings and a variety of classic American comfort dishes. Despite encountering some obstacles over the years, including a bankruptcy filing, Claim Jumper continues to thrive. Its diverse menu features premium steaks, an array of salads, soups, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and pasta dishes. Listed on the menu among other "Claim Jumper Classics," the restaurant's meatloaf blends beef, pork, and veggies. The dish is completed with mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and herb gravy.
Claim Jumper's meatloaf has stirred a variety of online opinions. While some patrons have described the dish as very good, delicious, and the bomb, not everybody shares this view. One customer on Yelp who ordered two meatloaves for the table says that both weren't up to par. "One meatloaf had sauce all over it (almost trying to hide the grayish color of the so-called meat) and it was way too sweet. [...] Second meatloaf was gray looking and ordered with no sauce. Neither meatloaf was flavored [or] appealing to taste," they note. Similarly, another unimpressed diner says that the dish was overpriced and had too much filling.
6. Logan's Roadhouse
Logan's Roadhouse prides itself on providing a laid-back, roadhouse-style atmosphere, complete with rustic decor that encompasses wooden paneling, jukeboxes, and open mesquite grills. Founded in 1991 in Lexington, Kentucky, the casual dining chain's menu features American staples such as pork chops, chicken parmesan, and a range of burgers. One of the restaurant's culinary offerings is the Grilled Meatloaf. The dish is served with mashed potatoes, brown gravy, sautéed mushrooms, and the chain's beer-braised Brewski Onions.
The Grilled Meatloaf at Logan's Roadhouse has garnered both positive and negative feedback from diners. While online reviewers don't delve into why they have enjoyed the dish, several of the chain's patrons call it delicious, yummy, and really good. However, not all diners have been as impressed with the menu item, with one Yelp reviewer saying, "The meatloaf was very over peppered as to cover the flavor." Sharing this sentiment, another customer notes that their meatloaf was overly dry.
5. Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen
There was a time when the Homestyle Meatloaf disappeared from Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen's menu. Fortunately, the chain decided to bring the dish back sometime around October 2023. The meatloaf, known for its rich flavor and home-cooked appeal, has been a favorite among patrons. This is exemplified by one customer on Instagram who celebrated the dish's reintroduction on Instagram by excitedly sharing, "My dad is going to lose his mind. He's been waiting for this!"
While Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen doesn't go into detail about the meatloaf's preparation process, other than specifying that the dish consists of two slices of meatloaf topped with a savory gravy, one customer goes into more detail. While we can't verify this, according to My High Plains, the restaurant bakes its meatloaf with a tomato and brown sugar sauce.
Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen's Homestyle Meatloaf has received both praise and criticism from online reviewers. One Tripadvisor diner says that the meatloaf is even better than their mom's version of the dish, adding, "I have returned five times in the last two months. [...] I really recommend their meatloaf." Other customers echo this sentiment, describing the dish as flavorful, tasty, and filling. It's not all good news, however. On the downside, one diner says that the dish comes with an overly sweet sauce, while another customer complains that their meatloaf arrived at the table lukewarm and was topped with a sauce that was already starting to coagulate.
4. Outback Steakhouse
The Outback Steakhouse is famous for its signature cuts of beef and the iconic Bloomin' Onion appetizer made with a large onion cut to resemble a blooming flower, coated in batter, and deep-fried. Nevertheless, the restaurant's menu extends far beyond these signature items, encompassing a diverse range of options. One notable item on the restaurant's menu is the Spicy Jammin' Meatloaf. Available as a lunch or dinner option, the dish is served with Fresno chili jam and peppercorn sauce.
The Spicy Jammin' Meatloaf at the Outback Steakhouse has received predominantly positive feedback from customers, who seem to enjoy the dish's zesty condiments. One Reddit reviewer describes the dish as really good, adding, "It's actually pretty spicy. [...] Not the most spicy thing in the world, but it was unexpected. You guys might enjoy [it]. Shoot, leftovers were even better the second day." Another diner also calls the sauce pretty good, saying that it reminds them of a mixture of Worcestershire, Tabasco, and ketchup. On the flip side, one customer isn't fond of the meatloaf's texture, describing it as mushy.
3. Boston Market
Unlike most other chains that only serve one type of meatloaf, the Boston Market offers numerous variations of the dish. The basic version of the menu item is made with seasoning, tomato purée, onions, and toasted breadcrumbs. The dish comes topped with a hickory-smoked barbecue sauce. Diners can opt for the chain's unsliced Whole Meatloaf or its Homestyle Meatloaf with two slices of the meatloaf and two sides. Boston Market also serves a kid's version of the dish and the Meatloaf Sandwich, with lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese. Notably, there's also a frozen version of Boston Market's meatloaf for those who wish to enjoy the restaurant's savory loaf at home.
Boston Market's employees describe the restaurant's meatloaf as "the perfect union of deliciousness," and the diners tend to agree. One reviewer on Facebook commends the dish, saying, "I don't order meatloaf at many places because I think mine is pretty good and I have food allergies. But this meatloaf is awesome!!! Very very good!!" Another customer on Tripadvisor says that they asked the restaurant's cook how they make their meatloaf so light and fluffy, elaborating, "She said to use saltine cracker crumbs and add a cup of milk a little at a time after everything else is mixed. With a little more hand mixing the cracker crumbs absorb the milk."
2. The Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory has really diversified its menu since the chain's first restaurant opened in Beverly Hills in 1978. Initially focusing on desserts, today the restaurant serves a wide range of dishes. These include everything from tacos and wontons to pizza flatbreads and pasta. One of Cheesecake Factory's menu items is the Famous Factory Meatloaf. While we don't know the exact recipe for this dish, we do know that the meatloaf comes with mushroom gravy, grilled onions, as well as sides of mashed potatoes and buttered corn.
The Cheesecake Factory's Famous Factory Meatloaf has garnered favorable comments from those who have tried it. One TikTok user speaks highly of the dish, noting, "I am not the biggest meatloaf fan just because sometimes the texture weirds me out but the texture of this is actually perfect. [The] meat is blended in, it has really good flavor, the gravy is awesome and it is a humongous portion." A YouTube reviewer mirrors this assessment, saying, "It's really good. [The] portion size is amazing too. It could feed two people [...] worth the money and on a scale of one to 10, I give it a nice eight."
1. Steak 48
True to its name, Steak 48 specializes in responsibly farmed prime cuts, hand-carved in-house and wet-aged for 28 days. With such a reputation for quality, it's only natural that the chain's meatloaf stands out as one of its premier offerings. Priced at $48, Steak 48's Prime Steakhouse Meatloaf doesn't come cheap. However, considering its quality, the dish might just justify its steep price tag. Made with a blend of premium meats including ribeye, filet mignon, and pork, this meatloaf elevates the classic comfort food to a luxurious dining experience. The dish also contains black truffles and green peppercorns.
The team at Steak 48 proudly refers to this sumptuous creation as "the meatloaf of champions," a fitting title for a dish that has received glowing reviews from diners. One Yelp reviewer says that it's the best meatloaf they have ever tasted, adding, "It's a good protein option if you're not wanting a steak. Very nice [and] flavorful." Another patron on OpenTable agrees, saying, "Never had better and I have had a lot of meatloaf in my short 63 years." Several other patrons have also been impressed with Steak 48's version of the dish, describing it as amazing and worthy of six stars.
To curate a comprehensive ranking of the best and worst meatloaf dishes served at chain restaurants, we collected and analyzed a wealth of customer feedback from popular platforms such as Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. Some of the aspects that we focused on included flavor, texture, value for money, and overall satisfaction. We feel that with these criteria, we were best able to pinpoint a meatloaf that could rival even your mom's version.
Read the original article on Mashed.