From the Kitchen

Meal Planning Tip: Be a Restaurant Copycat

Next time you’re stuck for a dinner idea, grab a take-out menu from your favorite restaurant. But not for the reason you think…nope, you’re not ordering your food, you’re going to create a recipe!

Coming up with WHAT to cook is my least favorite part of cooking, well besides the dishes. The initial reason I started my food blog was to get dinner ideas from my friends. My favorite restaurants are another good source of inspiration when I’m meal planning. When I feel stuck ideas or when I’ve recently ordered something I like, I look up that restaurant’s menu. The menu descriptions are usually quite detailed, so it’s pretty easy to figure out my own recipe at home. Plus, I can generally make it healthier.

bertucci's pizza

A restaurant that we really like out east is Bertucci’s. I ate there for the first time in years last week and it was yummy as usual.  Bertucci’s was the first restaurant that I “copycatted” when I was a newlywed and just learning how to cook. They have the BEST margherita pizza, very fresh and the cheese is perfect. I’m still aspiring to make mine as good, but even though it’s not the same (I think the brick oven helps them out a bit!), it’s still a great dinner idea and good inspiration.

Here’s another “recipe” I created after eating at Bertucci’s. You’ll see I haven’t yet figured out actual measurements, I just do everything “to taste.” Again, nothing fancy, but a nice meal at home that I didn’t have to create on my own.

Bertucci’s Tortellini (real original name, right?)
– Fresh Tortellini (cheese filled and spinach if possible)
– 1 can whole tomatoes, cut up, reserve most of the juice
– Mushrooms, sauteed (portabellos are good)
– Sausage (Italian or andouille), cooked cut into pieces
– Basil (fresh is tastier, but dry works too)
– Oregano (lesser amount than basil)
– Minced garlic
– Some sugar
– Salt & Pepper to taste
– Light cream (a little)

Cook pasta. Mix other ingredients and add to pasta.

Are you a restaurant copycat? Any favorite recipes or dinner ideas that you’ve discovered this way?

Jane Maynard, writer and founder of This Week for Dinner, is a wife, mother to two beautiful girls and freelance graphic designer.  Jane loves eating, which comes in handy for a food blog. Chocolate, cannoli, and H&H Bagels are her top foods of choice.


  1. i just got a great book from the library called “Fast Food Fix”. The author (biggest loser chef Devin Alexander) “healthified” ingredients and got them tasting as close as possible to their fast-food originals. What i love is that she gives recipes for condiments, like big mac sauce and subway’s chipotle southwest sauce — she’s even got Taco Bell’s seasoning mix!

  2. Guilty! I’m totally a restaurant copy cat…I’m constantly on the look out for something new to try and when I go into a restaurant and taste something I never have, I’m always curious to see if I can replicate it.

    And Janel is totally right…you actually see what you’re putting in your food and then, you can adjust calories without sacrificing the taste.

  3. We were recently looking for something to order as take-out from Mimi’s Cafe and my husband got hooked on looking up nutrition facts. It was astounding. You do NOT want to know how much fat the salisbury steak has. Trust me. Okay, fine. It’s 156 grams. Seriously. Just one more reason this post is awesome…you know what you’re actually eating when you copycat the restaurants. Thanks for the good ideas!

  4. salads are a GREAT thing to copy from restaurants…glad you mentioned that, heather…so many great combos out there I would never think of on my own! and very easy to replicate.

    and matt…never thought of actually asking the restaurant and/or chef for the recipe. good idea!

    you’ve gotta LOVE the online menus, huh? makes it so easy to browse for ideas…once again, the internet is so great in helping with cooking!

  5. This is from KFC….I do a Chicken Bowl
    Put a good layer of Mashed potatoes, then some shredded cheese, then chicken mixed with Cream of chicken, then corn on top–it is so yummy–I want to try the same idea with shredded beef with cream of mushroom and green beans and top with a maybe some gravy—Love stealing restraunt ideas!

  6. This is such a great idea. I just copied one of my favorite restaurant salads for a party a couple of weeks ago. Everyone loved it. It’s especially easy with so many restaurants that provide online menus.

  7. I have a habit of harassing waitstaff and even the occasional executive chef of a place for at least the ingredient list of something that I fall in love with at restaurants.

    Usually they are accommodating. I have even had some so flattered that they try to walk me through the whole process.

  8. I do this all the time. I’m never clever enough to think what to put on my pizza, so I for sure copycat the great pizza restaurants for toppings!!

  9. This is such a great idea. I have created 1 copy cat recipe for Penne Gorgonzola from Johnny Carino’s. Also a Dole Whip Float from Magic Kingdom, but that was a snack out of desperation :-)

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