I Tasted Panera’s New Era Menu, and This Is Hands Down the Perfect Order

You pick two (or three or four)


Back in college, Panera was the place to be. As a 20-something on a budget, the fast-casual food chain made it possible for my friends and me to get a semi-nutritious meal without breaking the bank. We’d grab unlimited coffee and cinnamon crunch bagels in the morning before class, swing by for strawberry-banana smoothies on the way home from soccer practice and pile into the nearest car for a late-night drive-through joyride featuring mac and cheese and chipotle chicken sandos. My now-husband and I even had our first unofficial date there, sharing stolen glances and nervous laughs over a bread bowl filled with broccoli cheddar soup (as lovers do).

So, when I heard Panera was making its largest menu transformation ever, my ears (and tastebuds) perked up. Dubbed the “New Era at Panera,” it features 21 menu updates—9 new items and 12 enhanced classics—with bigger portions and lower price points, and I got to try them all. Here are three delicious options I’ll be ordering again and again (and again).

We Tasted Cheesecake Factory’s New Menu—And This Is Hands Down the Perfect Order


1. Ciabatta Cheesesteak

You can put caramelized onions on just about anything and I’ll give it a try. Add in a creamy garlic aioli and all bets are off. Though I’m typically a bacon turkey bravo girl, this cheesesteak was a welcome surprise (Philly readers, don’t @ me). The thinly sliced marinated steak is tender, juicy and filling to boot, while the peppadew peppers add a sweet and zesty kick to round it all out. The punchy flavors are grounded by the mild provolone that’s sandwiched between two hearty pieces of ciabatta. A half serving will keep you full until dinner (so you can save the other half for a midnight snack).  


2. Southwest Chicken Ranch Salad

Unpopular opinion: I don’t like ranch—call me crazy but it just doesn’t do it for me. Nonetheless, if there’s a southwest salad on the menu, I’m ordering it (ranch be damned). With generous pieces of grilled chicken, avocado, roasted corn, grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro and blue corn tortilla strips, it features all of the southwest salad heavy hitters. The real kicker that sets it apart? The drizzle of chipotle aioli on top. Though not a unique ingredient alone, the way it’s incorporated is key. Too much and it completely takes over, not enough and it might as well be a cobb.


3. Bacon Mac and Cheese

From copycat recipes to viral mashups, the Panera mac and cheese is a fan favorite for a reason. And now, the aged white cheddar and shell noodles are sharing the spotlight with a decadent new star: applewood smoked bacon. It’s the classic you know and love with a salty twist that just makes sense (I mean, really, what took them so long?).

Curious what else is new? Here are six other menu items that won’t disappoint.

New Sandwiches

  • Toasted Italiano: Black Forest ham, soppressata, provolone, romaine, red onion, pepperoncini peppers, garlic aioli and Greek dressing on a toasted French baguette.
  • Chicken Bacon RancherGrilled chicken, applewood smoked bacon, aged white cheddar and ranch dressing on black pepper focaccia.
  • Tomato Basil BLTApplewood smoked bacon, crisp mixed greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, garlic aioli, salt and pepper on tomato basil sourdough.

New Salads

  • Mediterranean Chicken Greens with Grains: Romaine and mixed greens tossed in Greek dressing, topped with a whole grain blend of farro and red rice, grilled chicken, hummus, feta, red onions, peppadew peppers, cucumbers and a sprinkle of shawarma seasoning.
  • Balsamic Chicken Greens with GrainsRomaine and mixed greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with a whole grain blend of farro and red rice and cucumbers, topped with pepperoncini peppers, avocado, feta, pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of Green Goddess dressing.
  • Ranch Cobb SaladRomaine and mixed greens tossed in ranch dressing, topped with grape tomatoes, pickled red onions, applewood smoked bacon, feta and a hard-boiled egg.

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Executive Managing Editor

Catrina oversees content production and editorial operations across all PureWow verticals. When she's not managing web schedules, digital issues and newsletter production, you can...