Auburndale: Chili’s Grill and Bar

It was one of those weeks. We had multiple pieces of bad news, so we weren’t really in the mood to narrow down restaurant options (and the good news is there are a lot of options in Polk County). We were in Auburndale to get an oil change in one of our cars. Chili’s was a convenient place to have lunch while we waited. So we hiked across scenic U.S. Route 92 for lunch.

Dark cumulus clouds over U.S. Route 92 in Auburndale, Florida
Told you it was scenic.

We weren’t in the mood for any surprises. Of course, that’s one of the reasons chains exist. Having been to Chili’s in other locations many times over the years, we knew exactly what to expect. The company has an interesting history – the first Chili’s was opened in Dallas in 1975 and they currently operate in 32 countries.

Chili's restaurant exterior in Auburndale, FloridaI always remember having good service at other locations. Our lunch in Auburndale was no exception – the hostess who seated us and our server did a great job.

Chili's restaurant interior in Auburndale, FloridaThe interior of Chili’s restaurants seems to have been updated compared to what I remember from years ago. The decor is a little on the bland side but comfortable and spotless. Sadly, the music was too, too, loud. Really, can’t we just have a normal conversation while we eat?

Chips, salsa, and silverware setting at Chili's restaurant in Auburndale, FloridaI like the paper pouch they use to easily distribute silverware and straws – that must make servers’ life a little simpler. My wife signed up for the Chili’s rewards program, which gets you either free chips and salsa or a free non-alcoholic beverage with every visit. We chose the chips and salsa. The chips were generic but pretty good. I’m not a salsa person – my said the salsa was little watery but had good flavor. Something else I liked – the menu lists calorie counts for every item.

3 soft-shelled tacos with sour cream and black beans at Chili's restaurant in Auburndale, FloridaMy wife ordered 1975 Soft Tacos. Three tacos that normally come with chips and salsa, but since we already had those she was able to get black beans on the side instead. The tacos had chili and it was a bit spicy but good. She felt these ingredients worked better with soft taco shells than they would have with hard shells. The beans were tasty and not too watery.

Buffalo chicken ranch sandwich at Chili's restaurant in Auburndale, FloridaI had the Buffalo chicken ranch sandwich with fries. The sandwich normally comes with lettuce but I ordered mine without, so if the sandwich looks a little wimpy in the photo, that was my fault. I’ve had this sandwich before and really like it. I would have liked a bit more ranch (or better yet, extra ranch on the side), but otherwise it was quite good. The Buffalo sauce is at the upper limit of my heat tolerance, which is pretty low, so for most people it should be fine. The fries were a little too salty but otherwise tasty.

So the food was good and there was plenty of it. With tip our total came to about $33. I’m not a fan of the checkout process – there is a credit card reader at the table, but to get the Rewards credit for free chips we had to log in first. My wife had a little trouble remembering her pin, which required having a new pin texted. She had already entered an e-mail address at the start of our meal, then had to sign in at the end with a pin, so having to sign in twice seemed excessive to me. Not a huge problem but an inconvenience.

We got the two things we were looking for – convenience (a short walk from the oil change place where we left our car) and no surprises. I understand a lot of people don’t like chains; we rarely go to them ourselves. But chain restaurants are part of the landscape and sometimes they meet our needs. We were happy and wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Chili’s. Their web site currently shows five Chili’s locations in Polk County – the one in Auburndale is on Highway 92 at Neptune Road, just east of the Polk Parkway. Enjoy!

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