Chili’s Hot Flavors + [Some] Nutrients


https://www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=AET_RtM6oxE

By: Nikki Nies

Unlike a typical restaurant review, which includes the evaluation of wait staff service, ambiance, and/or décor, we’re reviewing restaurants a bit differently! Sensational Sustenance is redirecting one’s attention to the nutrient content of specific menu items! We aim to not only evaluate the flavors in the entrees, but how nutrient rich entrees are in relation to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans using our own proprietary score sheet:  Healthy Food Critic’s Ultimate Review Form for Restaurant Entrees.  I recently made a trip to Chili’s to check out what dishes they have and Chili’s Restaurant Evaluation!

Described as a “family-friendly chain serving classic Tex-Mex & American fare in a Southwestern-style setting”, Chili’s originated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but has done a tremendous job in expanding to a national level, with over 1500 locations ubiquitously found throughout the 50 states.  Since inception of their Tex Mex regular menu, the company now proudly offers a nutrition menu, allergen menu, vegetarian menu and offer veggie burgers supplied by Kellogg Company.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Chili’s, so my first impression of it’s menu as “vibrant” “loud” and “inviting!” I was ready for a delicious ride of flavors!

While perusing the menu, I chuckled that the Lighter Choice (LC) options were in the back of the menu.  While the acronym LC is sprinkled throughout the menu, it’s not until you’ve passed the appetizers, make your own burgers campaign, the quesadilla section and pass Go to collect your $100 that you reach the LC section.  With a closer look at the LC section, there’s an explanation of the dishes under 650 calories or less that a consumer can grasp the concept of LC.  After debating between salmon or tilapia, I opted for the Mango Chile Tilapia (550 calories) described as “with 6 pepper blend, drizzled with spicy habanero mango glaze and topped with chopped mango, cilantro, house made pico de gallo and fresh diced avocado.  Served with rice and steamed broccoli” at $10.99.

Original Image by Mike Mozart via Flickr
Original Image by Mike Mozart via Flickr

When I ordered my tilapia, I was asked if I wanted to the broccoli and/or rice with the tilapia or if I wanted any of the other sides Chili has to offer.  I thought about ordering the Spiced Panko Onion Rings, Homestyle Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, Southwestern Mac ‘n’ Cheese, Loaded Mashed Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes with Black Pepper Gravy, Sweet Corn on the Cob, Black Beans and/or Cinnamon Apples.  However, if you deviate from the original menu listing, the alternative options to broccoli and rice didn’t seem to elevate the nutritional content of the dish. Therefore, I kept the order as is.

hvkWhen the dish arrived, I was pleased by vivid variety of flavor, with the distinct mango and habanero smelled great! The visual layout of the dish, a rectangle dish instead of the usual circular dish, made it easy to eat–combining broccoli or rice with the tilapia for a good blend of flavors.

After evaluating the dish, I was able to retrieve further nutrition information on the mango chile tilapia on Chili’s website: 550 calories; 21 g of fat; 4.5 g of saturated fat; 0 g trans fat; 70 mg cholesterol; 1600 mg of sodium; 56 g of carbohydrates; 8 g of fiber; 13 g of sugar; 38 g of protein.  In comparison to the evaluations’ healthy option measures, the tilapia met some, but not all parameters.  The breakdown:

Healthy Option Parameters1 Mango Chile Tilapia Nutrient Content
600 calories or less 550 calories ✓
At least 50% is fruit or non-starchy vegetables Contained mango, avocado, steamed broccoli and tilapia  ✓
Grain based item are at least 50% whole grains No indication of whole grain rice  
Total fat is less than 30% of total calories Total fat was 34.5% of calories–550 calories contain 190 calories from fat
Sodium is less than 750 mg 1600 mg
Low in added sugars N/A
Less than 10% of calories from saturated fat 4.5 g of saturated fat ✓

1Healthy Option Parameters are based upon the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for American

Visually, I would estimate I received ½ cup steamed broccoli, ½ cup rice and 3-4 oz. of tilapia.  Based on recommended healthy portions, I would say this was “just about [the] right” amount of food. In hindsight, I’m glad I stuck with the rice and broccoli as my sides as they added the right balance of flavors to counteract spiciness of the pico de gallo and habanero from the tilapia.

I was beyond impressed with the flavors of the mango chile and found the price was accurately listed.  In my eyes, fish is always, and appropriately so, more expensive than meat options. Again, in regards to this dish, my senses walked away very satisfied, rating the dish “liking very much.” The necessary flavors for an interesting dish were present, with evidence that thought was put into the development of the dish.

I understand Chili’s is promoting their “make their own” burgers, but instead of using LC as a obligatory side note, Chili’s could profit from using LC as a more health conscious fast casual restaurant.  They certainly scored better in my book in comparison to my recent trip to Maggiano’s.

Photo Credit: Printable Coupons

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