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The Best and Worst Menu Items at Chili’s

We asked expert nutritionists and dietitians to rank the entire menu so you know what to order.
The Best and Worst Menu Items at Chili’sCourtesy of Chili's

If you are craving some mouth-watering Southwestern-inspired flavor, Chili’s is definitely the kind of restaurant for you, as this popular chain fills your plate with delicious tacos, quesadillas, and sizzling fajitas. And while a well-deserved margarita and a plate of nachos may sound tempting after a long week at work, it’s important to know that you’ll want to go through the Chili’s menu carefully if you are watching your waistline, as some items (no matter how tasty!) contain high amounts of sodium, fat, and cholesterol.

To help you order the right items off the Chili’s menu, we spoke to the experts, seeking out wisdom from nutritionists and dietitians about the best and worst appetizers, salads, and steak options available on the menu. Below are some of the meal choices they advise ordering the next time you pay a visit to this Tex-Mex restaurant—and which ones you should avoid eating.

Appetizers

Best: Margherita Flatbread

Margherita flatbread Courtesy of Chili's
1,420 calories, 107 g fat (42 g saturated fat), 2,210 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 52 g protein

“The Margherita Flatbread is the best choice in the appetizer category, though it’s still high in calories,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Kelsey Peoples, MS, RDN. Because the rest of the menu is heavy on the cheese and fried ingredients, she explains that this option stands out as a lighter app choice thanks to its fresh pico de gallo topping.

Worst: Texas Cheese Fries; Full Order

Texas cheese fries Courtesy of Chili's
1,860 calories, 127 g fat (58 g saturated fat), 3,880 mg sodium, 97 g carbs (8 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 81 g protein

The Texas Cheese Fries may seem tempting, but Peoples explains that this appetizer will set you back more than 1,800 calories, many of which come from fat. In addition, she notes that the whopping 127 grams of fat in this dish alone make it an appetizer to definitely avoid.

Big Mouth Burgers

Best: Oldtimer Beef Burger, Without Side of Fries

Oldtimer beef burger Courtesy of Chili's
890 calories, 55 g fat (24 g saturated fat), 1,450 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 51 g protein

“The Oldtimer Beef Burger is the best in the category because it keeps the high-calorie add-ons to a minimum,” Peoples explains. She advises sticking to low-cal toppings such as raw onion, tomatoes, and pickles for more flavor without any added calories.

Worst: Boss Beef Burger

Boss beef burger Courtesy of Chili's
1,660 calories, 115 g fat (46 g saturated fat), 2,880 mg sodium, 53 g carbs (2 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 103 g protein

The Boss Burger is the equivalent of several entrées thrown on top of a burger, Peoples says, because it includes brisket, ribs, and sausage. “All of that meat adds up to 115 grams of fat, 46 of which are saturated, the unhealthy kind that’s linked to heart disease,” she explains.

Ribs

Best: Original BBQ, Half Rack

Original bbq ribs Courtesy of Chili's
710 calories, 53 g fat (20 g saturated fat), 960 mg sodium, 10 g carbs (0 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 49 g protein

“Choosing a half rack of ribs is a great way to satisfy your cravings without overeating,” Peoples explains. The Original BBQ half rack is about 700 calories, and without additional sauces or rubs, you save yourself additional sodium and added sugars, she says. And when it comes time to choose sides, she advises aiming for vegetable-based dishes, including asparagus with roasted tomatoes or steamed broccoli.

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Worst: Dry Rubbed Ribs, Full Rack

Dry rubbed ribs Courtesy of Chili's
1,480 calories, 107 g fat (41 g saturated fat), 5,120 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (3 g fiber, 24 g sugar), 99 g protein

“Dry rubs are notorious for their high salt content, and this full rack of Dry Rubbed ribs is by far the worst,” Peoples suggests. Not only will you get 5,120 milligrams sodium (that’s more than double the daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams or less) just from this order alone, but she says that adding on high-calorie sides like loaded mashed potatoes or French fries will add more fat and sodium to this dish.

Steaks

Best: Classic Sirloin, 6 oz

Classic sirloin Courtesy of Chili's
680 calories, 37 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 1,910 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (8 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 48 g protein

Peoples says that the six-ounce Classic Sirloin is a win-win, as it is portion-controlled and is relatively lean compared to other steaks on the menu. “Adding a healthy side like a salad, roasted tomatoes, or avocado slices will add important nutrients to the dish,” she recommends.

Worst: Classic Ribeye

Classic ribeye Courtesy of Chili's
1,050 calories, 64 g fat (24 g saturated fat), 2,720 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (8 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 81 g protein

“The Classic Ribeye contains 64 total grams of fat, 24 of which are saturated,” Peoples explains. You should aim to always avoid saturated fats, she adds, as they are linked to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease—and this dish’s saturated fat content is just sky-high.

Fajitas

Best: Seared Shrimp Fajita

Seared shrimp fajita Courtesy of Chili's
280 calories, 12 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 2,740 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 25 g protein

Peoples says that the Seared Shrimp Fajita is the lowest calorie choice in this category, and with all of the vegetables served alongside it, she says that’s what makes it a good choice for a filling entrée.

Worst: Mushroom Jack Fajita

Mushroom jack fajita Courtesy of Chili's
670 calories, 40 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 2,820 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (5 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 54 g protein

The mushroom Jack fajita is pretty deceitful, according to Peoples, as it looks healthy at first glance with its grilled chicken and veggies. But don’t be fooled—it’s actually loaded with unhealthy fats from the amount of cheese combined with bacon.

Salads

Best: Caesar Salad

Caesar salad Courtesy of Chili's
240 calories, 19 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 410 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (2 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 5 g protein

“Though Caesar dressing is often loaded with fat, other salads on the menu actually have far more fat, making this dish the winner in the category,” Peoples says.

Worst: Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Quesadilla explosion salad Courtesy of Chili's
1,400 calories, 93 g fat (28 g saturated fat), 2,390 mg sodium, 81 g carbs (9 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 6 g protein

“The Quesadilla Explosion Salad has a whopping 1,400 calories with 93 grams of fat, making it anything but a light choice,” Peoples says. She recommends skipping this choice altogether and choosing another salad off the list instead for the nutritional benefits without the high-calorie punch.

Guiltless Grill

Best: Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled chicken salad Courtesy of Chili's
430 calories, 23 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 1,140 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 36 g protein

“This meal contains a high amount of sodium, but its modest 430 calories and 36 grams of protein won’t ruin your health or weight-loss goals altogether,” says Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos RDN, CDN, CFT, the Nutrition Twins.

Worst: Margarita Grilled Chicken

Margarita grilled chicken Courtesy of Chili's
630 calories, 16 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 2,550 mg sodium, 67 g carbs (7 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 53 g protein

“This dish may be on the guilt-free grill list, but the 630 calories is more than you may bargain for if you’re expecting a light, healthy meal,” Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos suggest. While this meal is higher in protein and lower in fat than the other dishes, they explain that the issue is that it doesn’t have any vegetables. In addition, they note that this meal contains more sodium than the maximum 2,300 milligrams you should get in your entire day.

Tacos & Quesadillas

Best: Spicy Shrimp Tacos

Spicy shrimp tacos Courtesy of Chili's
1,000 calories, 46 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 3,540 mg sodium, 105 g carbs (12 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 37 g protein

Even though these tacos contain a half day’s worth of calories, Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos suggest that this choice is far lower in calories than any of the other options in the category. Additionally, they point out how this dish contains the lowest amount of total fat at 46 grams.

Worst: Bacon Ranch Chicken Quesadillas

Quesadilla bacon ranch steak Courtesy of Chili's
1,850 calories, 140 g fat (48 g saturated fat), 295 mg sodium, 69 g carbs (4 g fiber, 10 g protein), 82 g protein

At 1,850 calories, this meal is 150 calories shy of meeting the suggested daily allowance of 2,000 calories. “This meal also has 48 grams of saturated fat, which is more than two times over the 20-gram maximum recommended per day,” Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos explain.

Sandwiches

Best: Buffalo Chicken Ranch Sandwich

Buffalo chicken ranch sandwich Courtesy of Chili's
880 calories, 48 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 2,780 mg sodium, 69 g carbs (3 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 42 g protein

“You may be surprised to see this sandwich on the best list, but with only three options, it was lowest in calories,” Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos explain. The good news is it has only nine grams of saturated fat and no trans fat.

Worst: Bacon Avocado Chicken Sandwich

Bacon avocado chicken sandwich Courtesy of Chili's
1,140 calories, 60 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 2,670 mg sodium, 74 g carbs (9 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 79 g protein

Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos emphasize that this sandwich is the highest calorie option in the category, as nearly half the calories come from fat. And while they love protein-rich meals, they note that 79 grams of protein in one sitting is a bit excessive, especially considering that’s more protein than many women should get in their entire day.

Smokehouse Combos

Best: Regular Combo with Smoked Brisket + Crispers, With Side Of Steamed Broccoli

Smokehouse combo Courtesy of Chili's
1,235 calories, 70 g fat (20 g saturated fat), 2,890 mg sodium, 82 g carbs (11 g fiber, 24 g sugar), 72 g protein

“It’s hard to really make a Smokehouse Combo healthier, but it’s definitely possible,” says registered holistic nutritionists Jenni Bourque and Mirna Sharafeddine of The Naughty Nutritionists. If you’re craving some smoked goodness, they suggest keeping it simple with smoked brisket and original crispers. You can create a much healthier meal by replacing some of the sides, too, such as substituting the fries (and/or corn) with avocado slices, fresh guacamole, or steamed broccoli.

Worst: Ultimate Smokehouse Combo with Ribs Dry Rub + Ribs Honey-Chipotle BBQ + Crispers Honey Chipotle, Comes With A Side Of Chile Garlic Toast, Garlic Dill Pickles, Homestyle Fries And Roasted Street Corn

Ultimate smokehouse combo Courtesy of Chili's
3,085 calories, 188 g fat (54 g saturated fat), 7,010 mg sodium, 207 g carbs (14 g fiber, 68 g sugar), 142 g protein

“The ultimate smokehouse combo allows you to select three options for protein, and in terms of calorie, salt, sugar, and saturated fat content, this is one of the worst meals that you can ever have,” Bourque and Sharafeddine say. And if you decide to go all-out and have a double order of ribs (dry rub and honey-chipotle BBQ) plus some honey chipotle crispers, they explain that you would reach your average daily recommended calories at 2,090, and that’s not including any sides.

Chicken & Seafood

Best: Chipotle Shrimp Fresh Mex Bowl

Fresh mex bowl chipotle shrimp Courtesy of Chili's
880 calories, 48 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 2,900 mg sodium, 79 g carbs (7 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 35 g protein

Despite the high sodium content, Bourque and Sharafeddine say this dish is one of the healthier items on the menu, as it contains greens and avocado. “You can definitely lighten it up further by asking for more greens instead of the tortilla strips and keeping it light on the dressings,” they suggest.

Worst: Cajun Chicken Pasta

Cajun pasta with grilled chicken Courtesy of Chili's
1,180 calories, 53 g fat (22 g saturated fat), 3,520 mg sodium, 111 g carbs (8 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 65 g protein

“The Cajun pasta dish is made with Alfredo sauce, which is generally one of the heaviest sauces that you can choose,” Bourque and Sharafeddine suggest. It’s hard on digestion, too, and tends to leave most of us bloated. This dish also contains more than half the recommended amount of daily calories in one meal and is also pretty high in saturated fat and sodium.

Lunch Specials

Best: 1975 Soft Tacos

1975 soft acos Courtesy of Chili's
490 calories, 29 g fat (14 g saturated fat), 1,140 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (2 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 22 g protein

“Our vote for lunch is for the classic tacos, preferably with a side salad or avocado instead of fries,” Bourque and Sharafeddine explain. They are low in calories, low in sugar, and have a reasonable amount of sodium in comparison to the other dishes on the menu.

Worst: Chicken Fajitas

Chicken fajitas Courtesy of Chili's
1,300 calories, 59 g fat (26 g saturated fat), 4,950 mg sodium, 131 g carbs (15 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 65 g protein

While the dish contains a good amount of fiber (likely from the veggies and sides), Bourque and Sharafeddine suggest that it’s still quite high in calories and saturated fat. So these fajitas are a no-go.

Dessert

Best: Mini Molten Chocolate Cake

Mini molten chocolate cake Courtesy of Chili's
570 calories, 25 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 530 mg sodium, 82 g carbs (3 g fiber, 56 g sugar), 7 g protein

If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, Bourque and Sharafeddine say that this is the better option you can choose at Chili’s. “It’s still quite high in sugar, so we always recommend sharing with the table,” they add.

Worst: Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

Skillet chocolate chip cookie Courtesy of Chili's
1,420 calories, 71 g fat (38 g saturated fat), 900 mg sodium, 189 g carbs (6 g fiber, 116 g sugar) , 14 g protein

With a whopping 1,420 calories and 29 teaspoons of sugar per serving—which is more than three cream donuts—Bourque and Sharafeddine say that this dish wins the award for the unhealthiest dessert at Chili’s.

Kids

Best: Grilled Chicken Dippers With Steamed Broccoli Side

Grilled chicken dippers Courtesy of Chili's
340 calories, 20 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 735 mg sodium, 10 g carbs (4 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 31 g protein

Bourque and Sharafeddine say that this meal is one of the better options in the category that has a good amount of protein and is low on saturated fat and sugar. “You can add a side of steamed broccoli, corn on the cob, or some mashed potatoes (without gravy) for a more satisfying meal,” they recommend.

Worst: Pepper Pals® Cheesy Chicken Pasta, Without Any Sides

Cheesy chicken pasta Courtesy of Chili's
660 calories, 30 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 1,780 mg sodium, 48 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 48 g protein

“Words like cheesy, battered, and glazed usually heighten our senses, but they are words to watch out for when it comes to the menu, especially when it’s for the little ones,” Bourque and Sharafeddine say. And, on its own, the meal is very high in sodium and low in fiber and healthy fats.

Chicken Crispers®

Best: Original Chicken Crispers®

Original chicken crispers Courtesy of Chili's
510 calories, 33 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 1,380 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 31g protein

Although the Chicken Crispers are fried, Bourque and Sharafeddine suggest they are the best in the category, as they are much lower in calories, fat, and sodium than some of the other choices in the category.

Worst: Honey-Chipotle Crispers® & Waffles

Honey-chipotle crispers® & waffles Courtesy of Chili's
2,510 calories, 125 g fat (40 g saturated fat), 4,480 mg sodium, 283g carbs (13 g fiber, 105g sugar), 64g protein

This combination of fried chicken and waffles may sound appetizing, but Bourque and Sharafeddine say that this is a dish to avoid, as it goes high on the calories, fat, sugar, and sodium.

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Look, feel and live great while getting on the path to better health with the new Eat This, Not That! Magazine.