I ate the same meal at Outback and LongHorn Steakhouse to see which would do it better, and the winner was superior in every way except service
Irene Jiang / Business Insider
- Outback Steakhouse and LongHorn Steakhouse are both popular steakhouse chain restaurants.
- I went to an Outback Steakhouse in Manhattan and a LongHorn Steakhouse in Queens to see how the dining experiences compared.
- I ordered the same meal at each restaurant: a house salad, the chain's most popular appetizer, a house margarita, and a bone-in ribeye steak with a loaded baked potato and a side of vegetables.
- The quality of the food at LongHorn was better, and I was especially impressed by the house margarita and the signature appetizer. However, the fantastic service at Outback set a sky-high bar that LongHorn fell far short of.
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Longhorn Steakhouse tied for sixth place among America's favorite chain restaurants in a recent Market Force survey.
Outback Steakhouse trailed in a tie at No. 14, even though it has nearly a thousand locations - almost twice as many as Longhorn's more than 500 locations.
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I'd never been to a LongHorn Steakhouse. I'd eaten at an Outback at some point during my adolescence, but LongHorn had never been on my radar in quite the same way.
So what was the difference? A chain restaurant steak by any other name would taste as savory - or so I thought.
I went to the Outback Steakhouse in Manhattan and the LongHorn Steakhouse in Queens. I ordered the same meals at both restaurants: a house margarita, a house salad, the most popular appetizer, and a bone-in ribeye steak medium-rare with a side of loaded baked potato and steamed vegetables.
Here's how they compared:
Manhattan's location of Outback doesn't look very thematic from the outside.
Inside, the steakhouse relies on paintings and decor to evoke "Australia." It all feels very drywall-and-paint.
However, my server was effusively friendly, helpful, and attentive.
LongHorn Steakhouse is ostensibly Texas-themed, but it looks pretty generic from the outside.
The decor inside is also fairly subdued, relying on paintings and sculptures to evoke the restaurant's Texas-ness.
Booths and tables were dimly but pleasantly lit. My server was very friendly, but also very absent. The restaurant was all but empty.
Outback's bread presentation was impressive and came with a nifty knife.
But everything on the pallet had about as much substance as the pallet's plastic core. The honey-oat bread was hot but surprisingly airy and sweet.
The whipped butter was easy to spread, but it was like consuming a cloud.
The bread at LongHorn was presented in nearly the exact same way as at Outback. It was also hot and fresh. It had a similar honey-wheat flavor to Outback's bread, but was denser and much less sweet.
However, it's served without a knife, which meant I had to use a heavy steak knife to cut and butter it.
The butter was solid, not whipped, making it harder to spread on the bread. Once on the bread, it had a beautiful melt. The bread itself had a solid crust but was oddly doughy in the center.
I was amused that LongHorn even branded its water. Outback did not.
Outback has a wide selection of margaritas, but its house margarita is the Sauza Gold Coast 'Rita.
The rim of salt quickly disappeared into the sickly sweet and sour blended drink. It's too sweet to drink very quickly or very much of.
A margarita at LongHorn is apparently actually 2.5 margaritas. It was shaken and poured at my table, and I was impressed by the generous refill.
It's called the "Perfect Margarita," which is like naming your kid "Beautiful" — an invitation for people to prove you wrong.
But this margarita deserves the self-accolade. Unlike Outback's blended margarita, LongHorn's Perfect Margarita wasn't too sweet and had a juicy, fruity flavor that balanced well with the tequila. It's dangerously drinkable.
Outback's salad overcompensated for its bland vegetable base with a Tonka truckload of shredded cheese and croutons.
It's more of a lip-service salad than anything else.
The balsamic dressing was overwhelmingly sweet. Nothing in the salad was expressly bad — it's just less than the sum of its mediocre parts.
LongHorn's salad looked much more appetizing. It's always a good sign when a salad is colorful.
The basic ingredients of LongHorn's house salad are similar to Outback's, but having mixed greens over plain lettuce makes such a difference.
I actually thoroughly enjoyed this salad. It was light and balanced, and the balsamic dressing wasn't too sweet. Unlike Outback's salad, it didn't lean on cheese, croutons, and sugar for its flavor.
Bloomin' Petals, the single diner's version of Outback's most popular appetizer, comes with a side of horseradish "Bloomin'" sauce.
They were burnt, undercooked, and soaked with grease — all indicators that they had spent too much time in a deep fryer at too low a temperature.
But the horseradish sauce was the petals' saving grace. It hit all the right flavor notes: salty, savory, and spicy.
My server told me that the Wild West Shrimp are one of the most popular appetizers on LongHorn's menu.
I'm not sure what was so wild or western about these shrimp, but they were piping hot, so I wasn't complaining.
They're perfectly fried: light and crispy on the outside and light and soft on the inside. I was impressed that the shrimp weren't overcooked at all. However, I expected more flavor from the breading or marinade.
I wasn't sure how one was meant to eat the pickled pepper toppings, so I improvised. They provided the kick I'd hoped for from the dish, but I wish they were more incorporated into the shrimp themselves.
Outback's loaded baked potato was swathed in my favorite baked potato condiment: sour cream. The green onions were generous, too, although the potato seemed light on cheese and bacon.
But don't judge a baked potato by its jacket. Inside this softest of spuds was a hidden reservoir of gooey melted cheese.
LongHorn's loaded baked potato was slightly larger than Outback's, and boy was it loaded.
It had a balanced array of toppings: cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, and green onion. Outback's baked potato was hard to beat, but this one was just that good. It was cheesier and bacon-ier without sacrificing the sacred union of sour cream and potato.
Outback's plate of mixed steamed vegetables is a horror to look upon for anyone who eats their vegetables stir-fried.
It seems to me if you're going to steam vegetables, you might as well boil them, blend them, and chug them while holding your nose. These were so mushy and bland that it hurt my veggie-loving soul.
Unlike Outback, LongHorn's steak only comes with one side, so I had to order an extra side of steamed broccoli. They looked welcomingly green.
Their texture was much better than that of Outback's broccoli, but they were just as offensively bland. I did appreciate the tender crunch, but someone should tell LongHorn that broccoli isn't allergic to salt.
It was time for the main event at Outback: a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye cooked medium-rare.
I initially mistook the blackened spice mixture on the outside for char. Alas, there was no char. The steak was cooked unevenly and riddled with tough sinew.
Outback steak, thy name is gristle. The spice mixture tasted great, but its grittiness was distracting. The steak was also oversalted in places.
When she set down the LongHorn Outlaw Ribeye, my server asked me to cut into it to see if it was cooked to my liking. It was a little rarer than medium rare, but I was fine with that.
However, I was alarmed by the opaque white film on my steak before I realized it was probably seasoned butter of some sort.
The steak was fatty with a crispy outer char, but the meat just tasted watery. It was slightly undersalted, and I got the sense that the steak relied on its butter sauce for most of its flavor.
The steak's texture was better than that of Outback's ribeye, but barely. Although it wasn't as gristly, it was still a pretty messy steak.
I didn't get dessert at Outback and I hadn't planned to get dessert at LongHorn, either, but then I saw the Steak & Bourbon ice cream on the menu and knew I had to have it.
It's flavored with steak spices, Jim Beam bourbon caramel, and bits of what is essentially beef jerky.
I was thoroughly confused, but also thoroughly intrigued. It was salty, sweet, creamy, beefy, and slightly bitter. Beef jerky was the dominant flavor, and I couldn't really taste the bourbon.
Outback's food was largely not as good as LongHorn's. Notably worse were the Bloomin' Petals, the house salad, and the margarita. However, Outback's steak, veggies, and baked potato were almost as good as LongHorn's.
LongHorn really impressed me with its aptly named Perfect Margarita, expertly fried shrimp appetizer, well-balanced baked potato, and surprisingly delicious house salad. Still, its steak and steamed vegetables both left much to be desired, even if they were marginally better than Outback's.
However, Outback's service outshone LongHorn's. My server at Outback frequently checked back to see if I needed anything, but didn't rush me at all. I felt completely taken care of, even though the food wasn't quite as good. At LongHorn, I had a hard time getting my server's attention even though the place was empty.
But service, like decor, is specific to each location of LongHorn and Outback. And while none of the food I had at Outback compels me to go back, I'd go back to LongHorn for the shrimp and margaritas — if not for the steak. For that reason, LongHorn was the winner.
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