Summertime means family road trips. Each rest stop and eatery provides dozens of food options with only one shot to get the meal right – and please all members of the family. Too many similar choices make for a dining disaster.
Josh Dinar, co-founder and publisher of DiningOut magazine, has just put out the new pocket guide, Good, Better, Best Dining Out: A No-Nonsense Guide to America’s Favorite Chain Restaurants, the first book to review and rate 30 of America’s favorite chain eateries. The pocket-sized book is perfect for travel and is ready to inspire diners with its delicious meal suggestions, easy-to-find references, and a multitude of options.
A very serious treat — Josh let Gia On The Move ask a few interesting questions about the guide and about travel food, organic, vegan options and what’s really out there. Browsing through was actually pretty neat and plenty mouthwatering:
Family road trips. They can be totally exciting or a total disaster. Where does food fit in all of this to begin with?
JOSH: Everyone has to eat, and when kids are hungry they will make a lot of noise—which can make driving a painful undertaking. We didn’t cover this in the book, as it fell below our price window, but we prefer the growing ubiquity of Starbucks along our nation’s highways. The food is lighter, cheaper, and less processed than a lot of what we found at sit-down chain eateries. That being said, sometimes a plate of fries, a bundle of crayons and a paper menu is the only thing that will bring balance to a car-weary kiddo.
How did you get the idea for this book?
JOSH: The idea came from a conversation about the beauty of consistency—specifically a vacation abroad that wreaked havoc on our gastrointestinal system and ended with a particularly heavenly visit to a Chili’s.
Organic, Vegan, Gluten Free. These are all hot button words in food today. What DID you actually find out there? Were you disappointed? Excited? Why?
JOSH: Rather meager selections, honestly. Most chain restaurants will provide good allergen information on their dishes that extends to gluten, but organic and vegan options are hard to come by. Organic is sort of an all-or-nothing endeavor. For instance, people won’t be too jazzed by an organic chicken breast served with conventionally grown greens and potatoes. We like to think chain restaurants will be moving in that direction eventually, however. Because gluten-free dining is still a rapidly growing dining trend—and a necessity for celiacs—it was probably the best-represented dietary realm.
Did you see any breakthroughs in chain food culture during your adventures?
JOSH: Nothing particularly revelatory. We did notice more places adding “No Trans Fat” demarcations to their menus, which was always heartening.
Is ‘fresh’ a real thing you can get at a chain restaurant or is that just another fancy label?
JOSH: Fancy label, mostly. Granted, some of the food is fresh—take the lobsters at Red Lobster, for example—but because most of the menu items don’t change throughout the year, ingredients are seldom local or seasonal, meaning they move long distances in refrigerated trailers.
What would you like to see more of on the road?
JOSH: Lighter fare. Not to be crude, but eating fried and/or greasy foods on a road trip can make for too many emergency pit stops.
Are there any particular food chain trends happening to watch out for—good or bad?
JOSH: Boneless chicken wings will rule in 2012.
Finally, any particular favorites of your own?
JOSH: Waffle House. No pretense; most of them have a jukebox; open 24 hours; grits!
Good, Better, Best Dining Out contains everything a hungry family needs to know about the nation’s most popular restaurants. The book is divided into broad categories and supplies Good, Better, and Best options for each:
- Restaurant profiles with the best dishes from each
- Restaurant type: American, Mexican, Italian, Asian, etc
- Top breakfasts, appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts
- The best Gluten-free, low-calorie, and vegetarian options
- Family friendly and eco-friendly favorites
“Our goal was to create a guide that people could use quickly and efficiently no matter where they live or travel,” explains author, as well as co-founder and publisher of DiningOut magazine, Josh Dinar.
Hungry for a burger? Take the guesswork out of finding the tastiest option by opening to the “American Entrees” chapter and reviewing the burgers page.
Good: Hard Rock Café’s S.O.B. Burger
Better: T.G.I. Friday’s Kansas City BBQ Burger
Best: Red Robin’s Bleu Ribbon Burger
The chosen “good,” “better,” and “best,” options are each standouts and “best” was rarely an easy call by Dinar and the DiningOut magazine team. All the restaurant brands surveyed for the book are full-service and have at least 75 domestic locations spread across all regions of the country.