“Mexican” Grilled Chicken Salad

This is a dish that makes me cry, but not from the heat.

Many years ago, working as a driver in Southern California, I would often stop at one of a chain of restaurants called “El Torito”. One of my favorite dishes was their “Mexican Cesar Salad”. After my wife and I met and I was no longer driving for a living, we began frequenting the same one for family dinners. Before long, we got to know one particular waiter, Rafael. It got to where he would come and take us to his section whenever we were there.

We went there and saw Rafael almost monthly. I remember going with my son shortly after he was born, setting him on the seat in his carrier next to us and introducing Rafael. We continued to go for seven years as he watched our children grow.

Finally, when we had decided to leave California for North Carolina, the night before we left we went for one last time. After dinner, we told him that we were leaving. There were hugs and tears all around.

That was 16 years ago, and we still remember him fondly.

This is that very salad that was my favorite dinner when we visited. The recipe for the dressing is a copycat that I found online – I would credit it but I can’t remember where I found it. It may not be “authentically” Mexican, but it’s still quite tasty! Leave out the chicken for a great side, or include it for a flavorful meal.


  • 3/4 cup neutral salad oil (avoid olive oil, the flavor won’t be right)
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp grated cotija cheese
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 anaheim chile
  • 3 Tbsp roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • ΒΌ tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • Hellfire Farm Taco Seasoning
  • Corn tortillas (3-4)


Roast and peel the Anaheim chile (See our Chiles Rellenos recipe for details)

Mix the oil, vinegar, cheese, ciloantro, chile, pepitas, garlic, and salt together in a blender.

In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise and water well, then pour in the blended mixture. Mix well.

Cut the corn tortillas into 1/4″ wide strips and deep fry until crisp. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Use any salad mix you like, but if you want to stay true to the original use Romaine lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. Serve the salad with a generous helping of the dressing on top. Sprinkle with more cotija, pepitas, and top with the crispy tortilla strips.

Cut the chicken to half the thickness (it should be about 3/8″ thick) and rub with Taco Seasoning. Salt to taste. Grill on a cast-iron pan, griddle (like a Blackstone), or over charcoal until fully cooked and slightly charred. Cut cross-wise into 1/4-3/8″ slices and transfer the whole sliced piece to the top of the salad.

Serves 3-4

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