Best restaurant meals sold in supermarkets

Consumer Reports

When frozen foods sold in supermarkets are labeled Boston Market, California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang’s, or TGI Friday’s, you might think they’d resemble their restaurant counterparts. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Our experts compared sound-alikes from those brands and found:

  • Most of the California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang’s, and TGI Friday’s frozen foods we tested had at least a nodding acquaintance with their restaurant counterparts. Boston Market frozen foods didn’t.
  • Some of the frozen foods tasted decent but different than their restaurant versions. Even when similar, they weren’t as good as foods of the same name when they were freshly cooked in a restaurant.
  • Nutritionally, some of the pairs were quite different. Although you’ll get six potato skins in a half-order at TGI Friday’s restaurant and in the frozen food aisle, the restaurant version has more than three times the calories and fat. Sometimes frozen foods look much more healthful simply because they cite a serving about half as big as the one in a restaurant. The Boston Market frozen chicken pot pies are about the same size as those in the restaurant, but the frozen serving is supposed to be a half-pie.
  • The gap in price was sometimes large, with the restaurant meal usually costing more. The California Pizza Kitchen pie we tried is $14.75 in the restaurant and just $5.99 frozen; and TGI Friday’s potato skins cost more than twice as much at a restaurant as in the frozen-food aisle. On the other hand, P.F. Chang’s shrimp lo mein costs about the same in the restaurant and supermarket.

Bottom line. The chart below tells the tale of food from each restaurant. Read nutrition facts panels on frozen foods and see websites for nutrition information about the restaurant versions—and pay attention to the serving size. If price is nearly the same, enjoy a night out.

Restaurant or brand Meal Restaurant dish Frozen dish Frozen like restaurant version? Frozen worth a try?
Boston Market

Chicken pot pie

$5.80 for whole pie. Full of big chicken pieces and potato chunks. Thick sauce with tarragon flavor, some carrots, peas, green beans. Crust, atop pie, was browned and slightly crispy and flaky, without much flavor.

$4.25 for whole pie. Different but tasty. Crust—flavorful, browned, crispy, flaky—covered bottom, sides, top. Thin, chicken-flavored gravy, corn, peas, carrots, cubes of spongy, re-formed chicken.

No

Yes, because of the crust

 

Macaroni and cheese

$2.30. Spiral noodles, lots of thick, smooth, orange sauce. Very salty; intense processed American cheese flavor.

$2.50. Spiral noodles, pale sauce; milder cheese, milkier flavor than restaurant version.

No

Yes, if you like it mild

 

Meatloaf

$7.70 for meatloaf and potatoes. Two slices of flavorful ground beef, browned, with sauce. Mashed potatoes taste fresh, have some lumps; black pepper flavor. Downside: optional gelatinous bouillon-flavored gravy.

$5.00 for meatloaf and potatoes. More like a Salisbury Steak. Two patties came with the bouillon-flavored gelatinous gravy. Meat was chewy and not very flavorful, except for black pepper. Mashed potatoes seem like instant.

No

No

California Pizza Kitchen

BBQ Recipe chicken thin crust

$14.75 for thin crust. Crust was crispy on edges, chewy inside. Topped with barbecue sauce, browned cheese, moist chicken chunks, onion, and cilantro. Ingredients were nicely balanced and tasted fresh.

$6. Topped with the same ingredients as the restaurant version, but barbecue sauce overwhelmed most other flavors. Crust was crunchy on edges but like a slice of toasted flat bread.

Yes

Yes

P.F. Chang’s

Beef with broccoli

$13. Slices of flavorful, seared, slightly chewy beef with bright green broccoli and scallion. Big garlic, ginger, teriyaki flavors.

$8.80. Slices of slightly chewy mild-flavored beef with soggy coating. Broccoli was flavorful with good texture. Teriyaki-type sauce with big garlic flavor, ginger, slight sweetness.

Yes

Yes

 

Shrimp lo mein

$9.95. Noodles with some sliced mushrooms, carrots, celery, and a good portion of medium-sized, flavorful shrimp. Noodles greasy and a bit soft, with soy, sesame, fried onion flavors.

$9.50. Slightly sticky noodles with some sliced mushrooms, carrots, and celery adding crunch and flavor. Small, almost flavorless shrimp. big garlic flavor, some soy, peanut/sesame, ginger.

Yes

Yes

TGI Friday’s

Buffalo wings

$10 for 10 pieces. Good-sized wings coated with very vinegary, slightly hot/ spicy sauce. Chicken flavor came through, but meat a bit firm and dry.

$4 for 6 pieces. Smaller but nicely browned and very tasty wings. Coated with a slightly vinegary, very spicy sauce.

No

Yes

 

Loaded cheddar & bacon skins

$8.80. Halves of small, somewhat crisp potato, lots of flavorful melted cheese and bacon bits. Very earthy skin flavor.

$4. Quartered crisp, flavorful skins topped with melted processed cheese and bacon crumbles. Mild potato-skin flavor.

Yes

Yes

 

Mozzarella sticks

$8. Lightly coated, crisp rectangles filled with stretchy, mild cheese. Oregano flavor. Flavorful, garlicky, marinara-type dipping sauce.

$4. Coated, somewhat crunchy rectangles filled with stretchy, low-flavored cheese. Prominent salt and oregano flavors. Very salty, sour, sweet, tomato paste-type sauce with dehydrated-oregano flavor.

Yes (sticks) and no (sauce)

Yes, but skip sauce

This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

View Comments