Panera Bread Salads, Ranked Worst To Best

Panera's menu has a wide selection of salads, so if you're heading there for leafy greens, you'll want to know which combo of veggies and ingredients is right for your taste buds. The restaurant's app lists six options to choose from. Some are traditional like Caesar salad, and others are slightly more unique, for example, Asian sesame. A glance at the menu won't tell you exactly what comes in each or how the dressing tastes. Do Panera's cooks add everything the app says they should? Before ordering, you'll want to know if there are plenty of tasty morsels of nuts and cheese or just a light sprinkling. How much chicken is there in the cobb salad? Are there the same number of slices as in the Caesar?

We've tried each of Panera's cold salads and rated them accordingly. Factors like the salad ingredients, freshness, taste, texture, and dressing impacted the rankings in this article. If you'd like to know more about how we conducted the taste test and the characteristics we considered, you can find our methodology at the end. The prices mentioned here are accurate for the region and time so may vary elsewhere. Now, read on to discover our results and how the salads stack up.

6. Caesar Salad with Chicken

Caesar salad is a salad for people who don't like vegetables — it usually only has lettuce and comes slathered in dressing. Panera's take on the Caesar salad is no different. It includes tasteless lettuce and chicken breast, covered in a salty, garlic-heavy dressing, and annoyingly hard croutons to add texture. These square bits of stale bread are impossible to poke with a fork and immediately break in half — they detract rather than enhance the salad. It's also worth noting that the app lists romaine lettuce as the main ingredient, but the lettuce in the salad looked more like iceberg lettuce, and the type of lettuce used does make a difference. Panera's app suggests adding avocado ($1.70) or a hard-boiled egg ($1.30), but it is doubtful that either of those ingredients could improve this salad.

The price of the Caesar salad is the only alluring aspect — it's one of Panera's cheapest salads if you order it without chicken. A whole salad costs $8.50 and a half-size costs $6, going up to $11.70 and $8 respectively with chicken. At 500 calories for the large portion (plus another 180 for the bread), it comes in at more calories than a Big Mac which has around 590. If you want salad from Panera, you're better off ordering something else.

5. Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken

If you're looking for something bland — hey, maybe there are some people out there who like their food tasteless — then order Panera's Asian sesame salad. It comes with lettuce, chicken breast, and a slightly sweet dressing, but the sesame flavor is imperceptible and the hidden almond slices don't do anything to elevate the taste. If you were hoping for a big crunch from the wonton strips then you'll be disappointed – they're slacking on the job just like the rest of the ingredients. This salad would be fine as a side dish because it wouldn't steal any thunder from an entrée, but skip it as a lunch on its own because you'll probably get bored before you get to the third forkful.

The price of this dish unfortunately doesn't make it more attractive. At about $11.70 for a whole portion or $8 for a half-size, it's expensive for a fast food salad. This could be overlooked if it tasted amazing, but the Asian sesame salad is anything but mind-blowing.

4. Southwest Caesar Salad with Chicken

The main problem with the Southwest Caesar salad is it doesn't taste enough like a salad. The jarring orange dressing, which is a combination of Caesar and chipotle aioli, is too spicy and covers up the taste of every other ingredient — romaine lettuce, avocado, and chicken. The app claims this salad contains cilantro, but despite the herb's usually strong flavor in other dishes, here, it is undetectable. The blue tortilla chip strip topping disappoints on the crunch front, however, it looks beautiful as a garnish. Perhaps something to add a bit of sweet and sour — like lemon or lime juice — could liven up this sad salad, but the customization menu doesn't allow for that addition.

The final problem with this salad is the price, at $12.70 for a whole and $9 for a half-size, it's Panera's second most expensive. That's a lot to spend on a dish that simply doesn't taste great.

3. Greek Salad

Greek salad is always a favorite, but Panera's falls a bit short. Feta, raw onions, and black olives are a tasty combination, but this chain doesn't include enough of each to impart the intense flavor that defines the dish. Instead, Panera's version is principally bland romaine lettuce with just four or five olives, a light dusting of feta, and barely any raw onions. Two or three tomatoes are hidden in there, as well, but sadly no cucumber. Incredibly, the flavor ends up being a bit bland and disappointing even though it's served with a pepperoncini as a garnish. If you order this, ask your cashier for extra raw onion and olives at no additional cost. For about $1.30, add more feta as well.

Even though the taste isn't mindblowing, the price of this salad is. A half-size costs about $6 and the whole is just $8.50, making it a great cheap lunch option. The half-size is large enough to satisfy your appetite, particularly since — like all Panera salads — it comes with a hunk of house-made bread.

2. Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken

The Green Goddess Cobb salad may occupy second place on this list, but it provided tough competition because it's a great dish. It comes covered in creamy avocado, and then buried beneath the other ingredients, you'll discover sweet and sour pickled red onions that add nuances of flavor as well as a delightful crunch. The other components of this salad are mixed greens, romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, chicken, and chopped bacon. The dressing is noticeable but isn't dissonant with the rest of the flavors. Instead, it works harmoniously with the other tastes. One of the best characteristics of the Green Goddess is you can easily spear everything in it with a fork. There are no pieces that are too big or hard, so you won't have to struggle to scoop them up or push them against the edge of the bowl. More importantly, you won't have to do an open-mouthed juggling act just to stuff oversized lettuce or huge chunks of tomato in your mouth.

Pricey items like bacon and avocado make this salad the most expensive on Panera's menu. A half-size goes for $9.20 while a whole costs nearly $13. That may seem like too much for a fast food salad, but this one is worth it. Even better, there's no need for any add-ons — even though the app suggests Gorgonzola or feta — to make it palatable. 

1. Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken

Panera's Fuji apple salad with chicken is a delicious combination of fantastic ingredients. It includes a mix of lettuce — green leaf, red leaf, and romaine — as well as purple onion, apple chips, gorgonzola cheese, pecans, grape tomatoes, and chicken. The dressing is subtle. The highlight of this salad is the sweetly satisfying crunch of the apple chips in contrast with the creamy, salty gorgonzola cheese. That's a winning flavor combination most people can get on board with. On the other hand, this salad would taste even better with just a few more tomatoes since three or four didn't seem like enough. Another issue with this salad is the size of the apple chips on it. They are a beautiful garnish, but you'll need to crush them by hand to mix them in more thoroughly and make the salad easier to eat.

A half-size Fuji apple salad costs about $8 while a whole costs around $11.70, but the smaller one should be enough to satisfy most diners. The app gives the quick option of adding avocado ($1.70) or a hard-boiled egg ($1.20). Getting extra tomatoes is a bit more complex if you're using the app, but brings no additional charge. Press the customize button, go to the veggies section, and change the descriptor from "regular" to "extra." Voilá, you have the perfect Panera lunch salad.


Judging Panera salads was a task that took careful consideration. First, a glance at the Panera app provided a list of all of the chain's offerings in the category. Then, before trying them, I thought about the characteristics that make one salad better than another — ingredients, dressing, taste, texture, and price. Once I had this list ready, I headed to my local Panera and asked for one of every salad. It was understaffed, so the manager took my order. He asked if I was serious about getting one of everything and if I minded waiting a bit.

Now, it was time for the taste test according to my list. All of Panera's salads had wonderfully fresh ingredients, but the ratio of ingredients was disappointing — all of the salads had too much lettuce and too few tomatoes for my taste. Next, the dressing fell under scrutiny. The best ones taste subtle and complement the natural flavors of the veggies, nuts, meats, and cheeses. The worst dressings, on the other hand, overpower the entire dish. The texture was also an important metric — each of the salads reviewed here includes a garnish to add crunch, but some, like apple chips, were more effective than others. Here, I must admit that I have always strongly disliked croutons and was happy to discover that only one of the dishes includes them. Finally, the price was factored into the final decision, but only after taste. This is one of the reasons the Fuji apple salad beat Green Goddess.