Food

9 Italian Restaurant Chains to Avoid

Heart shaped Italian Caprese Salad arranged by Italian basil,buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes look like Italian Flag on plate with wooden table background.Love Italian food concept for Valentine day
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In the world of U.S. restaurant chains, Italian may be one of the most popular foods. Between all the free bread you-can-eat, good pasta, and even better desserts, Italian restaurant chains have been a staple of the past 50 years. Unfortunately, not all Italian chains are created equal. If you can find a great chain, something is amazing about pasta that is cooked exactly the way Mom used to make it. 

On the other hand, there can be plenty of disappointment when you try an Italian restaurant chain. According to online reports, there are over 51,000 Italian restaurants in the U.S. accounting for about 6% of all restaurants in the U.S. as of the end of 2023. Considering that number, it is no surprise that Italian restaurant chains have done well. 

It’s with this in mind we can take a hard look at which of these Italian restaurant chains you can safely avoid. 

9. Villa Italian Kitchen

Source: Willis Lam / Flickr
If you go to a Villa Italian Kitchen, expect a pseudo-fast-food style chain experience that serves food fast.

Villa Restaurant Group owns a mall-based fast-food-style chain, Villa Italian Kitchen. All in total, Villa has a few dozen locations scattered around the country. You can find the most locations in California, Florida, Texas, and Washington. Priding itself on Italian cuisine served fast, Villa Italian Kitchen features different pizzas, homemade pasta, strombolis, and salads. 

Don’t Eat Italian Mall Food

Fettuccine pasta with shrimp, tomatoes and herbs
Source: Timolina / Shutterstock.com
Villa Italian Kitchen offers good pizzas but its homemade pasta leaves a lot to be desired.

The bottom line is unless necessary, you should avoid Italian cuisine served in a fast food court. Villa Italian Kitchen isn’t horrible, but it will not satisfy your Italian cravings. The pizza has a good reputation, as does its salads, but the homemade pasta doesn’t taste like Mom used to make. If you need food in a hurry, this Italian chain will satisfy your hunger cravings, but not much else. 

8. Sbarro

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Sbarro is a mall food court favorite that offers Italian pasta and salads.

There are going to be those who argue Sbarro’s isn’t a true Italian restaurant. These individuals may be right but even fast food-style restaurants are not devoid of concerns. Sbarro’s has long touted itself as serving Italian cuisine alongside pizza. You can find popular Italian items like baked ziti, spaghetti and meatballs, and plenty of breadsticks. 

Fast Forget Sbarro’s

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Sbarro offers spaghetti and meatballs that should not be tasted.

As someone who has eaten Sbarro’s plenty of times, there is no doubt the pizza is pretty good. However, just about everything else on the menu is worth avoiding. Spaghetti and meatballs at Sbarro taste the same as they would if you picked up canned meatballs. This isn’t to say they are not edible, they are just not worth going out of your way to have. Sbarro’s is great for traveling through an airport in a hurry but any other time, go ahead and skip out on this “Italian” restaurant. 

7. Fazoli’s

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Fazoli’s has 211 locations in the U.S. that serve “authentic” Italian cuisine.

Specializing in Italian cuisine as a fast-casual restaurant, there are around 211 Fazoli locations in the U.S. as of September 2023. Outside of Fazoli’s food just not being all that healthy, you shouldn’t expect authentic Italian cuisine when you are dining at Fazoli’s. This is a restaurant geared toward ordering at a counter and moving lines along quickly. Fazoli’s might be great if it’s only the food around, but that isn’t saying much. 

Fake Fazoli’s 

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Fazoli’s believes it sells authentic cuisine that doesn’t taste like its promise.

One of the interesting aspects of Fazoli’s and why it’s worth avoiding is its reputation for using fake words. Fazoli’s has been caught using Italian words that don’t mean anything to help describe their foods. For those who don’t know any better, Italian just sounds very romantic. Anyone who knows even basic Italian will see through Fazoli’s fakery. Of course, the biggest reason to avoid Fazoli’s is that the food isn’t good. 

6. Bravo! Italian Kitchen 

Source: Roland Tanglao / Flickr
Bravo! Italian Kitchen has 59 current locations in the U.S. as of 2024.

When it comes to Italian restaurant chains like Bravo! Italian Kitchen, there is likely a good chance you have never heard of one. Formerly known as Brio Tuscan Grille or Bravo! Cucina, there are currently 59 locations of Bravo! Italian Kitchen that you can still visit in the U.S. Originally founded in 1992, there have been a series of purchases and financial downfalls, but the restaurant still stands with its Roman-style decor. 

The Food Isn’t Bravo!

Professional cook in uniform add some spices to dish, decorating delicious meal for guests in hotel restaurant. food, cooking concept
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Bravo! Italian Kitchen has a difficult reputation for serving inconsistent cuisine.

One of the biggest downsides of Bravo! is inconsistent food quality. Fettuccine Alfredo is often cited as being different from restaurant to restaurant, which isn’t a good thing. Inconsistent food quality has forced customers to look elsewhere for their Italian treats. Ordering the food one week and loving it is often marred by coming back one week later and having it taste completely different. This alone is reason enough to solidify a position on this list for Bravo! Italian Kitchen. 

5. Bertucci’s

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Bertucci’s has been around 1981 and now has 23 locations in 7 different states.

Having been around since 1981, you might think that Bertucci’s could have perfected Italian cuisine by now. Unfortunately, various economic headwinds have been an issue for Bertucci’s and would result in the company filing for bankruptcy in December 2022. As a result, in February 2024, the company only had 23 different locations open in 7 different states. Some people have equated Bertucci’s food to being akin to what you might expect in a fast-food drive-up. 

Disappointing Food Quality

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Bertucci’s customers have expressed concern over the food tasting very bland.

Among the reasons for avoiding the remaining Bertucci’s restaurants is the flavor, or lack of. This is evident as there has been growing widespread disappointment online over bland-tasting Italian food at the remaining Bertucci’s locations. The same can be said over freshness as customers have indicated concerns over vegetables not being fresh enough. Perhaps the biggest reason to avoid Bertucci’s is that customers don’t believe the food flavor justifies the prices Bertucci’s charges its customers. 

4. Spaghetti Warehouse

Source: Counselman Collection / Flickr
Spaghetti Warehouse was once a promising Italian restaurant chain that showed incredible growth.

Geared toward families, Spaghetti Warehouse is an Italian restaurant chain well worth avoiding. Currently operating five locations across Ohio and New York, Spaghetti Warehouse once had locations spread throughout much of the eastern United States. Founded in 1972, Spaghetti Warehouse was a promising chain that could have been the next Olive Garden. Unfortunately, you can look at its existing locations to see why Spaghetti Warehouse isn’t any larger. 

Don’t Trust the Spaghetti 

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Unfortunately, Spaghetti Warehouse was switched to using subpar ingredients.

In the grand scheme, Spaghetti Warehouse is worth avoiding for the same reasons many of its restaurants didn’t last. Unfortunately, the blandness of its food has been a long-running concern. Reviews frequently criticize the food for having a strong flavor, which speaks to either poor preparation or subpar ingredients. Additionally, the themed decor of the restaurant has many thinking the dated atmosphere has been a partial reason why customers don’t frequently return. 

3. Johnny Carino’s 

Source: AndrewHorne / Wiki Commons
Johnny Carino’s has shrunk considerably since its founding in 1997.

This is yet another example of an Italian restaurant chain that once looked promising only to watch its location count dwindle. After being founded in 1997, Johnny Carino’s had a total of 170 locations at its high point. Today, after filing for bankruptcy twice in 2014 and 2016, there are only 37 Johnny Carino’s locations still available for dining. 

Just Skip Johnny Carino’s 

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Johnny Carino’s serves good pizza but its pasta leaves a lot to be desired.

At the end of the day, if you never ate at a Johnny Carino’s, you wouldn’t know what you’re missing. If you have eaten at one of the remaining restaurants, you know you are missing bland food that may or may not be very fresh. There is no question that food quality has diminished quite a bit. Popular favorites over the years like pizza and specialized pasta no longer bring customers through the door. The same can be said for desserts, specifically the tiramisu, which is often regarded as one of the worst desserts on the menu. 

2. Amato’s

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Amato’s is very focused on Maine as its home base with over 44 locations.

Founded in 1902 by Giovanni Amato, Amato’s restaurant has certainly lasted a long time. This is what makes calling it an Italian restaurant worth avoiding so difficult. With over 44 locations, most Amato’s are located in its home state of Maine. However, the company does have some franchise locations stretching into Vermont and New Hampshire. 

Amato’s Has Great History, Disappointing Food 

Neapolitan pizza with spices, tomatoes and cheese mozzarella on dark background. Pizza with mozzarella, tomato sauce, spinach on a thick dough.
Source: smspsy / Shutterstock.com
Amato’s has a popular selection of salads but customers complain about poor ingredients.

Amato’s has been successful for over 122 years with its popular selection of salads and seafood specialties. Unfortunately, its same popular salads are also a source of concern. Customers have more frequently voiced concerns over declining taste with ingredients. The same can be said for pizza as it appears Amato’s has made some crust changes that have led to negative customer feedback. 

1. Olive Garden

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Olive Garden is the best-known Italian restaurant chain in the U.S.

We all know that Olive Garden is one of the most popular Italian restaurants, but that doesn’t make it worth frequenting. One of the biggest complaints around Olive Garden is simply reputation. It’s hard to recommend visiting any restaurant with this name considering the viral videos out of Olive Garden’s kitchen showing off poor food management. Most notably, for the longest time, patrons have been complaining that Olive Garden serves Italian food in name only. 

Sorry, Olive Garden

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Unlimited breadsticks aren’t enough for Olive Garden to win over customers anymore.

It takes a two-second Google search before you know why Olive Garden is worth avoiding. The endless pages of complaints about bad food are hard to miss. Between cold lasagna, too creamy Fettuccine, and disappointing desserts, it’s hard to recommend Olive Garden to anyone. The only saving grace for Olive Garden is probably its breadsticks, which have become a cult phenomenon as the one thing everyone has to have if you eat at an Olive Garden.

 

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