The Single Best Salad Order From Every Fast Food Chain

Salads in fast food are a dying species. Ever since the pandemic forced most national fast food chains to simplify their menus, salads, along with a few interesting sides, got the axe. It’s a real shame for people who are still trying to eat relatively healthy or at the very least balanced while relying on the convenience that fast food provides. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s — three chains which, admittedly, are not known for their salads — don’t even offer a single side salad anymore. Zero!

Will they ever return? We honestly don’t know, it’s been nearly three years since the start of the pandemic and while we’re still very much living through it, it’s not like these big chains haven’t introduced new menu items since 2020, so we think the fast food salad as a concept just might be dying. Produce in a starring role demands a level of freshness that… gulp… fast food can’t always meet.

But the salad isn’t dead yet! So to help you out we’re shouting out the #1 best salad order at all the big fast food chains (that still have ’em). One note before we dive in though, for this roundup we aren’t necessarily singling out the healthiest salads on the market, just the best tasting — keep that in mind if you’re on a strict diet.

Boston Market — Caesar Salad

Best Salads
Boston Market

Tasting Notes:

Boston Market isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think “I want a good salad,” and trust those instincts because this Caesar Salad isn’t so much good as it’s just Boston Market’s only salad option. But hey, at least they have one! Like Arby’s, this is an establishment you frequent when you want meat and heavy carbs. I mean, they have gravy on the menu for Christ’s sake!

This Caesar features a bed of romaine lettuce topped with garlicky croutons, caesar dressing, and some chops of rotisserie chicken. The chicken looks disturbingly naked but it’s actually very good, it’s tender, juicy, and packs that classic rotisserie flavor. The weak part of this salad is unsurprising — the lettuce. It’s all texture no flavor.

The Bottom Line:

We’re happy Boston Market has a salad and it might be a great thing to add as an addition to your meal if you need a nice palate cleanser, but as a standalone meal, this is going to leave you wanting.

Find your nearest Boston Market here.

Chick-fil-A — Spicy Southwest Salad

Best Salads

Tasting Notes:

Chick-fil-A has a lot of great salads on the menu including a killer Cob and a Market Fresh salad with fresh fruit, but my taste buds always lean towards spice, so we’re giving the spot to the Spicy Southwest Salad.

This salad features a base of mixed greens with grape tomatoes, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese, roasted corn, black beans, sweet red bell peppers, chili lime pumpkin seeds, tortilla strips, and the star of the show, poblano chilies. It’s a medley of fresh sweet, peppery, and spicy flavors that never get boring and manage to come across as satisfying even before you get to the meat. And let’s talk about the meat!

You get a choice of a spicy or non-spicy grilled filet, spicy or regular chicken strips, a spicy, regular, or grilled breast filet, and fried or regular nuggets. We say go with the nuggets to get the most tender bites of chicken, and you can do so without sacrificing any of the spice thanks to the poblano chilis.

The Bottom Line:

Not only Chick-fil-A’s best salad but probably the greatest salad in all of fast food.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

Chipotle — Best Salad Bowl Build

Best Chipotle Bowl
Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

I’ve thought a lot about how to make the best Chipotle bowl because… well I did a whole investigation on the best build, coming up with three different variations so I’m pretty confident this is the best way to eat a salad at Chipotle. First things first, forget the salad, it sucks, instead start with a Burrito Bowl which is nearly identical to a salad anyway.

Here is how to make it:

Pinto beans, white rice, barbacoa, fajitas, tomatillo red salsa, cheese, lettuce (because it’s a salad remember?), guacamole, and a squirt of Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce (which is located near the straws and lids for some reason). Bam, that’s it, nothing more nothing less.

Each forkful is a bouquet of spicy, smokey, earthy, and sweet flavors with powerful aromatics that tickle the tongue as much as the tastebuds. The barbacoa is simply the juiciest and most tender meat you’re going to get on any salad and features notes of oregano and clove which pair nicely with the cumin-heavy pinto beans.

The Bottom Line:

Did I say Chick-fil-A has the best fast food salad? I take that back, nothing packs more flavor than this.

Find your nearest Chipotle here.

Dairy Queen — Crispy Chicken Strips Salad

Best Salads
Dairy Queen

Tasting Notes:

We just spent two entries talking about incredible fast food salads and now here we are at Dairy Queen. This is certainly a salad, whether or not it’s one you want to order depends on if you’re totally fine with mediocrity. Back when every fast food chain had numerous salad options something like the Crispy Chicken Strips Salad didn’t surprise us, but now that most fast food menus have been simplified we’re left wondering why this still exists.

It’s fine, not bad by any means but not worth ordering. Built on a bed of flavorless iceberg lettuce, this salad features bits of DQ’s fried chicken tenders, diced tomatoes, bacon, and a few shreds of cheddar cheese. Each individual ingredient, aside from the lettuce, is fine enough but the flavors never really come together in the right way.

The Bottom Line:

Eat it if they mess up and give you a salad for free for some reason. But certainly don’t order it — you might as well eat your money.

Find your nearest Dairy Queen here.

Del Taco — Taco Salad With Grilled Chicken

Best Salads
Del Taco

Tasting Notes:

Del Taco is putting a little too much effort into their salads. I say that because this Taco Salad with Grilled Chicken has all the makings of something delicious: fresh grated and nutty cheddar cheese, house-made pico de Gallo, fresh cilantro, sour cream, tortilla strips, and fresh guacamole. Only, it fails to deliver.

How did they manage to get all of these great ingredients together and fail to deliver? It makes no sense. The lettuce is bad, it has a dirt flavor to it, the guacamole has far too much onion, the sour cream doesn’t need to be there, the tortilla chips are stale, and the tomatoes are watery and unripened. The only thing going for this salad is the chicken and the cheese, which would probably taste way better between a tortilla. At least then you’d be saving some money.

The Bottom Line:

We know, it looks great but trust us — it’s not worth your time or money.

Find your nearest Del Taco here.

El Pollo Loco — Double Chicken Avocado Salad

Best Salads
El Pollo Loco

Tasting Notes:

Now we’re talking! Take note Del Taco, this is how you make a salad. Built on a bed of spring mix, this salad sports a double serving of fire-grilled chicken, fresh slices of ripened avocado, corn, pico de Gallo, and crumbles of cotija cheese.

The chicken imparts a nice charred flavor to the whole thing making it taste satisfyingly savory with the Pico de Gallo adding a subtle hit of spice while the corn adds some texture. I wish there was more avocado here because it adds a nice buttery and savory quality to the chicken which makes this salad wonderfully satisfying.

The Bottom Line:

One of the best salads your money could buy and easily amongst El Pollo Loco’s best dishes, and that’s saying something! If you’re looking for a salad that is going to be filling and still deliver on flavor, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Find your nearest El Pollo Loco here.

Jack in the Box — Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

Best Salads
Jack in the Box

Tasting Notes:

I don’t know what’s going on at Jack in the Box, but I don’t like it. Even before the pandemic, Jack in the Box has slowly been changing and dropping things from their menu and in the process, they’ve gone from a delicious fast food option to Burger King levels of bad.

This Southwest Chicken sandwich used to be amazing, and then JiB changed its chicken recipe and now the fried chicken, which used to top this salad, is inedible. This means now we have to settle for grilled chicken which is also terrible — it’s dry and flavorless. The lettuce is watery garbage, the grape tomatoes are also watery refuse, the cheddar cheese isn’t good, and the black beans are too dry and hard. The only thing going for it is the roasted corn and creamy southwest dressing.

The fact that this is the BEST salad at Jack in the Box shows you just how bad things have gotten.

The Bottom Line:

This used to be delicious but if you haven’t had it in five years, be warned — it’s changed and for the worse.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

Panera — Citrus Asian Crunch Salad

Best Salads

Tasting Notes:

I’m always bouncing between what my favorite Panera salad is so forgive me if this isn’t yours, but my pick is the Citrus Asian Crunch Salad with Chicken, come see me in a month and see how I feel! This salad features a bed of romaine lettuce, which normally would garner an eye roll from me, but it’s super-changed with a mix of broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, and kale, which is way better than what you’ll usually find in a fast food salad.

Aside from the mix of veggies, the salad has a few springs of fresh cilantro, a handful of edamame, carrots, teriyaki drizzle, pickled red onions, and seared chicken thigh all tied together with a tangerine soy ginger dressing, is your mouth-watering yet?

There isn’t a single element of this salad that tastes boring, the use of chicken thigh is ingenious, giving this salad the juiciest chicken of any fast food salad, while pickled red onions infuse a lot of natural sweetness with a bit of tangy savory notes, while crispy fried carrots add a fantastic mouthfeel to the whole thing.

The Bottom Line:

A salad that never gets boring from the first forkful to the last.

Find your nearest Panera here.

Taco Bell — Veggie Power Menu Bowl

Best Salads
Taco Bell

Tasting Notes:

This isn’t technically a salad but it’s as good as you’re going to get at Taco Bell, and you know what? It’s not bad. It’s obviously heavily influenced by Chipotle and features a mix of Spanish rice, black beans guacamole, lettuce with avocado ranch sauce, sour cream, tomatoes, and cheese. Despite being meatless, it’s very satisfying thanks to that combination of tomato-heavy rice and black beans and for an additional charge, you can easily add chicken or ground beef to the mix.

My major issue is the distribution, it feels all off, there is far too much rice here when there should be an equal distribution of rice and beans. In addition to that, the mouthfeel isn’t quite right either, it’s a bit too mushy, and it desperately needs some sort of crunch added to the mix. Luckily Taco Bell gives you all the tools you’ll need to get this power bowl in better shape.

Our suggestion is to add jalapeño peppers, chicken, and a three-cheese blend.

The Bottom Line:

It’s halfway decent and with a few tweaks, you’ll actually have a meal worth eating on your hands.

Find your nearest Taco Bell here.

Wendy’s — Apple Pecan Salad

Best Salads

Tasting Notes:

If you’re a Wendy’s fan already this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you — Wendy’s makes a damn good salad. Several of them in fact, our favorite is the Apple Pecan. Featuring a mix of sweet red and sour green apples, this salad also sports pecans, cranberries, blue cheese crumbles, and your choice of Wendy’s spicy, homestyle, or grilled chicken chopped on top using the same filet that makes the sandwiches so good.

Obviously, you’re going to want to go with the spicy style, which will infuse your meal with some cayenne-pepper-backed heat which serves as an interesting contrast to the sweet and tart qualities. To up the sweetness factor, Wendy’s pairs this salad with a pomegranate vinaigrette with adds more depth of flavor to the mix and complements the already sweet and tart flavor profile.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t sleep on Wendy’s salads, they’re as good as anything else on the menu. But definitely start with this one!

Find your nearest Wendy’s here.