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Nov 1, 2009 05:25 PM

southern style chili burgers in the bay area?

Awhile back, I had a friend visit from the South (I was born and raised in the South as well). I had been talking up Clark's in MV as having a decent hamburger so we went there one day for lunch. He ordered a chili burger and was bummed to receive an open faced sandwich. In the South, a chili burger is a closed sandwich and the chili is a spiced, finely ground meat (with no beans!). Maybe it's an East Coast thing, I'm not sure but, since my friend's visit, I've kept an eye out whenever I visit a hamburger place but so far, every one serves an open faced sandwich and the chili has beans. Is there anywhere in the Bay Area that serves what I'm looking for?


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  1. Don't know of any places in the Bay Area but if you're in LA, check out the original Tommy's. They serve the chili burger as you describe it, closed. They've been doing it for quite awhile, their site says since the 40s.

    p.s. you might check out Wendy's or ask them to make you one if they don't offer it since they offer chili on their menu.

    5 Replies
    1. re: ML8000

      Except that I'm not sure that the brown sludge on a Tommy's burger qualifies as chili. It's like no other chili I've ever tasted (to borrow a phrase).

      1. re: Steve Green

        Isn't that the appeal of Tommy's. When I holidayed in SoCal, I looked forward to Tommy's almost as much as I did to the turkey dinner.

        I think you could get a burger as you describe at Nation's. There chili is light on the beans and not bad at all. I go to the one on University Ave in Berkeley.

        1. re: chocolatetartguy

          it's been a while, but i remember Nation's chili burger as open face. and the chili was over salted.

          1. re: chocolatetartguy

            Tommy's, best eaten after well past midnight when things are a little foggy...and you have the morning to recover. I'd rarely (if ever) eat a CB for lunch but some how in the middle of the night it seems reasonable.

          2. re: Steve Green

            Mmm....Tommy's. I grew up getting indigestion from that chain. Oh, how I miss it.

            The only similar tasting chili burger I've had (vs Tommy's) was at Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington DC. I know, that doesn't help with this request, but now I'm craving this type of burger. Thanks a lot!

        2. BTW, there is no "Clark's" in Mill Valley. Do you perhaps mean Mountain View?

          Here on the Pacific Coast a "chili burger", aka "chili size" is an open-faced burger drowned in chili. It usually comes with shredded cheese and chopped onion on top. And, it usually has beans, 'cause it's the same chili the place serves in bowls. (Beanless would be better.)

          I've never encountered the kind of chili burger that you describe.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Sharuf

            Some abbreviations are confusing especially when there are 2 cities close by that are the same, MV. I have trouble since I wonder when New Orleans was moved to Southern California NOLA.
            The Tommy Burger in all it's glory.

            1. re: wolfe

              The Tommy Burger is indeed impressive looking - until I got to the mustard. MUSTARD?!!! On a burger? Sacrilege!

              1. re: Sharuf

                You may be in the minority in that one. How many of the reported 100,000,000,000 McDonald's burgers sold came pre-sauced with mustard? BTW, the last time I was in East Lansing Michigan I remember the sign on the McDonald's read "over 3 million sold.

                1. re: Sharuf

                  Traditional "Southern style" means chili (thin, no beans), mustard, onions and slaw. No catsup.

                2. re: wolfe

                  I don't find it confusing at all, as it was referenced "Clarke's in MV", and there's no Clarke's in Mill Valley, and a Clarke's in Mountain View.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Someone was confused.
                    BTW, there is no "Clark's" in Mill Valley. Do you perhaps mean Mountain View?
                    What I mean is the place abbreviation depends on where you are and what you are familiar with.
                    If you are on the "peninsula: below SF, MV is Mountain View.
                    If you live in Marin, MV is Mill Valley
                    If you live in Virginia, MV is Mount Vernon
                    If you live in Uruguay, MV might be Montevideo, although that is only one word.

              2. Thanks for all of the feedback. First of all, I apologize for the MV confusion. I meant Clark's in Mountain View.

                The reference to Tommy's is very timely as my friend just relocated to Los Angeles so I have pointed him in that direction.

                Having been motivated to post here, I did a little more research and found references to "carolina-style" burgers, which are the same as what HungryGraycat described. Growing up in the Carolinas, I never heard them called that but I definitely recognize the toppings.

                It seems unlikely that I will find that style in the Bay Area. But I dug up my grandmother's hot dog chili recipe since my post and was able to make a decent replica at home.

                Thanks again!

                5 Replies
                1. re: dregypt

                  You could check out two places in Sonoma to see if they could make you one. La Dee's has a chef from Texas and he makes Texas chili with no beans. The burgers are good and the bbq reports have been decent.

                  Fremont Diner has lots of Southern dishes though IIRC, the chili might have beans.

                  Probably not what you want, but doesn't hurt to look. I was exploring the $1 menu at Weinerschinzel today which had a $1 chili burger on it ... hey, I was busy and had no chance to eat.

                  Anyway, it was surprisingly good. We are talking fast food burger here ... and a $1 burger at that ... but I think I may have come across a new guilty pleasure. The chili was more of a sauce but it definately had no beans in it. It was nicely spicy and had a sort of Sloppy Joe kind of pleasure to it. You should know that I lose my mind occasionaly and wallow in junk food. However, for junk food ... I liked it.

                  They have locations in SOCAL

                  Fremont Diner
                  2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA

                  1. re: rworange

                    I've seen the ads for Weinerschnizel so it's good to get a review. I had been hoping to find a more hole in the wall or mom and pop type place. But, let's be honest, this kind of burger is definitely a guilty pleasure so the fast food element isn't an immediate disqualifier. Carl's also advertises a chili burger but I think there are beans in that one.

                    1. re: rworange

                      That Weinerschnizel stuff is similar to Southern style chili which is sometimes referred to as hot dog chili or chili sauce. You can buy it canned in the Carolinas (yuck) but reputable places will make their own.

                      The Wendy's chain out here sells something called a Carolina Classic, which is a Southern style burger. (I haven't tried it so I don't know if they use the usual Wendy's chili -- if so, it's totally wrong.)

                      Getting back on topic, I haven't seen anything like what they serve in the Carolinas in the Bay Area but when I'm back, I'm too focused on other chow to try to dig up something you can get on every corner out here.

                    2. re: dregypt

                      Of course you meant MV (Mountain View) as everyone knows there is no Clark's in MV (Mill Valley).

                      1. re: wolfe

                        In Mountain View, there is a Clarke's Charcoal Broiler (AKA Clarke's Burgers).

                        I prefer Johnny Rockets' Chili Cheese Burger, or any combination of burger with chili added. It's beanless and full of flavor not heat. And, they have jukeboxes.

                        Clarke's Charcoal Broiler
                        615 W El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040