You never know when the seeds of an obsession truly get planted, but I can trace my latest back to early April. That’s when I watched a clip on TikTokof a New Yorker named Julia Eisenberg asking, “Guys, where can I get the best chicken Caesar wrap in New York City?” She was resting on a pillow, talking straight to the camera. “The lettuce needs to be light in color … the chicken needs to be thin strips or chunks,” and “the dressing needs to be a 10/10 Caesar and like the perfect amount.” Suggestions quickly stacked up in the comments, and the video now has more than 90,000 views. Since then, Eisenberg, who recently changed her handle to @Juliaswrapup, has been reviewing chicken Caesar wraps and inspiring others to do the same.
In many ways, Eisenberg’s quest is no different than the amateur critics who scour the city for the best bagel or the best slice of pizza, except Eisenberg is looking for a chicken Caesar wrap, a food item that is no less common but perhaps offers a bit less romance.
Does anyone really love a chicken Caesar wrap?, I pondered, or is it just something you grab to eat when it’s convenient? Surely there must be a person or a place who makes their CCWs better than anyone else, even if nobody before Eisenberg had thought to seek them out. It didn’t take much for me to understand the appeal. Restaurants right now are filled with cronchy Caesars, and a wrapped version feels somehow quicker and dirtier. Anyplace that could get it right would be onto something, I figured.
When I started to muse about this with friends, I noticed that almost every woman I spoke to immediately understood why I was fascinated by Eisenberg’s pursuit. In contrast, the only man who seemed to perk up when I mentioned the project was my psychiatrist, though there’s a high chance he was mirroring me.
“TikTok is more female-dominated, but maybe that’s just the chicken Caesar journey,” said Eiseberg when I called her to talk about the project. “I definitely notice that most of the comments and most of my followers are female.” Eisenberg also lives in midtown, which — with its dense concentration of offices and cheap lunch spots — may well be the chicken Caesar wrap epicenter of America.
I knew after speaking with her that I would be unable to resist any longer, and that I would have to embark upon my own chicken Caesar wrap-up to satisfy the craving that had become firmly lodged in my brain for the better part of three months. I sought a lightly grilled flour tortilla filled with crisp lettuce, creamy dressing, and tender meat. Even better if it had some crunchy croutons inside, too.
How hard can it be to make a good chicken Caesar wrap?, I thought foolishly before ordering one at a Windsor Terrace café. It was pressed until it was completely warm and the heavily dressed interior became so hot that it felt like eating a chicken Caesar Reuben. Maybe this quest wouldn’t be so easy after all.
My next stop was Milano Market on the Upper East Side, a frequent recommendation among TikTok fans. The chicken was lean breast meat, and the wrap was light on the dressing, but the component parts were all there. It hardly felt special enough to recommend a trip uptown, though. My itch remained unscratched.
Soon I was eating CCWs for lunch and following that up with CCWs for dinner. Like looking for a perfect martini, the deceptive simplicity of a chicken Caesar wrap allowed for endless critical analysis, and I soon began to worry I might never find a perfect version.
My local diner, George’s, made theirs with freshly seared chicken, but it came with spring mix instead of romaine and it wasn’t fully tossed, like a real salad. Also the dressing tasted remarkably like Ken’s, which is not a compliment.
One standout came from the local pizza chain La Villa, which is the kind of place where you might find an extended family celebrating a baptism on a weekend afternoon. The chicken is roasted in the same oven as the pizza, giving it actual character, and the dressing is commendably sharp. The only weird detail: The “wrap” was more like soft pizza crust — along the lines of a thick pita — which made it feel less like a wrap and more like a gyro.
I won’t trouble you with the details of the “fancy” deli that didn’t even put lettuce into its wrap, or Panino Rustico in Bensonhurst, since you probably don’t live in the delivery zone. Instead, I will tell you where I ended up finding my personal favorite, which I learned about from yet another wildly popular clip: It comes from Bobwhite Counter on the Lower East Side, and it’s filled with fried chicken that only amplifies the crunch of the croutons and the lettuce. The wrap is soft, the interior is cool and crisp, and it might just be the best $10 I’ve spent since I started this job. If you don’t believe me, just open TikTok and read the comments.
A running list of everywhere I’ve been, week 26: