I grew up in a moderately small town. Large enough that there was plenty to do, but small enough that there were only a few restaurants on our side of town. This meant that I frequented one particular chain restaurant quite regularly: Applebee’s. So many of my high school memories involve sitting at the high top tables by the bar in our local Applebee’s restaurant. It was about 1.5 miles away from my high school (and only about 2 miles from my childhood home), so it really was our go-to for any social or family gathering. And being a “regular”, we all had our favorite dishes:
On cold, rainy (or snowy) Saturdays over our lunch break from marching band practice, it was a bowl of their broccoli cheese soup (still my favorite version of the classic soup to this day).
On Thursday nights, after opening night of the school play or musical, it was the chicken fingers basket. (They had the misfortune of being one of the only places open late enough (and tolerant enough of 30+ high schoolers) for a cast party.)
On dates, or Saturday gatherings with my group of girlfiends, it was the Blackened Chicken Salad with honey mustard dressing (also my favorite version of this type of dressing to this day).
For special occasions, these were accompanied with an Oreo shake. Served in a mudslide glass, by request (ie. chocolate sauce swirled on the glass).
And for family outings with my parents and siblings, I always ended up with the Fiesta Lime Chicken.
As much as I tried to venture out and try other dishes, I always regretted not getting my old standard. And when I got it, it never failed to satisfy 150%.
Actually, back then it was called “Tequila Lime Chicken”. I guess “Fiesta” sounds more family-friendly than “Tequila”. 😉
Either way, there’s something absolutely delicious about this simple chicken dish.
It’s a moist, flavorful chicken breast – marinated in a smoky, tangy marinade featuring lime and (optional) tequila – topped with a mouth-watering creamy, savory sauce, smothered in melted cheese, all served atop a bed of tri-colored tortilla strips. The sauce and cheese seep into the tortilla strips, and you just get these perfect bites of cheesy, saucy, chickeny goodness…
Since moving away and discovering the charm of local hole-in-the-wall restaurants, my regularity at Applebee’s has dwindled. But every so often I’ll crave a Fiesta Lime Chicken. So obviously, creating a copycat recipe was a must! I was delighted to find that it was surprisingly easy, and pleases a crowd as much as it did sitting back at the high-top tables in my hometown Applebee’s.
At the restaurant, they serve it with sides of spanish rice, refried beans, and fresh pico de gallo. When making it myself, I’ll generally do the pico and one of the sides. This chicken really stands on its own, so I don’t want to cumber the dish with too many other obligatory things to eat (no matter how tasty they are, too!). I haven’t ventured into the tri-color tortilla strips, so I’ll either serve it on top of a bed of crumbled tortilla chips, or just straight on the plate.
And the leftovers make a fabulous burrito the next day – shred the chicken, use the leftover pico and rice, add some pinto beans, drizzle with any leftover suace (or make a bit more), squeeze a lime wedge over it, and voila! A 3-minute burrito bursting with delicious flavor. So doubling the recipe might not be a bad idea…one of the recipes where it’s ok to plan for leftovers.
Like my Sesame Chicken, it’s simple enough for a weeknight meal, but delicious and impressive enough for a weekend dinner party. Give it a taste, and let me know what you think!
(Marinade recipe from These Precious Days)
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 c. water
- ⅓ c. teriyaki sauce
- 2 T. lime juice
- 2 t. garlic, minced
- 1 t. Liquid Smoke
- ½ t. salt
- ¼ t. ginger
- ¼ t. tequila (optional)
- ½ cup ranch dressing
- ½ cup salsa
- 1 cup cheddar or cheddar jack cheese
- Combine all ingredients for marinade in a sealed plastic bag or a lidded container. Add chicken breasts and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator (I try to mix it up in the morning and let it marinate until dinnertime). Note: I've made this with and without tequila. The taste is superb either way.
- Heat grill to a medium-high heat. While the grill is heating, mix up the sauce ingredients. Let sit in the fridge to allow flavors to combine while you grill the chicken.
- Grill chicken breasts several minutes on each side, until cooked through.
- Cover a cookie sheet with foil. Remove chicken breasts from grill and place on cookie sheet.
- Spread ¼ cup of the sauce over each breast, and then cover each breast with ¼ cup of cheese.
- Broil chicken for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and melty and it smells so heavenly that you just can't wait another minute to devour it.
- If desired, serve chicken over ½ c. crushed tortilla chips. Excellent when served with sides of pico de gallo and spanish rice.