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What to order at Outback Steakhouse before menu panic sets in

Chef, entrepreneur, baker, reluctant cupcake master, cookbook author, humorist/memoirist/essayist (writer), public speaker, raconteur, wife, mother,

No dis on the Bloomin' Onion, but there's a lot more to Outback's menu

We’ve all experienced “menu panic” — that phenomenon in which you sit down at a restaurant, are immediately overwhelmed by all the options — not being able to figure out what’s good — and then just blurt out the first thing you think of when the server comes by. It’s a real disorder, and we’re here to help. Because we here at SheKnows love you, and know you deserve only the very best.

More: What to order at P.F. Chang's before menu panic sets in

Outback Steakhouse has gone through quite a number of changes since my last visit over a decade ago. Gone was much of the ostentatious Australian-themed ephemera, replaced by the sleek furnishings and dim lighting that’s de rigueur now in the better chain restaurants. Gone are the hundreds of televisions illuminating the bar area like downtown Hong Kong, scaled back to a logical number. Gone are many of the "this is why you’re fat” items, replaced by dishes that are intensely flavorful without the intervention of a deep fryer. As for the naughty items that remain, they now have the option of being ordered in saner portions.

They've also added a new ethos: “No Rules, Just Right.” I thought that was just a catchy tag line until a server told me that it means that I can modify just about every menu item in any way I want to make my perfect meal. While this concept could easily ratchet up menu panic up to 11, remind yourself to breathe. This means their servers are trained to answer all your “stupid” questions, so feel free to fire away with them (in moderation, of course).

To make your lives even easier, I’ve tried a bit of nearly every dish Outback offers, and created a cheat sheet for you to use when you’re overwhelmed by the endless menu possibilities.

No dis on the Bloomin' Onion, but there's a lot more to Outback's menu
Image: Outback Steakhouse/Liz Smith

Seared Pepper Ahi

Thanks to the “No Rules, Just Right” policy, this appetizer can be turned into an entrée if you want. While the tuna is just fine, the bed of Asian slaw it is served on is magical, and even Outback itself doesn’t seem to understand its greatness. This is the menu description:

"Sashimi-style tuna seared rare and placed atop an Asian slaw. Served with a creamy ginger-soy sauce."

That’s barely a footnote! They have no idea what they have here, people! Do yourself a favor and order a huge plate of it. You can skip the tuna, add grilled chicken — whatever. This is a secret menu dynamo in the vein of Animal-style burgers and Captain Crunch Frappuccino.

Bloomin' Onion

I had to put this on the list because it’s a tradition, even though I can’t bring myself to order them anymore. I have “accidentally” polished off an entire onion by myself, then bloated to twice my original size and blamed Outback for my terrible decision-making. Maybe I did this more than once. If you too make terrible decisions, you’ll be happy to know that they now offer Bloom Petals, which takes your questionable abilities of self-restraint out of the equation.

More: 9 justifications for shamelessly downing Outback's cheesy fries-loaded Bloomin' Onion

Wedge salad

I don’t often order a wedge salad since normally the only reason I ever order one at a restaurant is to make myself feel less guilty about the rest of my meal, and a wedge salad is nothing more than a slab of iceberg lettuce that has said, “Screw you, other salads! I want to compete on state fair levels of nutritional insanity!” Yet, I came to taste everything, and my server pushed me to order a whole portion, saying it was one of the best things on the menu. He was right.

Steakhouse Salad

When I was pregnant with my first child 10 years ago, I constantly craved cheesesteaks, Rice Krispies and this chopped salad from Outback that had blue cheese and pecans and a whole bunch of other stuff I couldn’t identify, because I really was just shoveling it into my mouth as quickly as possible — often while sobbing for no good reason. Then I had the baby, and thus ended my days of eating in restaurants or leaving the house for my own personal enjoyment for a long, long time. The salad and I could no longer be together. Years passed, and I heard they discontinued it. I felt a twinge of pain in my heart, but I moved on. I’ve loved other salads since, but not quite as I did that one.

I suppose at some point a pitchfork mob developed outside Outback corporate headquarters, because on my last visit that salad was back, and in entrée size! Though it’s offered as the Steakhouse Salad, I’d recommend asking for it without the sirloin, which is not their best cut. If you’re really craving red meat, you’re better off skipping their sirloin altogether and paying a bit more for a good piece of meat.

More: What your favorite chain restaurant says about you

Bone-in rib-eye

I will confess, this cut has always been my steak of choice, and I’ve ordered it in every steakhouse I’ve ever visited. No other cut has the marbling or depth of flavor this does, and done right, it literally melts in your mouth. I knew going in that no matter what Outback served me, it could never compare to some of the $70 dry-aged versions I’ve had, but how would it stack up for a casual weeknight meal when I’m forced to bring the kids?

Surprisingly, very well! Outback now ages all their steaks, though it’s a wet vs. a dry age (Google it). At $28, it’s one of the more expensive steaks on the menu, though in the grand scheme of steaks, it is an incredible value. It also easily feeds two people — three if you’re also splitting sides.

All of Outback's steaks are offered with optional toppings, but I don’t recommend getting any with this cut, as it’s already extremely flavorful, and I’m a purist — you should never cover up a good steak, and if you need to cover it up, that steak ain’t good. If you can’t help yourself, the only acceptable option is the roasted garlic butter.

Bloomin' Burger

For the times you want red meat, but don’t want a whole steak and also want some Bloomin' Onion, but not that much, this is the burger for you! Do yourself a favor and upgrade it to the grass-fed patty — it’s worth it.

Steakhouse Mac & Cheese

We originally didn’t order this, but then I started stealing bites of the mac and cheese my 8-year-old got off the kids menu and couldn’t stop myself. My husband and I relented and ordered a portion for ourselves so our kid would stop yelling at us.

Chocolate Thunder from Down Under

It’s a slab of rich, flourless pecan chocolate cake (inexplicably being labeled as a brownie) topped with a softball-size scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Seriously, how do you go wrong with that? What sort of soulless monster do you have to be to turn that down?

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