LITK: American Restaurant Chains in Saudi Arabia (Part One)

Ah, restaurant chains… We all have our various opinions for these mass producers of cuisine. Personally, I’m not really a fan. I’d rather have a small mom and pop style restaurant. The kind with twenty tables or less, local beer on tap, and the owner(s) working the dining area showing their appreciation.

However, there are is a benefit or two that comes with a mass produced international brand of dining establishment and its food. The first being familiarity. When you’ve been away from the wonderful country you call home, without and family for a few months, nothing helps curb the significant onslaught of home sickness like familiar food. Food is universal; and the title “comfort food,” in my opinion is quite relative to you and your needs in the moment.

Now, as I discussed in the last installment of Life in the Kingdom (LITK), there are many cultural differences that affect the day-to-day life of “expats.” In the case of Saudi Arabia these cultural differences steam into what restaurants can legally serve. In the Muslim culture, alcohol and pork products are not allowed to be consumed. Therefore, if you have an urge to eat a bacon cheese burger and wash it down with a beer, it better be beef or turkey bacon and a non-alcoholic beer. However, there are some upsides to the cultural differences on this subject. For instance, absolutely EVERYTHING here can be delivered to you. Whether it’s something standard, like a pizza delivery, or a third-party service app, like Uber Eats or GoWaiter, everything here can be brought to your door. Or in my case, to the outer security gate of my compound. Even fast food! Heck, I even have my groceries delivered to me every Saturday morning which is cheaper than driving to a store.

Khodarji Truck
Khodarji delivery truck, via jordonsun.com

With all that said, I have done my absolute best to take these factors into account when making these lists in attempt to be fair, but honestly these factors carry a heavier weight on some of the establishments. Without further delay, here are the best and worst five American restaurants in the Kingdom:

Best 5

Texas De Brazil

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Texas De Brazil storefront, via texasdebrazil.com

Easily the most expensive establishment in this post; Texas De Brazil is usually something myself and my co-workers save for special occasions, like a promotion, or someone ending their contract and returning home permanently.

For those who aren’t familiar with Texas De Brazil, and other Brazilian steakhouses let me explain. This style of restaurant is a carnivorous dream of grilled, smoked, and roasted; beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp, veal, and in non-Muslim countries, pork! Brazilian steakhouses are a form of buffet in which you are brought different types of meats on long steel spit rods, by the staff where they cut you a portion directly to your plate.

lambchops
Lamb chops, via texasdebrazil.com

When you are seated you are given a way to indicate if you do or do not need to be served. In the case of Texas De Brazil, this is done by using a drink coaster with a green side to indicate you want food, and a red side to indicate you do not require more food at the time.

Now, it is not only a continual heavenly onslaught of decadent meats. Oh no, my dear friends! Typically, there is an extravagant salad/cold bar that is included. Also depending on the establishment, hot sides are brought to you the same as the protein, or like Texas De Brazil, there may be a hot bar.

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Texas De Brazil cold bar, via denverpost.com

The Texas De Brazil in Riyadh does an excellent job of holding the high standards of the brand started in the state.

Outback Steakhouse

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Outback Steakhouse storefront in Riyadh, via David Cannon

Bloomin’ Onions, endless bread, and Wild West Shrimp are in high supply here in the kingdom. In true Outback fashion, when you walk in the door it looks exactly like it would if you would walk into one of the franchise’s locations anywhere in the U.S. The décor on the wall, the tables, and even the staff’s attire are on point in every way.

The one thing that sets the Outback here apart from others in the chain is something that you can find in most steakhouses here, but only in high hand establishments in the states. Waygu beef! This kind of beef is so spectacular, it can’t be over-hyped. Simply put, I makes Kobe beef look like freezer burned USDA Choice sirloin from Wal-Mart.

McDonald’s

eyeofriyadh
Riyadh McDonald’s, via eyeofriyadh.com

I feel like people may be surprised by this choice, but please let me make my case before you scoff and quit reading. Remember, food here for many in my situation is about finding anything to feel normal. With certain things being banned or inaccessible, achieving that normal feeling sometimes means pulling into a McDonald’s drive through after a bad day at work and ordering a large fry and a Coca-Cola. Typically, I’m not a fast food fan, but honestly no other franchise is able to bring the consistency, a world over, quite like that of the “Golden Arches.”

In my opinion, McDonald’s outside of the U.S. are usually better. I don’t really know why that is, but that is my experience. In the case of Saudi Arabia, Mickey D’s sure is! There are certain things I just find awesome about them. Plus, they are everywhere here!  There are legitimately eight locations within a five-mile radius of where I live.

The breakfast menu is quite different due to pork being a no-go here. They do a heck of job filling in the gaps though. My favorite way this is done is them adding all of the chicken sandwiches and nuggets to the breakfast menu. That’s right, if you’re feeling like a special kind of fat kid one morning, YOU CAN HAVE McNuggets FOR BREAKFAST! To boot, you can also have French fries before 10:30 in the morning. If you’ve never had the chance to eat a spicy chicken sandwich, fries, and large coffee at nine in the morning, I highly recommend it.

Texas (Church’s) Chicken

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Texas Chicken storefront, via thefoodtechie.com

This choice was a surprise to me, honestly, but like I said before, I’m trying my best to give an honest evaluation. Because it can’t associate with the Christian faith, the franchise is forced to change its name from “Church’s Chicken” to “Texas Chicken” here in the Kingdom.

Now, this is not the best fried chicken chain I have found in Riyadh, but it is the best American franchise that is here. Really, I don’t even care for Church’s in the states. Typically, I’ll choose a gas station deli over it, if I’m honest, but here it is higher quality.

At “Texas Chicken,” the mashed potatoes and gravy are insanely good for some reason! The honey-butter biscuits are also seemingly better quality than their “Church’s” equivalent. Combine that with an order of 3-piece spicy dark meat to dip in it, and it’s just straight MONEY. Finish it off with delivery, and it just puts a pretty little bow on the meal.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

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Krispy Kreme location in Riyadh, via David Cannon.

Now this is just quite simple; Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are hands down the best doughnuts there are, anywhere! If you want to fight me about it, let me know and we will get you on the schedule for when I’m home on vacation. This franchise maintains its high quality of fresh products as it does in the states and it’s honestly impressive how it’s done here.

One thing that is interesting of the locations here is, like McDonald’s, there are so many, but they’re small locations. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, the locations here in Riyadh do not make the doughnuts in house. They are made at a nearby site and transported as needed the various locations. The fresh quality is still maintained, but without the tempting and iconic “Hot” sign. Which, for a fat kid like me, is essentially a “Bat Signal”.

Well there you have it! The five best American chain restaurants that have made their way to Saudi Arabia. Be sure to check out Part 2: The Worst 5, which will be published very soon!

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