26 Chain Restaurant Pasta Dishes, Ranked Worst To Best

Pasta is one of the easiest foods to prepare at home, even for inexperienced cooks (especially if you have delicious pasta recipes to work from). But sometimes, the thought of turning on the stove, making a sauce from scratch (or even popping open a jar of the pre-made stuff), and reserving your pasta water for later use can seem like a difficult task. That's when it's time to get your pasta fix somewhere else. 

Many of the most popular chain restaurants in the U.S. offer a slew of different pasta dishes to choose from, whether you're trying to keep it light with a lot of veggies or you prefer something meatier with red sauce.

But how do you know which of these restaurants serve the kind of pasta dish you're craving? Below, a deep dive into the world of chain restaurant pasta dishes, ranking the best — and worst — pasta options.

26. Applebee's Three Cheese Chicken Penne

There are some strange pasta dishes out there, but none tops the weirdness of Applebee's Three Cheese Chicken Penne

This entrée seems like it was concocted by a college freshman figuring out how to cook for the first time in their life. It contains Asiago, Parmesan, and, inexplicably, white cheddar cheeses and is then unceremoniously topped with bland chicken breast. It's anyone's guess why they decided to add diced tomato on top, but it is a garnish you will be subjected to if you order this dish at Applebee's.

25. Ruby Tuesday Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

The Chicken and Broccoli Pasta at Ruby Tuesday seems like what a diehard gym bro would order on his night out on the town. It's easy to love crispy fried broccoli with pasta, but this broccoli is not that — it's steamed and nearly tasteless, which complements the tastelessness of both the chicken and the Parmesan cream sauce. 

Unless you have the world's most sensitive taste buds, you're going to have to add a mountain of cracked black pepper just to feel something while you're eating this pasta.

24. Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is delicious, and so is broccoli, but it's hard to understand why some restaurants insist on putting them together in one dish. 

Panera Bread's Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese is what happens when a recipe developer tries to make an inherently unhealthy dish more nutritious. This pasta bowl is packed with not only broccoli but also shredded carrots, which feels like a crime worthy of jail time. Can't we all just eat our mac and cheese in peace with the veggies on the side?

23. Longhorn Steakhouse Steakhouse Mac and Cheese

There are few things in this world more uninspired than chain steakhouse mac and cheese, which is why Longhorn Steakhouse's Steakhouse Mac and Cheese doesn't rank very high. You've likely had worse mac and cheeses before — at least this version has some toasted breadcrumbs for a bit of added texture — but ultimately, this is still a deeply boring dish. 

Just like most of the other sides on the Longhorn Steakhouse menu, it feels like an afterthought, the side you pick off the menu when nothing else sounds better.

22. Outback Steakhouse Queensland Chicken and Shrimp Pasta

Leave it to Outback Steakhouse to decide that you need not one but two proteins in your pasta dish. While both the chicken and the shrimp in the Queensland Chicken and Shrimp Pasta are decently seasoned, there's just too much of each — you're going to feel fuller than you would if you were to just order a steak. 

The "bold" Alfredo sauce is anything but bold, so maybe ask for some hot sauce to break up the blandness. It's not the worst pasta dish you'll ever eat, but you won't be rushing back to order it again.

21. Hard Rock Café Twisted Mac, Chicken, and Cheese

Who knows what the obsession with chicken breast at chain restaurants is all about; Hard Rock Café is deeply afflicted, and Exhibit A is their Twisted Mac, Chicken, and Cheese

It's nice that they use cavatappi pasta, which is a fun shape, but the cheese sauce is disappointing. Then, there's diced red peppers on top? Who knows why they thought this would be an interesting addition to the dish. They add a strange sweetness that just doesn't need to be there.

20. Olive Garden Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara

Craving carbonara? Olive Garden's Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara is not that. 

Rather than pancetta, it's packed with painfully dry chicken and shrimp. There is some bacon in the mix, but it's hardly noticeable above the noise of all the other random proteins they decided to add. The inclusion of roasted red peppers is the biggest sin here, though — roasted red peppers shouldn't even be in the same room as someone cooking a real carbonara. The fact that they can call this dish carbonara at all is depressing.

19. Dave and Buster's Voodoo Pasta

So many chain restaurant pasta dishes contain an incredibly strange combination of ingredients, and Dave and Buster's Voodoo Pasta is no exception. 

You'll find myriad assorted ingredients, like cremini mushrooms, red onions, sweet pepper, chicken, and arugula. All these ingredients are fine and good on their own, but together, they seem like a random mishmash of everything left over in the kitchen. At least the sriracha-spiked sauce adds some flavor to the dish.

18. Noodles and Company Pesto Cavatappi

There are some fantastic options to choose from at Noodles and Company, but the Pesto Cavatappi isn't one of the best. The shape of the pasta may be fun, but the sauce is lacking, providing only a hint of that floral basil flavor for which pesto is best known. 

The garlic, parmesan, and mushrooms are all solid additions, but the tomatoes could have been left out entirely — this isn't a pasta salad. If you're looking for something really basic for dinner, this isn't a bad option. Otherwise, you'll find other, more interesting dishes at the pasta-based chain.

17. California Pizza Kitchen Chicken Piccata

When you're craving pasta, California Pizza Kitchen probably isn't the first restaurant that comes to mind, but they do have several different dishes on their menu. The Chicken Piccata is the best of the bunch. 

It's not the best chicken piccata in the world, but with the inclusion of lemon and capers, this dish packs a decent amount of flavor. The cream sauce could be more flavorful and the chicken could be less dry, but in a pinch, it's not that bad.

16. Bonefish Grill Signature Pasta

If you love artichokes, Bonefish Grill's Signature Pasta is one of the better pasta dishes you could try. The linguine dish isn't the best, but it is packed with the creamy green vegetable, always a welcome addition. 

When it comes to the inclusion of red peppers yet again, that seems less inspired. The creamy creole sauce could be spicier, but it's easy to forget about that lack of heat when you're digging into the flavorful shrimp they put on top. You'd also be well-advised to skip the optional salmon and chicken additions.

15. Yard House Fontina Vodka Penne

If you're looking for a solid vodka sauce, you'll get it at Yard House with their Fontina Vodka Penne. Chicken is a strange choice for this dish — sausage probably would've tasted better — but the sauce is what makes the dish, which is surprisingly flavorful by chain restaurant standards. 

The fried basil on top is a nice touch too, as it adds both a lovely floral quality and a slight crunch. Maybe, one day, they'll replace the chicken with something more flavorful.

14. The Capital Grille Lobster Mac and Cheese

Steakhouse mac and cheese is a pretty depressing prospect, but if you're ordering it from The Capital Grille, it's much better than most. 

This higher-end chain's Lobster Mac and Cheese has a creamy, if overly subtle, sauce that coats both the pasta and the lobster, contributing a meaty texture and slight seafood flavor to the dish. Generally speaking, lobster mac and cheese can feel gimmicky, but nevertheless this side dish is decent.

13. Red Lobster Bar Harbor Lobster Bake

If you're a seafood lover who wants to get their money's worth at Red Lobster but you're craving a plate of pasta, you need to order the Bar Harbor Lobster Bake

It's great that you get so many different types of seafood with this dish. In addition to Maine lobster tails and shrimp, you'll also find scallops and mussels over your linguine. The white wine sauce is subtle but packs plenty of garlic. They also include tomatoes in the mix, which seems somewhat random, but it's not a terrible combo with the seafood.

12. Buca di Beppo Lemon Shrimp and Zucchini Spaghetti

When you're looking for a pasta dish that's light and refreshing but will still fill you up, you have to try Buca di Beppo's Lemon Shrimp and Zucchini Pasta. The best part of this dish is the generous use of lemon — the sauce has a bright zing to it that you don't often find at chain restaurants. 

The tomatoes and zucchini provide the pasta with some freshness that pairs perfectly with the shrimp, and a sprinkling of Parmesan provides some subtle creaminess. This dish may be light on the stomach, but it certainly doesn't go light on flavor.

11. Maggiano's Little Italy Rigatoni Arrabiata

For some reason, you don't see a lot of rigatoni on chain restaurant menus, which is why it's so exciting to see it on the menu for Maggiano's Little Italy. While their Rigatoni Arrabiata isn't the most exciting dish, it's certainly one of the better options out there. 

One complaint is that, like many other spots, they elected to use chicken. Still, the spicy tomato cream sauce is seriously delicious, and the addition of spinach helps deliver some greens without necessitating a salad.

10. Bahama Breeze Jerk Chicken Pasta

Sure, chicken can become something of a cliche in pasta dishes, but it breaks through in something like Bahama Breeze's Jerk Chicken Pasta because the jerk chicken brings such flavor to the dish. 

Asparagus and mushrooms provide a dose of veggies for the meal, and the parmesan cream sauce brings it all together. It may not occur to you to order pasta when you go to Bahama Breeze, but this is one of the chain's better menu options.

9. Jason's Deli Zucchini Garden Pasta

Just because you're craving pasta doesn't mean you don't want to get your veggies in, which is why you'll be a big fan of Jason's Deli's Zucchini Garden Pasta. With its combination of zucchini, roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and spinach, you know you're going to get your fill of the healthy stuff. 

It also comes with Asiago cheese, which is an interesting touch that deviates from the standard parmesan. Don't forget to save room for the herb focaccia served on the side.

8. Chili's Ultimate Cajun Pasta

If you're looking for a pasta dish that's packed with flavor, look no further than Chili's. The Ultimate Cajun Pasta from the chain is one of the best of breed — despite the Alfredo sauce, there is still a touch of spice here. 

Is the pasta too spicy? No, because it's unlike chain restaurants to create anything spicy to the point where it wouldn't appeal to a mass audience. But because it has a hint of Cajun intensity to it, it's easy to like. It's not ideal that they use both chicken and shrimp together in one dish, but there are worse pasta sins with which to contend.

7. Panda Express Chow Mein

This fast food staple may not have a ton of noodles on its menu, but the Chow Mein is actually really, really good. Unlike many of the restaurants on this list, Panda Express knows how to embrace simplicity, and their noodles are proof. 

The stir-fried wheat noodles are dressed in an understated but complex, salty sauce that won't leave a puddle on your plate. You'll find onions, celery, and cabbage in the mix, but they don't load their noodles down with a ton of other unnecessary ingredients. This may be one of the best on-the-go noodle dishes out there.

6. Seasons 52 Brick Oven Seasonal Gnocchi

Gnocchi is one of the best types of pasta, so it's exciting to see it on Seasons 52's menu. The Brick Oven Seasonal Gnocchi is prepared with pesto and blistered marinated tomatoes that add a nice sweetness to the dish. The mozzarella is used sparingly, but is creamy enough to mix into all the other ingredients. Then there are the herbs on top, giving the dish an intensity and freshness you can't get from cooked ingredients alone.

5. The Cheesecake Factory Pasta Da Vinci

The Cheesecake Factory may be known for its exceedingly high calorie counts, but it should be known for its pasta too. If you've been to The Cheesecake Factory before, you probably know that there are a lot of different pasta dishes to choose from, but the Pasta Da Vinci is one of the best, mostly because of the rich, umami Madeira wine sauce that coats the penne. 

The chicken, mushrooms, and onions work well together with the sauce, and a sprinkling of herbs on top makes every bite a little brighter.

4. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse Veal Osso Bucco Ravioli

It's not every day you're going to see veal osso bucco on a chain restaurant menu, but that's exactly what you'll find when you make your way to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse to try the Veal Osso Bucco Ravioli

The saffron-infused pasta is a dream come true, and it gets even better when combined with sautéed baby spinach and a velvety veal demi-glace. It's startling to discover that chain restaurant pasta can be this delicious, and you'll want to go back for more.

3. Romano's Macaroni Grill Butternut Tortellacci

Filled pastas are one of life's greatest pleasures, especially when that filling is made from butternut squash blended with four different cheeses and Asiago cream, and then served with prosciutto and parmesan. 

Luckily, you can find this fall favorite at Romano's Macaroni Grill. It's the Butternut Tortellacci, and it's an all-time favorite chain restaurant pasta dish. After all, when was the last time you saw butternut squash on a menu at a chain restaurant?

2. Jollibee Spaghetti

If you know, you know. Jollibee Spaghetti isn't the same thing as typical Italian-style spaghetti. This is Filipino spaghetti, and it offers a wider range of flavors than you'll find with an olive oil, garlic, and tomato situation. 

Instead of meatballs, you'll find sliced hot dogs in this dish, and they work really well with the spaghetti. The tomato sauce is a bit sweet, since it's made with bananas, which complements the savoriness of the meat. If you haven't tried it yet, you need to get yourself to a Jollibee, stat.

1. Carrabba's Italian Grill Linguine Pescatore

Finally, we've arrived at the best chain restaurant pasta dish. Is it any surprise that it comes from a place that specializes in pasta? 

It's Carrabba's Italian Grill's Linguine Pescatore, and it's the perfect way to get both your pasta and seafood fixes at the same time. You'll get shrimp, scallops, and mussels all together in one dish, resting on a bed of imported Italian linguine. You may expect this dish to be dressed in a white wine sauce, but it's actually covered with a spicy marinara sauce instead. Bon appétit!