In the pantheon of American culinary nostalgia, the salad bar deserves top billing alongside hot dogs, burgers, and barbecue. In a lot of ways, the sheer excess of it—in all its endless variations—makes it a kind of quintessential comfort food, especially when the resulting salads wind up slathered in cheeses, dressings, and more meat than vegetables.
Unlike other timeworn comforts, though, the salad bar's reputation has ebbed and flowed over the years, veering from widespread popularity to endangered menu species.
The salad landscape today, especially at restaurant chains, is mostly dominated by composed standalone salads, which can have mixed results. While some restaurants excel at entrée-worthy salads, others have a bad habit of making salads that are about as nutritious as a piece of cake. The salad bar, though, will always stand alone. Despite the demise of the American buffet, some continue to thrive, offering infinite combinations of veggies, toppings, dressings, and accoutrements—often at an all-you-can-eat basis. Here are the 10 restaurant chains in America with the best salad bars.
Despite the fact that Ruby Tuesday has seen better days, there's no denying that this iconic restaurant chain reigns as the end- all, be-all of DIY salad bars. Sure, the restaurant serves lots of things on its menu, including some of the best potato skins around, but make no mistake that the salad bars at Ruby Tuesday are the real bread and butter.
It's so integral to the brand, in fact, that when the chain started to struggle a few years back, it doubled down and added 55 more salad options, according to Nation's Restaurant News. Today, the Ruby Tuesday salad bar is as much as rite of Americana passage as a food court Cinnabon or a state fair corndog. Dubbed the Garden Bar, it's a veritable choose-your-own-adventure of veggies, greens, cheeses, croutons, and toppings, with more than enough options to keep things fresh and new for every visit.
An up-and-coming fast-casual chain, Cava has earned accolades for serving some of the healthiest fast-food in the country. The Mediterranean-inspired chain is known for its customizable bowls and killer falafel. But don't sleep on the salads, either. While not a traditional salad bar in the sense that guests get to mix and match themselves, the burgeoning chain does employ a literal salad bar lined with vibrant, fresh ingredients for personalized salad construction.
Guests move down the line, Chipotle-style, as Cava employees mix and match salad bar selections. Each step of the way, options range from base ingredients like baby spinach and romaine, to enhancements and proteins, like hummus, tzatziki, grilled chicken, falafel, braised lamb, broccoli, salt-brined pickles, and dressings such as balsamic date vinaigrette and yogurt dill.
Buffet besmirchers be damned! Golden Corral is entering its golden era. Once on the decline, surely due in no small part to the perceived public pivot on buffets, this decadent American comfort chain is making a big comeback—and its bringing its salad bar with it. Known for its bottomless dining deals, Golden Corral is having the best year ever.
Endless buffets are the bill of fare here, available on menus all day long, but the salad bar still stands out as a fan-favorite, thanks to its vast array of fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, crackers, croutons, dressings, and other toppings. No matter the state of the buffet category, Golden Corral not only endures, but it stands as one of the top all-you-can-eat destinations in America.
It's impossible not to feel anything but pure joy when dining at an Eat'n Park, a regional mini chain of American restaurants with locations in the Pennsylvania area. For starters, its tagline is "the place for smiles", and it's famous for its Smiley Cookies and fun seasonal specials like Peppermint Sundaes and cinnamon apple waffles. The definitional "something for everyone" restaurant, with options available all day long, Eat'n Park is also particularly renowned for its signature Soup, Salad & Fruit Bar.
Not only are the options myriad, from pickled beets and fresh watermelon to shredded carrots and broccoli slaw, but the quality is there, too—produce is sourced from local farms as often, and as seasonally, as possible. It's all thanks to the brand's commitment to its FarmSource philosophy regarding sustainability and a long-held purchasing program emphasizing locality and freshness.
When it comes to vintage American steakhouse chains, Sizzler is one that's practically synonymous with the form. It may not be regarded as the best steakhouse in America, and in fact it's been on the decline, but the company still holds a place in Americans' hearts for its tried-and-true commitment to bottomless deals, its affordability, and its band of loyal fans in its West Coast homeland.
In fact, it's those fans who are fueling a rebirth for the chain, inspiring Sizzler to stimulate its brand positioning while maintaining the standbys that work—like those beloved salad bars. Despite a recent company-wide redesign, the salad bar hasn't changed. Aside from a sleek aesthetic upgrade, the food itself is just as bottomless as ever.
It might not be the most prolific or popular chain, but Shoney's makes up for quantity in quality, which might explain why it's one of the restaurants diners are most loyal to. While it has long been seen as outdated, this is another casual chain that's poised for a comeback. Front and center in this comeback journey is Shoney's famed salad bar, otherwise known as the "All You Care To Eat Fresh Food Bar."
Here, across a lengthy sprawl of ingredient options, guests can take their pick of original recipes crafted by Shoney's culinary experts. It's an apt showcase for the chain's adage of "fresh, never frozen, All-American food." Just make sure to save room for pie.
As a Brazilian steakhouse chain, Rodizio Grill has a reputation for serving as much meat as a customer can eat. That same sense of bacchanal applies to the rest of its menu, too, meaty or otherwise. Well regarded as a budget-friendly steakhouse option, it's become as well-known for its endless gourmet salad as it is for its endless steak. In addition to gourmet salad options, each location sports a well-appointed salad bar stocked with all manner of greens, veggies, fruits, cheeses, cured meats, and more. Be sure to try some of the specialty options that set Rodizio Grill apart, like the seafood pasta salad, fresh strawberry salad, hearts of palm, and ceviche.
More widely known for its sandwiches, Jason's Deli also happens to be one of the few fast-food chains to offer any semblance of a salad bar—and fortunately, said salad bar is as beloved as its sandwiches. Among the healthiest fast-food chains in the nation, Jason's Deli knows a thing or two about salad fixins, offering a fulled loaded Garden Bar chock full of wholesome produce, greens, dressings, toppings, and cheeses.
As the name implies, pizza gets top billing at this Midwestern chain, but despite its less-than-healthy presumptions, there's actually plenty of wholesome eats to be found as well. That's thanks to its impressive salad and sides bar, which is as much a focal point for Pizza Ranch as its namesake pizza.
After all, it's not every day that a restaurant chain employs its very own Chief Buffet Officer. Salad bars at Pizza Ranch are brimming with garden-fresh greens and veggies, plus numerous fruits, cheeses, and dressings. Feeling decadent? Explore some of the heartier sides, like mashed potatoes, gravy, ranch wedges, and crispy chicken.
Steak and Ale
It's a salad bar miracle: Steak and Ale, a bygone bastion of Americana, is poised to make a comeback in 2024. A once-thriving steakhouse chain, known as much for its salad bar as its steaks, has been defunct for more than a decade. Nostalgic loyalists had long written it off as a relic of the past. But then came the stunning news that Steak and Ale would emerge anew following a bankruptcy-induced demise.
It'll be a slow trickle for the company to get back to its glory days, which once numbered close to 300 locations, but diehard fans can have a new location in Minnesota to look forward to come April. True to form, it'll harken to its heyday with the same Tudor-style motif, logo, and most importantly, salad bar. In fact, the salad bar was such a staple that it's frequently lauded on the 53,000-member Facebook group, titled Steak and Ale's Comeback.