12 Popular Chain Restaurant Meatballs Ranked From Worst To Best, According To Customers

Made by rolling ground meat into balls along with ingredients like onions, eggs, breadcrumbs, and seasoning, meatballs are beloved around the globe. The popularity of meatballs doesn't just stem from their hearty and delicious flavor, but also their versatility. Meatballs can be made from different types of meat, including beef, pork, and veal, and can be fried, baked, or braised in sauce. They can also be used in a wide range of dishes, from spaghetti toppings to pizza ingredients and sandwich fillings.

Although often associated with modern Italian cuisine, the practice of shaping minced meat into balls or patties can be traced to ancient Rome, the Middle East, and Asia. One of the first documented recipes for a version of meatballs appeared in a Roman cookbook entitled "Apicius," which dates back to the 4th or 5th century. This early meatball patty contained minced meat, wine, pepper, pine nuts, and fish sauce. Meanwhile, meatballs as we know them today were popularized in the U.S. by Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Looking for your next meatball feast? Check out our list of the best — and worst — chain restaurants that serve the hearty dish! In our quest to bring you the most up-to-date information, we read countless customer reviews to determine how each meatball dish compares in terms of texture and flavor. For more information about the criteria and process used to curate our list, please refer to the methodology slide at the end of this article.

12. Romano's Macaroni Grill

Founded in 1988 in Leon Springs, Texas, by a second-generation Italian-American, Romano's Macaroni Grill specializes in serving Italian-influenced recipes in a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. Alongside classic pasta offerings such as Fettuccine Alfredo and Penne Rustica, the menu features Mom's Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti. This dish features beef, pork, veal, and ricotta meatballs, offered with an option of pomodorina or bolognese sauce, and a sprinkling of Romano cheese.

Unfortunately, Mom's Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti at Romano's Macaroni Grill has largely failed to impress, receiving predominantly unfavorable feedback from patrons. Customers have voiced their disappointment with various aspects of the dish, ranging from the flavor to the texture of the meatballs and sauce. One unhappy reviewer on Tripadvisor comments, "Overcooked, starchy spaghetti, minimal, flavorless sauces, weird tasting meatballs. Leftovers going in [the] trash." Another patron on OpenTable shares this sentiment, saying, "[The] sauce tasted like it came out of a jar with some frozen meatballs." Several other reviewers have also complained about the dish, saying that it tasted like leftovers and was overly dry. Ultimately, it seems that both Romano's Macaroni Grill's meatballs and the accompanying sauce miss the mark on delivering the stellar dining experience promised on the menu.

11. The Old Spaghetti Factory

The Old Spaghetti Factory began serving meatballs when it first opened for business in 1969. Fast forward five decades or so, and the chain continues to offer the dish at its 40 locations across the U.S. The Old Spaghetti Factory's menu features two meatball dishes. The Sicilian Meatballs consist of two seasoned beef meatballs splashed with marinara sauce. Alternatively, diners can opt for Spaghetti Vesuvius, a fiery pasta dish with diced meatballs, chicken, sausage, green peppers, and onions. The Old Spaghetti Factory's meatballs can also be ordered per piece and as a kid's side dish.

Unfortunately, Old Spaghetti Factory's meatballs haven't hit the spot with diners, with several reviewers complaining that they found the menu item dry and lacking in flavor. A case in point is one disgruntled patron on Yelp who remarks, "If the meatballs were any dryer they would have been dust. Their meat sauce lacks flavor of any kind." Another diner says that their meatballs weren't only dry, but also arrived at the table cold and undercooked. Yet another patron on Yelp expressed their frustration, noting, "If you can screw up spaghetti and meatballs you really have a problem. The sauce (had both marinara and meat sauce w/meatball) tasted of burned garlic. The meatballs were so tough they could be used [as a] baseball." All in all, it's this dry, tough, and flavorless trifecta of unforgivable culinary sins that cemented The Old Spaghetti Factory's unfavorable position on this list.

10. Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano

Meatballs are a recurring element in several dishes at Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano. The roasted Sicilian Meatballs come with herbed goat cheese and marinara sauce. The Spaghetti & Meatballs and its gluten-free counterpart, Fettuccine & Meatballs, both combine the chain's Sicilian meatballs with a classic combination of marinara sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The menu also features meatballs in its Italian Wedding Soup and on the Meatlover's Pizza. Finally, there's a kid-friendly version of Spaghetti & Meatballs, ensuring that guests of all ages can enjoy the dish.

Despite the broad assortment of dishes on offer, Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano's meatballs have received a frosty reception from customers. Several diners have criticized the meatballs for their tough and unappealing texture, with one aggrieved Birdeye reviewer complaining, "My spaghetti and meatballs must have been left under [a] heat lamp. [...] Dried out pasta and hard meatballs." In a similar vein, other diners have called the restaurant's meatballs "bleh" and "average." On the whole, the consistent feedback regarding the subpar quality of the meatballs at Biaggi's suggests that you may be better off getting your Italian-American cuisine fix elsewhere.

9. Maggiano's Little Italy

Maggiano's Little Italy traces its roots back to 1991 when the chain opened its first location in Chicago. The restaurant's modest beginnings saw it serving simple Italian dishes, many inspired by family recipes handed down through generations. Despite its humble start, the restaurant quickly gained popularity with diners eager to enjoy its Italian-American specialties. Among these offerings are meatballs, which can be selected as either an appetizer or a spaghetti entrée. The appetizer meatballs are served with marinara sauce, whereas the Spaghetti & Meatballs are served with a choice of marinara or meat sauce.

Maggiano's Little Italy's meatballs have garnered an assortment of reviews from customers, ranging from praise to criticism. One excited customer on Tripadvisor exclaims "OMG the meatballs," adding, "Just like Nana used to make. [...] I felt like I was at home." However, the chain's meatball sauce has sparked differing opinions, leading to a split in customer feedback. While some patrons remark that the sauce was plentiful and tasty, others disagree, saying that it was bland. Some patrons have also commented on the quality of the spaghetti in Maggiano's meatballs dish, with some commenting that it was undercooked and others that it was mushy. While the meatball dishes at Maggiano's clearly leave a lot to be desired, they can fill the gap in a culinary emergency.

8. Buca di Beppo

Buca di Beppo is home to the World Famous Meatball, a giant half-pound ground chuck orb smothered in marinara sauce and adorned with ricotta cheese. The chain's meatballs are also served with spaghetti and as an ingredient in the Meatball Rollato, which also comes with pepperoni, ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, spinach, and a side of marinara sauce. Those in the mood for something bready can opt for the Meatball Sandwich, with smegamenu meatballs, bell peppers, mozzarella, onion, and marinara sauce.

Buca di Beppo's staff claim that they "have the biggest meatballs around." This very well may be true, with the dish garnering predominately favorable feedback for both its size and taste. One enthralled Yelp diner calls the chain's Spaghetti with Meatballs "the winner of the night," elaborating, "Those things are the size of a large softball! Love it! Fantastic flavor." Several other customers have described Buca di Beppo's meatballs as delicious, excellent, and tasty. However, not everybody agrees that the chain's meatballs are all that, with another Yelp patron complaining, "The spaghetti and meatballs were terrible. The sauce was bland. Tasted like diced tomatoes out of the can, spaghetti noodles were hard, and [the] meatballs the size of baseballs tasted like dried out meatloaf!" As always, when reviews about a dish are mixed, it's best to experience it for yourself and form your own opinion. If you are tempted by Buca di Beppo's mammoth meatballs, there's only one way to find out if they pass the taste test.

7. Olive Garden

Olive Garden is known for its huge range of Italian-American dishes that cater to various tastes and preferences. From classics such as Chicken Alfredo to lighter options like the Herb Grilled Salmon, the chain's menu encompasses a wide variety of flavors and ingredients. When it comes to meatballs, Olive Garden offers two dishes. The Meatball Parmigiana appetizer comes with five meatballs, marinara sauce, melted Italian cheeses, and toasted breadcrumbs. Meanwhile, the chain's Spaghetti & Meatballs comes with a choice of meat or marinara sauce. The restaurant also offers a "create your own pasta" option, allowing diners to pair meatballs with their choice of pasta and sauce.

Olive Garden's meatballs have elicited a variety of opinions from diners, with some praising their flavor and others critiquing their texture. One satisfied Tripadvisor reviewer rates the chain's meatballs four out of five, saying, "Three large meatballs [were] very tender, not chewy or rubbery, easily cut with my fork. Herbs evident in flavor. Serving size filling." Several other diners have also complimented the dish, described it as awesome, beyond delicious, and their favorite. On the flip side, Joanna Fantozzi from Business Insider wasn't so taken by Olive Garden's meatballs, saying that they contained more filler than meat and lacked the texture of ground beef. In the end, it's up to you to weigh up these mixed reviews and decide if Olive Garden's meatballs are worth a try.

6. Sbarro

Founded in 1956 in Brooklyn, New York, Sbarro initially gained popularity for its pizza slices, catering to those in search of a fast meal. Almost seven decades later, Sbarro continues to be known for its tasty pizzas. However, since "humans can't live on pizza alone," as Sbarro so eloquently puts it, the restaurant has diversified its menu to include a variety of other favorites, such as Spaghetti and Meatballs. Although the precise ingredients of Sbarro's meatballs remain a mystery, we do know that they are seasoned and accompanied by a zesty tomato sauce.

Sbarro's Spaghetti and Meatballs have received a mixed response from patrons. On a positive note, some diners have described them as excellent, delicious, and the best around town. On the other hand, one Tripadvisor reviewer calls them "nothing special," explaining, "You get two large meatballs in a pan of spaghetti and a large amount of red sauce." Dennis Lee from The Takeout also doesn't seem overly impressed with the menu item, saying that while the chain's meatballs were juicy and uniform in texture, they also lacked seasoning. Although Sbarro's meatballs may not top the charts in the restaurant world, it seems that they might merit further culinary investigation.

5. Bravo! Italian Kitchen

Since its debut in Columbus, Ohio in 1992, Bravo! Italian Kitchen has established itself as a prominent name in the American restaurant scene, marrying the authentic flavors of Italian cuisine with a distinctive American flair. Bravo!'s take on meatballs exemplifies this. The chain has incorporated meatballs in four dishes. Meatballs & Ricotta features beef and pork meatballs served with ricotta and garlic crostini. The hearty Wedding Soup comes with meatballs, orzo pasta, spinach, and Parmesan. The chain's classic Spaghetti & Meatballs is served with marinara and sprinkled with Grana Padano Zanetti. Finally, Bravo!'s meaty Sicilian Pizza comes topped with meatballs, beef, pepperoni, and Italian sausage.

While reviews of Bravo! Italian Kitchen's meatballs are limited, most laud the dish for its exceptional taste. One Tripadvisor reviewer has described the chain's meatballs as "delicious," adding, "The meatballs might have been the best I've ever had including the ones I make! I'd go back!" Others have described the dish as unbelievably tender, on point, and good size. Perhaps the only somewhat negative review of the menu item came from a customer on OpenTable who says, "The spaghetti and meatballs [...] certainly wasn't bad, but wasn't life changing. The portion was not quite enough for my preference." With predominantly positive feedback, it's clear that Bravo!'s meatballs have resonated with hungry diners and are definitely worthy of your time.

4. Fazoli's

Fazoli's showcases its love for meatballs through a diverse menu that includes five unique meatball-based dishes. The selection starts with Baked Italian Meatballs, a hearty dish featuring five meatballs adorned with marinara sauce and baked with mozzarella and provolone cheeses. The classic Spaghetti with Meatballs combines vine-ripened tomato sauce with beef and pork meatballs. Meanwhile, the Baked Spaghetti with Meatballs is a cheesy, marinara-loaded pasta bake. The Loaded Baked Spaghetti features meatballs, meat sauce, mushrooms, sausage, and bacon, all baked with mozzarella and provolone. Lastly, the Meatball Sub rounds out the selection with meatballs, pepperoni, and mozzarella on a garlic roll.

Fazoli's meatball offerings have won over patrons with their flavor, hearty portions, and excellent value. One patron on Tripadvisor who is particularly fond of the chain's meatballs shares their culinary strategy, "[I] take them home and make my own spaghetti or rice dish. It's a great way to eat on the cheap when I don't have time to make meatballs." Another diner on Yelp is also fond of the meatballs, saying, "It was a nice portion of spaghetti with a nice mild sauce which had sliced tomatoes in it and a good amount of Mozzarella cheese baked on top. Add three meatballs and you have a good filling lunch." Perhaps the only negative feedback is that the chain sometimes overcooks its pasta. Mushy pasta or no mushy pasta, it appears that Fazoli's meatballs are definitely worth a taste test!

3. North Italia

A part of Cheesecake Factory's restaurant portfolio, North Italia is a chain known for its modern take on traditional Italian cuisine, offering a variety of pasta, pizzas, salads, and other Italian favorites. North Italia also excels in the meatball department with three different versions of the dish. Listed under "Small Plates" on the restaurant's menu, Italian Meatballs combine polenta, marinara sauce, and Grana Padano cheese. The chain also serves a Spicy Meatball dish with piquant provolone cheese, ricotta, pecorino Romano, and mozzarella, as well as a red sauce. Finally, there's the Crushed Meatball Ragu with porchetta, pecorino, bucatini, onion, and wild oregano.

Patrons rave about the quality of North Italia's meatballs. Merrill Shindler, who reviewed North Italia for the Daily Breeze, calls the chain's Italian Meatballs "a fine opener," praising both the meaty orbs and the red tomato sauce. Another diner on Yelp gives the Italian Meatballs five out of five, saying, "[The dish] comes with four large meatballs with some sort of thick white sauce [this must be the cheese] and marinara. North Italia's Spicy Meatball has also been a hit with patrons, with one Yelp diner explaining, "The heat with the chill from the house ricotta was amazing." While reviewers don't seem to go into too much detail about what makes North Italia's meatballs stand out from the pack, they do make it clear that the menu item is both satisfying and flavorful.

2. Carrabba's Italian Grill

Listed among Carrabba's Italian Grill's appetizers, such as Zucchini Fritte and Tomato Caprese with Fresh Burrata, the Meatballs & Ricotta is a comforting and indulgent dish. Despite the fact that Carrabba's meatball recipe has been passed down five generations, the chain is happy to share it with home cooks on its Facebook page. As it turns out, the meatballs combine ground pork and beef in equal portions, scallions, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, egg, and breadcrumbs. This mix is then rolled into balls, baked until browned, and served with tomato sauce and ricotta cheese.

According to Carrabba's Italian Grill, "the secret to good meatballs is to hand-roll them to be tender enough to cut with a fork, but not fall apart." This trick seems to be working, with many patrons praising the chain's meatball dish for its generous size and delicate flavor. For instance, one diner says that the meatballs they were served were both delicious and nicely presented. Additionally, other diners seemed impressed with the portion of the dish, with one particularly happy diner commenting that the meatballs were oversized, savory, and light. Amply portioned, aesthetically pleasing, and tasty — those are the qualities that rank the meatballs at Carrabba's as the runner-up on our list.

1. Carmine's

Carmine's meatballs are served in sets of six, either with or without spaghetti. Made from a blend of beef and veal, the meaty spheres are topped with a rich marinara sauce. According to the recipe on Carmine's website, the chain's trademark dish also contains eggs, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, basil, Spanish onion, milk, and grated Romano cheese. If you're replicating the meatballs at home, simply simmer them with a jar of Carmine's marinara sauce.

Carmine's team wants every patron to feel as though an Italian grandmother is personally crafting their dishes. And when it comes to the chain's meatballs, diners are definitely feeling the grandmotherly love. One impressed customer on Yelp calls the chain's meatballs amazing, adding, "Moist and served with a rich marinara sauce. Can't go wrong with these." Another patron on Facebook agrees, saying, "My favourite! Had [it] in Times Square and make the recipe now at home in Australia." Several other satisfied diners have called the dish to die for and not for the faint-hearted or single diners. The rave reviews and the sheer fact that people are replicating Carmine's meatballs at home — even after traveling halfway around the world — places them at the top of our list!

Methodology

To bring you a comprehensive ranking of popular chain restaurant meatballs, we meticulously reviewed countless customer feedback sourced from renowned online platforms such as Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. Our assessment prioritized key elements including flavor, texture, portion size, and general diner satisfaction. To ensure that we had ample data to make our evaluation, we only focused on popular chain restaurants with at least 30 locations and plenty of patron reviews.