Chain Restaurant Pasta Salad Ranked From Worst To Best, According To Reviews

bowl of pasta salad
bowl of pasta salad - OlgaBombologna/Shutterstock

Despite there being minimal cooking involved, pasta salad is a finicky thing. The pasta needs to be perfectly cooked, not a touch too chewy. On the other hand, overcooked pasta will fall apart when mixed with a sauce or dressing, leading to a mushy mess. Then there's the matter of getting the flavors just right 一 nobody wants a bland salad or a bowl of ingredients that don't mesh well together. And, although it's served cold, a good pasta salad still needs to taste fresh.

Though mostly confined to creations at the salad bar or potluck cooking, pasta salad is a mainstay at many delis and fast casual eateries. But the truth is that not every restaurant consistently executes the dish, however easy it may seem to make. Admittedly, maybe it's because it seems so simple that expectations are higher. Whatever the case, we put together a list of chain restaurants that serve some form of pasta salad, whether it be as a main course or a side dish. We then ranked each one from worst to best according to customer reviews, but more on this process later (see the methodology section). We hope this list helps you find the perfect pasta salad or at least gives you some ideas for creating your own delicious version at home.

Read more: The Healthiest Fast Food Chains In The U.S.

11. Jason's Deli

dish of pasta salad
dish of pasta salad - Jason's Deli/Facebook

With locations in 28 states, Jason's Deli serves a variety of sandwiches, salads, bowls, and soups in a fast casual setting. Unfortunately, customers don't have many positive things to say about the chain's pasta salad. Available as a side, the Italian Pasta Salad is a mix of rotini pasta, broccoli, olives, and other vegetables. However, you don't always get what you sign up for, as some customers have discovered. For instance, one diner's order only came with pasta and olives, which, in our books, barely qualifies as a pasta salad.

Diners also took issue with the salad's flavor, or lack thereof. "I've never tasted a more bland and dry pasta salad," one customer wrote, adding that they drove all the way to the restaurant to send their Uber Eats order back. Other customer reviews continued in the same vein, describing the pasta salad as disgusting and even inedible due to it being well past its prime. With such disappointing reviews, the pasta salad at Jason's Deli has certainly earned its place on this list.

10. Mr. Pickle's

closeup of macaroni salad
closeup of macaroni salad - Mr. Pickle's

Mr. Pickle's, a deli chain known for its lovable green mascot and delicious sandwiches, has locations across California and Arizona. While customers tend to enjoy the sandwiches here, the same can't be said of the restaurant's Macaroni Salad. In one review, a customer wrote, "You've got to do better! It is super bland, no seasoning whatsoever! Basically macaroni and mayo." While this sounds unappetizing, it's nothing compared to the sour and expired pasta that other diners experienced. We don't know about you, but sour isn't a word we ever want to hear when it comes to mayo-based foods.

Unfortunately, the problems don't end there 一 other customers took issue with the types of ingredients used. "EDTA, Benzoate, etc ... def not homemade," one diner said, throwing the salad away uneaten. Others expressed disappointment at the small portion sizes and called the side nothing special overall. Given this feedback, it may be best to stick with the sandwiches at Mr. Pickle's.

9. Portillo's

chicken salad and bread
chicken salad and bread - Portillo's

While Portillo's has locations in 10 U.S. states, the majority are either in or near Illinois. This makes sense considering that the restaurant chain specializes in Chicago street food. Among the chain's salad offerings you'll find the chopped salad, which features ditalini pasta, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, green onions, gorgonzola cheese, and bacon. But while popular with some, this salad has other customers up in arms.

The biggest complaint by far is the balance of ingredients. One reviewer explained, "It is 98% lettuce and not much else. There were some pieces of chicken (not many), a few shreds of bacon which gave almost no taste to the salad, some macaroni, and no blue cheese whatsoever." They urged other diners to avoid the salad at all costs. Some customers found themselves at odds with the cheese in particular, sharing that another type would have improved the situation. On the slightly more positive side, some diners found the salad to be filling and tasty but not exceptional.

8. Chicken Salad Chick

container of pasta salad
container of pasta salad - Chicken Salad Chick/Facebook

If you're west of Colorado, you may have never heard of Chicken Salad Chick, a restaurant chain with 270 locations that are primarily in the Southern U.S. states. Though focused on chicken salad, the chain offers a few non-poultry options too, including a pasta salad side. With rotini pasta, olives, artichoke hearts, and cheese tossed in Italian dressing, this salad certainly sounds delicious. However, it has earned mixed reviews that mainly skew to the negative.

First, the positives: Many customers have praised the side dish, noting that it's full of flavor. But other customers left the restaurant disappointed. For instance, the pasta salad didn't taste homemade to one diner who urged others to avoid the restaurant altogether. Another customer found the pasta salad's taste to be off-putting, writing, "Bland and plasticy. 2 Stars." While these reviews highlight two opposite ends of the spectrum, others fell more in the middle. For example, a customer wrote that they simply weren't a fan of the side salad, though they'd still return to the chain.

7. Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen

plate of chicken caesar salad
plate of chicken caesar salad - Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen/Facebook

If you live in one of the 27 states that has a Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen location, you can enjoy Honey Butter Croissants, Country Fried Chicken, Beer-Battered Shrimp, and other comfort food favorites. Add to this list Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, consisting of lemon pepper-seasoned chicken (though you can instead opt for blackened salmon), lettuce, croutons, penne pasta, and caesar dressing. While some customers have pointed out some quality control issues, the salad has generally received favorable reviews.

"Every time I go, I get the chicken Caesar pasta salad and every time I go, it does not disappoint," wrote one customer. But while this regular has only had good run-ins with the pasta salad, other customers have not been so lucky. One diner ordered the salad only for it to come without any dressing. Another customer found that their order was missing the pasta, meaning they were stuck with a regular Caesar salad. In both cases, the restaurant wasn't able to properly address the problem, leaving these customers dissatisfied.

6. Jimmy John's

bowl of pasta salad
bowl of pasta salad - Jimmy John's/Facebook

With more than 2,600 locations nationwide, there's no doubt that Jimmy John's is an institution in the sandwich business. But sandwiches aren't all the chain has to offer 一 you'll also find wraps and two side salad options, including the Pesto Bowtie Pasta Salad. Looking at the reviews, customers have mostly had good experiences with this side dish.

Reviewers say the pasta salad exceeds expectations and delivers on flavor, which is an area that pasta salads typically struggle to get right. "The pasta salad was creamy and the pesto flavor was there but it wasn't overpowering," wrote one satisfied diner on Yelp, rating the side a 10/10. Despite all the positive feedback, it's inevitable that some customers experience the opposite. For example, one diner shared, "​​The kid at the counter said it was delicious but what I received was overcooked, chewy pasta with a greasy aftertaste." Greasy, chewy pasta isn't on anyone's wishlist, but thankfully, it seems such occurrences are rare.

5. Tender Greens

pasta salad on a plate
pasta salad on a plate - Tender Greens/Facebook

While there are only 24 Tender Greens locations as of writing, each one is run by an executive chef, a concept that promises a high-quality experience no matter where you eat. Available as a side, the Pasta Pearl Salad consists of green beans, pecorino cheese, pesto, and a dash of lemon, mixed together with pasta pearls. Many customers enjoyed this flavor combination, including one diner who wrote, "The pearl pasta salad had a garlic kick which I love!! Garlic is one of my favorites so it was a nice surprise."

However, several other customers found the salad's flavor to be lacking, describing it as a bit on the bland side. Despite this reported shortcoming, one customer went on to compliment the unique texture of the pearled pasta. Another diner, who expressed disappointment at their overall experience at Tender Greens, mentioned that the Pasta Pearl Salad was one of the only highlights of the meal. While this doesn't really paint the chain in a great light, it does at least prop up the pasta salad in our eyes.

4. Newk's Eatery

side of pasta salad
side of pasta salad - Newk's Eatery/Facebook

Founded in Oxford, Mississippi, Newk's Eatery is a restaurant chain with more than 100 locations across the country. With pizza, soups, salads, and more, Newk's menu features a wide range of food from different cultures around the world. Loved by customers, the chain's Pasta Salad consists of rotini pasta, snow peas, red onion, bell peppers, and carrots. It's evident from the reviews that the high quality of the ingredients is what makes the side dish special. "​​The pasta salad was light and full of fresh vegetables. We will definitely be returning soon," wrote one diner on Yelp.

Others really enjoyed the dressing, though some criticized how much of it was in their salad. "Way over dressed to the point there was almost enough residual dressing in the container to dress another portion," said one diner. On the other hand, several customers found their pasta salad to be overly dry. Consistency issues aside, many customers found the portion size to be just perfect and had a good experience with the side dish overall.

3. Earl Of Sandwich

bowl of Mediterranean pasta salad
bowl of Mediterranean pasta salad - DUSAN ZIDAR/Shutterstock

Earl of Sandwich is the project of none other than the direct descendent of John Montagu, who supposedly invented the sandwich in 1762. Today, the restaurant chain has over 50 locations worldwide, with the majority of them in the United States. Other than sandwiches, you'll find classic sides such as mac & cheese, tater tots, and of course, pasta salad. Though the menu doesn't offer much in the way of description, customer reviews depict a Mediterranean-style mix of penne pasta, olives, and vegetables.

The side has received mostly positive reviews, with some customers saying it surpassed their expectations. "The pasta salad was fresh and bright," wrote one diner on Yelp. A customer visiting the Disney Springs location praised the food as affordable and delicious, adding that they enjoyed bringing extra containers of the pasta salad back to their hotel for later. While there were no outright negative reviews, some diners felt that the salad was nothing to write home about.

2. Mendocino Farms

containers of pasta salad
containers of pasta salad - Mendocino Farms

Mendocino Farms has restaurants in California and Texas, with plans to expand to Washington later this year. Known for its sandwiches and salads, the chain also offers a variety of deli sides, including a distinctive twist on pasta salad. The Southern Macaroni Salad combines macaroni with peppers, celery, spinach, scallions, smoked gouda, and a touch of cayenne. This mix of flavors doesn't just sound delicious 一 luckily, customers have confirmed that the side hits all its marks.

The glowing reviews speak for themselves. "I've never had such a tasty macaroni salad like Mendocino's. It's really savory and has a nice blend of roasted peppers & greens," wrote one happy customer. Another diner complimented the subtle spiciness of the cayenne, calling the side dish a must-have. However, others found the salad to be a bit too spicy for their tastes. The only other consistent complaint among reviewers was about the serving size. Though they enjoyed the salad, some customers were disappointed that the small side only contained what they felt were a few bites of food. Still, this issue is relatively minor, at least compared to everything else that could go wrong with macaroni salad.

1. Ono Hawaiian BBQ

hands holding macaroni salad
hands holding macaroni salad - Ono Hawaiian BBQ/Facebook

Finally, we come to our winner, and it's none other than Ono Hawaiian BBQ. Macaroni salad is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine, and perhaps no restaurant chain does it better. With locations in California and Arizona, Ono Hawaiian BBQ serves an array of chicken, beef, pork, and seafood plates in a laidback atmosphere. The chain's self-proclaimed famous Macaroni Salad is made from scratch every day, and based on customer reviews, this makes all the difference.

Across the board, the side dish is a customer favorite. Diners praised the macaroni salad's creaminess, describing the ratio of mayo as perfect. Freshness was also a big selling point, and many customers admitted that the salad is the best part of eating at the restaurant. "The macaroni salad is delicious. It's truly one of the reasons that I've been back. It's perfectly chilled, seasoned, and did I mention delicious??" wrote one enthusiastic diner, who always swaps out their rice for an extra portion of the salad. Plus, Ono Hawaiian BBQ doesn't skimp on its serving sizes 一 you can rest assured knowing that you're getting your money's worth here.

Methodology

dish of pasta salad
dish of pasta salad - Chas53/Getty Images

While many different places make and sell pasta salad, we limited our selection to chain restaurants that currently offer the dish on their menus. Pasta salad comes in many shapes and forms, so we set out to review a variety of diverse types. Once we had our final list, we then read through countless customer reviews on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor to determine our ranking. We based our decisions on what customers had to say about ingredient quality, taste, presentation, and overall enjoyment. We hope this list helps you find some new pasta salads to try 一 and know which ones are best to avoid.

Read the original article on Mashed.