Takeout bag with container of salad

Whether they’re taking over fast food or popping up in trendy chains, you’ve got to admit: Salads have become cool. The humble little pile of veggies we used to force down before the main event of our entree’s arrival has become the ultimate lunch staple for busy office workers, Instagramming millennials, and anyone on a health kick. And along the way, salads themselves have undergone a major upgrade. Gone are the days when a handful of romaine, a few cherry tomatoes and maybe some croutons if you’re lucky passed as an acceptable salad. Nowadays, salads are getting full on makeovers as dedicated salad chains pop up all over the country — complete with fresh, fancy greens, an entire rainbow of toppings, and menus filled with creative and unique signature salad concoctions.

In fact, there are so many options out there these days, that it can be overwhelming. I mean, how many different ways can you really shake up a bowl of lettuce? Turns out, more ways than you think. But Mashed is here to help, with a ranking of the biggest fast food salad chains out there from worst to best.

Grabbagreen

Bowls of Grabbagreen salad

With locations now open in seven states and counting, Arizona-based Grabbagreen is working to make a name for itself across the map. The chain bills itself as a "quick service restaurant where great tasting, healthy food meet the speed and convenience of traditional fast food." On top of a full menu of salads and grain bowls, Grabbagreen also offers a range of smoothies and fresh pressed juices.

Like most salad chains, Grabbagreen lets you choose from their salad creations on the menu, or to build your own from scratch. Unfortunately, their salad selection itself isn’t very original or exciting — you’ve got your Caesar and your Cobb… and not much else. However, Grabbagreen almost makes up for their salad selection with some interesting bowl creations, like the Riviera with spicy shrimp, red pepper and creamy avocado sauce; or the Tokyo Bay, which is basically a sushi bowl; and the Patagonia, with its steak and chimichurri sauce. Any of these bowls can be made with greens instead of grains to make it a true salad.

All in all, this chain is fine, but there are definitely more enticing options out there, with a little more salad inspiration on the menu.

Tossed

Salad mixing station at Tossed

The menu at tiny salad chain Tossed offers up a solid range of salads to choose from, plus bowls, wraps and sandwiches, and smoothies. Tossed prides itself on featuring "over 50 fresh ingredients and homemade dressings" to choose from, with a few delicious sounding options, like jicama and pesto chicken, that you don’t find at every salad chain. And as far as the dressings go, it’s going to be hard deciding between the Citrus Chipotle, Pomegranate Açaí Vinaigrette, or the Honey Apple Champagne, just to name a few.

One of the little guys among the big names in the salad game today, Tossed started serving up salads in New York City way back in 1998 (via QSR) before moving its franchising operations to Fort Lauderdale. Tossed now has restaurant locations in Florida and Texas, plus one coming soon in Alaska. At some point, this little chain seemingly had big plans. Tossed was poised for some major growth around 2013, with plans to open dozens of locations around the country, according to company leadership. It’s not clear how or why those plans fizzled out specifically, but it doesn’t necessarily say good things about the chain’s broader appeal.

Saladworks

Bowl of Saladworks salad

If you don’t happen to be based in New York City, your salad chain options may be a little more limited. But Saladworks joins the ranks of the few chains growing to all corners of the country. In fact, the more than 30-year-old company more likely helps lead the trend The chain now operates 105 locations in more than 20 states, with plans in the works to open dozens more (via Forbes). While there is clearly some mass appeal for Saladworks, the chain’s driving mission is to be original above all else. And that’s where they kind of fall flat.

While Saladworks does offer a full menu of salad and grain bowl creations, plus wraps and paninis, you can’t really call a Grilled Chicken Caesar or a Turkey Melt original. They’ve also got their own spins on a Cobb salad, a Mediterranean (read: Greek) salad, and a Mandarin Chicken salad with oranges and the mandatory Wonton strips, among others. Maybe the conventional choices are the secret behind their appeal, but really, if you’re going to go out of your way to go to a salad joint, you’re better off getting something more unique.

Just Salad

Bowls of salad from Just Salad

Just Salad has effectively hailed itself as New York City’s go-to salad spot. The chain has dozens of locations scattered all over Manhattan’s 23 square miles and a few locations in New Jersey and Connecticut. Over time, Just Salad’s menu has expanded to include a range of signature, classic and seasonal salads, plus warm grain bowls, wraps, soups, smoothies, and even avocado toasts. You can also build your own salad starting at $8.29. That’ll get you greens of your choice plus four basic toppings before the extra charges start adding up.

Price wise, you might fare better choosing from one of Just Salad’s menu creations, which are all under $11. While the classic and signature salads seemed a little underwhelming, the season winter salads can be pretty eye catching (go for the Winter Harvest Salad or the Chicken Pita Salad). Here’s the real kicker about Just Salad, though: They will not chop your salad for you anymore. If you’ve been spoiled by other salad chains that will pulverize your greens to your heart’s content, or really don’t want to deal with salad contents fighting their way out of your bowl as you dig in, then you’re in for a disappointment here.

Just Salad stopped chopping in 2018, claiming that the service was creating a more chaotic experience in the restaurants, on top of confusing some people and bruising salad ingredients. While many customers aren’t happy with the change, the company’s CEO says they aren’t looking back (via Eater).

Hale and Hearty

Soup and salad from Hale and Hearty

There’s few places that hit the spot for a tasty, quick, yet still healthy lunch if you just don’t have the time to whip up something quick beforehand. That’s where New York City-based Hale and Hearty comes in.

The chain is primarily known for its expansive and constantly rotating soup menu, but Hale and Hearty’s salad offerings are enough to land it in our ranking. Maybe that’s because you can always grab a steaming cup of something warm and hearty on the side of your salad, like loaded baked potato soup or creamy tomato soup with meatballs, or maybe it’s because you can order smaller side salads for your soup, with ingredients like pineapple and fresh mozzarella. But their fresh ingredients and signature creations, like the Avocado Green Goddess and the Hearty Chicken Avocado, also don’t hurt.

And despite the large menu of soups, salads and sandwiches that Hale and Hearty is serving up, Yelp reviews report that the chain manages to deliver great service and good food at a fast pace to busy and hungry customers even during the hectic New York City lunch rush hours — and the long lines that come with it. And that’s saying something.

Freshii

Bowls of salad from Freshii

When it comes to fast food salad chains, Freshii was one of the first on the scene, setting the tone for what’s now a highly competitive market. Founded in New York City in 2005, Freshii now has hundreds of locations in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. Freshii is a health food lover’s paradise, with a menu featuring salads, bowls, wraps, soups, breakfast, and even frozen yogurt. And there’s always new things to try. The company says its "menu is constantly evolving," and it releases a new menu item "that incorporates the latest health and food trends" every 90 days.

As far as Salads go at Freshii, you’re probably better off building your own. If you’re looking for creative, healthy options at this chain that don’t require listing off that many ingredients, turn to the bowl and burrito offerings, like the Oaxaca Bowl, or the Baja Burrito. Freshii gets an additional nod for its commitment to being green. All of the restaurant’s packaging is made from biodegradable or easily recyclable materials. Plus, instead of tossing your salad in a bowl, employees shake up the ingredients in biodegradable bags. Sure, this may lead to a bag busting every now and then, but that’s another story.

Fresh & Co.

Bowl of salad from Fresh & Co.

Family-owned Fresh & Co. brings together feel good farm-to-table food in a fast casual environment. The chain now operates a dozen locations in New York City and the surrounding area, and sources many of its ingredients from its own farm in nearby Long Island.

As far as the menu goes, Fresh & Co. gets a major nod for its creative salad and grain bowl offerings. We’ve certainly got eyes for the Falafel Salad and the Mexican Caesar. The Santa Fe Salad is another crowd favorite — so much so that the New York Post even broke down how to make it at home during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Unfortunately, Fresh & Co. is another chain that won’t chop your salads for you (via New York Post). However, you might end up being too tempted anyways, including by the yummy sandwiches that are also available. Not to mention, Fresh & Co. has a delicious breakfast menu as well, complete with omelets, sandwiches, oatmeal, smoothies and more. How exactly does all this factor into a ranking of salad chains? You’ll have to decide.

Crisp & Green

Bowl of salad in front of Crisp & Green

If you’re looking for a lunch that’s full of wholesome and unique ingredients served in an uplifting environment, the new chain on the block Crisp & Green will not disappoint. The restaurant was founded in 2016 and has grown quickly since then, with eight locations in Minnesota and Texas, and plenty more plans to expand across five states.

Crisp & Green is aiming to elevate the experience of the fast casual experience, offering not only a "chef-crafted & scratch-made menu" but also "world-class hospitality" and a "passionate commitment to our community." Colorful salads like the #SquashGoals, and the No Prob Cobb topped with jalapeño green goddess dressing are also helping to draw salad lovers through the door.

You might also get a little more bang for your buck at Crisp & Green: A build-your-own salad starts at $7.50, which is lower than some of the other competing salad chains. And for a few extra dollars and cents you can add all your favorite toppings, plus custom ingredients like maple roasted butternut squash, roasted corn and poblano, and apple cider pumpkin seed dressing.

Tender Greens

Bowl of salad from Tender Greens

To be honest, Tender Greens is truly so much more than a quick salad chain — it’s a fine dining-inspired fast casual sensation (via QSR). Founded in 2006 by "two chefs and a foodie" who "set out to change the way people eat for the better," Tender Greens has 30 locations in the Los Angeles area, San Diego and San Francisco — each one headed up by a pro chef, according to the chain.

The menu is bountiful and seasonal: Beyond salads and bowls, you can also grab hearty custom dinner plates, plus soups, desserts, and larger family meals. They even serve brunch now. However, the salads do stand out in their own right. Colorful options include the Chipotle BBQ Chicken salad, a loaded up Tuna Nicoise, and the delightful Happy Vegan salad.

Simply put, Tender Greens serves up all around good food made from locally sourced ingredients in a stylish environment, and it doesn’t get much better than that. The chain even grabbed the attention, and investment, of Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, who opened locations on the East Coast, until the pandemic forced those locations to close (via Eater).

Sweetgreen

Bowls of salad from Sweetgreen

Perhaps no chain is more synonymous with trendy, healthy, and Instagram-able salad lunches than Sweetgreen. From the moment you walk into the restaurant, minimally decorated and open with white paint and reclaimed wood, everything about Sweetgreen embodies the curated yet effortlessly relaxed, locally-sourced, and borderline bougie essence of the growing green movement.

When you step up to the counter, you’re greeted by an inviting display of local, craft ingredients to choose from, but the chef-designed salad and bowl creations on the menu are not to be missed — they’re unique, balanced with tons of flavor, and packed full of nutrients (with pretty reasonable calorie counts, too). The Chicken Pesto Parm and the Fish Taco bowls are a few standouts, alongside options like the Guacamole Greens salad… for now, at least. Sweetgreen is constantly shaking up its menu offerings, rotating between the most seasonal ingredients.

Founded in 2007 in Washington D.C., Sweetgreen is now tossing up salads at dozens of locations across seven states, as it’s holistic food ethos continues to attract conscious eaters. Sweetgreen is very open about its commitment to do business better across the board, starting with supporting the farmers and producers it works with by aiming to build a "transparent supply network" of "small and mid-size growers who are farming sustainably." Truthfully, all this means you’re probably going to spend a little more at Sweetgreen than other salad chains out there. But in return, you’ll get a more elevated experience, and a very high quality meal.

Chop’t

Bowls of salad and wraps from Chopt

In today’s world, where fancy salads are dominating the lunch scene and salad chains are sprouting like the veggies they toss up, one of the pioneers in the industry remains on top. Chop’t, which calls itself the "Creative Salad Company," first launched in New York City way back in 2001, when today’s mass movement towards locally-sourced leafy greens and all things organic was emerging with an emphasis on freshness. Today, Chop’t is thriving, with locations spread across eight states.

Chop’t helped cement the basic tenants we’ve come to adore and expect from our fast food salad experience: craveable, seasonal salad creations that go for around $10 and custom salads made with high-quality, fresh ingredients that are hand-tossed to order (via QSR). Plus, the chain will still chop your salad for you if you ask (via Business Insider). And with two decades of salad crafting under their belt, it’s no surprise we are hooked on the super interesting menu creations at Chop’t, like the Havana Bowl (complete with cauliflower rice, crispy plantains and Green Mojo dressing), the Kebab Cobb (with falafel and crunchy pita chips) and the Paleo Mexican Harvest Salad (loaded with chicken, sweet potatoes, toasted pumpkin seeds, and Mexican Goddess dressing).

At the end of the day, Chop’t holds steady at the top of our ranking because it will give you everything you are looking for in a quickly, tasty, healthy, and reasonably priced salad lunch. No surprises, no distractions, no frills. Just a good salad.