11 Dishes You Should Avoid Ordering At Olive Garden

Olive Garden is a household name in Italian-American cuisine here in the U.S. The chain has been around since the '80s and is known for all-you-can-eat pasta deals that fill you up without forcing you to drop some serious coin. But the restaurant is also famous for its polarizing nature. Some customers swear by the eatery, while others despise it and claim it's an insult to Italian food. But whether you're a fanatic or a hater, one thing about Olive Garden stands as a penultimate truth: The unlimited breadsticks are to die for. Dip those warm, fluffy bread logs into some housemade alfredo sauce, and you'll be in creamy, garlicky heaven (although the unlimited deal isn't as limitless as one might hope). Along with its nationally acclaimed breadsticks, Olive Garden is famous for its soups and sauces, all made in-house — a step that most chain restaurants forgo for the more convenient from-frozen option.

Olive Garden has its attributes, but where there are heavenly appetizers, there's always a dastardly entrée lurking in the shadows of the menu to oppose them. I've had my fair share of Olive Garden experiences, and I know which menu items to avoid and which can hold up to the celebrated trio. So, when you step into the Olive Garden battleground, arm yourself with this guide; for amidst the tempting soup, salad, and breadsticks lie treacherous foes.

1. Five-cheese ziti

The five-cheese ziti at Olive Garden is a popular, albeit boring, choice. But if you're not in the mood for fancy flavors, it's hard to beat a meal consisting solely of pasta, tomato, and cheese, with cheese being the most tempting aspect. And much to the delight of customers, Olive Garden doesn't shy away from cheese in this meal, hence the name, making the five-cheese ziti a go-to choice for kids with picky palates.

Unfortunately, oodles upon oodles of cheese can't save this dish from achieving nearly 24% of the votes in a poll conducted by Mashed that asked 645 frequenters of Olive Garden to name their least favorite menu item. Although we can't say for sure what caused the dislike, we know that the secret behind the famed five-cheese marinara sauce that adorns this pasta dish isn't as unique as one might think. Instead of crafting a sauce from scratch the Italian way, like the restaurant claims it does, Olive Garden doesn't want you to know that the five-cheese marinara is just a mix of the restaurant's other two sauces — marinara and alfredo. We're onto you, Olive Garden.

2. Fried mozzarella

When it comes to starters at Italian eateries, there are few as universally adored as mozzarella sticks. There's something irresistible about gooey, melted cheese coated in breadcrumbs and fried to a perfect golden brown, served with a side of tangy marinara sauce. Despite not being a traditional Italian dish — it's believed to have originated in France — mozzarella sticks are a staple on the menus of Italian-American eateries. Olive Garden is no exception, although it put its own twist on the classic recipe. Instead of serving cheese in stick form, Olive Garden cuts mozzarella into rectangular patties before breading and frying them. We applaud the restaurant for attempting to make this classic, fried pub food a little more artisanal, but truthfully, it should have skipped out on this dish altogether.

Ideally, mozzarella sticks should be incredibly gooey, easily pulling apart to reveal a string of melted cheese. However, Olive Garden's fried mozzarella tends to snap rather than stretch when pulled apart. In addition to the lack of stretch, the cheese patties are barely lukewarm and excessively greasy. We expect a certain degree of oiliness in our fried food, but come on Olive Garden; this is obscene.

3. Herb-grilled salmon

Olive Garden is most known for its delectable pasta options, but that doesn't stop the restaurant from offering some less carb-heavy dishes. In an age where consumers are often considerate of their health and frequently gluten-free, chains require options like nutritious, grilled fish or meat served with vegetables. Although some might scoff at the idea of not ordering pasta from Olive Garden, we see no shame in attempting the health-conscious route. But Olive Garden doesn't make it easy — one of the eatery's few carb-conscious dishes falls completely flat, making those pasta options appear even more tempting.

Olive Garden's salmon dish comes doused in garlic-herb butter, with a side of Parmesan and garlic-coated broccoli. Unfortunately, the butter does nothing to save this dense cut of farm-raised salmon from a dried-out, flavorless fate. An ideal piece of salmon flakes away at the slightest nudge of the fork — but Olive Garden's dish requires a steak knife to hack away at it. The cheesy broccoli does nothing to provide solace for this sad meal. It's severely lacking in both the parmesan and garlic departments. Perhaps you'd be better off with the restaurant's Grilled Chicken Margherita if your aim is to steer clear of carbs. This meal includes melted mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto for a flavor-rich take on a simple grilled chicken dish.

4. Chocolate lasagna

Initially, the name Chocolate Lasagna likely strikes fear into the hearts of Italian chefs. But fear not, pasta lovers; this dish doesn't involve marinara, noodles, and chocolate sauce (although, at this point, we wouldn't put it past Olive Garden). Rather, this dessert option courtesy of the O.G. is simply a chocolate layer cake. It isn't nearly as intriguing as its title makes it out to be. We're pretty disappointed with this dessert for a myriad of reasons. Not only is it a disgrace to all lasagnas out there, but it comes previously frozen, and it shows.

The abomination that is Olive Garden's Chocolate Lasagna consists of layers of chocolate cake with whipped mousse in between, topped with a thin, crispy wafer, and drizzled with chocolate sauce — which is really the same thin syrup that one would use to make chocolate milk. This dessert is the permanent replacement for a previous limited-time-only Olive Garden treat called the Chocolate Brownie Lasagna. This dessert was a fan favorite, complete with moist brownies and whipped cream. And while this option was also nothing like a lasagna, we didn't mind, because we were in love. The replacement dessert lasagna couldn't hold a candle to Olive Garden's previous masterpiece.

5. Spinach and artichoke dip

Few things in this world are as delicious and indulgent as a steamy bowl of veggies and creamy cheese. A typical recipe for spinach and artichoke dip involves its namesake veggies along with aromatics and a decadent blend of cream cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, and cream. As much as we hate to admit it, no one is flocking to this renowned appetizer for the greens. Loads of cheese and cream and crusty bread for dipping are what make this dish so appealing. Unfortunately, Olive Garden missed this memo.

The spinach and artichoke dip at Olive Garden is disappointing, to say the least. To start, the dip cools down in a matter of minutes. It transforms before your eyes from a steaming bowl of chunky liquid to a solid, which makes dipping next to impossible. Next, the dish is served with what the restaurant deems "flatbread crisps" — an enigmatic dipping vessel that falls somewhere between bread and chips. They're not quite soft but lack any desired crunch. If that wasn't depressing enough, the main attraction of the dip — the cheese — is horrifyingly scarce. Most of the dip is heaps and mounds of spinach with a few artichoke shreds strewn about, and very little cream and hot, gooey cheese. Our message to Olive Garden regarding this appetizer: If we wanted a hot salad for whatever reason, we would have ordered one.

6. Chicken and cheese piadina

Those of us who frequent Olive Garden during lunchtime are likely aware of the acclaimed soup, salad, and breadsticks lunch for only $10.99. But Olive Garden has a few other lunch options to keep things fresh once you've tried every soup at least a dozen times and are sick of breadsticks (hard to fathom, we know). Among these other lunch choices is the chicken and cheese piadina. A piadina is an Italian flatbread-style sandwich, not unlike a Mexican quesadilla. Like many sandwiches, it's filled with a variety of meats, veggies, and cheeses and served toasted and warm. We're proud of our favorite Italian-American chain for encouraging its customers to try something they may have never heard of. But all we can say about this choice made by Olive Garden is that it's a great idea, but the execution needs some work.

Those looking for a light but filling lunch option to enjoy alongside a fresh salad or comforting soup will be disappointed to find that Olive Garden's piadina is nothing short of a greasy mess. Along with its greasiness, the cheese isn't melted properly, leaving chunks of cold cheese floating among mouth-scorching, melted globs. The vegetables that the menu promises exist within this Italian-style sandwich and are few and far between. You're better off avoiding this Olive Garden item at all costs and sticking to the classic trio.

7. Cheese ravioli

Ravioli is an Italian staple often found in the United States for good reason. The little pasta envelopes filled with cheese or meat are versatile enough to top with any sauce, or you can crisp them up in an air fryer for a convenient, dippable snack. Olive Garden serves its ravioli stuffed with cheese and served with either marinara — for a classic vegetarian option — or with a meat sauce made with ground beef and Italian sausage. Any way you order it, it sounds like a foolproof dish, right? Well, we regret to inform you that you couldn't be more wrong.

Olive Garden manages to ruin its simple cheese ravioli by — we suspect — not draining the filling before adding it to the pasta pockets. When you bite into the ravioli, a pool of water spills out, watering down your sauce until it's a thin, sloppy mess. The cheesy interior of the ravioli is nearly imperceptible, with each pasta pouch seemingly composed of equal parts water, air, and cheese. Opting for any other pasta dish on the menu would be a wiser choice, ensuring your sauces remain undiluted, ultimately preserving their flavor integrity.

8. Shrimp fritto misto

Fritto misto is an summertime Italian street food consisting of fried mixed seafood and vegetables served alongside a lemon wedge and dipping sauces. Olive Garden attempts to recreate this Italian classic with shrimp acting as the star of the crispy, fried show. Bell peppers and onions are the accompanying veggies, and house-made marinara and spicy ranch join the party for your dipping pleasure. Although this dish is exactly what Olive Garden advertises, it still manages to be one of the most disappointing menu items at the chain.

What makes the traditional dish delicious is its use of a variety of different seafood items, all fresh caught from the Mediterranean. Olive Garden's shrimp is hardly a substitute. Additionally, the breading that the chain uses is overly greasy and salty, thus masking any flavor from the shrimp or vegetables. Instead of an appetizer with multiple flavors and textures, you're left with an overly beige, greasy mess that tastes like nothing but breading and salt.

9. Meatballs Parmigiana

Meatball recipes vary, and renditions of the protein span across the globe. This sheer variety, as well as people's association with those recipes being passed down from generation to generation, means that meatballs can be a very polarizing topic. When it comes to Olive Garden's Meatballs Parmigiana, some O.G. fans swear by the dish, while others despise it.

Olive Garden's Meatballs Parmigiana consists of meatballs, house-made marinara sauce, melted cheese, and breadcrumbs. The dish is simple, elegant, and the perfect combination of ingredients to get your appetite geared up for a hearty pasta meal. Olive Garden makes its meatballs with beef, rather than pork, and seasons them well with fresh-tasting Italian herbs and aromatics. But the Meatballs Parmigiana dish manages to ruin these delicious meatballs by serving them with very little sauce, which leaves a bland and dry disaster on your plate where a flavorful and juicy appetizer should be. Solo meatballs aren't much of a meal either — and a drizzle of sauce and a light sprinkle of cheese and breadcrumbs doesn't amount to much. What sauce is present in this dish is thin and oily, eviscerating the breadcrumbs and leaving a glue-like goop to coat the meatballs and the inside of your mouth with each bite.

10. Seafood Alfredo

Seafood Alfredo is a classic; no Italian restaurant menu would be complete without it. Olive Garden showcases its take on the beloved fishy dish with house-made Alfredo sauce, shrimp, and scallops. On paper, this dish has it all: unctuousness from Parmesan and cream, juicy chunks of seafood to add texture, flavor, and heartiness, and thick fettuccine noodles to soak up the sauce and add some extra heartiness. But behind the appealing photo on the menu lies the truth — and it's a little hard to swallow.

Former employees have reported that Olive Garden's meats and seafood come previously frozen. While it doesn't come as a shock, considering the O.G. is famous for it's relatively low prices and subpar but still tasty fare, any seafood lover will tell you that freezing seafood seriously alters its taste and texture — especially when it comes to delicate scallops. While the shrimp is passable, the scallops in this dish are chewy and overcooked — which is just another serious scallop faux pas. Fresh, seared scallops are meant to be cooked thoroughly, but lightly, to avoid compromising their texture (the most beloved aspect of these tender medallions). To add to this texture mishap, we suspect that the seafood is not properly drained, like other Olive Garden menu items on this list, before being added to the pasta, resulting in excess water that thins the sauce and gives it a bland taste.

11. Zuppa Toscana

Much to the surprise of Olive Garden critics, the chain's soups — like its sauces — are all made in-house. The soups are a popular feature of the epic lunch trinity: soup, salad, and breadsticks. The warming, flavorful soups are usually everyone's second favorite item after iconic warm and fluffy breadsticks. Zuppa Toscana, an old Italian recipe created in the 1800s, is one of four soup options at Olive Garden. The soup features Italian sausage, potatoes, and kale in a creamy and slightly cheesy broth. When prepared correctly, the ingredients meld together seamlessly for a rustic soup that's filling, savory, and loaded with salty, tangy, and rich flavors. While we appreciate that the soup is created from scratch at Olive Garden, it's obvious that passion for the recipe isn't a necessary ingredient.

Olive Garden's take on zuppa Toscana isn't horrendous, but it doesn't come close to showcasing how delicious this soup can be. The broth is overly salted, meaning the chef preparing the soup likely doesn't take the time to balance the saltiness of the broth with the sodium in the sausage. The kale isn't prepped properly beforehand, so prepare for chunks of the bitter green with the rib still attached. Potatoes and sausage are seriously lacking in this soup, so the next time you stop into the O.G. for an unlimited lunch trio, opt for the fan-favorite chicken and gnocchi soup instead.


While this list has pointed out the issues I've encountered with Olive Garden, in the end, I still consider myself a fan of the restaurant. I've dined at my local Olive Garden on numerous occasions and have found more dishes that I enjoy than those I don't. Most of the items on this list I've personally sampled, while a few were included based on feedback gleaned from articles and social media reviews.

While personal preferences certainly play a role in my opinions of specific menu items, in compiling this list, I set aside individual taste biases. I assessed the dishes based on universal meal qualities — such as tender pasta, succulent meat and fish, and fresh vegetables — all of which were nowhere to be found in the items listed.