10 Chili's Menu Items That Are Worth Skipping

Since Chili's opened its first location in Dallas, Texas back in 1975, its menu has come to represent something familiar and comforting in the world of casual dining. Thanks to some bold marketing choices — none of us are getting that Baby Back Ribs jingle out of our heads — Chili's has established itself as an authority on ribs, chicken wings, and general Tex-Mex cuisine. And, while Chili's may not have invented the chocolate lava cake, it certainly made this dessert a mid-tier restaurant staple.


Every restaurant has its strengths and weaknesses, and Chili's is no different. When you're craving a bit of affordable Texas barbecue or some finger foods and margaritas, Chili's has you covered. But despite Chili's influence on mainstream dining, this popular American restaurant has made plenty of mistakes along the way. While none of those missteps compare to that earworm of a Baby Back Ribs jingle, here is a list of Chili's menu items that you should leave in the kitchen.

1. Mango Patron Margarita

If you're going to Chili's, there's a safe bet you'll be getting a margarita. The existing drink menu has plenty of variety, and there's a rotating margarita of the month special at every location. Given the margarita options on display at Chili's, customers can afford to be a little choosy.


That said, the Mango Patron Margarita should get the chopping block. First off, the signature Presidente just tastes better, and it comes with a far superior mango variation. Something about the Mango Patron comes off as slightly artificial and cloying, which brings us to the second reason to avoid this drink. The Mango Patron Margarita has loads of sugar, 64 grams, to be exact. Sure, ordering up margaritas isn't really something one does to shed the pounds, but why bother when the Mango Presidente gets the job done with only 46 grams of added sugar?

2. Sweet Tea

With a full range of soft drink options available at Chili's, it's easy to write off the restaurant's sweet tea. With 200 calories and 50 grams of sugar, you're almost better off ordering a Coca Cola. Despite the high sugar levels, however, there's a gastro-cultural reason to avoid the sweet tea at Chili's.


An invention of the deep South, sweet tea is typically paired with cuisine from that region and baby back ribs definitely fit that category. Although Chili's Dallas origins put it close to the South, it falls above what Texas Monthly writer John Nova Lomax calls the Sweet Tea Line. This sharp boundary defines the areas of Texas where people regularly consume sweet tea with their meals, and Dallas misses the cut. If Chili's was from Houston or anywhere close to the Louisiana border, there might be some cultural claim to put sweet tea on the menu, but geography is geography.

On top of that, restaurant iced tea dispensers have come under scrutiny for potential health hazards. The dispensers require more maintenance from staff thanks to being more prone to developing bacteria or mold in the spigots. It's even within the realm of possibility that you're getting tea from a batch brewed yesterday or the day before that. Better to just skip this beverage altogether on your next visit to Chili's.


3. Southwestern Egg Rolls

Perhaps nothing on the Chili's menu embodies the restaurant's Tex-Mex sensibilities than the Southwestern Egg Rolls. Despite being an appetizer option for years, the Southwestern Egg Rolls routinely appear on surveys as one of customers' least favorite Chili's item. This attempt at cultural fusion wraps chicken, corn, black beans, jalapeño jack cheese, and spinach in a tortilla before it hits the deep fryer for a crunchy exterior texture. It's a weird move to be sure. Chili's doesn't really have any Asian-influence on its menu, and honestly, calling something akin to a miniature chimichanga an egg roll is a bit of a dig on egg rolls worldwide.


For the most part, the Southwestern Egg Rolls get called out for its cultural identity crisis and perplexing choice of filling ingredients. The spinach is a strange choice for both chimichangas and egg rolls, and there's an overall sense of disharmony with the flavors. When it comes to a meal kickoff, just rush right past these little guys.

4. Nashville Hot Chicken Crispers

Nashville hot chicken was sure having a moment in 2022, and any restaurant that dabbled in fried chicken was quick to put a Nashville hot variation on their menu. Some of these efforts were more successful than others, and unfortunately Chili's Nashville Hot Chicken Crispers are in the lower tier. Considering its buffalo and honey chipotle Chicken Crispers are pretty decent, it's surprising Chili's didn't have better results when adding Nashville hot chicken to its repertoire.


The problem with the Nashville Hot Chicken Crispers is that they're still a bit too buffalo to hang with the greats of Prince's, Hattie B's, or Red's. They retain a lot of the buffalo sauce's acidity, where Nashville hot chicken is great because it's a dry, cayenne-infused heat. You can't really blame Chili's for hopping on the hot chicken bandwagon, but it didn't do it with much finesse. Stick to the buffalo Chicken Crispers if you're looking to get your mouth burned.

5. Ultimate Cajun Pasta

There's a reason you hear about Chili's Baby Back Ribs, Big Mouth Bites, buffalo wings, and molten chocolate cake, and it's the same reason you don't hear about Chili's pasta dishes: There are so many other casual restaurant chains that can do pasta better. In fact, it's surprising that Cajun Pasta and Ultimate Cajun Pasta are even on the Chili's menu. In a nutshell, the Ultimate Cajun Pasta is the geared up version of the Cajun Pasta, and it's just too much at once.


There's nothing wrong with a chicken and/or shrimp penne alfredo on principle, but the Chili's version seems like a blunt object that is only good for beating your taste buds into submission. The alfredo is too thick, the proteins have been sitting on the grill for too long, and the pasta itself is extremely overdone. The final item in this list is possibly the greatest offense since overcooked pasta loses a lot in the flavor, texture, and nutrient departments. There's no shame in ordering up a big plate of carbs, but you'd be better served with the Texas Cheese Fries instead of the Ultimate Cajun Pasta if carbo loading is the purpose of your Chili's excursion.

6. Brisket Quesadillas

For all intents and purposes, the Brisket Quesadillas should work at Chili's. What's more Tex-Mex than a quesadilla filled with barbecue? When you order one of these, the assumption is that it will at least be on par with good Mexican food or good barbecue, but sadly it fails on both fronts — this is one dish where the sum is much less than its parts. The brisket feels a bit tough and overdone, the melted cheese gets lost in the shuffle, and the tortilla is almost always floppy and soggy instead of crisp and firm.


When working with quesadillas, there's always a temptation to show off one's engineering skills and see how much can be stuffed into a folded tortilla and some melty cheese, but such endeavors miss the point of why quesadillas are awesome in the first place. There is a way to make the brisket and cheese combo work here, but if you're looking for something that leans toward the Mex side of Tex-Mex, you're better off with the fajitas.

7. Classic Ribeye

Though Chili's serves steak, it's not commonly considered a steakhouse. Based on that metric, the quality level between a sirloin and a ribeye at Chili's isn't going to be astronomical. Seeing as how Chili's only has two types of steak on its menu, it's much easier to make a distinction between the two. A side-by-side comparison between the Classic Ribeye and the sirloin leaves the former in the dust. For example, the 10-ounce sirloin comes with all the same trimmings as the ribeye, but brings it with 200 fewer calories. Thanks to some industry steak tricks that help infuse the most flavor into each cut of steak, the flavor difference between the ribeye and sirloin is negligible.


If for whatever reason you're craving a protein other than ribs and chicken, it makes more sense to go with the options that are going to be kind to the wallet and the waistline. The Classic Sirloin with Avocado, for example, is top-tier Guiltless Grill fare. With so many superior options to choose from, the ribeye is worth a skip.

8. Ancho Salmon

In the bottom tier of the Guiltless Grill, however, we've got the Ancho Salmon. Though the Guiltless Grill is a great way to get a healthier Chili's experience, the Ancho Salmon has the bad luck of being the least exciting menu item on the list. It's a one-note salmon entree that often sees the fish overdone and over-seasoned, which really makes you feel the lack of fun going on with this dish.


Being the least exciting menu item seems to imply that the salmon would have the least amount of calories, but you're not even getting that benefit out of this uninspiring dish. (Score another one for the Classic Sirloin with Avocado.) A boring meal that is light on calories can be justified, but when you stack the Ancho Salmon up to just about anything else on the Guiltless Grill menu, there's no contest. This lifeless salmon can't compete.

9. Quesadilla Explosion Salad with Crispers

Usually the salad section of a menu is a safe bet if you're looking to eat a bit healthier while dining out. However, customers in that boat will want to steer clear of Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad with Crispers. The first hint that something is amiss here is the fact that the word "explosion" is listed before the word "salad." From there, it's not too hard to see that when you add two fried chicken tenders and a full cheese quesadilla atop a bed of lettuce, corn, and tomatoes, the jig is up for this salad.


Chili's isn't the only restaurant to load up its salad menu with excess calories, which is why it's always a good idea to take a look at what's on your restaurant salad to make sure you're getting what you want out of a healthier option. It would be a marvelous world if the word "salad" magically made junk food healthy, but it's a good idea to skip the Quesadilla Explosion Salad until that happens.

10. Cheesecake

Chili's Molten Chocolate Cake is the pinnacle of the restaurant's dessert menu. If you've left any room for dessert on your Chili's visit, this is what you're getting, and why wouldn't you? It's served warm, has a gooey chocolate center, and it comes with a scoop of ice cream that melts luxuriously down its chocolate peaks. When cheesecake is even considered in the same thought as Molten Chocolate Cake, it's inferior by default because it is everything Molten Chocolate Cake is not. It's easy to make a case for the also inferior Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie since this dessert falls within the Chili's theme of heated desserts that come with a scoop of melty ice cream, but the cheesecake is such an outlier that it's hard to take seriously.


Seeing as there's an entire restaurant chain that has made cheesecake its whole personality, it doesn't make much sense to visit Chili's with a cheesecake craving. Unless the restaurant can somehow throw it in a skillet and melt ice cream on top, the Chili's cheesecake should be avoided.