The Healthiest And Unhealthiest Items On The Chili's Menu

Whether you love it for the margaritas, its Baby Back Ribs jingle, or the 3 for Me value meals, diners have been obsessed with all things Chili's since it first opened its doors in 1975. The restaurant chain has spread across America over the decades, offering a casual, low-cost dining experience with a menu full of salads, pastas, burgers, and everything in between. But like most restaurants out there, Chili's is not always what comes to mind when you think of healthy options.

Despite the abundance of less-than-optimal meal choices on the Chili's menu, there are quite a few items that you can enjoy without all of the added calories, sodium, or sugar. Likewise, if all you want is a flavorful meal regardless of nutrition, there are plenty of choices, too. If you have been curious about what tops both the healthiest and unhealthiest lists at Chili's, we did the research for you. No, you probably won't discover too many surprises, but you might like to see just how many things you can try on your next visit that aren't as unhealthy as you thought.

Healthiest salad: Chili's house salad

If you want to be more health-conscious when dining out, then you should generally feel confident when ordering a salad. That way, you will know that you are not consuming nearly as many calories, sodium, or sugar as you would when ordering other menu items. But even salads can come with certain ingredients that you want to look out for, especially dressings. If you want to stick to one of the healthier options on the menu, try the Chili's House Salad.

It comes with tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, shredded cheese, garlic croutons, and your choice of dressing. It is a fairly basic salad, but you can jazz it up by adding various proteins. Adding grilled chicken, ancho salmon, or shrimp will provide extra protein without adding too many calories Just be mindful that seafood tends to be higher in sodium. As far as dressings go, according to Chili's Nutrition Menu, they all tend to average out between 200 to 250 extra calories, with the lower sodium option being the Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette at 230 milligrams per 1.5-fluid ounce.

Unhealthiest beverage: House Mango Mar-Go-Rita

Chili's is known by many for its drink menu, which includes its signature margaritas that you can often get at a fairly cheap price during Happy Hour. It also features a Margarita of the Month, so there is always something new to try. While most would agree that margaritas are among the tastier cocktails, especially if you like sweet beverages, they can oftentimes be loaded with added sugars. This can be especially true if there are any added flavors, like fruit purees. Those pre-made mixes that restaurants typically use are another culprit. All things considered, one of the least healthy beverages you can order at Chili's from a sugar standpoint is the frozen House Mar-Go-Rita mango.

Aside from the fact that the cocktail has 400 calories, it packs a whopping 65 grams of sugar. That is far beyond the daily recommended amount of sugar for adults, according to the American Heart Association, which is no more than 36 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women. The House Mar-Go-Rita Frozen Mango is a great treat to enjoy on rare occasions, but if you are a Chili's regular and this is your go-to drink of choice, you may want to consider alternatives.

Healthiest meal: 6-oz Sirloin with Grilled Avocado

Some of the entrees you can order at restaurants including Chili's are not inherently unhealthy. What often pulls the dish into more questionable territory are high-calorie side dishes, which often come fried. A great strategy to keep your meal as healthy as possible is to stick to as many vegetables as possible. If you come to Chili's and you are in the mood for steak, try its 6 oz Classic Sirloin with Grilled Avocado.

The appropriately portion-sized steak comes topped with cilantro pesto, avocado slices, cilantro, and pico. Avocado provide a healthy fat that helps to reduce the risk of heart disease as well as maintain healthy cholesterol levels. For even more veggies, the sirloin also comes served with a side of roasted asparagus, which is known to help out your heart health as well. And with the tasty seasonings that come topped on the steak, you will not be missing out on any flavor.

Unhealthiest meal: Chili's Philly & Curly Fries

In September of 2022, Chili's unveiled a new bar-only menu intended to be an exclusive offering during football games. The menu featured several items, including the Chili's Philly, a cheesesteak sandwich with thin-sliced steak, grilled bell peppers and onions, jalapenos, and white queso. For a side, diners at the bar could also order the white queso curly fries, which came with ranch for dipping.

If you wanted to order both as a sandwich and a side dish, you were looking at about 1,600 calories and more than 5,430 milligrams of sodium. When you consider that the FDA recommends aiming to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, that one meal offers nearly double. Much of the added salt in the Philly and fries combo likely comes from the cheese, which as delicious as it can be, is known to be high in sodium. The next time you visit Chili's during football season and see the special bar-only menu, consider splitting with a friend if you want to keep that sodium intake on the lower side.

Healthiest Fresh Mex bowl: Bowl with chipotle chicken

A growing trend in healthier eating and an effort to cut back on carbs is a shift to more rice and vegetable bowls on menus. Rather than eating a sandwich or a burrito, diners can enjoy the ingredients, such as meats, beans, rice, veggies, and more, in a bowl instead. Bowls can be a great option for anyone looking for a healthier meal that doesn't sacrifice flavor because they can be customized to your dietary requirements. With so many options, you can load them up with healthier ingredients and hold back on those that aren't.

At Chili's, you can order a few different Fresh Mex Bowls, including one that comes with grilled chicken, vegetables, rice, tortilla strips for crunch, and a drizzle of house-made ranch. As-served, the Chipotle Chicken Fresh Mex Bowl contains 920 calories, which is much lower than many of the other entree items you will find at the restaurant. The dish also has 42 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber to keep you full longer.

Unhealthiest side: Loaded mashed potatoes

We can all agree that the side dishes are often the best part of every meal, right? A well-cooked chicken or flavorful steak can be great, but stellar mashed potatoes are what keep us coming back to our favorite restaurants. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if your goal is to eat as healthy as possible when dining out, you are better off skipping on those loaded mashed potatoes from Chili's.

As delicious as they are, the loaded mashed potatoes are loaded with more than just cheese and bacon bits. One serving contains 820 milligrams of sodium, and that is in addition to the sodium you are already consuming with any food the mashed potatoes are accompanying. And while it does contain nearly half the amount of carbohydrates as regular french fries, it still ranks higher than other sides you could order. If the loaded mashed potatoes are one of your favorite items to order, consider including another vegetable to sneak in those nutrients while you still enjoy your go-to side.

Healthiest sides: Asparagus and steamed broccoli

Depending on how often you eat out, dining at a restaurant can be a fun opportunity to enjoy your favorite foods that you would not eat on a regular basis at home. We know the importance of eating a well-balanced diet, and that also includes making sure you enjoy the foods that you eat. But, it is a good idea to include healthy greens on your plate, even if it is just a part of a more savory meal. If you really want to commit to the healthier side of the menu at Chili's, then adding a side of asparagus or steamed broccoli will do just the trick.

The vegetables each have less than 50 calories in one serving, and less than 10 grams of carbohydrates each. But numbers aside, asparagus and broccoli are packed with vitamins and nutrients that can promote a healthy heart and immune system. If you're not typically a huge fan of the veggies' natural flavors, adding a touch of butter or salt and pepper can certainly help. And if you are counting calories, ordering a side of vegetables could free up some room for a dessert afterward.

Unhealthiest pasta: Cajun pasta with grilled chicken

Pasta is a widely-beloved dish for many reasons: It is filling, it can come in a variety of flavors, and it just tastes oh-so-good. But pasta is a dish best enjoyed in moderation, as it is typically higher in carbohydrates, with sauces usually loading up on sugars and sodium. That is certainly the case with Chili's Cajun pasta with grilled chicken. The pasta dish actually has a modest 1,200 calories when compared to other menu items, but has an eye-popping 3,710 milligrams of sodium. But it does not stop there: The Cajun pasta does not hold a candle to Chili's baked seafood pasta and its 5,420 milligrams of sodium.

While we all love salt for the flavor it adds to any dish, it's important to keep in mind its link to high blood pressure and other heart-related problems when not consumed in moderation. You can probably split this dish with a friend, or eat half at Chili's and bring the other half home as leftovers to lessen the total sodium consumed in one sitting.

Healthiest burger: Alex's Santa Fe burger

There are few things as good as a tasty, juicy hamburger. While they are not necessarily the healthiest of foods, they are among the favorites when eating out at a restaurant. Like many other restaurant chains, you have several options when it comes to burgers at Chili's.

And, we have good news: If you are craving a burger but also watching your caloric intake, there are some options that aren't as high in calories as you would expect. There are actually a number of hamburgers on the Chili's menu that come in at under 1,000 calories, with the lowest being Alex's Santa Fe Burger at 920 calories. It is also lower on the sodium scale at 1,130 milligrams. You can even customize this burger by substituting the beef patty with a black bean patty, which will omit 270 calories and 29 grams of fat.

Note that these numbers do not include the traditional side of homestyle french fries, which contain 420 calories and 820 milligrams of sodium. However, you can swap the fries with vegetables for a healthier side.

Unhealthiest dessert: Molten chocolate cake

Dessert normally comes after your entree because the best is always saved for last, right? In the case of Chili's, there are a few sweet treats to end your evening, including its molten chocolate cake. It is essentially your typical lava cake, with chocolate cake and a 'molten' chocolate center, topped with vanilla ice cream that is encased in a chocolate shell. Basically, if you are a chocolate lover, this is right up your alley.

As you might suspect, the molten chocolate cake is not the healthiest item on the Chili's menu. One serving contains 1,170 calories and an astonishing 109 grams of sugar. It is definitely a dessert that is best shared with the table, or enjoyed on a very special occasion like a birthday. The same goes for the skillet chocolate chip cookie, which tops out the calorie count on the dessert menu at 1,210. If you absolutely need that chocolate fix, perhaps order the mini molten chocolate cake, which comes in at 670 calories and 65 grams of sugar.

Healthiest wings: Bone-In wings with Buffalo sauce

Whether you are looking for a shareable appetizer to start off the evening or you just want something to snack on while watching the game at the bar, chicken wings are a go-to choice for many. Chili's offers both bone-in and boneless wings with a variety of sauces for every palate. Wings in general are not the healthiest snack due to the deep-frying usually involved in preparing them. However, there are ways to enjoy them without loading up on too many extra calories, such as by choosing the right sauce.

For instance, an 8-count of bone-in wings has 610 calories and 72 grams of protein to fill you up. Opt for the buffalo sauce and it will only add another 35 calories. The mango habanero sauce is a close second coming in at 60 calories. By choosing one of these sauces on your wings you'll save plenty of calories in comparison to the honey chipotle, which has a whopping 140 calories per serving.

Unhealthiest ribs: Full rack, dry rub style

If you are a fan of all things barbecue, then there aren't too many things to see that are more pleasing than when you spot baby back ribs on the menu. And if you are hungry enough to eat a full rack, Chili's has you covered. As you might suspect, a full rack of ribs is quite a bit of food, and the large serving size comes with quite a bit of calories and sodium to be mindful of.

Specifically, Chili's baby back ribs with its dry rub seasoning packs on the most at 1,480 calories and 5,120 milligrams of sodium. Ribs also contain some of the highest amounts of fat among the menu items at Chili's, coming in at 107 grams. And that is before you include any side dishes. Add the Honey Chipotle BBQ sauce and you will up your calories to 1,520, though you will actually cut back on sodium bringing it down to 1,800 milligrams a rack. You can easily cut all of these numbers in half by opting for a half-rack of ribs instead.