Recipe: Houston’s Grilled Chicken Salad Copycat

Houston's salad copycat

I love Houston’s Grilled Chicken Salad.

I know it is one of those “bad salads” that morning talk shows are always discovering (“900 calories for a salad?! Outrageous!”), but I do not care. I love the crisp textures (tortilla strips, lettuce, carrot sticks), the grilled chicken, and of course, the combination of the two dressings, Honey Lime Vinaigrette & Peanut Sauce. However…

Long ago, the salad used to be $9. It is now hovering at $16, and what’s more, the portion size has shrunk. Economic realities of the restaurant industry aside, I hate spending $16 simply to get some dressing.

So I decided: I had to learn how to make the dressings myself. And, after only one failed attempt, I hit the jackpot.

Houstons salad take one

Attempt 1 (NOT Recommended)

Being Attempt 1 of 2, this was clearly not a success, but I’m including the recipe because it was the most popular result when I searched for copycats. The recipe is:

Lime Dressing
1/2 cup lime juice
7 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons honey mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peanut Sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons hot water
4 tablespoons peanut butter
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon ground ginger

mixed baby greens
carrot matchsticks
sliced broiled or grilled chicken
tortilla strips (I baked my own and it was a disaster)

Preparation: Prepare each dressing separately by combining ingredients in bowls, and whisking together. Assemble salads, then dress with equal portions lime vinaigrette & peanut sauce. Serve.

Notes: Before I started, I already had some misgivings about this recipe: my previous study of the Honey Lime Vinaigrette had confirmed at least two ingredients, red bell pepper and cilantro, that were not in this recipe’s ingredient list. But enough internet people vouched for it that I gave it a shot.

After making it, I’m baffled at the popularity of this copycat. The dressings are somewhat similar to Houston’s, but unremarkable; the peanut sauce is too watery, and the flavor profiles of both too flat. Next!

Attempt 2

I searched again, and eventually came up with the following recipe (a combination from two different sites):

Honey lime vinaigrette

Honey Lime Vinaigrette (via)

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsps dijon mustard
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
2.5 tsps lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil
1.5 tsps minced red bell pepper
1 tsp minced onion
1/4 tsp pepper

Mix ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 to 1.5 minutes, then whisk together for 1 minute. Place in fridge and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Peanut sauce

Peanut Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
dash of red pepper*
1 clove of garlic

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Let chill & thicken in fridge at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

*Comment from April: “I used to work at Houston’s…fyi they use sambal in the peanut sauce, not crushed red pepper.”


mixed baby greens
carrot & jicama matchsticks
sliced broiled or grilled chicken
Fresh Gourmet tortilla strips (right)

Assemble salads, then dress with equal portions honey lime vinaigrette & peanut sauce. Serve.

Notes: It’s perfect. What else it there to say? This is the recipe.

Both times, I used and recommend a salad mix with multiple textures, preferably with frisée or mizuna. This time, I also added thin strips of red pepper, which was great. The carrot matchsticks were store bought, and you can definitely broil/grill and slice the chicken a day or two in advance.

After the tortilla strip disaster from the first round, I looked for store-bought tortilla strips, and discovered Fresh Gourmet‘s. They are perfect and easy (alternatively, you can fry your own). And the dressings keep well, so you could conceivably make this one night and eat it for days after. Pure bliss.

Dressed salad:

Houston's grilled chicken salad copycat top


    • LB says

      Ok! Bought all the ingredients and they are chilling now. May I give some feedback? I can tell that the PB to soy sauce ratio isn’t quite right, leaning a bit too heavily on the soy. Next time around, I will either double the peanut butter or cut back on the soy. How do I know this? I’m the one that orders an extra side of just the peanut sauce that I eat with a spoon until it’s gone! Ha! Every last drop. Favorite part of the salad. Have examined it visually amd jnternally (:-) and wondered what went into that scrumptious sauce. I am very excited to have found your recipe and that is the only thing I will tweak next time around. Thank you!!!

      • Renee Claire says

        It’s great how many Houston’s salad lovers have found this post! Thanks for the tip, and hope the rest of the recipe holds up to scrutiny.

  1. TC says

    I have been searching and searching for this recipe and I’m so glad I stumbled upon yours. I’m eager to make it. I just love Houston’s (now Bartlett’s) chicken salad so much. In fact I just had it last week, but it has gotten rather pricey:( Thanks again.

  2. aandrejjka says

    OMG! I have been in south beverly grill a year ago and this salad blew my mind! I only have a picture and I am dreaming about that salad since then! The only think I remember is that it had an exceptional fresh flavor and now I know it was those dressings! thanks so much I can not wait to try this recipe! Greetings from Slovakia! :)

  3. janice says

    I love this receipe. Haven’t tried it yet. How much of each of the sauces do you end up with. Just curious to know

    • Renee Claire says

      Hmm. It’s been awhile since I made it, but I’d say you get at least a cup and another 1/3 cup of each of the sauces.

  4. CH says

    Loved the dressing! Thank you so much! I was wondering if you knew how long the vinaigrette portion would last in the fridge.

    • Renee Claire says

      So glad you like it! We always use up the vinaigrette by the 2nd day, so not sure on lifespan. Maybe 1 week in the fridge?

  5. Dawn says

    Hi Renee,

    Thanks so much for this recipe! Can you please share the brand and flavor of rice wine vinegar you use. There are so many out there and the wrong one would really change the flavor of the dressing.


    • Renee Claire says

      I’ve used several brands, most recently Nakano’s (green top). Marukan is another good brand!

  6. April says

    You forgot the jicama! Jicama is what helps give crunch in the salad! I used to work at Houston’s…fyi they use sambal in the peanut sauce, not crushed red pepper.

  7. Brinn says

    I never leave reviews but OH MY GOD this salad is AMAZING! Just made it for dinner and everyone loved it. For the peanut sauce, I added half the amount of soy sauce, as suggested by another review, and definitely don’t think it needed more. Thank you for sharing, I am hooked!

    • Renee Claire says

      I’m so glad this worked for you, Brinn! Thanks for leaving a comment. And that’s two people who mentioned halving the soy–I will have to do a comparison test in the near future.

  8. Holly says

    AWWW MAN!!!! I just spent 20 minutes making Attempt 1 and wish I had scrolled down and saw attempt 2!!! That looks more like the real thing to me. Houston’s Grilled Chicken Salad is my favorite thing in the whole world. The first attempt is runny and doesn’t not seem authentic. It is even missing the cilantro which is to me my favorite part. Disappointed. I think maybe you should delete number one or explain in the onset to keep reading both recipes and have the reader decide which one to try.

    • Renee Claire says

      Holly, I’m so sorry you tried #1! I thought the language was pretty clear that it wasn’t a success, but I guess not. I’ve made a few edits above, so hopefully no one else goes through the same thing. #2 is definitely worth trying, though.

  9. Tony says

    Great recipe! We love Houston’s chicken salad and I am soooo excited. My only problem is that the peanut sauce came out a bit too solid. How can I liquify it without destroying the taste? Water?

    • Tony says

      Wow, you answered everyone’s post except for me. I guess everyone had worthy comments except for me. Thanks for ignoring me!

      • Renee Claire says

        Tony, I have not blogged on this site since the middle of 2013. I’ve kept the website online and still try to respond to comments, but sometimes they slip through the cracks–and that’s what happened here.

        I actually have the opposite problem with the peanut sauce–it starts out a bit runnier than I like, so I put it in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to thicken. Maybe if you skip or shorten that step? That’s all I know.

  10. Monica says

    Houston’s Grilled Chicken Salad is something I have longed for at least a decade! I always told my daughter about how it was my favorite! I made attempt #2 and I added an 1 extra Tblspn of brown sugar to the peanut sauce cuz I thought it was a bit heavy on the soy & fresh cilantro to my salad (I am a cilantro lover) & it took me back to sitting in Houston’s booth after an hour or so wait lol just to eat that salad!!! It was delicious!! My daughter said, OMG, I am in love with this salad!”. Yay!!

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