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I Tried the Caesar Salad at 5 Major Restaurant Chains & The Best Was Crispy and Spicy

For when you want crispy romaine, crunchy croutons, sharp Parm, and a tangy dressing to pull it together.

Whether you're a salad lover or picky about your salads, chances are you've tried a Caesar salad. Made with romaine lettuce and ingredients such as croutons and parmesan cheese, the salad has a signature creamy, tangy dressing that brings everything together to create a taste sensation.

Caesar salad can be found on menus at many popular restaurants. It can be served as a side dish or starter alongside heavier entrees, including steak. Or, it can be a meal, especially when topped with grilled chicken. To find out which chain restaurant has the best Caesar, I visited five popular chains and ordered the salad just as described on the menu. While some eateries offered only Caesar side salads, others offered full entrée versions. I tried them all and rated them based on looks and taste.

In the end, only one special Caesar stood out from the pack. Read on to see these Caesar salads ranked from worst to best, and find out which one you should try for lunch or dinner.


chili's caesar salad
Ronnie Koenig, Eat This, Not That!
Side Caesar Salad (Per Order): 410 cal, 34 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 0 trans fat), 690 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (2 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 13 g protein

This little salad includes greens, parmesan, croutons, and Caesar dressing. I'd love it if Chili's offered an entrée salad (with protein). Having ordered this in the past, I can say it's a decent compliment to the spot's otherwise "tan" food offerings.

The look: The small size of this salad made it look sad. The croutons (my least favorite part of a Caesar) were giant, and the dressing looked super thick, like Greek yogurt. The parmesan included mostly shavings, which had me wishing for more.

The taste: A classic Caesar uses romaine, so when I saw that there appeared to be spring mix in this salad, I was confused. The lettuce wasn't chopped, so it was difficult to bite. The dressing tasted a bit like dill yogurt, and the croutons overwhelmed any flavors that might have been present. If I came here looking for a good Caesar, then I'd quickly move along.

Rating: 3/10

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LongHorn Steakhouse

longhorn caesar
Ronnie Koenig, Eat This, Not That!
Caesar Salad (Per Order): 250 cal, 19 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 0 trans fat), 600 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (2 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 6 g protein

I was looking for an entrée salad, but alas, LongHorn only offered a side salad when it came to Caesar. This salad was described as "hand-chopped romaine tossed in creamy Caesar dressing with croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese." It was the lowest-calorie salad of the ones I tried, so that part was a plus.

The look: This salad looked more substantial than Chili's version. I noticed big pieces of parmesan in the mix, which was exciting. The dressing here was darker in color than the other Caesar dressings I tried. The croutons were toasted to a nice golden brown. They were not uniformly sized, so maybe that makes them seem more authentic.

The taste: The lettuce was crisp and fresh, and I really enjoyed getting a lot of parm in every bite. On the downside, the dressing was not tangy enough. I wanted to like this salad more, and I think if it were served as an entrée with grilled chicken, I'd be all in.

Rating: 4/10

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applebee's caesar salad
Ronnie Koenig, Eat This, Not That!
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (1 salad + 1 breadstick): 970 cal, 60 g fat (12 g saturated fat, 1 trans fat), 2060 mg sodium, 55 g carbs (7 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 55 g protein

Finally, a salad that makes a complete meal! This Casear featured crisp romaine tossed in garlic dressing and topped with grilled chicken, croutons, and shaved parmesan. It was served with a golden-brown signature breadstick brushed with buttery garlic and parsley. This meal was the most caloric of the whole group and came loaded with fat and sodium.

The look: Both the lettuce and chicken were uniformly chopped, making this salad appear prepackaged. On top, the lettuce looked fresh, but I found some brownish pieces (ew!) as I got deeper into my meal. I could not get over the giant breadstick it was served with, which looked like a big hot dog in the middle of my salad. I tossed the breadstick after one bite, as I didn't want to defeat any health benefits of having a salad for lunch.

The taste: The chicken in this salad tasted fresh, not rubbery, and the dressing was tangy and creamy. The parm was good but scant. The croutons detracted from the salad—they were too big and an unnatural golden color. I ended up eating around them. This was a passable salad, but I would not go out of my way to eat it again.

Rating: 5/10

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TGI Fridays

TGI fridays caesar salad
Ronnie Koenig, Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 salad): 790 cal, 59 g fat (12 g saturated fat, 1 trans fat), 1770 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (7 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 45 g protein

Romaine, parmesan, croutons, and parmesan crisps come together in this big salad served with your choice of protein. While Fridays isn't a place I think of for salad, I was glad to find this on the menu.

The look:  This salad came with a lot of dressing, albeit on the side. The chicken looked a little overcooked, and the bed of lettuce was bright and crisp. I could detect just a sprinkling of cheese, which had me concerned. The croutons looked fine.

The taste: Surprisingly pleasant! While it needed more cheese, I liked that the dressing was thick and tasty. The chicken was grilled nicely and not at all rubbery.

Rating: 6/10

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Outback Steakhouse

outback caesar salad
Ronnie Koenig, Eat This, Not That!
Brisbane Caesar Salad (Per Order): 870 cal, 61 g fat (12 g saturated fat, 0 trans fat), 1660 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (6 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 54 g protein

The Brisbane Caesar salad with crisp romaine lettuce and homemade croutons bathed in Outback's Caesar dressing sounded like a meal I wanted to try. However, I had never dined at Outback before, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

The look: The dressing was so thick I couldn't pour it over my salad, I needed to use a fork to distribute it. The roll it came with was huge. The chicken looked like it was coated in a nice spice rub—I was intrigued.

The taste: Wow! This salad was delicious. While the lettuce was crisp and fresh, and the dressing was good, it was the chicken that put it over the top. This tasted like fresh rotisserie, not prepackaged meat. It was spicy—so much so that I'd say you'd better like some flavor before you order this one (I do!).  This salad was so yummy and flavorful, and all the ingredients came together nicely. I'll be ordering this one again.

Rating: 8/10

Ronnie Koenig
Ronnie Koenig has written about food, drink, travel and culture for The New York Times, TODAY, The Atlantic and many others. Read more about Ronnie