What is it about the Caesar salad that makes it so popular? Perhaps it’s the crunch of the romaine, or the creaminess of the dressing, the umami kick of Parmesan cheese, or that garlicky tang. Either way, it’s one of the most delicious salads in existence, and even if you order it every time you see it on a menu, we bet there’s a lot you didn’t know about it.
The Caesar salad, as you might already know, has nothing to do with Julius Caesar, and everything to do with a chef and restaurateur named Caesar Cardini, who invented the salad at his Tijuana restaurant, Caesar’s Bar and Grill, one fateful evening in 1924. As legend has it, as a July 4 party raged, the kitchen’s supplies dwindled, and Cardini improvised the dish based on what he had on hand. It was a success, and the restaurant’s well-heeled clientele took their approximation of the recipe back with them to Los Angeles, where the dish slowly caught on in popularity over the next decade. By the 1940s, it had made its way to New York City, and it’s been a menu mainstay ever since.
Today, you can find plenty of varieties of Caesar-style dressing in your local supermarket, but the best way to experience (yes, experience) a Caesar salad is to order one in a high-end restaurant where you know it will be prepared tableside. All Caesar dressings have more or less the same ingredients — romaine, croutons, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce or anchovies, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt and pepper — but each restaurant, and each waiter, makes theirs slightly differently. Watching this simple dressing made in front of you, with all the ingredients being mashed, whisked, and tossed inside a huge wooden bowl, is an incredibly cool and old-school gastronomic experience.
The next time you spot a waiter mixing up a tableside Caesar salad at a restaurant, go ahead and order one as well. If you think that the result will be anything like the sugar- and mayo-heavy variant you’ve encountered in the supermarket, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. A well-made Caesar can compete with any other classic dish, and is unlike any other salad you’ll ever encounter. Click here to learn 15 things you might not have known about this legendary salad.