I went to Chili's for the first time with a friend, and our $102 meal was the best I've ever had at a chain restaurant

I went to Chili's for the first time with a friend, and our $102 meal was the best I've ever had at a chain restaurant
  • I ate at Chili's, a chain restaurant specializing in burgers and baby-back ribs, for the first time.

  • Dinner for me and a friend including cocktails, two appetizers, two entrées, and a dessert was $102.

  • It was great value and everything we ordered was delicious, from the skillet queso to the ribs.

Growing up in small-town Connecticut, I was raised going to chain restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and Applebee's.

In my opinion, nothing compares to selecting from an expansive menu of juicy burgers and guilty-pleasure appetizers, before indulging in a classic chain-restaurant lava cake.

However, even though I identify as a chain-restaurant superfan, there are a few chain restaurants I've never visited — including Chili's.

Recently, I visited a Chili's location in Queens, New York, for a Friday night dinner with a friend.

Chili's Grill & Bar first opened in Texas in 1975 and now operates in dozens of countries.

chilis restaurant
The outside of the Chili's restaurant in Queens, New York.Erin McDowell/Insider

Chili's was founded by Larry Lavine in Dallas, Texas, in 1975. The restaurant's mission was to provide great burgers "in an awesome unpretentious space," according to the company's website.

The chain still specializes in burgers, but it is also well-known for its baby-back ribs, Southwestern-inspired appetizers, and drinks. It now has over 1,600 restaurants across 29 countries, according to a September press release from the company.

On a Friday night and prime dinner time, my friend and I were immediately seated at a booth in the restaurant's dining room.

the inside of the chilis restaurant
The inside of the Chili's restaurant.Erin McDowell/Insider

We both live in Brooklyn, New York, and it was a quick car ride to the Chili's at The Shops at Atlas Park outdoor shopping mall in Queens.

As we walked into the restaurant, we saw rows of booths and tables, plus decor that paid homage to the chain's signature offerings, like a large mural across the back of the restaurant that said "Baby Back Ribs."

It was already busy with diners, from families to couples, but we were seated right away at a booth in the center of the restaurant. The decor was simple but welcoming, and the high-backed booth was comfortable and made it feel like we were the only people there.

After we were seated, we perused the extensive menu, which included everything from burgers and salads to pasta and sizzling fajitas.

chilis restaurant menus
The Chili's menu.Erin McDowell/Insider

There were no free appetizers or bread offered, unlike other chain restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and The Cheesecake Factory, so we decided to choose two appetizers and two signature cocktails to kick off our meal.

I ordered a classic presidente margarita, while my friend chose a tiki beach party margarita.

chilis restaurant margarita
We both opted for a margarita.Erin McDowell/Insider

Chili's had a large selection of margaritas, plus classic cocktails, wine, and beer. I opted for a classic margarita since it's my go-to drink at most bars and I wanted to see how it would compare.

I thought my margarita, which cost $9, went down easy, but it could have used a touch more salt and lime to add just a little more sourness.

My friend is a huge fan of Curaçao and she loved her sweet, tiki drink, which cost $8.39. She thought it had a delicious tropical flavor that complemented our food without overpowering it.

I also loved how my margarita came with a personal shaker.

chilis restaurant margarita
The presidente margarita.Erin McDowell/Insider

I ended up getting about five servings of the drink, even though the glass was small. It made me feel like I was getting a great value for the price.

We opted for the dip trio as our first appetizer and loved all three of the dips.

chilis restaurant dip trio
The dip trio from Chili's.Erin McDowell/Insider

I'm a huge fan of chips and salsa at any Tex-Mex restaurant, so I decided to see how Chili's selection fared. We were given a choice of any three dips from white or skillet queso, guacamole, and salsa.

We decided to order the skillet queso, guacamole, and salsa trio for $10.49.

The guacamole was fresh and flavorful, and the salsa was just spicy enough. However, our favorite dip of the three was the skillet queso.

chilis restaurant skillet queso
A chip dipped in the skillet queso.Erin McDowell/Insider

The queso had a delicious smoky flavor and creamy texture that coated each tortilla chip.

We wanted to try as many appetizers as possible, so we also ordered the Triple Dipper appetizer sampler.

chilis restaurant appetizer sampler platter
The Triple Dipper appetizer sampler.Erin McDowell/Insider

There were more than a dozen appetizers to choose from, but we decided on the Triple Dipper, which allowed us to choose a sampling of three appetizers from the entire menu. We decided on Southwestern egg rolls, Big Mouth Bites, and bone-in Buffalo wings.

The platter, which also came with three sides of ranch for dipping, cost $15.99, plus an additional $1.50 to upgrade and add the bone-in wings.

We both thought this was great value for the price. The platter could have easily been split between three people. For just two of us, this could have been our entire dinner, especially given the filling choices we made. If you're the kind of diner who likes to just do drinks and apps when eating out, the Triple Dipper will be right up your alley.

The Southwestern egg rolls were filled with corn, chicken, black beans, spinach, red peppers, and jalapeño jack cheese.

chilis restaurant southwestern egg roll
The Southwestern egg rolls.Erin McDowell/Insider

The tortilla shell of the egg roll was super crispy, and I really enjoyed the flavor combination of the Southwestern-inspired filling.

The Buffalo wings were really juicy, but I thought they could have been just a touch crispier.

chilis restaurant buffalo chicken wing
The bone-in Buffalo wing.Erin McDowell/Insider

My only note was that they could have been a little crispier on the outside and coated in a little more sauce. The wings were good, but they were definitely not my favorite thing we tried.

But my favorite item from the sampler was the Big Mouth slider.

chilis restaurant burger bite
The Big Mouth burger slider.Erin McDowell/Insider

The sliders came with a beef patty, bacon, American cheese, and sauteed onions. They reminded me a little of White Castle's iconic sliders, and the bacon and sauteed onions added a lot of flavor.

Ordering these sliders as part of the sampler was the perfect way to try Chili's burgers without making it my entrée.

For my main, I chose the half-order of baby-back ribs and two sides. I was really impressed by the chain's signature dish.

chilis restaurant baby back ribs meal
The baby-back ribs with mac and cheese and street corn.Erin McDowell/Insider

I was given the choice of three different rubs for the ribs: Texas dry-rub, honey-chipotle, or house BBQ. I decided to try the house BBQ with mac and cheese and street corn as my two sides.

The platter came to $18.79, plus an additional $2 to upgrade to my choice of sides.

The white-cheddar mac and cheese was indulgent and creamy.

chilis restaurant mac and cheese
The white-cheddar mac and cheese.Erin McDowell/Insider

I thought it was also a good portion size for a side dish.

The street corn blew me away.

chilis restaurant street corn
The street corn.Erin McDowell/Insider

The corn on the cob came coated in mayonnaise, chili powder, and fresh cilantro, which added a lot of flavor. The corn itself was roasted and super tender.

The baby-back ribs had a crispy char on the outside, but the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender.

chilis restaurant baby back ribs
The baby-back ribs.Erin McDowell/Insider

I was pleased with my choice of the house BBQ sauce, which added a delicious sweetness to the tender meat. Right away, I could see why Chili's is so famous for its baby-back ribs — I could have easily polished off the full rack.

My friend ordered the Quesadilla Explosion salad, and she loved how fresh it tasted.

chilis restaurant quesadilla explosion salad
The quesadilla salad.Erin McDowell/Insider

The Quesadilla Explosion salad ($14.99) comes with a choice of protein, cheese, tomatoes, corn salsa, tortilla strips, cilantro, and citrus-balsamic, topped with cheese quesadillas.

My friend said there was a pleasant tanginess to the citrus dressing, and the crispy quesadillas paired perfectly with the dip trio we had already ordered. She also said the lettuce, tomatoes, and corn tasted very fresh, and that the entire meal was well-balanced.

For dessert, we opted for something decadent to share.

chilis restaurant chocolate lava cake
The chocolate lava cake.Erin McDowell/Insider

For dessert, we ordered the Molten Chocolate Cake ($9.79), a chocolate cake with a molten chocolate lava center, topped with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate shell with caramel drizzle.

The dessert was sweet and the perfect finishing touch to our meal. While I've had many chocolate lava cakes with vanilla ice cream in my time, I loved the addition of the chocolate shell and caramel sauce. It was also the perfect size for two people to share.

The final cost of our meal came to $102, plus a tip for our hostess. I would definitely eat at Chili's again after such a great experience.

author and guest outside chilis restaurant
The author and a friend outside the Chili's restaurant.Erin McDowell/Insider

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by my Chili's experience. While I expected to enjoy the meal, I never anticipated having one of the best meals — if not the absolute best — that I've ever had at a chain restaurant.

From the dip trio and tender baby-back ribs to the mouthwatering lava cake, the meal was delicious from start to finish.

At $102 for our party of two, it ended up being around $51 per person, although the baby-back ribs entrée was more expensive than the salad.

In New York City, that's pretty good value for dinner and drinks out, especially considering how much food we got. Our meal could have been made more affordable if we chose only one appetizer and skipped dessert, which is what I typically do when going out to eat. However, for my first ever time at Chili's, I wanted to try as many menu items as possible.

After eating at Chili's for the first time, I can't wait to return for the delicious appetizers and baby-back ribs that definitely lived up to the hype.

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