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My family of 4 ate at Olive Garden for the first time, and our $150 meal felt like an excellent value

By Terri Peters,

12 days ago

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A lot of Americans are looking for value when they dine out — and Olive Garden left my family impressed.
  • My family of four ate at Italian-American chain restaurant Olive Garden for the first time.
  • Our $150 meal included an appetizer, entreés, desserts, soup, salad, breadsticks, and wine.
  • Based on the giant portion sizes and quality of the pasta dishes, I'd return to Olive Garden again.

Since my family started visiting chain restaurants for the first time about a year ago, we've dined everywhere, from Ruth's Chris Steak House to Bahama Breeze .

I've never seen customers lined up just to get a table at any of them until we visited Olive Garden on a Friday night.

But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised — Americans are spending more of their income on going out to eat than ever before , and diners are searching for value.

And, after a great meal, my husband, our two teens, and I found it at Olive Garden.

Olive Garden is known for its classic Italian-inspired fare.
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Olive Garden has been around since 1982.

The first Olive Garden opened in Orlando in 1982, and the chain became famous for its Italian-American fare and "never-ending" breadsticks and soup or salad.

Now, it has about 900 locations in the US and countries like Mexico and Canada.

We started our meal with a $20 bottle of wine.
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Our wine from Olive Garden was an excellent value.

Olive Garden offers a selection of Italian wines for just $20 per bottle, so my husband and I opted for a red blend.

We also could've chosen white, pink, or red Moscato, but we're not big sweet wine drinkers.

The wine was delicious and, at just $20 for the whole bottle, felt like a true value. Our kids ordered a soda and a peach-raspberry iced tea, which were $4 each.

We shared a $9 appetizer to start.
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Olive Garden's fried mozzarella was tasty.

The menu mostly consisted of classic pasta dishes and more creative ones, plus also soups, chicken dishes, and appetizers like calamari and toasted ravioli .

We started off our meal with Olive Garden's fried mozzarella ($9) and really enjoyed it. We got seven fried mozzarella sticks and a side of marinara dipping sauce.

My son, the least adventurous eater out of the four of us, had never tried mozzarella sticks before. After trying these, he was a convert.

Our entreés came with soup, salad, and breadsticks.
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Our meals came with lots of extras.

Each entreé at Olive Garden comes with breadsticks and a choice of either soup or salad. All three are "never-ending," so if we ran out, we were welcome to ask for more.

My husband and I chose Olive Garden's iconic house salad — simple ingredients like lettuce, onions, pepperoncini, and tomatoes dressed with delicious Italian dressing.

My daughter tried the zuppa toscana soup, and it was so tasty we could all see why there are so many copycat recipes for it online.

My son stuck with just the breadsticks, which were also really good. I was impressed by how much extra food accompanies each entreé at this chain restaurant.

The chicken Alfredo was better than any version I've attempted to make at home.
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Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce was excellent.

Chicken Alfredo is one of my favorite things to order at an Italian restaurant, as I've yet to find an Alfredo sauce recipe or store-bought Alfredo that I like enough to enjoy at home.

So, I ordered a $20 plate of chicken Alfredo pasta and was not disappointed.

The portion size was huge, and the chicken was perfectly cooked. I immediately knew I'd be eating leftovers of this for days, and I wasn't mad about it.

My daughter's slice of lasagna was large and tasty.
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Olive Garden's portion sizes were generous.

My daughter's $19 Lasagna Classico was a pretty straightforward lasagna dish.

Olive Garden's meat sauce is a blend of beef and Italian sausage, and it gave the meal the perfect savory flavor. The multiple layers of cheeses like pecorino Romano, mozzarella, and Parmesan made this the ultimate comfort food.

With no burgers on the menu, my son was forced to be more adventurous.
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My son ordered spaghetti and meatballs at Olive Garden.

My son's standard order at most restaurants is a plain cheeseburger, so I was amused watching him figure out what to get from a menu of Italian-style dishes .

He picked traditional spaghetti and meatballs ($17) and seemed to really enjoy it.

My husband was impressed by his pasta dish with shrimp.
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Olive Garden's chicken and shrimp carbonara impressed my husband.

My husband, who enjoys seafood, chose the chicken and shrimp carbonara ($22).

The dish had pasta, shrimp, chicken, and peppers tossed in a creamy sauce. He enjoyed it a great deal and said the shrimp was cooked perfectly.

The four of us shared two desserts.
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Olive Garden has cake and donuts on its dessert menu.

For dessert, we tried a slice of strawberry cream cake ($10) — vanilla sponge layered with vanilla cream and topped with strawberries — and warm Italian donuts ($9).

The fried donuts were my favorite, mostly because they were served with both raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces, which made them even more delicious.

The only place Olive Garden failed me was with the limoncello.
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The limoncello from Olive Garden was OK.

After spending time in Italy this summer , I've become a big fan of limoncello and consider it synonymous with a delicious Italian meal.

So, after dessert, I asked our server for a glass of it.

The $8 pour came out warm and wasn't the most flavorful limoncello I've had, which I found surprising considering how good the red wine we'd had earlier in the evening tasted.

Based on our experience, we'd return to Olive Garden.
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My family had Olive Garden leftovers for days.

For $150, my family feasted on fried mozzarella, soup and salad, breadsticks, four entreés, two desserts, a bottle of wine, a glass of limoncello, and two kid-appropriate drinks.

The meal was surprisingly delicious and felt well worth the price, especially considering the soup, salad, and breadsticks were included with our entrées.

The portion sizes at Olive Garden were also impressive. We had leftover pasta to eat for several days, something none of us were complaining about.

Next time I visit, however, I'll skip the limoncello. And I'll join the waitlist in advance to make sure we get a table.

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