Fiesta Lime Chicken Salad (Applebee’s Copycat)

It’s almost a tragedy that one of my favorite recipes on Perry’s Plate was, up until now, represented by a couple of the most unappetizing photos on the site.


Wow, I was really selling it with those, wasn’t I?

Sometimes I look back at older posts and cringe, but I leave many of them alone. Why? It’s nice to see the progress I’ve made over the last four years, and it’s a good reminder that everyone has to start somewhere!

So, yes. This chicken is a copycat recipe from Applebee’s Fiesta Lime Chicken dish (formerly, Tequila Lime Chicken). It was my favorite dish back in my early college years, and I was thrilled when I saw a copycat recipe in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

My favorite part of the whole thing? That Mexi-Ranch sauce stuff mixed with the tortilla chips underneath the chicken. You know, the healthy part of the dish.

After marinating in a smoky (literally) concoction, you grill the chicken, then top it with that sauce (swoon) and some shredded cheese. Pop it into the broiler to get things nice and melty.

So what’s with all the lettuce? Well, we like to swap grains for greens at our house, so instead of serving this with rice (more carbs), it gets lightened up with some Romaine lettuce tossed with that sauce.

And avocados, because we love avocados.

One of our (yes, the kids, too) most favorite meals is a great big salad with lots of hearty toppings. A little…. OK very messy looking, but I seriously want to put my face them and not come up for air until I’m finished. Like these…

Grilled Chicken Salad with Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette
Green Bean and Egg Salad with Goat Cheese Dressing
Balsamic Grilled Chicken Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
Spicy Buffalo Chickpea Salad
Chicken Parmesan Salad
Chipotle-Roasted Vegetable Layered Salad
Ginger-Garlic Salmon + Asian Cabbage Salad

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Fiesta Lime Chicken Salad

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: About 35 minutes + marinating time


For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken fillets
1 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 teaspoon liquid mesquite smoke
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 tsp tequila (or more lime juice)

Mexi-Ranch Sauce:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt or mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
3 Tablespoons buttermilk (or 2 Tablespoons regular milk)
2 Tablespoons minced tomato (optional)
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Dash ground black pepper

You'll also need:
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar/monterey jack cheese blend
3 cups crumbled tortilla chips or baked tortilla strips
2 Romaine hearts, trimmed and chopped
Diced tomato or pico de gallo, sliced avocados, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges, for garnish


Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise, so you have really thin cuts. Combine the chicken with the rest of the ingredients in that section in a large zip top bag. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or several hours in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the Mexi-Ranch sauce in a small bowl. Chill until ready to use. (This tastes better if it sits for an hour or so before you use it.) Prep the rest of the garnishes while the chicken is marinating.

Turn on your oven broiler and preheat your BBQ grill (or stove-top grill pan) to medium-high heat. (Yes, you'll need both!) Grill chicken, flipping once, until cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Transfer chicken to a baking sheet. Spread about a tablespoon of Mexi-Ranch sauce on each breast and top with a few pinches of shredded cheese. Broil chicken for 3-4 minutes, until cheese is melted and begins to brown in spots. Let chicken rest for about 5 minutes before slicing it.

Toss the salad greens with about 1/2 cup of Mexi-Ranch sauce. Assemble salads by placing a bed of lettuce on a plate and topping it with sliced chicken, tortilla strips, diced tomato, avocados, cilantro, and lime wedges. Add more dressing if necessary.

Nat's Notes:
1. To make your own baked tortilla strips, slice corn tortillas into strips (figure one tortilla per person). Place on a baking sheet and spritz with oil. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Inspired by a recipe in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur


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17 Responses to “Fiesta Lime Chicken Salad (Applebee’s Copycat)”

  1. #
    Tenille — June 2, 2008 @ 12:29 am

    This dish was so yummy!! Thanks!


  2. #
    Sarah — June 2, 2008 @ 5:55 am

    You didn’t just post my roommates MOST FAVORITE dish EV-ER! Now I’m going to be the apartment super star!!! Thanks!


  3. #
    Rebecca — November 21, 2009 @ 2:00 am

    So, I finally got around to making this, after finding liquid smoke at W-S of all places. (What the heck is liquid smoke anyway? So weird.) But W loved the sauce so much that he ate it like dip with extra tortilla chips. Thanks for making his day!


  4. #
    Christy — February 7, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    This was wonderful, flavorful, loved it, never had it at Applebees but would make this again and again. Thanks for a flavorful recipe!


  5. #
    Breann — April 8, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

    i just made this and it was very good. my husband loves this from applebees. he thought it was really good and wants me to make it lots. thanks so much.


  6. #
    penny — October 3, 2012 @ 4:48 am

    so can i make this without the liquid smoke? or is there a substitute?


    • Natalie replied: — October 3rd, 2012 @ 11:54 am

      Hi Penny. I can’t think of a substitute that would give the same flavor. You can simply leave it out, though!

  7. #
    Loretta E — October 15, 2012 @ 5:56 am

    Wow! It looks just like the real thing! I just love salads like this.


  8. #
    Cassie — October 15, 2012 @ 7:35 am

    I love restaurant copy cat recipes. This is fabulous, Natalie!


  9. #
    Jill — October 15, 2012 @ 10:45 am

    Yes, please! I need to go out and buy some chicken and make this recipe pronto!


  10. #
    Joanne — October 15, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    All those colors and fresh vibrant flavors…it really IS a fiesta on a plate!


  11. #
    Rachel @ Baked by Rachel — October 15, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    I haven’t had a good salad in way too long. Now I need this!


  12. #
    Maura @ My Healthy 'Ohana — October 15, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    It gives me hope because my pictures look like the ones from your before, and maybe one day (after much practice) they will look like your current ones :) We also try to substitute grains for greens, as much as possible, and I feel so much more energetic when I’m not weighed down by a lot of carbs (but I can’t go no carb!)


  13. #
    Julia {The Roasted Root} — October 16, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    I have been re-photographing recipes I posted a while back and it does give me a goo crack up to see how poor some of the photographs were…I have to admit, I don’t think your old ones of this salad are bad at all! I still have a ton to learn about photography, so one day hopefully my shots will be as beautiful as yours :) Your salad looks FAN-tastic…and the melty cheese…mmmm mmmm girl!


  14. #
    Erin @ Texanerin Baking — October 21, 2012 @ 11:11 am

    Copycat recipes are so fun! This month I’ve done Chick-fil-a chicken sandwiches, Chili’s chicken crispers, and Panera mac and cheese. It feels so good to make something you can’t even get otherwise. :)

    And this looks lovely! Really fun dish. And nice that your kids love salad. I hope my kids don’t inherit my evil vegetable hating genes…


  15. #
    Lindsey — November 12, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

    WE love this. Like love, love. We actually made it a few weeks ago and have been dying to make it again. SO smart to adapt it into a salad. That’s the way we’ll make this next.


  16. #
    Mindy O — April 15, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

    Had this tonight for dinner! YUM! Fantastic!


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