Every Panera Bread Salad And Bowl, Ranked Worst To Best

There is a lot to love about a trip to Panera Bread. First, you walk right up to a display of frosted cinnamon buns and fresh-baked sourdough bread loaves, the aroma of coffee bringing the full bakery experience. But as the menu keeps expanding, Panera has certainly become a favorite destination for more than just baked goods. Now, if it's early in the morning and you need a little more nutritional density than a pain au chocolat, you can order a piping hot breakfast sandwich that still makes the most of the company's fabulous bread. Dessert can be any time of day here, obviously, and there's even pizza for dinner. But we believe that Panera Bread is best enjoyed during lunchtime when you can choose from all the comforting soups and nourishing salads.

We've previously broken down every single soup and ranked them, but what's soup without salad? We had to perform the same due diligence for the side of the menu including such inspired options from an Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken all the way to a Baja Bowl. We don't want to order the wrong thing, and we know you don't, either. Just about everything was perfectly pleasant, but some proved way too good to miss out on. Forget lunch, we're eating these for dinner time, too (and picking up a pastry afterward). So, if you're hungry, read this ranking of the options from worst to best before heading out for food at Panera.

10. Teriyaki Chicken & Broccoli Bowl

Panera Bread veers far away from bread in this Panda-Express-style warm bowl. It's a full meal all in one, which is something you don't expect from this fast-casual chain that shines with almost dainty soups and salad combinations (see the "You Pick Two" menu). You're definitely hungry if you're choosing this Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli Bowl. It features well-browned chicken thigh meat and little sprigs of broccoli atop an earthy mix of brown rice and quinoa and is supposedly flavored with cilantro and lime. The whole thing gets doused in a soy sauce-based teriyaki glaze, and topped with fresh cilantro and sesame seeds. We were skeptical because this is quite out of character for Panera Bread. Sadly, the dish didn't exceed our low expectations.

The chicken is the star of the show, and it's actually very tender juicy chicken, so we did enjoy the meatiness in this bowl. But, and this is probably shocking to hear, it actually needed more broccoli. A lot more broccoli. When we say the bowl was doused in the glaze, well, we mean it. Everything was sopping with the sauce, which was flavorful but also too sweet. We needed a lot more freshness to balance everything out because the few small pieces of broccoli didn't cut it. And even more sauce was provided on the side, which we couldn't imagine needing. What we did need on the side was a salad to balance out all the glaze flavor.

9. Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken

Remember just a few seconds ago when you read the final line about the Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli Bowl needing a side salad? Yes, that was a highly purposeful setup for the Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken. It seemed like the ideal complement, a sparse and minimalistic offering full of light and fresh elements, so we tried it right after the warm bowl. This one was chicken-y too, but it's the more common Panera Bread style of salad-ready chicken, simple white meat sliced into wafer-thin strips that have a hint of a bronze sear on the top. This chicken is blander than the thigh meat but does the job in this context. The salad also comes with sesame seeds and wonton strips; we love a well-placed wonton strip. Yes, sometimes we even snack on them straight out of the bag.

Per the menu, we were promised toasted almonds on the salad but had to work to find any. Even when we did, the salad was still slightly dull. Some of us were fairly impressed by the lovely sesame vinaigrette, which certainly gave the salad a boost, but we got bored quickly even with the dressing. Since there aren't any particularly Asian-inspired soups or sandwiches on the menu and the Teriyaki bowl already comes with chicken, it feels slightly lost as a side. If you're into these bright Asian-inspired flavors infusing your greens, try this cabbage-based take with a dressing even better than Panera's.

8. Baja Bowl

Panera Bread's three "bowl" options are true globetrotters. We've tasted the one from Asia, and now it's time for a trip to Baja. Baja California is, confusingly, part of Mexico, but even so, this dish feels more inspired by both the fresh, trendy flavors of C.A. The base is the same hardworking cilantro lime brown rice found in the other two bowls, and we think it definitely works best in this context. There's also quinoa (very California) and instead of sour cream, you get Greek yogurt (even more California). Before we get into all the good stuff, our biggest head-scratcher was the choice of feta cheese. Why not some sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, or even pepper jack for more flair? The feta harmonizes better in the Mediterranean bowl than it does here.

We thoroughly enjoyed the meaty beans and corn: Even though you can order add chicken to your order, thanks to this substantial addition, you don't really need to. Our bowl could have used more avocado, but the two sauces made up for it. The best was the glowing salsa verde, a non-greasy and refreshing topping that infused the rice with so much flavor. Despite its noble efforts, overall, the Baja bowl is attempting to be a party in your mouth but is actually more like a Tuesday night after a day of running errands. There's nothing wrong with it, but it won't pump you up or have you craving more.

7. Greek Salad

Panera sneakily serves up a very good basic Greek salad with all the necessary requirements like brisk red onions, fresh and thin-sliced tiny tomatoes, crispy crunchy romaine, kalamata olives, and, for an extra special treat, squishy and jazzy pepperoncinis. Don't forget the best part, almost like a reward for all these fresh vegetables: salty feta cheese. As you can see, our Panera was pretty stingy with the feta (because you can't see any at all in the photo). It's a good testament to this salad that, even with barely any cheese, we still thoroughly savored every last bite. None of the ingredients tasted even remotely canned, wilted, or thawed from frozen.

The Greek dressing felt like a bit of an afterthought, and considering how vibrant the ingredients are, you almost don't need it. By the time the natural juices of the tomatoes plus the briny pop from the olives and pepperoncini seep into the greens, it's almost got everything it needs already. With a hunk of Panera Bread's French Baguette on the side, it's a much better Greek salad than most we've tried from similar fast-casual spots. Simple yet effective, Greek salads are inarguably more ideal to eat on a hot day than a freezing cold one, but still will bring some sunny flavors no matter the season. If you're wanting a winter version of the summery classic Greek salad, however, we have you covered with this fantastic, tasty riff.

6. Caesar Salad

There is no more ubiquitous salad than Caesar salad. We all know the basic ingredients: romaine lettuce, buttery croutons, freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, and most importantly, the eggy dressing. Nothing to it, right? Well, fun fact: Did you know that its origin story is a little different than what might first come to mind? (Not Julius Caesar's dish of choice, in case you were wondering) Though those four components are sparse and simple, you probably do know that the quality of various Caesar salads can differ tremendously. We were encouraged by Panera Bread's Cesar salad from the very first look. Limp, sickly green salads are all too common, so we appreciated the visual appeal that beamed at us even through a plastic to-go container.

The lettuce is nice and crunchy, and though our location skimped on cheese in other salads, they gave us plenty of Parmesan. It infiltrated every nook and cranny of the lettuce, which is key to the flavor, and it tasted surprisingly fresh. Some of us aren't fans of the polarizing dressing, but Panera's is mild enough to appeal to just about any palate and let the ingredients shine without drowning them. And don't make fun of us when we say the croutons became our favorite part. This is Panera Bread, after all, and the brand knew just how to toast up its signature loaves for crusty salad toppers.

5. BBQ Chicken Salad

The BBQ Chicken Salad has plenty to shake up a typical lunch without going for a full-on Chipotle burrito bowl. If you're wondering whether or not you see rice in the photo, the answer is no. Instead, Panera Bread picks corn and tosses it with black beans in a "salsa." We're all about it. The choice of corn over rice keeps things on the lighter end while still ending up extremely satisfying. Perhaps our favorite element, however, was the frizzled onions. They were reminiscent of a deep-fried Bloomin' Onion, or onion rings just parceled out and sprinkled over a salad. Like the wonton strips did for the Asian Sesame Salad, the onions add a touch of danger with their fried flavor. It just makes everything more snappy.

The Apple Cider Vinegar BBQ Sauce and accompanying BBQ ranch are both fine and tasty but are not Panera's top dressings (see the Green Goddess). They do certainly move the salad into a backyard Southern cookout situation if used generously, which might appeal to someone who loves their salads on the saucy side. We all wished, though, that the chefs would have gone with the far superior chicken thigh meat instead of the white meat. It just pales under all the other toppings. All in all, The BBQ Chicken Salad is a solid pick, especially if you're extra hungry but still craving salad. It would be a great hearty side alongside some smoky chicken chili.

4. Mediterranean Bowl

Panera's Mediterranean Bowl is the perfect foil to the Baja Bowl. It still leans towards the fresh side but chooses to do so by sporting flavors reminiscent of sitting on the steps of an Italian villa rather than a beach in Cancun. And, we have to say, we thought Panera felt confident over here. It's a little better because of the small details that seem to take it from office-fridge-leftovers to a cafe-worthy meal. The classic and classy feta, tomatoes, and olives put it in Greek salad territory, plus some chopped cucumber adds a nice burst of freshness. The base of rice and quinoa was fairly dull (and there was far too much of it), and the dressing was rather nondescript.

But back to those details that we thought leveled it up in a big way: Instead of basic romaine lettuce, we got arugula. It's springy, fine, and chock-full of peppery flavor that really helped balance out the fresh vegetables and mild rice. Last but certainly not least was the hummus. It's smooth and creamy but substantial, hearty enough to go much farther than you'd think a small portion would. It delivers that perfect rich but mellow flavor that makes even a slice of cucumber suddenly taste like the food of the gods. We all find ourselves with leftovers after these taste tests, but there wasn't a drop of this amazing hummus to spare. We wish Panera would sell it in individual tubs like the cream cheese.

3. Citrus Asian Crunch Salad with Chicken

The Citrus Asian Crunch Salad with Chicken is definitely a few steps ahead of the Asian Sesame Salad. You can easily tell just by the picture that there's much more going on here to keep you interested. The base includes cabbage, which provides a nice extra crunch so that it can live up to its name. The chicken isn't crunchy at all, though, because it's that same juicy, tender meat as was featured in the Teriyaki Bowl. This time it's less drenched in sauce, which we really preferred because you can taste the flavor of the chicken itself — but Panera still gives you a side of teriyaki sauce, just in case you want it. The pickled red onions provide a great sour punch, the edamame gives it chew and a bit more heft, the crispy carrots are a revelatory surprise, and the fresh cilantro is the best finishing touch (as long as you're one of the people who doesn't think it tastes like soap). The balance of flavors and textures was already nicely curated before we even added the dressing.

This tangerine soy ginger dressing is nonetheless an absolute delight and really takes everything up a notch, bringing those sushi-restaurant notes to your lunchtime salad. It's where the citrus comes through, which is especially needed if you pour a little too much teriyaki sauce into the mix. Simply dipping the chicken "nuggets" into the dressing made us want to get this salad again soon.

2. Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken

There was some heated debate on the team over this one, but eventually, the Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken conceded first place and settled comfortably with the silver medal. Though it definitely could have claimed the gold, especially if our Panera had actually included the hard-boiled egg. This vibrant salad is full of wholesome ingredients that all come together to make a mix that somehow also tastes really, really delicious. You're treating yourself, but you're also treating yourself right, you know?

This ice cream sundae of a salad starts with a zesty combination of peppery arugula, crunchy romaine, nutrient-dense baby kale, and red leaf lettuce just for fun. There's also the typical thin-sliced Panera Bread chicken, bacon bits, tomatoes, avocado, and pickled onions, which are much prettier and milder than regular onions. Oh, and supposedly that hard-boiled egg, but our Panera missed the memo (so stay on your guard, people). Undoubtedly, the main attraction is the dressing. Without it, this would just be cobb salad with chicken, literally. We could seriously ladle the stuff on just about anything because it's bursting with way more flavor than we thought could possibly be contained in a condiment container. Upon a look at the ingredients list, we were able to put a finger on the key ingredient: basil, which perfumes the whole salad with a gentle sweetness. Had our salad included the bacon and eggs, there's a solid chance this goddess would reign supreme.

1. Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken

Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken — it's one of the best menu items available. Who would have thought that we'd gladly select a salad over pizzas and bagels? It's good from stem to stern, so let's break it down. First, you've got a blend of lettuces that includes red leaf, baby kale, and arugula, so it already tastes more complex than most others and boasts way more flavor in the greens alone. Naturally, there's chicken, and though it's the white meat, not the thigh meat, we'd actually rather have this plainer one so the focus stays on the toppings, not the chicken. There are tomatoes and onions, because salad, but you know what makes them restaurant-quality? Gorgonzola crumbles. No misplaced feta cheese here! (But if you can't stand the stink, feel free to swap it out.)

The luxury doesn't stop at the gorgonzola. Now comes the subtle elements that made us fall in love: toasted pecans, Fuji apple chips, and the silky crisp apple dressing. We could eat just the apple chips and pecans in a trail mix and be happy. Now we're internet shopping for apple chips to put on all our homemade salads (just be sure you don't let it sit too long, or those lovely slices will lose their luster and become as limp as a leftover spaghetti noodle). This tangy, white balsamic apple vinaigrette dressing even beats the green goddess! This salad really has it all. Bravo, Panera Bread.