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Chili's Grill & Bar

Chili'sLooking at the Chili's Nutrition Information [PDF] before going to review dishes is really dismaying. The menu has so many items on it that have an outrageous amount of calories. One of the starters, Wings Over Buffalo, for instance, has 1,340 calories for ten wings (with 26 grams of fat and 2,890 mg of sodium).

Wowser! Even if you split this, that's outrageous. And it's listed as a "Starter!" This is one place where folks who believe that a salad might be a healthy choice would be wrong. The entrée salads are all over 800 calories and the Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad has 58 grams of fat and over 4,000 mg of sodium. (That's not a typo: over 4 GRAMS of sodium). Whew!

If you are on a sodium restricted diet, just don't even set foot inside. There are amazing amounts of salt in their food and it shows - not just on the Nutrition Facts sheet but on your taste buds as well. That said, for the rest of you here are some choices:

The soups are O.K., but even a cup of soup, as opposed to a bowl, has a lot of calories. The Chicken Enchilada Soup was rated as "good" by tasters. It has a Southwestern flavor and is relatively fresh tasting. The chicken is tender and there's fresh salsa on top. A cup comes in at 220 calories and 650 mg of sodium (double that for a bowl). Both the Baked Potato Soup and the Broccoli Cheese Soup are rated as "fair" by tasters. There's a fake smoky flavor to the Broccoli Cheese Soup and that's reflected in the higher sodium content: 760 mg for a single cup. The Baked Potato Soup was just a bit bland (even though salty tasting).

One of the highlights of the tasting was the side salad. This is the size of an entrée salad and the lettuce, tomatoes and veggies were very fresh. There's a light sprinkling of mixed cheeses and good crisp croutons. With the Low Fat Vinaigrette this comes in at only 180 calories. A good rich and creamy dressing, have this salad along with a cup of soup and you have a good meal. (Even if you have the full bowl of soup you'd be at about 600 calories).

On the entrée side, everything came off of their Guiltless Grill section of the menu. The Black Bean Burger was too many calories (at 650) so the choices were the remaining three.

The Chicken Platter was fair at best. The chicken was well cooked and still moist and had a good texture. The flavor was a bit overwhelmed by the salt but not so bad as to be inedible. The platter comes with rice (just don't eat it because it's gummy and the only flavor is salt). The veggies are great. Well steamed broccoli, carrots and peppers that aren't overcooked and not too salty. For some reason the platter comes with a second starch -- corn on the cob. This makes up for the awful rice. The good part is that this is 580 calories and by eliminating the rice it's only 420. The sodium is a whopping 2,780 (370 more than the recommended for the whole day) but you get 750 of that back for not eating the rice so it's just over 2 grams of sodium for the meal.

The better choice is the Guiltless Salmon at 480 calories. This was not overcooked and not overly salty. A pretty darn good piece of fish. It's served with the good steamed veggies and a cup of the Black Beans with Pico de Gallo. These beans are a great choice and have a good tart flavor to them. All in all an OK choice and only 480 calories and 1,080 mg of sodium.

Tasters also liked the Chicken Sandwich. It has a lot of sodium, like the Chicken Platter, but it is a tolerable dish. It's served with the same sides as the salmon and comes in at 490 calories.

All in all an OK experience at best. It was not as good as the choices at Applebee's, however. As with so many chain restaurants, if you are working at staying healthy and find yourself at a Chili's, order the salmon.