Everyone's favorite food author this side of Anthony Bourdain, Michael Ruhlman, had the same feeling.
A week or so ago I made fun of author and journalist Kelly Alexander after she wrote an article in praise of the Cheesecake Factory. She quickly issued a challenge by email: "OK, Ruhlman: A wager is in order, clearly. If you go to the Cheesecake Factory, taste that miso salmon, and after that can honestly tell me it doesn't rock, I will not only pay for your salmon but will personally buy 15 copies of Ratio. If you go and eat it and then concede that it tastes good, you have to blog KELLY ALEXANDER IS RIGHT ABOUT THE SALMON AT THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY. Deal or no deal?"
Sure enough Ruhlman lost the bet and wrote his mea culpa.
I'm a little easier on chain restaurants than most food bloggers. I figure if they didn't serve good food, they'd go out of business. Applebee's and Arby's, just to name two restaurants, don't really prove my point but, for the most part, the food is at least acceptable.
So, in the spirit of Ruhlman, I'm going to come out and announce my guilty pleasure, I like Houlihan's. I've never had a bad meal there number one, but number two, I've really enjoyed every meal I've had there. I don't think I've had the same thing twice because something on the menu catches my eye every time. Sure, Stella and I did get a free meal there one time, but we had to eat with Owen so the freebie cancels itself out. The steaks I've had there have been perfectly cooked and flavorful. The sandwiches have always been good, the french onion soup is very good and I even enjoy their salads.
My only complaints about Houlihan's is that it is a little more expensive than I would like it to be and their beer selection is horrible. We generally only go there when we get one of our birthday or special event coupons. But that's about it, I think Houlihan's has good food and a decent atmosphere. If you're going to eat a mid priced chain restaurant, Houlihan's should be your choice.