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12 Items You Should Think Twice About Ordering From Red Lobster

five Red Lobster dishes
five Red Lobster dishes - Static Media / Getty

Who among us hasn't fantasized about the possibility of engoring ourselves on lobster, shrimp, and crab until we burst at the seams? The dream of an endless seafood binge has become a reality thanks to Red Lobster, a household name in the fruits of the sea since 1968. In 2023, the company made headlines when its all-you-can-eat shrimp promotion backfired and cost the brand nearly $13 million. The same mistake befell the chain back in 2003 when endless snow crab was introduced to its menu during record-high crab prices. We're sensing a pattern here.

But the aquatic escapades don't stop there. Red Lobster's renowned Lobsterfest, a celebration of all things lobster with special menu items that feature everyone's favorite bottom feeder, caters to the inner crustacean connoisseur in each of us. And let's not forget the crème de la crème — Red Lobster's amazing cheddar biscuits. Essentially, if you're a spirited shellfish supporter, Red Lobster beckons, as long as you hold your guard high.

Amid the siren call of all-you-can-eat wonders, it's not all sunshine and rainbows at Red Lobster (although its promotions sound too good to be true). While the meals at this famous establishment will undoubtedly quench that maritime craving, some items are better left untouched. Drawing on the firsthand encounters of a seafood aficionado, coupled with customer reviews and articles, I've assembled a catalog of Red Lobster's menu offerings that transform a delightful seafood reverie into a plunge into the depths of a deep-sea nightmare.

Read more: Restaurant Foods That Always Taste Better Than What You Make At Home

Garlic Shrimp Scampi

shrimp scampi in white bowl
shrimp scampi in white bowl - Red Lobster Lover Joe / Facebook

Scampi-style is a favorite method for enjoying the little pink crescents of the ocean. A simple sauce allows the flavor of the shrimp to shine, while garlic helps to enhance the taste and add aromatics. Butter, naturally, is the perfect accompaniment to shellfish. It's hard to imagine that a simple garlic and butter sauce could end in ruin, turning this Italian seafood fixture into a horrific shrimp ruiner. But alas, it all went wrong with the most essential part of the meal: the butter.

Red Lobster has received backlash for its butter-based dishes, and those who have ordered items like the garlic shrimp scampi, assuming it would be a safe bet on a delicious meal, understand why. The restaurant's purported butter falls short of expectations. Rather, the sauce conjures up memories of the butter substitute offered at movie theatres to dose your popcorn in. The pungent, deeply artificial taste masks the flavor of the shrimp, while garlic offers little redemption. Whether the butter at Red Lobster is genuine remains a mystery, but swapping it with any butter-like alternative could elevate this dish from the abyss to at least a palatable experience.

Salmon New Orleans

salmon with rice and asparagus
salmon with rice and asparagus - Food Observations / Facebook

Cajun seasoning — typically made up of white pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic powder — enhances any meal with layers of flavors, especially a fish-centric dish. Cajun-style is an especially popular method of dressing salmon, turning the mellow-tasting fish into a savory symphony. Red Lobster attempts to create this bayou classic as its Salmon New Orleans, albeit in all the worst ways.

Red Lobster's take on Cajun is anything but. The restaurant's unfortunate excuse for a simple Cajun blend tastes like mere paprika. There's no hint of spice from cayenne, no layers of pepper flavor, and not even a dash of cumin to at least give it some depth, which we would prefer, even though cumin has no place in Cajun seasoning. It appears as though Red Lobster attempts to compensate for this sad seasoning spectacle by topping the salmon with what it deems tomato-cilantro relish. Cilantro, like cumin, doesn't deserve a spot at the Cajun table, but Red Lobster succumbs to this faux pas without a care. If that wasn't bad enough, the tomato-cilantro relish tastes like what you would make if you were tasked with preparing homemade pico de gallo but had to use whatever you had lying around the kitchen. We think Red Lobster could easily omit the cilantro and bulk up the seasoning blend to make this dish a little more reminiscent of what you'd find in The Big Easy.

French Fries

french fries white background
french fries white background - New Africa/Shutterstock

That's right; you read that correctly. Somehow, Red Lobster has managed to decimate the most simple yet irresistible side of all time: french fries. A side of crispy, sea salt-coated french fries to accompany a lobster tail or two, along with some fresh broccoli, is a meal that, in theory, you could snag at any Red Lobster in the country. But no matter which branch of this giant chain you visit, you'll find that the french fries are far from what you've been dreaming about.

It's clear that Red Lobster can't be bothered with tasking its employees to hand-cut potatoes in order to prepare the most sought-after side dish in existence. It's blatant to any and all who decide to treat themselves to the humble potato's most glorious form that these little golden nuggets have been previously frozen. Usually, the french fries at Red Lobster are undercooked, resulting in a goopy yellow catastrophe that can only be redeemed with layers upon layers of ketchup. But, even then, little can be done to create the lobster-and-fry meal that you've been wistfully contemplating. Instead, Red Lobster invites you to indulge in a mushy mess. You might even need a spoon for this one.

White Wine And Garlic Mussels

mussels in sauce with tomato
mussels in sauce with tomato - Red Lobster Lover Joe / Facebook

Possibly the best way to enjoy mussels is in a sauce of white wine and garlic. These gems of the sea simmer in the sauce, creating a sweet, tangy, and fragrant meal from such a humble little mollusk. When the sauce is prepared well, it's nearly drinkable, prompting you to use the empty shell of a mussel post-devouring to slurp up sauce discreetly but with gusto. Red Lobster attempts to create this slurpable seafood staple, but entirely misses the mark.

Mussels are absolutely delicious when they come fresh and from a dignified establishment, but like its fries, Red Lobster's mussels appear to come previously frozen, resulting in a significantly more dastardly blunder than the restaurant's french fry failure. When mussels are chewy, it's nearly impossible to enjoy them. You'd be better off with any of the other fruits of the sea in its stead. We'll cut Red Lobster a little slack regarding the white wine and garlic sauce. The sauce is fragrant and tasty, albeit not of the highest quality. But even the most mouth-watering garlic and white wine sauce ever unleashed upon the world would be reduced to nothing without the proper shellfish accompaniment.

Fried Calamari

fried calamari ranch marinara
fried calamari ranch marinara - Red Lobster Lover Joe / Facebook

Fried calamari is essential on restaurant menus regardless of the type of cuisine served. A go-to choice at pubs, steakhouses, Asian restaurants, and beyond, this golden oceanic classic is a favorite for fried seafood fans. Still, this dish certainly varies based on quality and preparation methods. Those of us who have mistakenly indulged in poor-quality calamari know just how offputting it can be. A dense, rubbery texture combined with mushy, flavorless breading creates one of the most disappointing experiences from a tried-and-true favorite.

Red Lobster needs to step up its calamari game because its fried calamari starter is considered one of the worst on its menu. Although we don't expect the highest quality imaginable from a chain that boasts low prices for luxury meals, we expect something better than chewy calamari and soft breading at $15.99 for a skimpy basket. The only saving grace for this wimpy appetizer is the accompanying sauces. Red Lobster serves its fried calamari with both marinara and jalapeño ranch dipping sauces. The marinara isn't anything special, but the jalapeño ranch sauce makes up for the rubbery squid, albeit only slightly.

Bar Harbor Lobster Bake

various shellfish over linguini
various shellfish over linguini - Suzie Ridler / Facebook

One of the most iconic dishes at any seafood restaurant is a blend of various fish and shellfish served over pasta. Red Lobster includes this classic seafood dish as its Bar Harbor Lobster Bake — a balanced medley of Maine lobster, shrimp, bay scallops, and mussels served over linguini in garlic and white wine broth with tomatoes added for a tangy, acidic kick. This dish sounds like any seafood lover's paradise, but Red Lobster drops the ball on this ideal meal.

For starters, this dish's name is rather misleading. Nothing about this meal is reminiscent of a traditional Maine lobster bake. The seafood in the Bar Harbor Lobster Bake is underseasoned and overboiled, resulting in a bland, chewy aftermath that will leave you wishing you ordered a burger instead. Any potential redemption through the linguini is also lost, as the pasta appears to have been microwaved rather than cooked al dente, resulting in a less-than-desirable texture. Microwaving pasta often leads to a sticky mess, which is unfortunately the case at this chain. Ultimately, we recommend avoiding any pasta dishes at Red Lobster at all costs.

Brownie Overboard

brownie whipped cream dessert
brownie whipped cream dessert - Red Lobster Lover Joe / Facebook

Upon initial inspection, the Brownie Overboard* appears to be a delightful treat for both kids and adults. What's not to love about a rich, chewy brownie covered with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge, and caramel sauce? Yet, somehow, Red Lobster manages to deliver this seemingly fool-proof dessert to the dismay of its customers, turning the restaurant's dining room into a sea of disappointment and regret.

We'll start with the brownie itself. This universally beloved dessert falls completely flat at the Red Lobster table. Far from fresh-baked, this so-called treat is dry and cheap-tasting. Ice cream offers some solace, but not enough to completely save this brownie from utter failure. To top it all off — literally and figuratively — the employees at Red Lobster heavy-handed the fudge and caramel sauce to destructive levels. This sugar bomb is so sweet that it's practically unpalatable. A slight drizzle of caramel or fudge would have sufficed, but we suspect that the rivers of sweet sauce act as an unsuccessful attempt to hide the disgraceful brownie. For shame, Red Lobster.

Bacon Mac And Cheese

bacon macaroni cheese blue bowl
bacon macaroni cheese blue bowl - Thecrimsonmonkey/Getty Images

Getting playful with macaroni and cheese additions is a fun and flavorful adventure. The possibilities are practically infinite, but one addition blows nearly every other option out of the water: bacon. Bacon is the ultimate topping to turn any meal from dull to delicious, adding salty, savory flavor and crispiness to dishes. But not all bacon is created equal. True bacon, with melty fat and a satisfying crunch, is perfect in macaroni and cheese, no matter how bland the cheese sauce is. But don't expect this meal-enhancer to get the job done at Red Lobster.

Red Lobster's bacon (we don't even feel comfortable calling it bacon) is more like a cheap imitation. Likely a soy-based bacon imposter, these little brown bits are scarce and deeply unsatisfying in this macaroni and cheese side dish. We would typically recommend that you order this side sans bacon bits, but the macaroni and cheese itself is as disappointing as the bacon. The pale yellow cheese sauce is bland and watery, and like Red Lobster's other pasta, the macaroni is mushy and overcooked.

Sesame Soy Salmon Bowl

glazed salmon rice greens
glazed salmon rice greens - Red Lobster Lover Joe / Facebook

Attempting to get a meal that is both satisfying and nutritious at a restaurant can sometimes be a daunting task. But, usually, restaurants that don't specialize in health food offer at least one or two options for those looking for something light yet satisfying and full of vitamins and healthy proteins. The sesame soy salmon bowl at Red Lobster appears to be that option. This meal includes a piece of flakey salmon with sesame-ginger glaze, orzo rice, edamame, and Brussels sprouts. Amidst a sea of tantalizing but greasy fried options, the sesame soy salmon bowl beckons from the trenches of the Red Lobster menu, inviting you to enjoy a flavorful Asian-inspired fish dish.

Unbeknownst to most Red Lobster patrons, the sesame soy salmon bowl clocks in at a whopping 1,220 calories. This wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that, at first glance, the dish appears to be one of the most low-calorie options on the menu. For those attempting to keep an eye on their calorie intake, this meal is quite deceiving. It also includes 2,770 milligrams of sodium. The FDA recommends only about 2,300 milligrams a day, so you'd reach your salt quota with just this meal. But if you're looking to up your sodium intake, then this dish is for you.

Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes in handled bowl
mashed potatoes in handled bowl - John Shepherd/Getty Images

A creamy and thick bowl of mashed potatoes served alongside a lobster tail or steak is the perfect all-American dinner. Readers might be surprised to see mashed potatoes on this list, considering restaurant mashed potatoes are notorious for being more decadent and buttery smooth than their homecooked rivals. But like its potatoey pitfall regarding french fries, Red Lobster can't hold its own in the mashed potato game, turning this basic staple into a soupy, lifeless disaster.

Red Lobster's mashed potatoes come plain and simple: Just potatoes in mushy form. The only flavor imparted comes from a generous helping of salt, so if you have an aversion to any sort of spices, then this side dish might be a worthy option. But for those of us who want even a hint of flavor in our food, these potatoes deserve a hard pass.

All additions to the chain's mashed potatoes must be added separately — this includes butter, bacon, sour cream, and green onions. Some of these additions are complimentary upon request, while others cost extra. At about $4.49 for a bare naked side of mashed potatoes, we hope you don't intend to add too many costly extras; otherwise, this side dish might wind up with a meal-sized price tag.

Admiral's Feast

fried seafood side broccoli
fried seafood side broccoli - Red Lobster Lover Joe / Facebook

Nearly every seafood establishment includes a fried fish dinner, and the Admiral's Feast at Red Lobster is just that. This signature fried fish offering comes with shrimp, bay scallops, clam strips, and flounder, all coated in a buttery batter and deep-fried. Look — we have nothing against fried fish. It certainly has its place as one of the best fried dishes out there. There's nothing like a basket of clam strips or fish and chips from your favorite local shop. But Red Lobster takes it too far with the Admiral's Feast. This gigantic plate of greasy seafood is far too beige for our liking. A spread of various fish and shellfish makes for a great meal, but only if one or two of the options come fried.

Guests can choose two sides to accompany the Admiral's Feast. Red Lobster implores its customers to double down on the fried food with this dish by showcasing the meal served with french fries on its website. We suggest adding a bit of color to this brown monstrosity of a meal to compensate for its unfortunate nutritional content. This dish comes out to 1,640 calories, 96 grams of fat, and  4,750 milligrams of sodium. Broccoli or a side salad might save the Admiral's Feast to an extent, but you're probably better off with anything else on the menu.

Creamy Lobster Baked Potato

baked potato with lobster
baked potato with lobster - @telanna / Instagram

Have you ever gotten home after a night of partying with your stomach rumbling, so you threw together an epic atrocity of a meal, only to forget all about it the following morning? That's precisely what Red Lobster's creamy lobster baked potato reminds us of. Cream and lobster go beautifully together, which is why lobster bisque is probably the most iconic bisque of all time. But throw a potato into the mix? It seems so out of place and unwarranted.

Although it's an odd combo, chunks of fresh lobster, thick and creamy sauce, and a potato baked to golden perfection would likely make a delicious side dish or snack. Assuming all ingredients were fresh and carefully prepared, we can confidently say that we would enthusiastically indulge. But Red Lobster continues to miss the mark with this poor excuse for a unique dish, with a clearly microwaved potato and a thin, watery beurre blanc sauce. We suspect that this side dish was created in order to use up older, leftover lobster. The lobster on this potato tastes less fresh than the restaurant's other lobster creations, and it would make sense that the chain would strive to use up as much of an expensive ingredient as possible.

Methodology

black Red Lobster sign
black Red Lobster sign - Bloomberg/Getty Images

We've all been there: You're amped for a tasty meal, only to be served something that completely falls flat of your expectations. As a frequent Red Lobster patron with a soft spot for all things seafood, I like to think I've got a good radar for a top-tier fish dish. Red Lobster has its highlight (I mean, who could resist those cheddar biscuits?), but there are a few menu items that, let's just say, might not live up to the hype.

Drawing upon my firsthand experiences, supplemented by customer feedback and informative articles, I've compiled this list of Red Lobster dishes that I recommend steering clear of. My goal? To save you from the letdown of a mediocre meal and ensure you get the most out of your next night out.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.