9 Soups And Macs From Panera Bread, Ranked Worst To Best

Panera Bread, the bakery-café that for some is essentially synonymous with happiness, actually began as "St. Louis Bread Co." in the capital of Missouri. While back in the day it was primarily associated with bread (naturally), over the years the menu has expanded into all sorts of bread-adjacent realms. Want your bread sweet as a cinnamon bun or savory as an everything bagel? Panera has it. Want your bread accompanied by its soulmate — or some would say "better half" — soup? Panera certainly does that and does it well. 

Panera Bread's bread has almost been overshadowed by Panera Bread's soups. With the clever You Pick Two menu deal, you can mix and match half-servings of sandwiches, salads, soups, and macs plus get a free hunk of baguette bread as your "side." Let's just put it plain and simple: You're really, really missing out if you don't choose a bowl of soup as at least one of your picks. But with a lineup including Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese, and Autumn Squash Soup, how do you narrow it down? 

The secret is letting us narrow it down for you. We brought home one of each kind of Panera Bread's soups and macs, and savored spoonful after spoonful of comfort food. By the time we hit the bottom of our bowls, we'd decided the ranking, from worst to best. Let's dive right in.

9. Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Chicken soup is so ubiquitous that Panera Bread offers two versions of it: the classic Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup (we'll get there) and this Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. Obviously you can't go wrong, but if you prefer a thicker, more stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup rather than the lighter, more translucent kind, you might lean toward the bowl pictured above. Here, you get chunks of diced chicken, a toothsome textural combo of long grain and wild rices, and the harmonious trio of celery, onion, and carrots known as mirepoix. When you toss these aromatic ingredients into Panera's homey chicken stock, then add a healthy pour of cream and fine herbs such as parsley, turmeric, thyme, and tarragon ... man, can't you just smell it? We certainly could as soon as we popped open the lid.

We have nothing but love in our hearts for soups of all thicknesses. Sometimes it's the creamier the better. If traditional chicken noodle soup often leaves you feeling a little less than satisfied, this is the perfect upgrade. This is especially true thanks to the rice, which you really have to bite into more than, for example, noodles (that can almost become one with the broth and get overly mushy). But we thought the ingredients shined more when placed in a humbler broth, so all the taste testers agreed that, generally, we would go for the other chicken-y soup on the Panera menu. 

8. Creamy Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup is almost as universally beloved as Chicken Noodle Soup. Made extra famous by Andy Warhol's artistic representation of Campbell's canned classic, it's also made extra delicious by Panera Bread. We know because we tried it, and by "tried it" we mean we actually ate the whole thing and scraped the sides with our spoons for every last drop. The chefs over at Panera chose vine-ripened pear tomatoes, then pureed them with cream to give them the care they deserved. The soup tastes like a super velvety, decadent, and flavorful tomato sauce that's solid enough in its own right that you don't mind eating it without any spaghetti. We could detect hints of oregano, red pepper, and olive oil that give the soup a pizzeria pizzazz.

If you're in the mood for the nostalgic duo of Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, we suggest making the soup part extra convenient by choosing Panera Bread's Creamy Tomato Soup. That gives you the time and energy to craft your perfect, ultimate grilled cheese and dip it into its ready-made partner in crime. The only reason this soup didn't rank higher was that it's a little plain compared to some of the other options. While it's a downright fantastic tomato soup, when it comes down to it, it's still simply tomato soup.

7. Mac & Cheese

Who doesn't love mac and cheese? Presuming you're one of the overwhelming majority who does, you're probably going to like Panera Bread's. It's not filled with funky or smelly cheeses, it doesn't have weird ingredients hidden inside, and there are no random spices injecting your comfort food experience with a shot of surprise. Here, we have simple shell pasta that folds over itself in tender layers, every inch of spare space smeared with thick, rich, creamy cheese. Panera uses a soothing blend of tangy aged white cheddar cheese sauce to keep it familiar yet slightly more elevated than American-style blocks of Velveeta. The buttery, milky taste is spot-on, but as you can probably tell from the picture, gets a little gloopy and cloying at times. We'd love a bit more gooeyness. 

Believe it or not, a bowl of this cheesy delight powers you up with 32 grams of protein, so grab a fork, have at it, and stay full for a long time. Do you know what would make this mac and cheese even better, though? A crunchy topping for textural contrast. Spoonful after spoonful of gooey, oozing pasta can become a little one-note after a while, don't you think? We sure do, which is why we developed a pristine yet practical recipe for mac and cheese with our perfect crispy outer layer. Try it whenever you have a little more time on your hands, and in the meantime, pick up Panera's convenient version to tide you over.

6. Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup

Home is where the chicken noodle soup is. Sicknesses can be cured, moods lifted, and hearts warmed by a bowl of your mom's secret recipe soup, but can Panera Bread's Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup stifle a sniffle? While we're not saying this is the exact same experience, the short answer is yes. The chicken bone broth feels like it slow-simmered with fresh herbs and aromatics, the pieces of white-meat chicken are always melt-in-your-mouth and never grisly, and the bowl is full of the expected egg noodles, sliced carrots, and celery, plus just a hint of garlic to tie it all together. 

Want a way to make this homestyle soup even homier? Ladle it into one of Panera's iconic bread bowls and let the savory broth seep into the crusty, chewy bread (the very best commonly available sourdough bread, actually). Then scoop up the remaining noodles with a French bread baguette ... too many carbs? No way! We think this is indeed the best soup for bread bowls. If you're interested in having this or any of the Panera Bread soups ready in your fridge whenever the mood strikes, be sure to look for a grocery store that stocks Panera at Home products and pick up your favorite anytime. Our only critique is that there aren't quite enough vegetables, and what vegetables are there taste a bit like they could have come out of a frozen bag. 

5. Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Choose this menu item and you're obviously getting the best of both Panera's Broccoli Cheddar Soup and the Mac & Cheese. We do think the extra cozy coat of flavors improves the basic pasta in a good way. We were left more than a little shell-shocked (pun always intended). The pasta soaks up a lot of the tangy taste of the broccoli, and the fibrous nuggets almost lend the final product a meaty texture. Considering that our biggest gripe with the basic Mac was that the consistency got dull after a few bites, this addition of broccoli and carrots solves the issue. Plus, the extra sharp yellow cheddar on top of the white cheddar and a little added broth contribute more of the good thing that was already going on in the original. 

This seasoned, upgraded, comfy yet bright bowl of mac & cheese has a little less protein than its blander counterpart. But it makes up for the deficiency by packing 5 grams of fiber and a smattering of micronutrients that come with broccoli. Panera is currently experimenting with futuristic drive-thrus, and while it's hard to imagine some of these brothy soups working in that particular format, something sturdier like this Mac & Cheese might hold up just fine. Imagine driving through and getting a bowl of mac and cheese and feeling extra good about it because there's some green in the meal. What a satisfying experience that would be. 

4. Turkey Chili

Of all the soup and macs on this list, Panera Bread's Turkey Chili is the most hearty, meaty, and meal-worthy (though none of us would bat an eye at a whole meal consisting solely of plain mac and cheese). We did a double take at this one since it's not exactly soup, but also a far cry from heavy Texas-style chili. Panera's toes the line and does it well with a jam-packed bowl of dark-meat turkey, unexpected chickpeas and kidney beans (more par for the course), tomatillos, tomatoes, edamame (really, Panera?), chilies, even a hint of molasses. Crazy, right? How could it possibly work? Well, it does. It's deeply warming and savory, but also light enough to enjoy as a lovely lunch. It's going a little too far into left field to choose a baguette as the side, so we recommend the kettle chips. 

With 21 grams of protein, 14 grams of fiber, and balanced out with carbs and fats, this "soup" will really keep you full while also comforting you from the inside out. But chili comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, and levels of spice, so if you would love to explore the fun options out there, start right here with 4 recipes for the best chili you'll ever eat. But it will be hard to find a better "anytime" chili that's nutrient-dense, spiced but not spicy, and a lot of fun than Panera Bread's Turkey Chili. 

3. Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Maybe, as a kid, this was your first introduction to broccoli and carrots sneaking their way into your diet without you being mad about it. Chowing down all that gooey cheddar cheese broth and sopping up leftovers with the baguette, you felt disgruntled only when looking at it because the first bite revealed a whole new world of flavor. From then on, you didn't fear vegetables tastefully dotting your order. Maybe you actually sought them out. That's the power of this Broccoli Cheddar Soup from Panera Bread, everyone.  

You know that feeling you get with a good bowl of soup like everything's going to be okay and all is right in the world? You get that very feeling with the first spoonful of this cup of joy. This taste-test team favorite is made with chopped broccoli, shredded carrots, and soul-warming seasonings. Then all of that's simmered in a gorgeously decadent, rich yet smooth cheese "broth". If you ever wanted to eat a bowl of melted cheddar cheese lightly masquerading as vegetable-reinforced soup, this is your golden opportunity. Try using the soup to make homemade Broccoli Cheddar Quiche Bites. We loved this soup just as much as the first time we tried it, and the testers who were only now getting their first spoonfuls proclaimed that they'd be new regulars at Panera Bread. Don't say we didn't warn you.

2. Bistro French Onion Soup

Onions become sweet yet maintain a slight pungency when caramelized, and the chefs at Panera know exactly how to show them off to their fullest potential in the Bistro French Onion Soup. The soup dunks them in a savory, shimmery broth infused with thyme, vinegar, garlic, and sea salt, a lovely concoction bubbling with umami. We also loved the luxuriousness of the buttery finish and topping of classic melty cheese. French onion soup may seem like an antiquated menu option aimed at boomer businessmen on their lunch breaks in old-world cafes, but it's so worth this fast-casual treatment, too. Every element just works so beautifully together for an elevated taste, and you really can't beat the flair that comes from this burnished broth and a messy, magical cheese pull. We didn't expect this soup to be this good, but it positively transported us to Paris. 

Want to recreate the Bistro French Onion Soup at home so you get to have a big batch on hand, but make it even better (because it's infused with the satisfaction of another personal culinary achievement)? Try this incredible French onion soup recipe, slowly simmered in a slow cooker, and see how it compares. You'll have soup for days. In the meantime, place a curbside pickup order on busy days and get a moment of stylish slow-living amidst a hectic week. 

1. Vegetarian Autumn Squash Soup

You might be surprised that this simple, rather funny-looking pureed soup beat out mac and cheese for the top spot. Allow us to explain. Here's our hot take: This Autumn Squash Soup is even more comforting than chicken noodle. Yes, we said it. Sink your spoon into this harvest-inspired blend of naturally sweet butternut squash and pumpkin balanced out with savory vegetable broth, and discover that the magic is all in the finer details. Panera created a bewitching concoction of floral honey, sweet apple juice, zesty cinnamon, and even hints of feisty curry and festive brown sugar to create a flavor profile that captures the attention of all your tastebuds. Some cream folded in adds layers of texture, plus a topping of roasted and salted pumpkin seeds is too fall not to love. Oh, and it's vegetarian.

There's some wonderful plant-powered fiber and protein, so don't worry — meatless does not mean unsatisfying. You may have a tough time picking sides for this soup. Dipping the baguette is heavenly, but the subtly sweet cinnamon and brown sugar undertones go pair perfectly with the saltiness of Panera's curly kettle chips. Even still, the stellar autumn vibes of a crispy, fresh apple might just be the best choice of all. Speaking of which, if you're looking for a Panera salad to accompany your soup, the Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken is our personal top pick.