No Weak Links Here: 6 chains that break the mold

Bolognese from Luciano offshoot Va Bene Pizzeria Napoletana - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
Bolognese from Luciano offshoot Va Bene Pizzeria Napoletana

1. Luciano Restaurants

Multiple locations, lucianorestaurants.com

Headquartered in San Antonio, this family-focused chain has multiple locations throughout the Alamo City and four dining concepts that include a restaurant on the River Walk, neighborhood and family pizzerias, and express locations in area malls. Menu options range from a mozzarella bar to calzones and cannoli to Italian wedding soup, build-your-own pizzas and pasta options named for Nonna Lina, grandmother to the owners and inspiration behind many of the recipes that come from her native Naples.

Mellow Mushroom’s Kosmic Karma pie - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
Mellow Mushroom’s Kosmic Karma pie

2. Mellow Mushroom

115 N Loop 1604 E, (210) 370-9219, mellowmushroom.com

From the name to its 1970s roots to the fact that it's billed as a "friendchise," this restaurant is both pizza heaven and a hippie haven. Already a well-established chain on the East Coast, Mellow Mushroom is growing in Texas with nine locations, one of which is in San Antonio. Specialty pies include the Thai Dye with grilled curry chicken, cucumbers and a sweet Thai chili sauce, as well as a red skin potato pie with roasted red potatoes, applewood-smoked bacon and a spicy ranch dressing. Restaurant-goers with a case of the munchies can also enjoy calzones, hoagies and appetizers like the Magic Mushroom soup. With more than 30 beers on tap, gluten-free options and a newly introduced skinny 'shroom menu, it's sure to make everyone in the commune happy.

A chicken and cheese melt on toasted sourdough - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
A chicken and cheese melt on toasted sourdough

3. Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar

15900 La Cantera Pkwy, Ste 21200 (210) 236-8095, whiskeycakesa.com

Plano-based Whiskey Cake recently set up shop in La Cantera, making San Antonio its third sister location. The restaurant features an outdoor produce garden, lounge seating (in addition to farm tables for dining) and a bar that resembles an old-school library with shelves of liquor and sliding ladders. Ingredients are locally sourced and menu offerings are best described as Southern, with a hint of an Asian influence. Snacks include fried green tomatoes, beef jerky and deviled eggs (varieties rotate every Monday). Try the "OMG Burger"—which stands for onions, mushrooms and goodness—or the BBQ banh mi. Brunch-goers can delight in lemon poppy seed pancakes, chicken and waffles, and freshly squeezed juices. Of course, they also live up to their namesake with whiskey-based cocktails, flights and the signature Whiskey Cake dessert, which includes toffee torte, bourbon anglaise, spiced pecans and whipped cream.

Baja shrimp tacos from Torchy’s - COURTESY
Courtesy
Baja shrimp tacos from Torchy’s

4. Torchy's Tacos

999 E Basse, torchystacos.com

San Antonio doesn't mess around when it comes to tacos, and come December 18 there will be one more contender on the scene. This highly anticipated Austin-based chain will be serving up free breakfast tacos on opening day at their new 4,362-square-foot location in Lincoln Heights. Locals can look forward to their full menu that includes breakfast tacos, the famed green chile queso and homemade chips, and a "damn good" selection of tacos with names like The Republican, Dirty Sanchez and Trailer Park. We highly recommend you get it "trashy."

Is it more than just a burger? - COURTESY
Courtesy
Is it more than just a burger?

5. In-N-Out Burger

10918 Culebra, (800) 786-1000, in-n-out.com

Normal hours for this California chain with a cult following are 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, but they opened early on November 20 because of the hundreds of anxious fans outside, anticipating San Antonio's first In-N-Out. Texans—and a lot of California ex-pats—waited in line for the burgers and fries that have a reputation of being cooked made-to-order, without any prior freezing or pre-packaging. The chain's website boasts that they "don't even own a microwave, heat lamp or freezer." For those not as familiar with the franchise, their not-so-secret menu can be found online, detailing what it means to have your fries or burger "animal style." While Whataburger will always hold a special place in our hearts, it's clear they have some competition.

Blackened fish tacos - COURTESY
Courtesy
Blackened fish tacos

6. Bar Louie

Multiple locations, barlouieamerica.com

With more than 70 franchise locations—two of which are in San Antonio—Bar Louie brands itself as "a local success story" that "combines the consistency of a national brand with local appeal." While the messaging may be trying a little too hard, they make up for it with their grub. All of the salsas, sauces and dips are made from scratch daily and dishes like Bavarian pretzel sticks (Louie's signature app), beer-braised mussels and baked mac 'n' cheese elevate bar food. In preparation for the annual Rock the Tot eating competition, order the loaded tots with queso, spicy giardiniera, bacon and scallions. Wash it down with an Effen Good martini or Ultimate Bloody Louie. With patio seating, $5 burger nights on Tuesdays and a generous happy hour, it's almost enough to make you forget it's a chain.

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