Quesadilla Explosion Salad (Chili’s Copycat Recipe)

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Make my Quesadilla Explosion Salad when you don’t feel like going out to eat! Inspired by the quesadilla explosion salad from Chili’s, it’s bursting with fresh ingredients and flavors. Toasted cheese quesadillas, flavorful chicken, a spicy dressing, homemade corn salad, and plenty of mixed greens come together to create something totally drool-worthy!!

titled: Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad


Quesadilla Explosion Salad

If you love quesadillas and chicken, you’re going to love this quesadilla explosion salad!

The name really says it all… it’s like a quesadilla exploded all over a big bowl of greens. 

I just love a big ol’ loaded salad. Some of my other favorites include my BBQ chicken salad, broccoli salad with bacon, and my taco salad!

They’re filled with veggies but are so much better than your average garden salad. 

This recipe was, of course, inspired by Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad.

Crunchy cheese quesadillas, pan-grilled chicken, homemade corn salsa, crispy tortilla strips, shredded cheese, and spicy chipotle ranch dressing come together to create something totally tasty.

At first glance, it looks like this recipe is full of a lot of steps. But trust me, it doesn’t take long to make! Once you get going, it should only take about 35 minutes. Score!!

ingredients for chili's quesadilla explosion salad recipe

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Chicken Breast – I like using chicken breast best because it’s easiest to find and work with! If you want a shortcut, you could use rotisserie chicken instead.

    If you do go that route, I still recommend sautéing it in some taco seasoning before adding it to the salad.
  • Vegetables – You’ll need frozen sweet corn, bell pepper, Roma tomatoes, and red onion to create the homemade corn salsa, plus some mixed salad greens as the base of your quesadilla salad.
  • Lime Juice  – Also for the corn salsa! I like freshly squeezed lime juice myself, though you can use bottled if you have it on hand.
  • Tortillas – We’re making the quesadillas from scratch for our quesadilla explosion salad! Use flour tortillas for the best results.
  • Colby Jack Cheese – To add to the cheese quesadillas and on top of the assembled salad.

    Feel free to experiment with other cheeses! Pepper Jack and cheddar are some good options.

No matter what kind you use, shred it yourself! Pre-shredded varieties just don’t melt as well.

  • Crispy Tortilla Strips – As a garnish for your quesadilla explosion salad. Make your own or buy some from the store!
  • Chipotle Ranch Dressing – You can use your favorite brand — there are plenty of options out there.
  • Vegetable Oil – To cook the chicken and cheese quesadillas. I like canola best.
  • Seasonings – You’ll need taco seasoning, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper.
cooking chicken cutlets in a skillet with oil

Tips and Tricks to Make the Perfect Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

  • Assemble the salad just before serving.

This is one of those recipes that is best served fresh.

Once your chicken is cooked and your quesadillas are done, start to assemble them along with the other ingredients in a large bowl.

The corn salsa can be made in advance and stored in the fridge — in fact, it’s even tastier if the flavors have the chance to meld together.

Otherwise, plan to make and serve your quesadilla explosion salad right away!

  • Make sure to cook the quesadillas until crispy.

One of the best parts about a quesadilla explosion salad from Chili’s is that the quesadillas are almost always nice and crispy! 

Aim to cook yours until the exterior becomes golden brown and toasted.

Not only will it taste delicious, but the texture will also add a bit of contrast to the other ingredients. 

  • Upgrade your quesadilla salad.

There are a couple of extra steps you can take to make your Chili’s quesadilla explosion salad even better!

Consider letting the chicken marinate in the taco seasoning for at least 30 minutes before cooking for a more pronounced flavor. 

And instead of frozen kernels, you could also use corn on the cob or char the corn before adding it to the homemade salsa. 

Both are totally optional, but if you have the time, it’s worth your while!

Prep Ahead

  • Defrost and drain corn
  • Shred the cheese
  • Dice vegetables for salsa

Kitchen Tools You Will Need

  • Skillet – This is my go-to pan that I’ve had for over a decade! It heats evenly and cleans up beautifully with a little baking soda so it still looks brand new.
  • Mixing Bowls – I like to have a variety of sizes on hand, and this set has them all.
corn salsa in a mixing bowl

Serving Suggestions 

Remember to serve your quesadilla explosion salad from Chili’s immediately after assembly for the best, freshest results.

If you’d like to add some extra toppings, go for it! I love avocado slices, black beans, and jalapenos. 

This salad makes for a full meal on its own, but it would taste great with some Mexican rice, guacamole, and chips, or some chicken and cheese taquitos on the side!

browning a cheese quesadilla in a skillet

Storage and Reheating

Make sure to only assemble as many salads as you need. Leftover chicken, corn salsa, and cheese quesadillas can be stored separately in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days. If you store them together with your mixed greens, you’ll end up with a mushy mess!

You can use your oven to reheat the chicken and quesadillas. Preheat to 350°F and heat for 10-15 minutes or until warmed through.

Quesadilla Salad Recipe FAQ

Can I use a different cut of chicken?

Sure! As mentioned, I like using chicken breast to make my quesadilla explosion salad from Chili’s because it’s easiest… I honestly always have a pack in the fridge or freezer. But, you can certainly use whatever chicken you prefer or have on hand.

Can I make the cheese quesadillas ahead of time?

Absolutely! This recipe is a great way to use up any leftover quesadillas you have in the fridge. Note that it’s best to reheat them just before assembling your Chili’s quesadilla explosion salad so they’re nice and crispy. 

Can I make this salad vegetarian-friendly?

Yes, you can! Instead of chicken, you can use black beans, chickpeas, or even tofu. Prepare your plant-based substitute with taco seasoning all the same, and you’ll get the same flavors. Alternatively, if protein isn’t a huge priority, simply omit the chicken without replacing it with something else.

closeup of chili's quesadilla explosion salad

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top view of Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Donna Elick
My version of Quesadilla Explosion Salad is so easy to make at home! Tasty, full of flavor, and just as good (if not better!!) as Chili’s!
5 stars from 1 review
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Method Stovetop
Servings 4


For the chicken:

  • 24 ounces chicken breast cutlets, 4 6 ounce cutlets
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the corn salsa:

  • 12 ounce bag sweet corn, defrosted and drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the cheese quesadillas:

  • 4 8 inch flour tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded colby jack cheese
  • vegetable oil, for cooking

For the salad:

  • 8 cups mixed salad greens, romaine lettuce and mixed greens
  • 1 cup shredded colby jack cheese
  • 1 cup corn salsa, recipe below
  • 1/2 cup crispy tortilla strips
  • 3/4 cup chipotle ranch dressing
  • 4 cheese quesadillas, cut into fourths (recipe below)


For the chicken:

  • Rub the chicken breast cutlets with taco seasoning on both sides.
  • In a skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the seasoned chicken cutlets and cook for 6-7 minutes per side, or until fully cooked. Remove them from the skillet and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before slicing into strips. Set aside.

For the corn salsa:

  • In a medium bowl, combine the defrosted sweet corn, diced red bell pepper, diced roma tomatoes, diced red onion, chopped fresh cilantro, and lime juice.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste, mix well, cover, and set aside.

For the cheese quesadillas:

  • Place a tortilla on a flat surface and sprinkle a quarter cup of shredded colby jack cheese on half of the tortilla.
  • Fold the tortilla in half over the cheese to create a half-moon shape.
  • Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and lightly coat with vegetable oil.
  • Place the filled tortilla in the skillet and cook until the bottom is golden brown and the cheese is melting.
  • Flip the quesadilla and cook the other side until golden brown and the cheese is completely melted.
  • Remove from the skillet and repeat with the remaining tortillas and cheese. Allow the quesadillas to rest for 2 minutes, then cut them into thirds. Set aside.

For salad assembly:

  • On a large platter or four individual salad plates, add the mixed green lettuce.
  • Top with the corn salsa, followed by the shredded colby jack cheese, and sliced chicken. Arrange the quesadillas around the salad, and top with the crispy tortilla strips.
  • Serve with the chipotle ranch on the side or drizzle over top of the salads. Enjoy!

Donna’s Notes

Leftover chicken, corn salsa, and cheese quesadillas can be stored separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The salad assembly is best prepared just before serving to maintain the freshness and crispness of the ingredients.
To reheat the chicken and quesadillas, place them in a preheated oven at 350°F (175°C) for 10-15 minutes or until heated through.
You can prepare the corn salsa a day in advance and store it in the refrigerator. This allows the flavors to meld together and intensify for a tastier salsa.
Feel free to add avocado slices, black beans, or jalapeños to the salad assembly for extra flavor and texture.
Experiment with different cheese varieties such as pepper jack or cheddar for the quesadillas to suit your taste preferences.


Serving: 1 | Calories: 692cal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 59g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 173mg | Sodium: 897mg | Sugar: 8g | Fiber: 4g | Calcium: 533mg | Iron: 3mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad - PIN

Originally published April 2024

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  1. 5 stars
    This is one of my favorite salads at any restaurant and I was so excited to see you post a copycat! It was worth the work! Oh my goodness it is so good, and I can say it is even better than the one at Chili’s! Thank you Donna, I will be making this all the time and saving money too!

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