The best Caesar salad recipe is made at the iconic Zuni Café in San Francisco. With crisp Romaine, homemade croutons, classic Caesar dressing, and generous pepper and parmesan, you’ll see why this Caesar recipe is the only one you need.
Meet The Best Caesar Salad Recipe
There are about one bazillion mediocre Caesar salad recipes out there, but only a few genuinely incredible ones. The best Caesar salad recipe I know — and I have tried many — is hands-down the one from San Francisco’s beloved Zuni Café, operated by chef Judy Rodgers.
Chef Rodgers and Zuni Café have racked up many accolades and awards over the years, including James Beard Awards for Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurant. But Zuni Café’s Caesar salad is the classic Caesar salad recipe that people return for, discuss, and smile about, again and again.
All About Zuni Café’s Classic Caesar Salad Recipe
One could do worse than pass an afternoon in sunny, convivial of Zuni Café, where the servers are professional and friendly, sunlight streams onto the wooden tables just so, and the general vibe is equal parts laid-back California, and effortless sophistication.
All the food is good, but the restaurant is best known for its roast chicken and the Caesar salad. In fact, Judy Rodgers writes in the Zuni Café cookbook, the salad station is known as “Caesar’s Palace” among employees. The Caesar, she writes, “outsells every other salad, indeed every other dish, every day by a factor of three.”
Like I said. It’s good.
Zuni Café’s Classic Caesar Salad: Recipe Ingredients + Notes
The Zuni Café Caesar salad recipe’s ingredients, while uncomplicated, create excellence from their quality, as well as the way the salad is assembled.
Rodgers puts a lot of thought into the recipes, purposefully noting that the quantities my vary because different red wine vinegars have different acidity levels, lemons vary in size and juiciness, and romaine becomes less sweet and takes on bitter notes the older it is.
The recipe, therefore, is a guide. Everyone’s ingredients will vary a little. Trust your taste, and you’ll build the absolute best Caesar salad recipe ever.
This classic Caesar salad recipe’s ingredients are:
- Crisp, fresh romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed (about 1 pound of lettuce)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Anchovy filets, preferably salt packed, chopped
- Minced garlic
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Fresh lemon juice
- Torn croutons
How to Make the Best Caesar Salad:
Technique and not cutting corners is key. To get the very best Caesar salad possible:
- Make sure each lettuce leaf is fully dried, so it does not water down the dressing or make things soggy
- Do not use anchovy paste in your Caesar dressing. Ever. Zuni Café uses salt-packed anchovies. These are great, but also can be hard to source and have a bigger price tag. I find that good, oil-packed anchovy fillets work well. Pat them dry before chopping them.
- Please do not use pre-bagged romaine lettuce. Maintain this Caesar’s integrity by plating whole leaves from large to small, topped with a generous dose of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and some of your delicious, homemade croutons.
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The Best Caesar Salad
For the Croutons
- 4 to 5 ounce hunk of day-old crusty bread
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- generous pinch of salt
For the Salad
- 2 to 3 heads crisp, fresh romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed (about 1 pound of lettuce)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 anchovy filets, preferably salt packed, chopped
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic, from about 3 cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 2 cold eggs
- lots of freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, from about 1 1/2 lemons
- torn croutons
For the Croutons
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut or tear the bread into cubes. Toss with the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, and roast on a sheet pan for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool to room temperature.Tip: If the bread is fresh, it may need to cook a little longer to dry out.
For the Salad
- Trim the outer leaves and stump from the heads of romaine. Carefully rinse and dry the whole leaves. To dry the lettuce leaves, pat dry and lay or loosely roll them out on clean dish towels. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.Tip: The leaves must be totally dry, or else you will have "an insipid salad," in the words of chef/owner Judy Rodgers.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, anchovies, salt, and garlic. Add the eggs, about 1/2 cup of the cheese, and 1 generous teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper.
- Add the lemon juice. Whisk, and taste for seasoning.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the Romaine leaves and most of the dressing and toss thoroughly. Be sure to make sure each leaf is coated with dressing. You may not need all of the dressing. Toss with most of the remaining cheese, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish. Add the croutons and toss again. If you think you need any additional dressing, add it now and toss.
- Divide the dressed lettuce leaves onto salad plates, starting with the largest leaves on the bottom, and stacking loosely from large to small. Distribute the croutons on the salad. The croutons should have absorbed some of the dressing.
- Finish with a final dusting of grated cheese and a few more twists of black pepper. Serve immediately.
…Will it taste the same if the croutons are not Levain bread they served at Zuni?
Good question. Part of what makes Zuni’s Caesar salad so good is the high quality of each individual component, from the lettuce to the bread for the croutons. A homemade version will still be very good without levain; just use the best crusty bread you can find.
Very good. Thank you for the good techniques, which were helpful to me.
I believe Step 4 should read: In a large mixing bowl, combine the whole lettuce leaves with most of the dressing and toss thoroughly.
There is no mention of the lettuce in the final assembly, in other words.
Right you are. Great catch. The recipe has been amended, and thanks. It’s always helpful to have an editor 🙂
please clarify the directions for the eggs. ..
Hi! In the directions Step 2, you will see the eggs. They get cracked and added into the bowl with the vinegar, oil, anchovies, salt, and garlic, 1/2 cup of the cheese, and 1 generous teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper. Hope this helps! Make sure to whisk everything until it’s a smooth and creamy dressing. Enjoy!
Just made this for the first time, and having had it at Zuni’s many times, it did taste like the original!
I’m so glad it turned out well! How wonderful that you have enjoyed the salad at the restaurant itself. One of my all-time favorite dishes and restaurants.
DELICIOUS. I didn’t need all of the dressing.
Caroline in NJ
My first time making homemade croutons. So easy! This is a delicious caesar salad. I would just add that this makes a large amount of dressing and I did not use all of it. This is in the recipe notes, but just to confirm.
I have such fond memories of dining at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco and was excited to. see this recipe here. I always ordered the roast chicken. I have not made this yet, but look forward to doing so sometime this week.
This is best Caesar salad recipe I have ever made. Would give it six stars. Make sure the lettuce leaves are dry.or else the salad willl be soggy. I did not need all of the dressing.
A little more effort than a typical salad but SO WORTH IT. My family gobbled the entire thing.