Inside the history of Caesar salad — the world-famous salad that just turned 100

Immensely popular in the States, the iconic salad actually enjoyed its early beginnings in Tijuana

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published July 11, 2024 11:00AM (EDT)

Caesar Salad (Getty Images/Anna Blazhuk)
Caesar Salad (Getty Images/Anna Blazhuk)

Fourth of July may be best known as a national holiday commemorating the establishment of the United States, but it’s also a big day for what is hailed as the “king of salads”: Caesar salad. This year, the iconic medley of romaine lettuce, croutons and Parmesan cheese celebrated turning 100 years old.

The salad is said to have been created by Cesare Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated several restaurants in Mexico and the United States. It was at Cardini’s restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, Caesar’s Place, where the first-ever Caesar salad was served on July 4, 1924, to local patrons. Short on ingredients in the kitchen due to a Fourth of July rush, the earliest iteration of the salad was made purely from leftovers. Cardini combined whole Romaine leaves, garlic-flavored oil, Worcestershire sauce, lemons, eggs and Parmesan cheese into a tasty meal. It quickly became a huge hit, especially amongst Californians who crossed the border to dine — and drink — at Cardini’s restaurant amid prohibition.

History, for the most part, credits Cardini with the inception of Caesar salad, but other accounts claim otherwise. Some say that Cardini's brother, Alex Cardini, made the salad, which he served as breakfast to airmen from a San Diego base after they enjoyed a booze-filled night. Alex, who was a pilot during World War I, aptly named his creation “Aviator Salad.” His salad included the addition of anchovies and was later re-named Caesar Salad after it rose in popularity. Other accounts state the salad was actually created by the mother of Livio Santini, one of Cardini’s chefs.

As for Cardini, his Caesar salad was often prepared tableside throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The salad was intended to be finger food, in which diners could pick up individual hearts of romaine lettuce and chew it down. Many customers, however, didn’t like getting their hands dirty, so Cardini ultimately swapped the lettuce hearts for torn pieces of lettuce. In their joint cooking show “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” Julia Child and Jacques Pepin said it’s a shame the salad is now eaten with a fork and knife: “Too bad, since the salad lost much of its individuality and drama. You can certainly serve it the original way at home — just provide your guests with plenty of big paper napkins. And plan to be extravagant.”

Cardini was adamant about staying true to his original recipe. In a 1987 interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, his daughter Rosa Cardini explained that her father only used the inner leaves of Romaine lettuce and made sure they were crisp, dry and cold. He also used a coddled egg, which made for an extra creamy dressing. Additionally, Cardini swore by using the “best and freshest ingredients,” including lemons, olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan.  

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Nearly 30 years after it was first introduced, the Caesar salad became a widely acclaimed dish. By 1953, the salad was recognized as “the greatest recipe to originate in the Americas in the past 50 years” by the International Society of Epicures in Paris.

Today, approximately 35% of U.S. restaurants include Caesar salad on their menus, and nearly 43 million bottles of Caesar salad dressing — or $150 million worth — have been sold nationally over the past year, according to the AP.

Caesar salad was recently celebrated with a four-day food and wine festival in Tijuana. The festivity featured live music and chefs from around the world, including Jose Andrés, along with a grand unveiling of a statue of Cardini.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Caesar Cardini Caesar Salad Centenary Explainer Food News Fourth Of July History Salads Tijuana