ChiChi’s Italian Salad

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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.

5 from 1 vote
ChiChi's Italian Salad
Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins
A favorite at the Southern California ChiChi's chain, this Italian family salad as its called at the restaurants is a fan favorite. And now you can make it at home!
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: antipasto salad, dinner salad, entree salad, green salad, italian salad, side salad
Servings: 4
Calories: 251 kcal
Author: Jessica Fisher
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil
  • 1 head romaine lettuce rinsed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 roma tomato cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup monterey jack cheese
  • 1/4 onion sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced pepperoncini peppers
  1. In small jar or mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Whisk in the oil to blend. Set aside
  2. In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, tomato, garbanzo beans, mozzarella cheese, monterey jack cheese, onion, and pepperoncini peppers.
  3. Drizzle some of the dressing over all. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
  4. Toss before serving. Serve additional dressing on the side.
Recipe Notes

The salad dressing and the salad can be prepared the day before. Store the two components separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts
ChiChi's Italian Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 251 Calories from Fat 198
% Daily Value*
Fat 22g34%
Saturated Fat 6g38%
Cholesterol 24mg8%
Sodium 371mg16%
Potassium 155mg4%
Carbohydrates 6g2%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 8g16%
Vitamin A 995IU20%
Vitamin C 16mg19%
Calcium 183mg18%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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

  2. kris says

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

  3. Katie says

    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?

      • Katie says

        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?

          • Matt says

            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.

          • Katie says

            Sorry for the super late response to this! I just saw it ? I sure did! But let me just say thank you soooo much for this recipe because you NAILED the recipe and it has been a total lifesaver for myself and my mom and sister! Seriously, it is dead on and sooo delicious!

        • Yay! So glad you like it!

  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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