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Jan 14, 2002 10:48 AM

Best Chili Size?

  • m

Sensing a trend in "bests," ironic and otherwise, I have to ask: Is there anywhere I can get a good chili size other than Hamburger Hamlet? Same question for the patty melt.

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  1. Can you (or someone) clue me in on the derivation of that name?

    10 Replies
    1. re: soccerdad
      michael (mea culpa)

      Don't have a clue. Maybe something to do with the bowl it's served in?

      1. re: soccerdad

        I believe it refers to the portion (size sm,med or lge) of chili ladled over the meat.

        1. re: petradish
          michael (mea culpa)

          I believe it refers to the portion (size sm,med or lge) of chili ladled over the meat. >>
          What, you have an option? Never encountered that.

          1. re: BeenThereAteThat

            I was prepared to scoff - H. Allen Smith, a humorist of the '40s and '50s got pretty much everything else in the essay wrong - but his story of the name's origin is in fact correct. It must have been the fact that he was quoting Fred Beck, soul of the Farmers Market and one of the great names in L.A. food lore.

          2. re: soccerdad

            The "Chili Size" is an L.A. thing. Back in the 1920s, there was a chili parlor called Ptomaine Tommy's and he is credited with creating the first chili burger. His beanless chili was served two ways: 1.) in a bowl with beans and other fixins; and 2.) over a hamburger, much like the chili burger we know today. He had two different sized ladles for dispensing the chili, so he hung a sign up that read, "Hamburger size: 15¢" and another sign, "Chili size: 20¢".

            If someone wanted the chili burger, he'd get the hamburger size ladle; for a bowl of chili, the larger "chili size" ladle. WELL, somewhere along the way, he began serving an open-faced chili burger with the CHILI SIZE ladle so that it smothered the burger and bun with a bowlful of chili. This is how the CHILI SIZE menu item came to be.

            Other restaurants began copying the new creation. I have seen menus with "Cheeseburger Size" and "Hamburger size" as well as "Chili Size" but they all seem to mean the same thing: and open-face chili burger. The biggest mystery is why people began calling chili "size," as in "Gimme a bowl of size!" I guess the two terms just became synonymous for a while.

            1. re: bobbeecher

              bobbeecher, thank you so much for this very thorough explanation. That name has baffled me for nearly 15 years.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: bobbeecher

                Proving that, nowadays, one "size" fits all.

                1. re: bobbeecher

                  I'm an oldster who ate at Ptomaine Tommy's more times than I can count and this is what I remember. The floor was covered with sawdust and the walls were covered with signed pictures of actors and boxers declaring the 'size' to be the best food in town.
                  There were 2 'U' shaped counters you had to step up to so the waiters could serve without bending over. At lunch it was pretty easy to get a seat but at night the line often went around the block and the wait could be an hour or more giving you time to rub elbows with movie stars from across town.
                  The place was close to the railroad tracks so you couldn't say it was the best location but that just made it more exciting.
                  The main items on the menu were a regular size which was a hamburger patty with either beans or spaghetti topped with chile or a deluxe size called an egg royal decorated with again either beans or spaghetti and topped with chile. When it was placed in front of you the waiter asked if you wanted onions and if you said yes he reached behind the counter and scooped a cup or more of chopped raw onions on top of the size. Here is the kicker. The chile was so far superior to any chile anybody had ever eaten that it was the reason for the unbelievable popularity of the restaurant.
                  It was rumored that Tommy would come into the kitchen alone and make the chile. None of his staff knew the formula and when he died it died with him. I say that hoping someone will contradict me and give us the formula but I don't think that will happen.

              2. My kitchen at home, two requirements though, bring a six pack of ice cold Michelobe and a round of real Parisian sourdough direct from San Francisco...

                1. Chili My Soul in the Valley has about twenty different kinds of Chili varying in content and intensity. It's in Encino on Ventura Boulevard. Awesome!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: chris
                    michael (mea culpa)

                    Chili My Soul in the Valley has about twenty different kinds of Chili varying in content and intensity.>>
                    So, do they make a chili size, i.e., a plate with chili, a burger patty, melted cheese and some raw onions on the side?

                    1. re: michael (mea culpa)

                      Uff da... is THAT what it is? Just go to any Tommy's (or Tomy's or Big Tomy's or Thomas' or Thoma's &c. ad nauseam, WHY are their so many imitations of a mediocre burger joint anyway?) and get a chili burger with no bun.

                      1. re: PRSMDave

                        Any time I have ever eaten a Tommy Burger I have got a real bad stomach ache. Go to Chili's, order a burger and a side of chili, then do what ever with them...

                    2. I have an answer for your second question about best patty melts. In the food database that I call my memory, the two places with memorable patty melt are:

                      Pea Soup Andersen's. I went to the one in Carlsbad, but I don't know if that one still exists. There is, however, one still in Buellton (But if you've already driven that far, maybe you should go down the street to the Hitching Post). Anyway, the patty melt there was really good.

                      Pie-n-Burger in Pasadena. The place is a little slice of Americana, and the prices are somewhat high. They still mix the soda and water by hand. I haven't tried too much on their menu, but everytime I go, I'm tempted to go back to their reliable standby, the patty melt.

                      As for the chili size, I always thought that was a dish my old dorm cafeteria invented to get rid of leftovers, and threw together a name for it. That and "shrimp mates". wtf?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Panoz
                        michael (mea culpa)

                        Thanks for the informative reply. Shrimp mates? I guess I missed those altogether. Sounds scarey.

                        1. re: Panoz

                          I've never had the patty melt at Pea Soup Anderson's but now I want to try one!

                          Unfortunately the one in Carlsbad is no longer open.

                        2. Best Chili=size I or any of my friends have ever had including "Chili Johns" chili.. Well done burger, awesome crazy chili, w/lots of beans,and onions, and cheese. Served open face on a large toasted bun! When i was a "meat eater" it was the bomb! But since I gave up animal protein, and lost 170lbs, it sure brings back those old memories...

                          Los Toros is on Devonshire & Topanga, also full bar w/ rocking Margarita's !!!