I Tried 12 Fast-Food Salads and One Was Absolutely Perfect
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Fast food and salad are words not always uttered in the same sentence, especially not these days. But there was a time, before the pandemic, when many of the biggest fast-food chains offered a bowl of greens on their menus.

Sadly, you’ll no longer find salads at Burger King or McDonald’s (remember the beloved Salad Shakers?). Taco Bell’s beloved Fiesta Taco Salad is also no longer available. When Chick-fil-A tried to remove the side salad from its menu earlier this year, the outcry on social media was so passionate and swift that the chain quickly reversed its decision. So where are the fast-food salads hiding?

Jack in the Box, Subway, and Chipotle have some decent offerings, but they aren’t very unique. For the chains truly innovating when it comes to tasty salads, you have to look to the likes of Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, and Panera. These chains continue to put out creative new salads while keeping fan favorites on the menu.

I set out to try all of the chicken-topped salads on their menus to see which you should add to your weekly rotation. Here are the best-tasting chicken salads at fast-food restaurants right now, presented from least favorite to the absolute best—although there are several that I would eat again.

What I tried:

  • Chick-fil-A’s Cobb Salad
  • Chick-fil-A’s Market Salad
  • Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Southwest Salad
  • Panera’s Citrus Asian Crunch Salad with Chicken
  • Panera’s Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken
  • Panera’s Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken
  • Panera’s Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken
  • Panera’s Southwest Caesar Salad with Chicken
  • Panera’s Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
  • Wendy’s Apple Pecan Salad
  • Wendy’s Parmesan Caesar Salad
  • Wendy’s Cobb Salad

RELATED: 5 Fast-Food Restaurants That Serve the Best Salads

Wendy's Apple Pecan Salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 540 calories, 28 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,420 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (5 g fiber, 34 g sugar), 34 g protein

Wendy’s Apple Pecan Salad is a mix of lettuce with red and green apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese, and grilled chicken. I paid $10.24 for this dish on DoorDash.

The look: This salad has the look for sure, with big pieces of juicy chicken, tons of blue cheese, and big chunks of ripe-looking apples.

The taste: Sadly, this great-looking salad didn’t deliver on flavor. Maybe Wendy’s was having a bad day because my salad was missing pecans, which are right in the name. My co-taster assured me that the salad is usually better and that the pecans made the salad shine, but I didn’t like it. The Pomegranate Vinaigrette dressing was far too sweet when paired with apples. I loved the blue cheese but it became all I could taste through the excess sweetness.

If you’re looking for a chicken salad with fruit the others on this list will be more pleasing since they feature more fruit. This salad was all one note and that note was far too sweet.

Panera asian sesame salad
Meaghan Cameorn/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 210 calories, 11 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 350 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 15 g protein

Panera’s Asian Sesame Salad featured chicken pieces, toasted almond slivers, wonton strips, sesame seeds, and Asian sesame vinaigrette. I paid $8.49 for a half salad on the Panera app.

The look: All the ingredients were present and the wonton strips looked crunchy. You probably shouldn’t eat the Panera salads next to the Chick-fil-A or Wendy’s salads because, though the half salads cost nearly as much, they are woefully small for the price.

The taste: Overall, this salad was a little bland. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t provide the wow factor like some of the other salads on this list. The chicken was nice and tender, the dressing was pleasant and the wontons were crunchy, but nothing really sang. I couldn’t taste the almonds and I didn’t see any sesame seeds. If you’re looking for something super light, you might like this one. Note that it has very low sodium at 350 milligrams and is low in sugar.

Panera strawberry poppyseed salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 180 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 240 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (4 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 13 g protein

This perennial favorite is packed with chicken romaine, mandarin oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple and served with poppyseed dressing and topped with toasted pecans.

The look: As advertised, Panera’s Strawberry Poppyseed Salad is packed with juicy fruit and I could see all the ingredients were included.

The taste: If I wanted a fruit salad I would order a fruit salad. I might be in the minority here, but I didn’t like this salad as a lunch option. The pineapple really made it too sweet and the dressing was a syrupy concoction I couldn’t get behind. If you love a sweet salad, this could be for you. The ingredients were all very fresh and all the fruit and chicken made this substantial for a small salad.

Panera asian crunch salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 310 calories, 17 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 670 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (4 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 18 g protein

This tasty salad has a ton of ingredients: broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, kale, edamame, pickled red onions, and fresh cilantro in tangerine soy ginger dressing. It’s topped with seared chicken thigh. A half salad was $9.29 on the Panera app.

The look: For a small salad, this looked and smelled amazing. It was packed with crispy, bright veggies and the dark chicken thigh pieces looked marinated.

The taste: The salad has a plethora of crunchy veggies and the chicken was so different from all of the other salads. The chicken pieces were juicy and packed with umami goodness. I didn’t see any broccoli or edamame, which made me downgrade this delicious salad just a bit. If you double-check that your salad has all the goods, this one is a delicious bet. Just note it does have more sodium than the two others mentioned and it’s expensive for a half salad at just under $10.

Panera southwest caesar salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 310 calories, 17 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 670 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (4 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 18 g protein

This new salad is made with chicken breast over romaine with fresh avocado, cilantro, grated Parmesan, and Caesar dressing, and is topped with blue corn tortilla strips. A half salad cost $9.19.

The look: It looked a little thrown together and the tortilla chips covered the rest of the ingredients. Panera should take a tip from Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s and put the crunchy extras on the side.

The taste: I generally liked the flavor of all of the ingredients in this dish, but it didn’t really deliver on the Southwest promise. If you put this one next to Chick-fil-A’s Southwest salad there would be no contest. The dressing was just plain Caesar and it didn’t add any heat. The drizzle of chipotle aioli was the only spicy element, but it was overwhelmed by the dressing. However, this is a decent salad and the big pieces of avocado were a nice touch. The chicken had the mushiest texture of the Panera chicken pieces for some reason. The crunch of the tortillas was welcome.

Panera green goddess cobb salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 250 calories, 14 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 470 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (4 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 19 g protein

This version of a Cobb salad had grape tomatoes, pickled red onions, avocado, Applewood-smoked bacon, and half a hard-boiled egg all tossed with green goddess dressing. A half-size cost $9.29.

The look: I could see all the ingredients and they looked substantial. There were big chunks of avocado, tomatoes, cubes of bacon, strips of chicken, and purplish pink pickled onions. The green goddess dressing was a nice shade of light green.

The taste: If you like avocado, this is the salad for you. The avocado pieces combined with the herby green goddess dressing turned this salad into a creamy mix of flavors and textures. I couldn’t really taste the bacon because the delicious dressing covered the limp pieces up. I am not a fan of whole grape tomatoes in a salad because they will either explode in your mouth if you eat them whole or they are impossible to cut in a salad. However, get this salad for the stellar dressing, avocado, and crispy lettuce.

chick-fil-a southwest salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 690 calories, 49 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,570 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (8 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 33 g protein

Chick-fil-A has three main salads on the menu. The Spicy Southwest Salad has grape tomatoes, cheese, roasted corn, black beans, poblano chiles, and red bell peppers. It’s served with tortilla strips and chili lime pepitas on the side and comes with the chain’s Creamy Salsa dressing. It cost $10.19 on the Chick-fil-A app.

The look: Despite the plethora of ingredients, I could see everything spread out on the bed of lettuce. The crunchy bits were served on the side which was a nice touch. I paid $10.19 for the salad on the Chick-fil-A app.

The taste: Wow, this dressing is spicy—Chick-fil-A is not playing around! Despite that, this salad is a delicious medley of tender chicken—which were in little strips that were easy to chew—crunchy tortilla chips, little spicy bites of pepitas, and all the veggies. The only negative to this mxiture was the big grape tomatoes that needed to be chopped, otherwise, if you can stand the heat, this is top-notch. It definitely doesn’t taste like fast food. But be aware that this salad has a hefty 690 calories (without the pepitas and tortilla strips) and an astounding 49 grams of fat.

Panera Fuji apple salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 280 calories, 17 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 370 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 15 g protein

This colorful salad was packed with sliced chicken, grape tomatoes, red onions, toasted pecan pieces, Gorgonzola, and Fuji apple chips. A half-portion of this salad was $8.49.

The look: I loved how the skin-on Fuji apples came in huge slices. I feared they would be soggy, but they looked inviting with the slices of onion and sprinkling of toasted pecans. The dressing was a pale golden color and looked different from all of the others. I had to hand it to Panera for all of its creative dressings.

The taste: One of the fun things about doing taste tests, besides the obvious, is discovering new things you’d never order if left to your own devices. Panera’s Fuji Apple Salad was that for me. I am not a fruit-in-salad person—or so I thought—but the crunchy thin slices of Fuji apple were amazing. Combined with the juicy chicken, salty Gorgonzola cheese, super thin onions, and the silky, tangy dressing, this salad was a superstar—besides the annoying grape tomatoes. Next time, I’d get a whole and make it lunch.

chick-fil-a cobb salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 850 calories, 61 g fat (13 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 2,220 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (5 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 42 g protein

Chick-fil-A’s Cobb came with chicken nuggets, roasted corn, cheese, bacon, sliced hard-boiled egg, and whole grape tomatoes, sigh. The crunchy element was a little package of dehydrated red bell peppers. The dressing was Avocado Lime Ranch. This salad cost $9.99 on the Chick-fil-A app.

The look: This one, like all the other Chick-fil-A salads, looked substantial, with lots of crispy chicken pieces.

The taste: If this salad didn’t taste delicious at 850 calories, Chick-fil-A would be doing something wrong. It did not taste like a fast-food salad for sure with spicy chicken, creamy dressing, crisp lettuce, and lots of cheese. Everything was nicely chopped, except for those huge grape tomatoes. I didn’t love the flavor of the crispy bell peppers, but they added a nice crunch when mixed with the awesome tangy dressing.

Wendys Caesar Salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 530 calories, 38 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,410 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 34 g protein

Wendy’s Caesar salad is simple with romaine, Parmesan shavings, chicken breast, and a packet of Seasoned Crouton & Parmesan Crisp Crumble on the side. All three of Wendy’s salads tasted cost $10.24 on DoorDash.

The look: Wendy’s went with simplicity here and it was very successful: this looked like a classic Caesar salad.

The taste: Honestly, I’d put this up against some restaurant Caesar salads. The delicious dressing was super creamy and packed with Parmesan and peppercorn flavor. Then the big slices of shaved Parmesan added even more salty deliciousness. The chicken provided filling protein and the crunchy fresh romaine lettuce made this a joy to eat. The cheesy croutons added tiny little pops of crunch. This was a home run and really not that bad calorie-wise if you go easy on the dressing.

Wendys Cobb Salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 680 calories, 50 g fat (12 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,340 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (3 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 27 g protein

Wendy’s Cobb Salad, $10.24, was a mix of grilled chicken, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, eggs, applewood smoked bacon, crispy fried onions, and ranch dressing.

The look: I tasted this salad when it first came out, and Wendy’s changed something about it that made it so much better. I noticed compared to the original taste test that Wendy’s is now chopping the bacon over the salad, instead of leaving it in strips. This would make all the difference.

The taste: For a fast-food item, this one gets pretty close to a real Cobb salad. The crisp lettuce, chopped tomato (finally!), diced egg, and bacon are all classic additions. The chicken was tender and delicious and all the elements combined into that delicious creamy amalgamation that is a good Cobb salad. Wendy’s stood out in one way, though, that put it at the top of the pack: it actually had crispy bacon.

chick-fil-a market salad
Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Per item: 540 calories, 31 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,110 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (5 g fiber, 26 g sugar), 28 g protein

This pretty salad was a combination of sliced chicken breast, crumbled blue cheese, red and green apples, strawberries, and blueberries. On the side were the crispy elements: Harvest Nut Granola and roasted almonds. The salad cost $10.19 on the Chick-fil-A app.

The look: Packed with fresh fruit and thin strips of chicken, this is a substantial dish. I hesitated before adding granola to the top of the salad as it was such an odd topping, but I was so glad that I did in the end.

The taste: I have been proven wrong: Fruit does belong in lunch salads! The red and green apples were so fresh and the perfect size. The strawberries and blueberries provided the perfect sweet foil to the truly zesty apple cider vinaigrette and the generous crumble of salty blue cheese. The super thin strips of chicken tangled around all the other ingredients and everything worked perfectly together. The granola and toasted almosts provided a wonderful crunch that added to the taste. I couldn’t stop eating this salad. And, surprisingly, it’s the Chick-fil-A salad with the fewest calories.

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