I recently had a pretty bad Caesar salad experience at a fast-causal restaurant: The salad arrived in a plastic clamshell (the rest of our dinner did not) with romaine pieces so large I could not even get my mouth around them, exactly four croutons, and the tiniest packet of Caesar dressing. In hindsight, I knew better than to order that particular salad — telltale signs of salad sadness were everywhere. If only I'd had this handy list available instead to guide me toward Caesar salad nirvana and away from disappointment. Keep these in mind and learn from my mistake.
1. The restaurant has a drive-thru.
Let me be clear — I have nothing against drive-thru restaurants, yet years of field research has led me to believe that no good Caesar salad can come from a drive-thru window. A proper Caesar salad should be dressed and tossed just before serving and drive-thru restaurants are just not designed for that type of service.
2. Caesar salad is the only salad on the menu.
This was my mistake at that fast-causal restaurant. I was quickly scanning the menu for a salad (any salad!) as I was simultaneously shouting my order at my husband and being dragged towards the dining room by my children. There were plenty of other vegetable-heavy options on their menu, but the Caesar was their only salad for the sake of a salad option. N0te to you and note to self: Avoid.
3. The Caesar dressing comes in a plastic packet.
This rule applies to supermarket and deli counter Caesar salads alike. Very few good dressings come in a plastic sleeve on the side. Besides the fact that most of the tube dressing is low on flavor, there are the simple logistics of trying to dress your Caesar salad in a tiny plastic takeout container. Forget trying to toss it — at best you'll have a nicely dressed top layer and at worst, plain romaine on the bottom.
4. That salad is sitting in a cold case.
The real question is, how long has that salad been sitting in that cold case? Hours or days? We may never know. And despite the clear plastic lid, it is hard to see if all the lettuce is fresh and the croutons are soggy. Oh, look, there's that salad dressing sleeve again. Turn away!
5. The menu description is 7 lines long.
Caesar salad is essentially four ingredients: romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, croutons, and Parmesan cheese. Any menu that promises a Caesar beyond those basics (and maybe some grilled chicken or shrimp) is no longer serving you a Caesar salad. Ranch Cobb Salad with Chipotle Caesar is not a Caesar salad — it is another type of salad all together and should be avoided when your intention is to order a Caesar salad.