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Food & Drink

Best Chain Restaurant 

Romano's Macaroni Grill

Cars surround the Romano's Macaroni Grill in Brentwood like pigs at a trough. The Macaroni Grill's conceit -- chain restaurants live and die by them -- is northern Italy: aged plaster walls, Mussolini, olive oil, fresh Parmesan cheese. Ignore the externals, though. This is a chain, so a measure of uniformity is understood. The simple truth is, if you pay attention to only the plate, the Macaroni Grill is pretty good. Where other chains deal in overcooked Pasta con Chick-O-Broccoli, Macaroni understands the notion of al dente. Salads (arugula, Bibb lettuce, Caesar, spinach) are fresh and well engineered; the butter melts in the moist bread. Entrées are simple and exhibit at least a modicum of creativity. But best is the "Create Your Own Pasta" option, which turns the reins over to you: Pick your pasta (bowtie, whole wheat penne, linguini, etc.); your protein (chicken, sausage, shrimp, meatballs, etc.); your sauce (roasted garlic cream, Bolognese, olive oil and garlic, tomato basil, pesto and so on); and ingredients (roasted garlic cloves, diced or sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, pine nuts, artichoke hearts, among others). No imagination? Whose problem is that? Consult your favorite cookbook before going. Top it off with the Macaroni Grill's ridiculously decadent smothered chocolate cake and you'll come out feeling not the least bit guilty for contributing to the further decline of Western civilization.

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