She Said: We were going to try a different burger joint, but it had closed, so casting about for something similar, we settled on Chili’s Grill & Bar. Chili’s is in our ’hood, but for some reason isn’t a place we’ve frequented. I was looking forward to serious comfort food.
He Said: So, the good news about Chili’s menu is that they very precisely tell you on the menu exactly how many calories each item contains. The bad news is that most of the items on the menu contain a prodigious number of calories. To put it in perspective, an average man over 50 leading a moderately active life should be eating 2,200-2,400 calories per day (being on the smaller side I should be in the 2,200 range). A Southern Smokehouse Burger, for instance, is 1520 calories in and of itself. California Grilled Chicken Flatbread is 1730 calories. You want fries with that? Homestyle fries add another 390 calories. And I suppose you want a 12-ounce glass of Sam Adams to wash it all down: that adds 180 calories. So with the burger you’ve got yourself 2090 calories, and if you go with the flatbread it’s 2300. If you plan to eat more than this meal today, you might want to rethink things.
I have no intention of singling out Chili’s regarding unhealthy meals. They have the good sense and courtesy to tell you exactly what you are getting into when you order their food, And they have a number of lighter calorie menu items to choose from. Most other places will give you thousands of calories and never tell you what you’re getting. So I applaud Chili’s for their efforts in this area. I’m just saying, any time you are going to a fast food or other popular chain, think about making healthy choices—to do that you might even need to do some online research ahead of time.
She Said: Chili’s is "on brand" as a comfortable neighborhood eatery for families, and also for friends and cocktailers, with comfortable booths, friendly staff and pleasing décor. I like how this Chili’s is divided into cozier eating spaces so you never feel like you’re in a big room of diners. I don’t like the video consoles on the table at all. It feels like they’re trying to make money from you every minute you’re sitting there…and why wouldn’t they? But still.
He Said: Yeah, those on-the-table video game consoles are kind of annoying. But I agree that you have more privacy here than at most other places with the way they have tables and booths kind of broken into what are almost little islands for eating. The ambiance here is comfy.
She Said: I was a little overwhelmed by the drinks menu—so many choices!—even once I narrowed it down to a margarita. Our friendly server helped me choose the Presidente Margarita with Patron tequila, and I went for the mango edition. It arrives from the bar in a glass, but also with more margarita in a cocktail shaker, so you can continue to pour your own at the table. It’s not big-as-yo-head huge, but it was plenty to accompany my meal, and it was light and tasty. I would try that one again.
He Said: I opted for the unsweetened iced tea again. It was fine, as unsweetened iced tea goes. Perhaps a little on the weak side, since there was an awful lot of ice in the glass.
She Said: As He Said noted above, Chili’s lists the calories of each dish on the menu, and these numbers were jaw-dropping and appetite-suppressing. I could hardly find anything listed at fewer than 1,000 calories, except on the Lighter Choices section of the menu, where items were still in the 600- to 800-calorie range. I had been in a burger state of mind, but the delicious looking and sounding Sunrise Burger is listed at 1500-plus calories! That’s more than I eat most days, all day long, in all my meals and snacks—and drinks! And that wasn’t the highest number we saw. So, I abandoned the burger plan. After a great deal of dithering, I chose the spicy shrimp tacos, at the slightly lighter calorie level of 1,080. This, I assume, includes the side dishes of beans and rice. I was able to eat one and a half tacos and a few bites of beans. The tacos were yummy, and the ingredients tasted fresh, which I have to admit was a little unexpected for a big chain such as this. I brought the left-over tacos home and ate them for lunch the next day. It was more than enough food for two hearty meals. I would order this again.
He Said: The Chicken Enchilada soup here is some of the best around. I have a hard time resisting it, with its creamy cheesy goodness and tasty chicken. A cup of this soup as an appetizer is 220 calories, so not too bad in itself. The menu does not go into nutritional details for the items, but if you look at Chili’s nutritional chart online, you’ll find there are 14 grams of fat in a cup of this soup, and that’s the information of most interest to me, since I need to try to limit my fat intake to 50-60 grams per day to keep my uncooperative pancreas happy.
One of the less caloric entrée options is the Ancho Salmon, which I am likely to order at any given time anyway. This item had 590 calories, but 27 grams of fat. So, I was able to get by with 810 total calories for dinner, which is certainly reasonable overall, but for my diet, the 41 grams of fat was a bit much—I need to be pretty careful the rest of the day with a meal like that. Had I checked online ahead of time, I might have substituted the Spicy Chili Chicken for the salmon, which is a little better with 420 calories, but only 9—count ’em, 9—grams of fat.
The salmon is described as "seared chile-rubbed Atlantic salmon, drizzled with spicy citrus-chile sauce & topped with chopped cilantro & queso fresco. Served with citrus-chile rice & steamed broccoli." The restaurant was actually out of broccoli at the time and substituted green beans, which I found quite to my liking, very tender and flavorful, and not tough or undercooked as I find a lot of restaurant green beans to be. The rice was very tasty and the salmon was seasoned quite nicely. As was to be expected in a chain restaurant with everything but the kitchen sink on the menu, it was overdone. Salmon needs to be medium, as most chefs will recommend.
As with a steak, anything more than that diminishes the flavor. The difference is, the waiter always asks how you want the steak done. They only ask about the salmon in more hifalutin’ establishments. I’m sure She Said will have some crack to make about how I need to tell them, but who can say how that will work? You don’t order a medium burger at McDonald’s. Anyway, the entrée was not bad, it tasted fine and it was just a bit overdone. And that’s all I have to say about that.
She Said: Our server was great! Friendly, funny, helpful, witty, personable, professional, efficient and an all-around welcome addition to our experience. He made the perfect margarita recommendation to me, was funny and interesting, but not overbearing. I was impressed.
He Said: Ditto on the server. Other than not asking me how I wanted the salmon cooked (and that really is all I have to say about that), he did everything right and helped make dining here a pleasurable experience.
What We Got and What We Paid: An unsweetened iced tea, one mango margarita, ancho salmon, a cup of chicken enchilada soup, and an order of spicy shrimp tacos, all for $45.61.
She Said: Food here is a caloric indulgence, and knowing that, I’m not sure how often I’d want to break the weight bank here, but I enjoyed what I ate and drank and the service was stellar.
He Said: It’s good food that’s not too expensive, though you should be careful if you’re looking to eat healthy. Me, I’ll probably go for that chicken when I come back, not only because of the fat but also because nobody wants medium chicken.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a friendly pub-food experience, but don’t go for light bites! Chili’s
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.