Who doesn’t love chili? It’s one of the most comforting foods in existence, a big bowl filled with meat, spicy sauce, and a whole slew of other ingredients. A well-made bowl of chili is a timeless American classic with nearly universal appeal, and we tracked down the restaurants that are serving America’s 25 best variations.
When you think about chili, you probably think of a little bowl filled with a soupy mixture of ground beef, tomatoes, spices, and beans topped with sour cream, cheese, and onions. While that certainly qualifies as chili, it’s far from the only kid on the block. For today’s ranking, we’re defining chili as the dish it got its name from, chili con carne; that is, chili that contains beef (or another red meat) and red chiles or chile powder, with beans, tomatoes, other spices, and toppings as optional additions. As for vegetarian chili, turkey chili, and green chili, those are rankings for another day.
Chile con carne can trace its roots to Texas, where dried beef, suet, and dried chiles were pounded into a dry mix that could be rehydrated for a quick and spicy protein fix on the trail. You can still find dried blocks of chili at some Texas groceries to this day, but the chili coming out of most Texas kitchens these days are bowls of slow-cooked beef chunks in a rich sauce made with dried chiles and not much else. No beans, no tomatoes, just meat and chiles. It’s absolutely delicious, but sadly, precious few restaurants in Texas are actually serving a proper “bowl of red.” If you want real chile con carne, you’re going to have to make it yourself (we’re especially fond of this recipe).
As for the rest of the country, you’ll find another special breed of chili in cities including Detroit and Cincinnati, where it more resembles a meat-based sauce than a stew. As this iteration (sometimes called Coney-style) was created in the early 1900s by Greek immigrants, it’s heavy on the oregano and cinnamon, and it’s primarily used to top hot dogs (in Detroit) and spaghetti (in Cincinnati). While we included some of this style of chili in our ranking, we primarily focused on the style that most of the country associates with the word “chili:” the afore-mentioned bowl of beef, beans, and a chile-based sauce.
In order to assemble our ranking, we canvassed the country for the best bowls of chili with help from sources both in print and online. In order to be considered, restaurants need to make their chili from scratch, and it has to be one of the most popular dishes on the menu, a thing of local (if not national) renown. Some of these chilis are still flying below the radar and some of them anchor the entire restaurant, but there’s no denying that the chili they’re serving is the best in America.