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ChiChi’s Italian Salad

Since I was a wee babe, ChiChi’s Italian Restaurant has been a family favorite. A local legend in the Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys of Southern California, ChiChi’s is a place that everyone knows. And I’m not talking about the Mexican food chain.

(Just for the record ChiChi means “little bird” in Italian.)

We have a photo of me at 2 weeks old sitting atop a table at ChiChi’s, it was so much a part of my childhood, I started early. Family albums include other shots from birthdays, late nights after high school basketball games, and other special events, like when we announced we were having a baby. ChiChi’s holds a host of memories for me.

Everything at ChiChi’s is fresh and made to order. The pasta are homemade and the pizza is hand stretched. Mmmm…. I want some right now!

One of my ultimate favorite things to order at ChiChi’s (besides “a pepperoni and mushroom pizza, stretched, and cut the old-fashioned way”) would be their Italian Salad. Oh my! Soooo yummy! Unfortunately, distance and money stand in the way of my indulging to my heart’s content.

After years of experimenting, I’ve seen great success copying ChiChi’s Italian Salad at home. Yeehaw! And I’m going to share the secret with you. The salad part was never hard to mimic, but the dressing? Ah, that’s another story.

Commenters over the years have debated some of my choices and plating methods. I can only guess that perhaps there is some slight variation among ChiChi’s locations or that our memories sometimes betray us.

However, my brother brought a few containers of dressing to me at the start of this copycat journey in 2009, and I was able to take apart the flavors a little. I’ve also had in-depth conversations with Jerry, the kitchen manager, during visits back home over the years.

The trick is to use vegetable oil, milder than olive oil, and to add a pinch of sugar if your red wine vinegar is more sour than sweet. The cheese is, indeed, a mixture of mozzarella and jack. You can’t really shred the cheese like “cheese worms” as we called them — to the uninitiated, ChiChi’s shredded cheese look like cylinders not true shreds — but you can mix the two varieties of cheese and it works out fine.

If you’re a Valley local, or even if you’re not, you can enjoy this delicious salad at home, for a fraction of the cost. Now that’s one good. cheap. eat.

Originally published October 8, 2009. Updated August 26, 2017.

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Comments

  1. This is one of our favorite salad’s now… thanks so much for sharing it!!!

  2. Thanks for the recipe. Now if we could only do the cheese like they do!! Id be in heaven.

  3. Hi! I’m so excited to see someone do a copycat of my absolute favorite salad ever! I just tried it though and all I could taste was the vegetable oil. Does the dressing need to sit and mesh together before trying it? Any tips? I’m dying to do a DIY antipasto salad!

    • Have you ever ordered ChiChi’s dressing on the side? It usually is pretty oily, probably more oil than I use here. Keep in mind though that the oil will rise to the top. So, if you haven’t stirred or shaken well, you’ll get more oil when you pour than vinegar. If you like you can add more vinegar, but typical dressings are a 1 to 3 ratio, with the oil being the larger percentage. Hope that helps!

      I haven’t been to ChiChi’s in years, but that salad is still my favorite. 🙂 Are you from Saugus or some other location?

      • Thanks for the tips! I must be using the wrong oil because it’s all I can taste…yikes!

        I haven’t been to Chi Chi’s in years either but I’m hoping to get a salad when I visit California next month. I’m so excited! I’m originally from Palmdale but Chi Chi’s was always worth the trek!

        • Did you end up getting ChiChi’s during your trip?

          • Wow. I can’t believe I found your posts and this article.

            I grew up in Saugus. Going to Chi chis was a reward for months of good behavior.

            I live in Orange County now but I make the drive to the chi chis in the valley just for the salad. I know. I’m not right in the head.

            Gonna give this a try

          • Fun! Keep in mind that some of the pics feature thinner shreds of cheese because that’s what I had when I took those photos. Folks have kinda freaked out about that. If you are a Saugus regular, then you probably remember Jerry. He’s worked there FOREVER. He and I talked about the cheese in-depthly. While we all think that the worm-style cut is unique to ChiChi’s, he said it’s just a mixture of mozzarella and monterey jack.

  4. Carly McAdam says:

    After growing up in SCV and moving out of state I’m THRILLED to find this recipe! Thank you! Now if you could figure out the old blu cheese dressing, they recently changed it, my husband would be ecstatic!!! Take care!

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