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Salad is sort of like fashion: One minute a certain trend—kale, anyone?—is all the rage, with chefs from coast to coast proudly slapping it on to menus, and diners clamoring for it nightly. The next, it’s gone the way of the pashmina.
A decade or so ago, one would be hard-pressed to locate a menu without an arugula salad flecked with goat cheese. And who could forget the once-edgy Chinese Chopped Chicken salad Wolfgang Puck made famous in the ’80s? But through it all, one leafy stalwart has never gone out of style.
That perfect mix of crunchy Romaine, crisp croutons, and briny anchovies tossed with a garlic-lemon dressing has become an icon in the salad world. The problem is, it can be easy to order a bad one (super-salty dressing, chewy croutons, and soggy lettuce are just a few trouble spots) since many kitchens don’t always make proper preparation of the noble Caesar salad a top priority. But when it’s good, it’s really good. Like, won’t-soon-forget-it good, I-want-to-go-back-tomorrow-and-have-another-one good.
Here, food critics from around the country share their picks for the best versions in their towns. So no matter where you travel, you’ll never be far from a glorious Caesar.
“My favorite Caesar salad in San Francisco is at Zuni Cafe. One of the late, great Judy Rodgers’ talents was to keep her food simple, with an emphasis on ingredients. Her Caesar is still absolutely perfect: crisp fingers of romaine showered with a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano and tossed with rustic croutons and a tangy, garlicky dressing with a hint of anchovy. It has spoiled me on lesser versions forever.” ($10) – Anna Roth, Food & Drink Editor, SF Weekly
(1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA; 415-552-2522)
“Anchovies are a must for me when it comes to Caesar salads. And bonus points for chefs who grill their Romaine, which really adds a depth of flavor to that otherwise ho-hum lettuce. Fish Fish Restaurant & Bar in North Miami makes what I consider a perfect ‘deconstructed’ Caesar: A split and grilled head of Romaine plated with shavings of Parmesan, toast points, anchovy paste, and a classic, creamy, garlicky dressing.” ($12) – Evan Benn, Food Editor, Miami Herald
(13488 Biscayne Boulevard; North Miami, FL; 786-732-3124)
“My Caesar salad go-to is the charred version at The Abbey in Brookline. The kitchen grills a whole head of romaine until it’s smoky and savory on the edges yet cool and crunchy at the core. It’s then topped with a thick, creamy dressing, draped with mild white anchovies, and covered in grated Parm. The salad requires a bit of fork-and-knife work to eat it, but the effort is totally worth it.” ($10) – Leah Mennies, Food Editor, Boston Magazine
(1657 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA; 617-730-8040)
”Musso & Frank Grill. It’s just nice that the place that seems as if it would be a great place for a Caesar and a martini actually is a great place for a Caesar and a martini.” ($9.50) – Jonathan Gold, Food Critic, Los Angeles Times
(6667 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA; 323-467-7788)
New York City
“It’s not easy to find a spot where a jacket-and-tie-wearing waiter tosses your Caesar in the dining room anymore, but Pietro’s, an old-school Italian steakhouse in midtown Manhattan, is still at it. The recipe (which hasn’t changed since the place opened in 1932) is a little unusual — including red wine vinegar and Colman’s dry mustard instead of lemon juice — but it’s hard to replicate the perfect balance of tanginess and earthiness from that finely grated Parmesan cheese.” – Yahoo Food editor Susan Kittenplan
(232 E 43rd Street New York, NY; 212-682-9760)
"Hotel restaurants can sometimes be mediocre, but Panzano, located in the Hotel Monaco in downtown Denver, is consistently outstanding. The restaurant has long offered two Caesars: a traditional version with hearts of romaine, anchovies, garlic, Parmesan, croutons and crispy capers, plus their Caesar Griglia, which features grilled hearts of romaine. To their credit, if they’re not happy with that day’s shipment of romaine lettuce, they 86 the dish until a proper batch arrives. That’s attention to detail.” ($9.50) – William Porter, Restaurant Critic, The Denver Post
(909 17th Street, Denver, CO; 303-296-3525)
“Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian Hotel and Casino is the standard bearer for Vegas. (Although they use mustard in their recipe … quelle horreur!) But they use a wooden bowl, good greens, and plenty of decent cheese. They’ll even dress it to order, if you’re the type that craves more than a soupçon of lemon and anchovies in your recipe, as we do! Nothing beats a good martini and one of these hand-tossed beauties before diving into Lagasse’s Cajun-rubbed rib-eyes.” ($10) – John Curtas, Eating Las Vegas
(3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South at The Venetian, Las Vegas, NV; 702-414-3737)
"While most restaurants serve Caesar salads that aren’t really a Caesar, Lula Cafe, one of the original farm-to-table restaurants in Chicago, goes straight to the best farms in the Midwest to source their ingredients. Jason Hammel pulls its romaine from nearby Werp Farms, serves it whole leaf with house-made sourdough croutons and pecorino sardo cheese before taking a delicious liberty by adding pickled red onion.” ($9, only available on the café menu) – Daniel Gerzina, Editor, Eater Chicago
(2537 North Kedzie Boulevard, Chicago IL; 773-489-9554)