The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder. Fall is here. One of the best things about fall is the transition to different cooking. Fall is the time for soups and stews, and my favorite by far is a hot, steaming bowl of chili. Honestly, I love chili so much I eat it year-round, even in the summer. Sure, the sweat breaks out on my forehead, but it’s so worth it.
Whipped up quick on the stove or left to a long slow simmer in the crockpot, there’s nothing better than a big bowl of chili. But what exactly is chili? That’s a great question. And the answer is that it all depends on where you have it! We all know that there are regional food specialties in the United States, and that’s definitely the case for chili. Whether you refer to it as chili, chili con carne, or a bowl of red, what you may think of as chili may be totally different from what your neighbor down in Texas or up in Michigan considers chili. Read on to learn about the different types of chili offered up in your favorite city and where to get a great bowl of chili. One thing is for sure: Chili is a favorite dish all across the country. It’s so loved in the United States that there’s even a national chili day each year in February honoring the dish.
Where, exactly, chili originated is up for debate. Some say it originated in Mexico. Some say the Spanish are to thank for chili. Others cite the chuckwagon cooks of the long American cattle drives that usually took off from Texas. In fact, most food historians agree that chili as we know it originated in Texas. I doubt we’ll ever have a definitive answer as to where chili originated, but thank goodness it did! Life without chili would be a very bland life indeed. Here, in no particular order, are some U.S. cities that serve up awesome chili and where to get it. Enjoy!
1. Austin, Texas
Texas-style chili or Texas Red, as locals call it, is a chili made with stew meat, chiles, and spices. If you go to Texas for a bowl, don’t expect any beans in your chili! Beans in Texas-style chili are strictly forbidden here. In keeping with tradition, there are never beans or tomatoes in Texas chili. Texas chili is so iconic that president Lyndon B. Johnson is known to have said, “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing. One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.”
Where should you get a bowl of true Texas chili in Austin? Try the Texas Chili Parlor. This iconic restaurant has been around since 1976. Located right next to the capitol building in Austin, it’s one of those places affectionately deemed a hole in the wall, but in a good way! They serve up many different kinds of chili, and we recommend going for the house chili with your choice of three heat levels X, XX, or XXX. While you’re at the Texas Chili Parlor, you might find the chili topping another dish -- the portable, fun take on a traditional bowl of chili: the Frito Pie. This super casual concoction is a fair and ballpark favorite. Basically, it starts with a bag of Fritos. Then, dump in a scoop of the chili, top with all your favorite fixings like sour cream, salsa, jalapenos, lettuce, and shredded cheese, grab a fork, and dig in!
2. Santa Fe, New Mexico
In New Mexico, they are wild about not only chili but also chiles! The state specialty, Chile Verde, is a popular type of chili featuring pork marinated in a green chili sauce. The sauce is unique, and lots of cooks put their own spin on it, some using tomatillos jalapeno and some using the famous hatch chile peppers that are so popular, especially in the Southwest U.S. Sometimes this chile verde sauce is the end product, and other times the chili verde is taken and combined with other ingredients to make a green chili stew. Green chili stew has the base of the chili verde and also features ingredients like potatoes. But make no mistake, in either dish, the real standout is the chiles.
One place that serves up all sorts of chile dishes is the James Beard Foundation Award Winner, The Shed. The Shed is a Santa Fe institution that opened way back in 1953 and still manages to fill its tables with tourists and locals alike. So busy is this restaurant that it’s known as being one of the hardest Santa Fe restaurants to walk into without a reservation. If you want to try your luck with no reservation, wander over to the bar and try one of their house-made margaritas. You’ll also enjoy the traditional tiled courtyard as well as the adobe building that dates back to the 1600s. The restaurant is a true piece of Santa Fe history that is just as good now as it was back when it opened. Try the spicy Green Chile Stew.
3. Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati likes to do things differently with their chili. While Cincinnati chili is a regular beef-bean-tomato-onion, it’s how it’s served that makes it different. There’s no bowl here; instead, Cincinnati chili is served over the top of spaghetti. And, you have to know the right way to order your Cincinnati chili. Order 2-way to get a bed of spaghetti topped with beefy chili; an order of 3-way adds cheddar cheese to the spaghetti topped chili. An order of 4-way adds onions or beans to the concoction, and 5-way adds both beans and onions. I’d go for the 6-way, which includes it all, including fried jalapeno caps. Where to go for chili in Cincinnati? Try the classic chili spot, Blue Ash Chili, which has been open since the late 1960s and has three locations in town. Feeling brave? Try their No Freakin’ Way Challenge, where you’ll be presented with a full 8-pound plate of Cincinnati chili, complete with 2 pounds of cheddar cheese and 1 pound of jalapeno caps. If you can clean your plate within an hour, it’s free. If you fail, you’ll owe $39.99!
4. Indianapolis, Indiana
Chili served in Indianapolis, also called Hoosier chili, usually contains beef and beans along with V8 juice and brown sugar so it has a sweeter flavor. The thing that is really unique about some Indiana-style chili is the addition of pasta to the chili. It’s debatable why pasta was first added to chili -- either to cut the heat or to stretch the batch of chili. They like to serve chili on top of spaghetti as well, but if that’s not your thing, you can get yours in a bowl. Try Nick’s Chili Parlor, where you can get their “not yet world famous” chili sauce atop spaghetti, in a bowl, on a hot dog or foot-long, or over fries. And you can order it with or without beans; the choice is yours.
5. Kansas City, Kansas
Kansas City is home to the Midwestern classic chili style made with ground beef, tomatoes, red kidney beans, and milder spices. For one of the best places to get a bowl of great chili in Kansas City, try Woodyard Bar-B-Que. Try the burnt-end chili that put them on the map. It’s been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and also No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. In addition, their chili has been featured in “500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late” and Food and Wine’s “Best Chilis in America!” For all you dog lovers out there, Woodyard BBQ is totally dog friendly and welcomes pups to run around in their fully enclosed and totally free dog park. Your dogs can play outside while you enjoy the chili!
6. Colorado Springs, Colorado
If you’re in the Rocky Mountains and need something hearty after a day outside on the slopes, how about a bowl of rocky mountain chili to get you warm and satisfy your hunger pangs. The Rocky Mountain version of chili is a pretty standard type of chili with beans, canned tomatoes, and chiles for heat. However, the big difference is in the meat. This type of chili is likely to contain wild meats like elk, deer, and antelope rather than beef. Try Thunder and Buttons for a great bowl of elk chili.
7. Detroit, Michigan
The chili you’re likely to find in Detroit is more like a chili sauce than a thick bowl of chili, and it’s most often served atop hotdogs at places like American Coney Island and other hot dog stands in Detroit. Try the American Coney Island for a delicious coney dog topped with Detroit chili. You can also get the chili on the house-made chili fries!