Recipe: Tao Tao Chicken Salad

Going to Tao Tao Restaurant was always a treat reserved for a special night with my grandma. As a child, I remember going in the back entrance and waiting while the pretty ladies in red satin dresses would seat us. I remember the rocks and plants by the back door, and the tiny Chinese sculpture in the small alcove, and the shiny enameled screens with inlays of pheasants embroidered in silk. But more than anything, I remember the first salad I ever fell in love with.

Tao Tao Tossed Chicken Salad is the single item on their menu for which they are most famous. It’s also a recipe I’ve been trying to get right at home for nearly a decade now- the entire time since moving from California. I have finally gotten it. NO JOKE. It’s a lot of work, but when you live 3000 miles from your favorite Chinese place, it’s worth it. No mandarin oranges, no ramen noodles, no mini corn, no mayonnaise- this Chicken Salad is simply perfection in a bowl.

Consider this my gift to you.

Tao Tao Chicken Salad

For the Salad:

  • 1 head finely shredded fresh iceberg lettuce
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped, no stems
  • 3-4 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3-4 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces thin cellophane rice noodles
  • 4 chicken breast tenders, crisp-fried and chopped (recipe below)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For the dressing- it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough. You just barely want the lettuce coated, shake the following together in a small jar or whisk in a bowl:

  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp TOASTED sesame oil (ridiculously important)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dry asian mustard

First thing I do is prep and fry the chicken and cellophane noodles. To do that, I soak the four tenders in about a cup of buttermilk for an hour. While it’s soaking, mix in a plastic bag the following: 1 cup flour, 2 tsp Morton’s Season All, 2 tsp of powdered chicken broth bouillon, 2 tsp onion powder 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning and 1 tsp fresh black pepper. Toss the chicken in the bag, shake to coat, and fry in the oil you have heated to 375 in either your fryer, or in a deep pot on the stove. Tenders cook quickly- usually 5-6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Take your time doing this part: While the oil is still hot, break your cellophane noodles into manageable pieces. I sometimes use scissors for this, as dry, they are quite tough. Usually cellophane noodles are soaked in hot water and served soft. For this, we are going to toss them, dry from the package, in very small bunches, into hot oil. They will puff up almost immediately. Make sure you do it in small bunches, flip them, and remove them promptly. Uncooked cellophane noodles are tough and inedible, but fried, they become delicate, tender little crunchy darlings. You will have quite the pile of white crunchy noodles when you’re done. (buy them in the asian section of any market).

Now that your frying is done and the dressing is made, you can get to making the salad.

In a large bowl, toss the shredded lettuce, chopped cilantro (yes, the whole bunch), scallions, sesame seeds and cashews together. Top with the chopped cooling (but still warm) chicken and the pile of white crunchy cellophane noodles.

Drizzle the entire amount of dressing over the salad, and toss thoroughly with some tongs or with your hands. It will be very lightly dressed, but this is a good thing.

Transfer to a pretty bowl, and if you feel fancy, top with a few choice cilantro sprigs and some whole cashews. ENJOY!!


These are uncooked cellophane noodles. You will use maybe 1/2 of one bunch:

GET TOASTED sesame oil, not plain. Plain is just oil, toasted is a strongly flavored condiment:

62 thoughts on “Recipe: Tao Tao Chicken Salad

  1. Thanks a mill for this recipe!!!! We miss Tao Tao chicken salad so much!!! The best!
    Can’t wait to try this recipe!!
    Now if we could only get the recipe for Stan’s doughnuts in Santa Clara we’d be set!

  2. I’ve tried to replicate Tao Tao Chicken Salad a dozen times, and my best effort is really close to this recipe.. (mine lacked the sesame seeds & the scallion, and I found I prefer thigh meat) I’m sure this will be delicious & I look forward to making this. Thanks so much for sharing it. You have no idea how much I miss Tao Tao….
    (got a Tao Tao Beef recipe, btw?)

  3. Thank you so much! I had this salad while in Sunnyvale back in the 80s, and have NEVER forgotten it. I was looking at an Asian Chicken Salad recipe online and it didn’t sound that appealing to me – I thought to myself, I wish I could have that salad I had in Sunnyvale once 25 years ago! So started googling, and I think I found it. Business associates took us there on a business trip; said that was their signature dish, so I’m assuming we went to Tao Tao’s. I cannot wait to try this – I can’t fry worth a darn, but fortunately my other half can, so I’ll get him to fry the chicken and I’ll take care of the rest. I am going to follow the recipe to a tee.

  4. This really is the Chicken Salad from Tao Tao In Sunnyvale. Don’t know how you got this recipe but it is fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing

  5. Thanks, Nancy. I didn’t get the recipe from them- I live on the east coast now, and I did a TON of trial and error in order to finally hit on it! Glad you like it.

  6. I too have been seeking the Tao Tao chicken salad recipe for decades having eaten at Tao Tao once a week for more than 20 years… My favorite childhood restaurant with many special memories. Agree we also need to figure out Tao Tao Beef recipe as well. Thanks so much!

  7. I grew up going to Tao Tao with my Grandparents for special occasions. Getting all dressed up and having our whole family seated in the back corner table. When I was a child we were always served by Frank (the current owner). My family moved away from the Bay Area when I was 11. When my mom has business in Sunnyvale she stops by Tao Tao to picks me up a Large Shredded Chicken Salad to bring home to Portland.

  8. Yep, this is the real deal! I made this over the weekend and my husband proclaimed it delicious and a huge success. Even the picky 12 yr old loved it! We live in OR now so we miss Tao Tao a lot. Thanks for all the work figuring this one out!

  9. Thank you for this recipe!! Tao Tao is my favorite Chinese Restaurant and I too have moved far, far away and miss it. You just can’t find good Chinese food in Indiana…so far! That said…my taste senses always told me that there was a hint of dry mustard in the salad. Does anyone else get that sensation?

    • Greg,
      There is dry mustard in the dressing. It’s listed in her recipe. I know, because i just made this again for dinner last night! I actually upped the amount of mustard to 1 tsp because my husband said the 1/2 tsp wasn’t enough mustard flavor in the first batch I made. Last night, I baked the chicken w/ panko crust to avoid the extra oil in frying and it came out just the same. I had leftover fried vermicelli noodles from the last batch that I kept in the fridge, so no need for oil this time around.

      It’s pretty darn close to Tao Tao’s recipe, and a keeper for sure!

  10. I too a long time ago (maybe 30 years ago), use to go to Tao Tao and always enter through the back door (because the parking lot was there and it was convenient as well), and you described the back entrance so elegantly and to a tee!.

    My wife made this recipe and I swear its the same! Wow! Congrats! But I remembered that it wasn’t my favor dish, it was the Press Almond Duck, Tao Tao Mongolian Beef, Lemon Chicken, and fried rice. mmmmmmmmmmm!!!!

    Thank you and thank you for sharing this valuable recipe!

  11. I lived in the area in the early 90s. I love the chicken salad and Tao Tao beef!!! I also remember the back door entrance, which I believe was the only entrance for a while. The town center was being remodeled so the front was blocked off for construction. We ate there about once a week. Moved back to Dallas in 94 and could not find anything close to the chicken salad!! Thank you for sharing the fruits of your labor in reproducing it!!! I have visited the bay area many times since returning to Dallas and EVERY time found a way to go to TaoTao I am going to make it TODAY.

  12. LOVE Tao Tao. I live in Texas now and my mom and I were lamenting on how much we miss the Chinese Chicken Salad. My mom owned Travel Advisors at Town and Country we ate at Tao Tao often. I cannot wait to try this!!!

  13. Chuck Dutton said: Started frequenting Tao Tao around the early 70’s. Ming’s in Palo Alto also had a tasty chicken salad but lost the recipe when they moved from The El Camino Real to the Embarcadero & Hwy 101. Tao Tao became a favorite watering hole for many elite after hour sales types and the bar specialty was and still is today their famous Mai Tai’s. I’ve noticed on return trips to Tao Tao the consistency (taste) varies depending on the day of the week you visit. Always good, but some days better than others. Entering via the back door added to the omvionce and the sight and smell of the kitchen at work. Will always be my top priority when anywhere close.

  14. Oh Thank You so much for your efforts! I know how much you must have enjoyed it to work so hard to decipher the recipe.
    I’ll be following your recipe tomorrow.
    A long-since-closed Chinese Restaurant on Castro St. in Mtn View (China Garden) had a similarly popular dish named “generals chicken” back in the mid 80’s. And it was nothing like the multitude of similarly named dishes from many other restaurants. I’ve been trying to duplicate it for decades, and have only gotten close.

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I use to go to Sunnyvale for work in the last 70’s and always had to get the Tao Tao chicken salad. I have tried numerous other recipes and the dressing just wasn’t right. I also wasn’t putting in enough cilantro! I just tried an Asia chicken salad at Pei Wei hoping it might be something like the Tao Tao. FAIL. It had a sticky, overly sweet sauce and was just awful. I will try this over the weekend. Does the Tao Tao restaurant still exist?

  16. After a long hot Sacramento day, I thought this would be perfect. Thanks sooo much for your time and great effort in reproducing this favorite. I couldn’t find dry asian mustard at my local market. The clerk told me the Chinese mustard in a jar (a paste-like texture) would work. Can i substitute this type only decrease the amount? Thanks :)

  17. I think you probably can, Christina- I would just add a little and see how it tastes. I’m not sure if it’s equal measure for replacement. Taste and try it out!

  18. Oh how I miss this salad! I live in New Hampshire now. Will try this recipe. NO ONE ANYWHERE has anything even close to Tao Tao Restaurants delicious salad.

  19. I finally made this the other night. I left out the sesame seeds because I forgot them and was too tired and hungry to toast them when I realized it! Because I live alone, I knew this would be a multi-meal dish so I didn’t add the cashews and fried noodles but kept them separate in zip lock bags and added them at serving time, I admit that I doubled the dressing because it was so yummy. I have to say that I think the recipe is right on!!! Thanks again!

  20. Holy Cow!! I can’t believe I found this recipe! I was going to check with when I thought to Google Tao Tao Restaurant. What a great surprise to find your recipe. I lived in Sunnyvale area for about 18 years before moving back to Oregon 15 years ago. Can NOT wait to try this!!! I am SO excited! Can’t wait to call my best friend in Los Angeles who introduced me to Tao Tao Chicken Salad back in 1982! She’ll flip when I send her the recipe! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING!!! I’m sure my husband will thank you, too! And ditto on the Tao Tao Beef! =))

  21. Carol, ate lunch today at Tao Tao. Fridays they serve corn chowder, I love that soup as well as their wor wonton soup. You must include their special Tao Tao beef.

  22. I just googled Tao Tao Chicken Salad and gratefully got your recipe. Thank you for shortcutting the many hours I would have tried napa cabbage and many other combinations. Who knew…chicken tenders?
    I have always thought they missed the boat: they should have started a chain of chicken salad drive through restaurants. It’s the perfect meal….truly!
    Thanks so much!

  23. So excited to finally find a recipe for this salad! I have tried to re create this for years now, since moving away from California, most attempts have turned out okay, but never as fabulous as the original.
    Cannot wait to try it. Thank you Tracy!

  24. I will be making this tomorrow. I lived in Santa Clara in the 80’s, and loved this chicken salad.. and tried all the ‘wanna be’ recipes.. am SO excited!

  25. Made it, and it was an resounding hit with the whole family – who had never been to Tao Tao’s. Need to work on the chicken tenders.. mine didn’t stay crisp. And, I doubled the dressing. I can’t thank you enough for the recipe.. will share with all salad lovers out there.

  26. Wow, amazing weblog format! How long have you ever been blogging for?
    you make running a blog look easy. The overall look of your site is great, let alone the
    content material!

  27. I fry the noodles first in the fresh oil and they turn out perfect after a couple of seconds–then onto the chicken after making sure the oil is at 375 degrees again.
    This last time I tried making the noodles and chicken in advance so no clean up after the meal and it was just as good.

  28. We used to go there and enter from the back .
    Mr Frank would greet us and seat us

    I miss those dinners…thanks for the recipe

  29. I, too, grew up in Sunnyvale and it was a family affair eating at TaoTao more then 50 years ago. It has evolved into a bigger, fancier place, but the food is the same. I came up with a chicken salad recipe on my own (very similar to the one on this page), but the beef was always a mystery. I recently came across this recipe for Ming’s Beef and it is quite close to TaoTao’s if not the same. I’m happy to pass this along to everyone who loves TaoTao Beef as much as I do.

    2 T. cornstarch
    2 T. sherry
    2 T. soy sauce
    2 T. oil (? sesame)
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 T. sliced ginger root
    2 T. sugar
    1 1/2 lb. flank steak, sliced thin across the grain
    4 oz. cellophone noodles
    peanut oil for frying cellophane noodles
    Mix first 7 ingredients and toss with the flank steak. Refrigerate for at least 15 min.
    Heat peanut oil until very hot. Test a small piece of noodle. When it puffs quickly and floats to the top, add the noodles. They should puff immediately so be ready with a slotted spoon to transfer them to paper towels to drain. Make sure ALL noodles are puffed.
    Heat 2-3 T. oil in pan. Remove ginger root from marinade. Add meat mixture to pan and stir fry 2 min. or until meat changes color.
    Add 1/4 C. oyster sauce (hoisin) and cook for an addition 1 – 2 min. Serve over fried noodles.

    When I made this I was not sure about the oyster sauce as it is very salty. I put it on a couple of pieces of meat and didn’t think it was like TaoTao’s. I then tossed it with hoisin and felt it was much better and closer to TaoTao’s.

    Hint – I once asked a TaoTao waiter what the main ingredient was in the beef and he said hoisin.

    • I heard chef chu’s has a very similar salad recipe too. In fact it’s my understanding Mings, chef Chu’s and Tao Tao were business partners in the early years till a disagreement split them. Also there’s a restaurant in south San Jose that is very very similar to Tao Taos. In fact there dinner combo is 99% the same items. There house of chu special beef is just love me Tao Tao beef in taste, presentation and popularity. There chicken salad is close, if not spot on at “house of chu” in south San Jose.

      • I am so excited I found this recipe! I was looking for a similar one to the House Of Chu’s in San Jose but didn’t think I would find the recipe. I’m in Austin and you just can’t get great chicken salad out here, like this recipe!! Thank you soooo much!!!

      • Hi Alycia, I hope the salad reminds you of House of Chu. I think house of Chu must be associAted with Chef Chus from decades ago. Let us know what you think…..

      • I have made this 20 times and I decided to do the noodles in advance and they are great. Also, I add a lot more hot mustard as when I have gotten it at Tao Tao’s it is more spicy. Last time I made my neighbor had leftover Tao Tao’s from the restaurant and he tried mine and he was totally impressed but we both agreed more mustard. Actually the best mustard is that one gets with carryout Chinese and now I ask for lots more to have on hand.

    • Leslie, when you did your Tao Tao beef, did you use oyster sauce or hoisin or both? And did you use sesame or veg oil in the Marinade?

      • I tested the beef with both oyster sauce and hoisin. I found the oyster to be too salty. The hoisin was much better. I used peanut oil, but next time I will try sesame oil, or maybe a combo of both. Good luck and tell me if you like it.

      • I agree the oyster was way to salty. In fact my hubby rarely had TT beef that when he had it a few weeks ago, he said he tasted hoisen. Also did you stir fry just the meat or meat and marinade and wait for marinade to evaporate? Lastly was your peanut oil addition for the marinade or frying of the glass cello noodle ? I can’t wait to try.

      • I have no doubt about the hoisin, either.
        The Ming’s beef recipe that I have does not specify what kind of oil that is in the marinade, but I would use sesame oil. It says to remove meat from marinade and discard the ginger, so I would not add the marinade to the meat while cooking. It says to add the (hoisin) at the end when the meat is nearly cooked thru. Hope this helps. Would love to hear how it turns out.

      • Oh my apologies I miss the part of discarding the marinade. I will try sesame oil in marinade. Did you use skirt steak, as recipe states? last time I added the marinade (w/out ginger) and it “stewed” the meat and ended up overlooking beef as it took time to reduce the marinade. As soon as I do a trial I’ll be sure an update :) (within the week I’m planning to)

  30. I did try this recipe which I got on the internet world. I used both oyster and hoisin and way ti salty. I’ll try next time with hoisen only and see how it goes.

  31. Alycia, for fried cellophane noodles… In case it’s hard to find, it may have names like “sotanghon” noodles (Filipino), “tanghon” (Chinese), crystal noodles, glass noodles. Most Are wrapped in a pink netting in Asian mRkets or in Asian aisles in regular grocery stores. Fry one bundle. I tried to cut and it’s very very very (almost impossible to cut). Make extra as they look good under a stir fry type of dish.

    Daniel, thanks for the mustard tidbit. I was using mustard powder but now I can use those ever growing sauce packets. :)

    • All Chinese markets have thin rice noodles that are perfect–should be about $2.00 for a large package that will make 10 plus chicken salads–use scissors to cut them when they are dry.

    • Dealing with the dry noodles is the hardest part of this entire recipe. They are tough as wire when dry. I tried cutting them and had shards of wiry noodles shooting all over the kitchen! All over the stove, the floor, IN MY HAIR, down my blouse, behind the refrigerator…you get the picture!, It was only funny AFTER I got them all cleaned up. Pulling them apart wasn’t much better. I finally found some at an oriental market that had been coiled into smaller pieces. I can drop the whole ball into the oil and POOF! they are done. They are a pain, but they are essential to the recipe IMHO.

      • Grace, great description of your experience. That was exactly my same experience. If it’s cello noodle type, it’s like that… Like wires lol.

        Bob, I never tried rice stick noodles. I know Tao Tao uses the fried cellophane noodles. I’ve never proof fried rice stick noodles which I beleive are not transparent. I cook with both, so I’ll do a bit of trail with your rice stick noodle.
        Ps thanks for the Chinese mustard packet idea :)

      • I’ve use Rice Noodles for this and they puff up the second they hit the oil just like the cellophane noodles. I think they are little more delicate and fragile than the fried cellophane ones but taste and look really close. They resemble wire when dried too, so head the backyard if want to cut them . You definitely want to store the fried rice noodles in a ziplock bag and only add at serving time if you are making them ahead or have left-over salad for the next day. OMG, now I’m craving TTCCS! But, I can’t have it right now! I had oral surgery yesterday and am on soup, mashed potatoes, ice cream and scrambled eggs for now. Let the healing begin so I can make and devour TTCCS!

      • Oh now I’m really looking forward to trying rice noodles. Secretly I fry extra as I like to eat as a crunchy snack. Well since you had oral surgery, you can envision this salad ad your first meal after full recovery ;) let me know how it comes out

  32. OMG! I was so excited to find your recipe! Tao Tao is the best. I live 3 hours away from Sunnyvale, so dont get there too often.
    When my friends where I live tell me…”oh go to here or there and order their chicken Salad, its the best”, I just shake my head and think to myself…’you have no idea’.
    Thank you so much for sharing this gem!

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