The founder of Panera was really onto something when they decided to put a coffee shop, bakery, and deli all into one convenient location. It’s the kind of place where everyone, even your picky coworker in the next cubicle over, is sure to find something they’ll enjoy.
The menu is extensive, full of tempting treats and toasty sandwiches you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Some people would say that Panera’s menu is “overwhelming,” but to that, I say “Nay.”
It’s just well-rounded—a people-pleaser. Panera wants to offer plenty of variety, so you have lots of options beyond the basics.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that every selection on their menu is a winner. Like most restaurants, Panera has the odd misfire that infiltrates the menu. But, let’s focus on the positives, of which there are many.
To make your lunch a more splendid affair, I’ve gathered up the best Panera menu items for you to try. There’s a nice variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches to cover all the savory bases, plus a sweet treat at the end for dessert.
This new wave of “gourmet grilled cheese” is fun and all, but it can never beat the classic, melty deliciousness of the OG.
Panera’s Grilled Cheese stands out as a paradigm of everything this sandwich is supposed to be: fluffy white bread, toasted to a golden crisp on both sides, and gooey melted American cheese.
That’s it. No peppered bacon. No gouda and brie. No fig jam. And certainly no five-grain artisan multi wheat ciabatta.
Just buttery, cheesy indulgence and a couple of pieces of bread. It’s simple, it’s timeless, and it’s tasty.
Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich
Bravo, indeed. The Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich will always get a standing ovation from me because it’s just so easy to love.
Panera upgrades the quintessential turkey sandwich by adding smokey bacon, savory smoked Gouda, emerald greens, ripe tomatoes, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of their signature sauce between two pieces of piquant Tomato Basil Bread.
I’ll pause for a moment to let you daydream about sinking your teeth into that combination of top-tier sandwich toppings.
Even the bread is something you will dream about, the savory softness lingering long after you’ve sneakily licked the last crumb off of your plate.
Asian Sesame Salad
There are approximately a bajillion copycat recipes online for Panera’s Asian Sesame Salad, which is a solid indicator that people are big fans.
“Why,” you ask? Perhaps it’s the fact that this salad comes dressed to the nines with tender, white-meat chicken, fresh cilantro, toasted almonds, sesame seeds, crispy wonton strips, and Asian sesame vinaigrette all tucked into a bed of crisp romaine lettuce.
Yeah, that’s definitely got to be the reason. This salad is refreshing, filling, and light enough to save room for that Vanilla Cinnamon Roll you’ve been eyeing since you walked in the door.
Mac & Cheese
If Shakespeare were around today, he’d be writing sonnets singing the praises of Panera’s Mac & Cheese:
When noodles join with cheeses, creamy
The angels cry out with delight
Panera’s cooked up something dreamy
That occupies my mind at night.
This is not your typical box of fluorescent orange elbow noodles, my friends. On my personal list of Panera food ranked by which menu items make my stomach growl just thinking about them, this is the reigning champion.
The restaurant nixes the elbows and goes for shells, which is always the prime choice for mac & cheese.
They also leave out the powdery, processed stuff and instead let those al dente shells mingle in tangy white cheddar cheese sauce that puts any other macaroni we’ve been eating to shame.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Panera’s Chicken Noodle Soup is the ultimate comfort food.
It’s one of Panera’s best menu items because it’s uncomplicated.
It’s everything we know and love about a steamy bowl of chicken noodles, done well with the ingredients it was meant to have and nothing extra.
Their recipe is a timeless one: bone broth, white meat chicken, egg noodles, carrots, celery, and a just-right amount of seasonings.
Pair it with a Grilled Cheese for that “stayed home sick from school, so now I’m watching soap operas with my grandma” vibe.
BBQ Chicken Salad
For those brave souls who can walk into Panera and order a salad while shelf upon shelf of flakey Danishes stare back at you, I salute your steadfastness.
But, if there is one salad that can convince me to skip over the bear claws and eat something green, it’s the BBQ Chicken Salad.
You just can’t go wrong with tender chicken on a bed of romaine lettuce, black bean and corn salsa, apple cider vinegar BBQ sauce, and crispy frizzled onions.
This salad is truly a testament to the fact that the best food at Panera is the stuff that you’d never think of putting in a salad, but it somehow just works.
It’s no chocolate croissant, but it is a savory, light lunch with plenty of backyard barbecue flavor.
It’s really hard to get a breakfast sandwich wrong. You need some egg, some kind of meat, maybe a slice of cheese, and there you have it.
Being the bread company it is, Panera saw the opportunity to optimize in their field of expertise.
They knew that they could somehow improve on something that most people would be happy to eat between a couple of slices of store-brand white bread, and boy did they ever.
There are no fancy fillings here, folks. They offer the classic bacon or sausage along with scrambled eggs and cheese.
Instead, you’ll spend your time choosing between toothsome Artisan ciabatta with its delightful chewy crust or yeasty, slightly sweet brioche.
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
If Panera’s soup menu had a loveable mascot, their Broccoli Cheddar Soup would be a strong frontrunner.
Maybe it’s the hearty helping of tender broccoli pieces or the fondue-like foundation of thick cheddar cheese soup, but this is one of the best Panera menu items, hands down.
Like a metaphorical plush blanket in a bowl, a steamy bowl of Broccoli Cheddar is always ready to warm you up on a chilly winter evening, enveloping you in nostalgic comfort.
And then, as if that weren’t enough to convince you to dive into a bowl ASAP, it comes with a pillowy baguette for dipping. Pure. Bliss.
Pizza purists might argue that flatbreads are not a proper pie.
Still, I challenge them to find a Margherita pizza at a fast-food restaurant that meets the same rigorous standards Panera has for their Margherita Flatbread.
This one ticks all the boxes: flaky flatbread, tomato bell pepper marinara, fontina mozzarella blend, grape tomatoes, even more fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil baked to crispy perfection.
Sure, it’s no trip to Italy, but it’ll hit the spot when you’re looking for a bit of taste of the old country during your lunch break.
Toasted Frontega Chicken Sandwich
Another popular selection in the copycat recipe world is the Toasted Frontega Chicken Sandwich.
While I still support the simplicity of the Grilled Cheese, the Frontega has earned my patronage almost as often.
It’s toasty and tempting, piled high with smoked, pulled chicken, creamy mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, chipotle sauce, and a slight bite from red onions.
The bread choice– Black Pepper Focaccia– is an excellent choice to house all of that deliciousness, adding a savory kick that cuts through the richness of the chicken and mozzarella.
Kitchen Sink Cookie
Disclaimer: There are no actual kitchen sinks in this recipe.
Instead, it’s loaded with semi-sweet chocolate, caramel pieces, pretzels, and flake salt for a savory-sweet experience that delights the senses.
Panera claims that it’s big enough to share, but I’m inclined to disagree.
The Kitchen Sink Cookie is precisely the right size for me to enjoy all by myself, without any interlopers trying to move in on my dessert. Dessert decadence of this caliber deserves to be enjoyed in its entirety.
This mish-mash of salty and sugary tops the charts of Panera food ranked from best to worst, altogether transcending categories and standing supreme over pretty much anything else available on the menu.
Panera is an easy place to love. Walk in the doors, and you are immediately bombarded with the kinds of smells that would make a cartoon character float above the floor, tempted on by the beckoning aroma of the coffee, pastries, and of course, fresh-baked bread.
They’ve always got something new in the mix, giving you even more reasons to stop by for a quick mid-morning snack, an afternoon lunch date with a friend, or an evening pick-me-up indulgence after a long day.
Next time you can’t decide where to grab a bite to eat, I hope my list of the best Panera menu items helps you narrow it down. But, even if it doesn’t, just go anyway for a Kitchen Sink Cookie or a bear claw or a pecan braid or an entire Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake… You get the picture.
Which menu item from Panera is your favorite? Leave us a comment below and let us know!
Learn how to make your favorite Panera order at home with copycat Panera Bread recipes!