These 25 Restaurants Serve the Best Chili in America
February 8, 2017
Want to get your chili fix? These restaurants are must-visits
These 25 Restaurants Serve the Best Chili in America
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.
#25 The Original Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington DC
The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door (and its election to this list) are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order "dogs," they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage which is a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death. But as the name might imply, the chili here is absolutely delicious, and comes in three varieties: a rich, spicy, meaty sauce that tops their half-smokes and burgers, a soupy version loaded with ground beef and beans, and a vegetarian version.
#24 American Coney Island, Detroit
One of the most popular spots for a classic “coney-style” dog (and locked in friendly competition with its neighbor Lafayette Coney Island for decades), American Coney Island was founded by Greek Immigrant Gust Keros in 1917. Whether you eat his classic coney chili, which is made primarily with beef hearts and spiked with healthy doses of garlic, cinnamon, cumin, and oregano, atop a hot dog, fries, or just on its own, you’ll be plotting your return before you even leave.
#23 C.W. Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern, Topeka
Yelp / Robert B
Located in Topeka’s Little Russia neighborhood, this blue-collar greasy spoon serves a simple and hearty chili loaded with ground beef and kidney beans. Served in a Styrofoam bowl alongside Saltines and a container of horseradish pickles, this is truly a lunch of champions.
#22 Real Chili, Milwaukee
Yelp / Kristy K
In business for nearly 85 years, Real Chili was founded by a man named Francis Hosch, and reportedly only three people alive today know his recipe for his rich and crumbly beef chili. Order the Marquette Special and you’ll get a bowl of spaghetti topped with beans and his famous chili (we hear unsweetened chocolate is a component), finished off with sour cream and a pile of shredded cheddar.
#21 Chili John’s, Green Bay and Burbank, Wis.
Yelp / Ben M
Chili John’s was founded in Green Bay in 1913 by Lithuanian immigrant John Isaac; a second location that opened in Burbank in 1946 is still considered the new kid on the block. This chili ain’t pretty, but it’s certainly delicious. Served over spaghetti and beans, it’s available in mild, medium, hot, or extra hot varieties.
#20 Blue Ash, Cincinnati
Yelp / Marybeth T
There are hundreds of chili parlors in Cincinnati, and most of them are chains of varying quality. But ask around, and plenty of people will tell you that Blue Ash is the place to go, chain or otherwise. There’s a specific way of ordering your chili in this town: Two-way is a bed of spaghetti topped with beefy, umami-rich chili (made with a bevy of spices including cocoa, allspice, cumin, and chili powder); three-way adds cheddar; four-way adds onions or beans; and five-way adds both beans and onions, while six-way adds fried jalapeño caps. A Cincy classic since 1969, Blue Ash has three locations in town as well as a roving food truck.
#19 The Brooklyn Star, Brooklyn, NY
At this neighborhood gem specializing in down-home Southern comfort food, the chili is unlike any you’re likely to try anywhere else. Beef, bacon, and tripe (yes, tripe) are slow cooked until they’re falling apart, and chili powder, black and pinto beans, onions, and tomatoes round it out. Cilantro, radish, a squeeze of lime, and Mexican crema bring it all together, and a bag of Fritos on the side is icing on the cake.
#18 Camp Washington, Cincinnati
Camp Washington was founded back in 1940, and it’s the only Cincinnati chili parlor that has a James Beard Award under its belt. The usual Cincy chili lingo applies here: Two-way, three-way, four-way, etc., but what sets Camp Washington apart from the crowd is the chili itself. Made with a closely-guarded secret recipe, it’s rich, comforting, supremely beefy, and unlike any other game in town.
#17 Tommy’s Joynt, San Francisco
A certifiable San Francisco institution, this old-school bar and restaurant has been in business since 1947 and is best known for its inexpensive sandwiches and blue-plate specials. But whatever you do, don’t miss the buffalo chili. Chunks of rich and slightly gamey buffalo are spooned over a plate of rice and topped off with a rich and satisfying sauce. At $6.75, it’s a certified steal.
#16 McSorley’s Old Ale House, New York City
This legendary bar in New York's East Village may be best known for its stunning longevity (it opened in 1854 and has barely changed since) and its beer selection (light or dark — that's it), but its food options, displayed on a small chalkboard behind the bar, shouldn't be overlooked. Burgers are fresh and juicy, daily specials like corned beef and roast lamb are always on point, and its chili very well might be the city's best. Rich and comforting, it's made up of 90 percent ground beef, seven percent chick peas, and three percent kidney beans (give or take), all suspended in what's probably half beef fat and half chile-tomato sauce. With a few saltines crumbled into it, it's one of the heartiest bowls of food you're ever likely to encounter.
#15 Dew Chilli Parlor, Springfield, Ill.
Founded in 1909, Dew Chili Parlor recently relaunched after a 20-year hiatus without missing a beat. The recipe for its legendary chili hasn’t changed since the day it opened, and while it’s a closely-guarded secret, it’s rich and simply made with ground beef and beans. You can order it as-is, atop tamales, or on a hot dog; don’t forget to order a hand-dipped milkshake on the side.
#14 Ike’s, Tulsa, Okla.
Yelp / Geary J
Since 1908, Ike’s has served the best chili in Tulsa right off of Route 66. While the restaurant moved into its current location in 2014, it still has that lived-in feel with a long counter and no-frills dining room, and you still get the impression that once-regular customer Will Rogers can walk in at any minute. Their famous chili, which commands a very loyal following, is all-beef, spicy, and hearty as can be. You can order it “straight,” with spaghetti, with beans, or mixed with macaroni and cheese, and you really can’t go wrong.
#13 Hill Country Barbecue Market, New York and Washington D.C.
Hill Country, with locations in New York and D.C., does a great job of evoking Texas-style barbecue, but its chili strays slightly from the most traditional Texas preparations and that isn’t a bad thing. Named in honor of former executive chef Elizabeth Karmel, its EAK Bowl of Red starts with plenty of ground beef and is loaded with tomatoes, onions, and a rich and slightly soupy sauce. It’s a meal in itself, but it’s an ever better complement to brisket and ribs.
#12 Varallo’s, Nashville
Yelp / A. C.
In business for well over 100 years, Varallo’s doesn’t just serve Nashville’s finest chili, it’s also its oldest restaurant. Frank Varallo, the traveling Italian violinist who opened it in 1907, bet big on a bean soup recipe he encountered in South America, which he dubbed chili. Today it's run by the fourth generation of the Varallo family, and its beefy, beany, garlic and white-pepper-kicked chili is still bringing in the crowds.
#11 George the Chili King Drive Inn, Des Moines
At this Des Moines standby since 1952, at George the Chili King you’ll still find George himself, now well over 80 years old, behind the counter spooning up his signature chili all day long. His insanely rich chili starts with a whole pot of melted beef fat, to which ground beef and a proprietary seasoning mix is added. The end result tops hot dogs and burgers, and is available by the bowl, pint, and quart. After one spoonful, you’ll understand why they sell it by the quart!
#10 Mike’s Chili Parlor, Seattle
Yelp / Jun Z
In business since 1922, this small and low-key family-owned restaurant is nothing short of a Seattle institution. The chili here is rich, thick, beefy, and it tops everything from burgers to steak to fries to spaghetti. This all-beef chili starts with beef stock, to which onions, garlic, and a whole bunch of ground beef and a top-secret spice blend are added. This all cooks low and slow all day long, and while it tops just about everything on the menu for good reason, you might just want to order it straight, topped with some cheese and onions.
#9 Dixon’s, Independence, Mo.
Yelp / Alan B
The oldest family-owned restaurant in the Kansas City area, Dixon’s has been going strong since 1919, and counted Harry Truman among its most loyal customers. Its chili is served atop a mound of beans and is available in three varieties: “dry” is crumbly and looser than you’re probably used to, “juicy” is served with natural meat juices, and “soupy” comes with bean broth. Any way you slice it (you can add in ketchup, onion, sour cream, cheese, pickles, or jalapeño relish, or enjoy it atop tamales or spaghetti), this throwback is one heck of a chili parlor.
#8 The Chili Parlor, Springfield, Ill.
Yelp / Jon T
Founded in 1945 as Joe Rogers Chili (the name was recently changed after new ownership came in), The Chili Parlor originally only had 11 seats, but that wasn’t bound to last. The secret to this place’s success is probably the fact that chili is made to order, to each customer’s specifications. Meat and beans are kept separate, and only combined once the customer chooses from five heat levels (from mild to firebrand) and specifies whether they’d like extra meat or beans.
#7 Barney’s Beanery, Los Angeles
Yelp / Bradley C
This nearly 100 year-old Los Angeles institution was opened by John “Barney” Anthony, whose chili and onion soup recipes made him popular among his fellow troops during World War I. What started as a small wooden shack soon on Santa Monica Boulevard soon became a favorite among Hollywood’s elite, and today there are six locations in the Los Angeles area. There are five chili varieties available: classic, Texas-style, turkey, fireman’s, and vegetable, but if you try one, make it the classic, with a recipe dating back to 1920: it’s full of ground beef and beans, and is a timeless classic, just like Barney’s.
#6 Big Bad Breakfast, Oxford, Miss.
Yelp / Elizabeth V
James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence is the culinary king of Oxford, as the chef/owner of the legendary City Grocery, but when he decided to shift his attention to breakfast he did so in a major way. At Big Bad Breakfast, he’s turning out a killer chili, made with ground beef, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and coffee. We suggest you get it on a hot dog, but if you’re there for breakfast, get it ladled atop your waffles and eggs.
#5 Texas Chili Parlor, Austin
Yelp / Doug P
This legendary restaurant just might be the Lone Star State's most renowned chili place. Since the mid-1970s, this dive has been slinging several different varieties of chili (including white pork, vegan, and black bean and sausage), but regulars swear by the Original XX. It’s spicy, made with big chunks of beef, and is so thick that you can stand a spoon in it — and there’s nary a bean in sight.
#4 Woodyard Bar-B-Que, Kansas City, Kan.
One of the Midwest’s most popular barbecue joints got its start as a place to buy firewood in the 1950s, and it rose in popularity largely due to its burnt end chili. Black, kidney, and red beans are stewed in a paprika and cayenne heavy sauce, and huge chunks of falling-apart burnt ends from smoked briskets are tossed in for good measure.
#3 Smitty’s Grill, Pasadena
This white tablecloth Pasadena classic might be the last place you’d expect to find a world-class bowl of chili, but with a menu full of elevated comfort food prepared with seasonal and sustainable ingredients, letting the chef concoct the best chili he could was a stroke of genius. The Grill Steak Chili (as it’s listed on the menu) is rustic and wildly delicious. Big chunks of flank steak are stewed in a rich sauce of onions, garlic, chile powder, oregano, cumin, tomatoes, chipotle in adobo, and beef broth until it’s falling apart and the sauce is reduced and powerfully flavorful. This is a chili that locals swear by, and with good reason.
#2 Armadillo Palace, Houston
Real Texas chili can be found at Armadillo Palace in Houston, which celebrates old-school ranch-style cooking. The chili here is made with big chunks of venison, served in a thick and spicy cumin-kicked chili sauce and topped with a handful of shredded cheese. Onions and jalapeños are served on the side, but you’ll definitely want to add those into the mix.
#1 Jimtown Store, Healdsburg, Calif.
At this quaint and unassuming country store in northern California, biscuit sandwiches and slow-cooked brisket are among the top sellers, but those in the know go for their Chain Gang Chili. To make the chili, pork shoulder is rubbed with nearly a dozen spices including chili powder, ground bay leaf, cumin, thyme, cinnamon, and clove and slow-smoked for five hours. It’s then braised in a rich stock for three hours before being shredded and mixed with a ground beef chili made with nearly a dozen more spices, fresh pasilla chiles, and kidney beans. It’s then cooked down for an hour and tightened up with cornmeal slurry, and the end result is rich, layered, and so thick you can stand a spoon in it.