The Best and Worst Menu Items at 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.
Best: Margherita Flatbread
"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
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
"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
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.
Best: Original BBQ, Half Rack
"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.
Worst: Dry Rubbed Ribs, Full Rack
"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.
Best: Classic Sirloin, 6 oz
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
"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.
Best: Seared Shrimp Fajita
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
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.
Best: Caesar Salad
"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
"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.
Best: Grilled Chicken Salad
"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
"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
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
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.
Best: Buffalo Chicken Ranch Sandwich
"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
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.
Best: Regular Combo with Smoked Brisket + Crispers, With Side Of Steamed Broccoli
"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
"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
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
"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.
Best: 1975 Soft Tacos
"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
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.
Best: Mini Molten Chocolate Cake
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
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.
Best: Grilled Chicken Dippers With Steamed Broccoli Side
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
"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.
Best: Original Chicken Crispers®
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
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.