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I Tried Every New Panera Sandwich & One Was Flawless

The popular chain just revamped its menu to include four enticing new sandwiches, but which one is best?

What started as a modest neighborhood bakery has since turned into so much more. With close to four decades in business, Panera Bread has reached far beyond lunch and café classics to offer an eclectic menu of fresh foods from sandwiches and salads to soups and gooey mac and cheese.

And now, as of April 4, the chain has just undergone its "biggest menu transformation" yet, making over 20 total changes and ushering in what the company calls a "new era at Panera." This included 12 upgrades to established classics like the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad and the Bravo Club. Plus, nine brand-new items were added to the lineup, including a Bacon Mac & Cheese, four colorful salads, and four hearty and diverse sandwiches.

Unfortunately, this wave of newness also came with a few casualties, including flatbreads and Mediterranean bowls, which were discontinued along with dozens of other menu items. But I, for one, am hopeful that the fresh items will help to cushion the blow. To find out, I got ahead of trying out the chain's four new sandwiches specifically. These include a Chicken Bacon Rancher, Ciabatta Cheesesteak, Toasted Italiano, and a Tomato Basil BLT. Let's jump in to find out what Panera's new generation is all about and which sandwich stands as the most scrumptious.

Here's how all four new handhelds stack up, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the absolute tastiest debut.

Chicken Bacon Rancher

The new Chicken Bacon Rancher sandwich at Panera Bread
Photo: Megan Hageman/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per Sandwich):
Calories: 870
Fat: 42 g (Saturated Fat: 14 g)
Sodium: 2,260 mg
Carbs: 73 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 51 g

The Chicken Bacon Rancher sounds like a sandwich that means business, but also the perfect hearty choice for someone who just came in from herding livestock. The two main stars of the show are seasoned and grilled white meat chicken and chopped bits of Applewood smoked bacon. Then, in addition to the double dose of protein, sharp white cheddar cheese and ranch dressing are also found between the pieces of Black Pepper Focaccia breading. The full sandwich cost me $12.29. But, it's also available in a half-portion for $8.89.

The look: Thick and fluffy focaccia bread with just a thin layer of inner ingredients. A few pieces of white-pink chicken can be seen from the sides along with a touch of cheese, proving their existence. But overall, the makeup seems rather unbalanced–especially when compared to the photo on the chain's website.

The taste: Immensely bread-forward, as expected. I'm not complaining though, as it's a focaccia any at-home baker would be envious of with a soft yet chewy texture and plenty of flakey salt. But, present in such a large amount, it does seem to overtake the entire sammie. Bacon pieces are hardly noticeable at all. And, although the chicken is tender and smothered with a creamy ranch, it falls flat. With a name like Chicken Bacon Rancher, I expected heartier portions of meat. So, overall this one was a bit anticlimactic, though still a great choice for focaccia fanatics.

 Every Panera Sandwich—Ranked by Nutrition

Ciabatta Cheesesteak

a panera cheesesteak sandwich cut in half on a white plate.
Photo: Megan Hageman/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per Sandwich):
Calories: 1,120
Fat: 59 g (Saturated Fat: 17 g)
Sodium: 1,610 mg
Carbs: 92 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 13 g)
Protein: 55 g

The dual-purpose café and restaurant has dipped its toe into steak sandwiches before with its now-retired Toasted Steak and White Cheddar. But, this new Ciabatta Cheesesteak is currently the only beef-based sandwich on the menu. It features tender marinated sliced steak, provolone cheese, caramelized onions, garlic aioli, and peppadew peppers–the only pepper variety impossible to say out loud without cracking a smile. As a steak sandwich, it is a little pricier at $12.99. But, a half size is also available for $9.29.

The look: Dry but meaty. Cut thick with a crispy top, the ciabatta bread has a commanding presence. Underneath, steak sprawls out from all sides in a dark brown color. However, the other ingredients like the cheese, veggies, and aioli are trickier to spot, hidden under all those carbs.

The taste: When you get a bite of everything all together, it's pure bliss. The onions' sweetness offsets the savory, tender beef. Another sweet yet sharp kick comes from the peppers, and cheese and sauce help to tie a bow on the entire sandwich. But, unfortunately, these all-inclusive mouthfuls are few and far between. Toppings aren't well dispersed and minimal overall, leaving the steak vulnerable and exposing its chewy side. Plus, without other supplemental flavors, the bread is once again overwhelming. I know that's what Panera is famous for, but I think it should be dialed down just a smidgeon to give other elements a chance to shine.

 I Tried Every Breakfast Sandwich at Panera & the Best Was Big and Cheesy

Toasted Italiano

a panera italiano sandwich cut open on a white plate.
Photo: Megan Hageman/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per Sandwich):
Calories: 1,250
Fat: 61 g (Saturated Fat: 18 g)
Sodium: 3,660 mg
Carbs: 114 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 5 g)
Protein: 59 g

Now you can mangia like the Italians at Panera with the new Toasted Italiano. Like any worthy Italian sub, it comes with multiple forms of meat including Black Forest ham and soppressata, the popular dry-cured pork salami. It's then topped with provolone cheese, romaine lettuce, red onion, sliced pepperoncini peppers, and garlic aioli meets Greek dressing for the saucy finisher. Though it's Italian–with Greek glimpses–it is served on a French baguette for a tasty mixing of European cultures I'm certainly not mad about. The whole sandwich costs $12.99 or a half order comes in at $9.29.

The look: A behemoth of a sandwich. I thought my local Panera had flubbed up and given me two. The whole order comes with two halves each over five inches long for close to 11 inches total of bread, meat, and toppings. The whole thing is clearly stacked high with ham and glistening with what I assume to be oily Greek dressing. I had to roll up my sleeves and grab an extra napkin for this one.

The taste: One of the better Italian subs I've had in my life–on par with chains like Penn Station or even Jimmy John's. And, I think it's because all the ingredients are wildly in sync, starting with the meats. Mild ham makes for a filling base while a touch of salty spice drips from the soppressata. Then, punches of zest and tang come from the red onion and pepperoncini peppers, only to be balanced out by the lettuce, mayo-based aioli, and melty provolone.

Lastly, the oil and vinegar fusion of the Greek dressing permeates the entire sandwich, soaking into each bite of crisp, fresh bread. This is somehow my most and least favorite part of the sandwich wrapped into one. The juicy layer adds undeniable bursts of flavor and moistness. But, after a while, it gets old and starts to taste more greasy than anything else. I think asking for the dressing on the side would be a great idea, so one can pour at their own pace. All in all, though, it's still quite delizioso!

 I Tried 8 Baked Goods at Panera & the Best Was Big, Sweet, and Gooey

Tomato Basil BLT

a panera blt cut open on a white plate.
Photo: Megan Hageman/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per Sandwich):
Calories: 790
Fat: 47 g (Saturated Fat: 12 g)
Sodium: 2,060 mg
Carbs: 66 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 7 g)
Protein: 27 g

A fresh BLT in the spring and summer months is unmatched. So, this Panera addition is coming at just the right time. Similar to the chain's Bravo Club and Mediterranean Veggie, the Tomato Basil BLT is served on Tomato Basil Miche bread. The rest follows a standard BLT format with an applewood-smoked bacon satisfying the "B" component, crisp mixed greens standing in for the "L," and vine-ripened tomatoes covering the "T." A garlic aioli and sprinkling of salt and pepper complete the picture. The whole sandwich is the most economical of the bunch at $9.29, and a half will cost you $6.39.

The look: The first thing you notice is the bread with its light pink hue, speckled ever so lightly with red tomato flakes. Dark greens poke out from every side, obviously fresh. On the inside, four larger pieces of bacon set up camp next to multiple tomato slices and a healthy slathering of cream-colored aioli.

The taste: The taste is just as refreshing as the look. I'll admit, I had written this one off–assuming it would be too simple and basic adjacent to a lineup of hefty hot sandwiches. But, I was later eating my words, not to mention, every last bit of this BLT. The bread immediately won me over with its soft and supple texture and the way that it encases its contents like a delectable cloud. From the center, the bacon was next to impress with the distinct taste of being slow-cooked over a fire. The greens and tomato slices aren't just extras in this performance. Unbelievably fresh and crunchy, they dazzle all on their own. And, the garlic aioli–much more noticeable here than in the cheesesteak–was the perfect sauce choice.

It's a flawless take on the classic three-part sandwich. And, pairing it with the chain's creamy tomato soup might just be my new go-to "You Pick Two."

Megan Hageman
Megan is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Megan