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Best Restaurants for a Bowl o' Red

Texas is, of course, regarded as the home of red, beef-based chili. Funny thing, though--I almost never see it offered on menus in Texas restaurants. It seems that true chili seems to be the desmesne of the chili cookoffs and the home-cooks.

But surely there are SOME restos out there that offer up a really good bowl of the good stuff. What are they?

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  1. Have no idea where you are, but if you're within driving distance of Austin, I'd recommend the Texas Chili Parlor:


    1 Reply
    1. re: Jaymes

      I'm about 400 miles northwest of Austin.

    2. In Houston Goode Co's Armadillo Palace for venison chili; Tolbert's in Grapevine for the 'original' Tolbert's of red. You might also try Shady Cove in Austin.

      What's in your Blowcharged Bowl of West Texas Red? Have you posted a recipe somewhere?

      13 Replies
      1. re: dexmat

        Chapman's Chile in Dallas. Go full on spicy.

        1. re: dexmat

          Haven't posted it, but will do at some point.

          PS--What can y'all say about this Chapman's? Do they prepare different types of chili, or is it all the same chili at different spice levels? And what else do they serve besides chili?

          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            Chapman's Chili Kitchen uses Bison for their chili. It's available in 3 temps of heat. And, as we're in Texas, no beans.
            They also have killer jalapeno poppers which they make themselves as well. Excellent tamales are also avaiable stuffed with pork, beef or chicken. But, they buy them from a respected Mexican kitchen nearby.

            1. re: twinwillow

              At the risk of coming across as ridiculously obsessive, is the bison ground, chili ground or diced?

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                It's a fresh grind.

                The thing about chili is that it is terribly subjective, more so than a bowl of pho or a saimin in other cultures. I was at Terlingua this year and found many of the prize winning bowls to be lacking in one area of the other. Many simply overtly sweet, even in the presence of extreme heat of one style of pepper or another. The perfect balance is difficult to find to say the least.

                That said, the places mentioned all serve respectable chili. Chapman's is a young family that have been making a go at it basically selling just chili. They have the poppers (baked not fried) that are crisped using the delicate panko breadcrumb, but little else. Their chili can be found where I had it last weekend, the Dallas Farmers Market.

                They carry limited amounts of the full on hot stuff as they sell more of the 50/50 blend. If you cannot make it to their store, you might wish to call and reserve a quart of their hot and pick it up at the DFM. Their store closes at 4 each day making it difficult unless you live or work close by the Fairpark area of Dallas.

                1. re: DallasDude

                  Can some Dallas hound advise whether the Chapman's chili is hamburger grind or chili grind bison?

                  FYI Bubba's Texas Burger Shack in Houston serves a bison chili, also (chili grind).

          2. re: dexmat

            Here it tis, dex. Read it and weep.

            2 1/2 lbs. top round
            5 cups beef broth
            3 T. bacon fat
            4 T. guajillo chile powder
            3 T. pasilla chile powder
            1 T. New Mexico green chile powder
            1/4 t. ground clove
            2 t. salt
            3/4 T. oregano
            2/3 T. cayenne
            2 t. garlic powder
            2 t. ground cumin
            4 T. onion flakes
            1 jalapeno

            1. Chop steak into small cubes and rinse under water.

            2. Melt bacon fat in large pot and brown beef after it has been well drained.

            3. Add two cups of broth, the pasilla powder, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon oregano, one teaspoon garlic powder and the jalapeno. Bring to boil and simmer for one hour and fifteen minutes.

            4. Add remaining three cups of broth, green chile powder, clove, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon oregano, one teaspoon garlic powder and onion flakes. Remove jalapeno and squeeze juice into pot. Simmer for one hour uncovered.

            5. Add guajillo powder, cayenne and cumin. Simmer for 15 minutes uncovered.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Hey that looks really good. I've used guajillo and a little pasilla before but never New Mexico green. I will have to try that. Thanks for the recipe.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  Made the chili a few weeks back, btw - very good. Thanks for that. I didn't follow the recipe verbatim - I never do. Didn't have NM Green Chili Powder so subbed a fresh pepper.

                  Shuffling through the dried chilis I had on hand I came across one I had - don't know when I bought it but forgot about it - Pico de Pajaro, 'bird's beak,' a product of Burma. 'Moderately high heat and adds a fruity plum taste to foods.'
                  I was tempted to try it but wanted to sample yours close to the original recipe.

                  Re: the lack of chili parlors - perhaps part of it is that no chef has taken on chili as a signature dish and it's considered an afterthought on menus. Even Texas Chili Parlor, as I recall, has only one version of chili on the menu. Chili is usually listed under soups or appetizers instead of entrees.. Chili My Love in LA has a couple dozen varieties of chili on the menu.. (Of course, it's Left Coast "chili" so who knows)?

                  So, how's the application for a permit for your chili parlor coming along?

                  1. re: dexmat

                    Glad you liked the chili, dex. And you can get NM green chile powder at www.chimayotogo.com if you are inclined to pursue that particular grail.

                    I'm not yet at the stage of seeking permits and securing a building. At this point I am experimenting with recipes for inclusion on the menu. My most recent chili (I made it yesterday morning) featured all the usual suspects plus New Mexico red chile powder, fatalli puree (from CaJohn's), smoked serrano powder, cinnamon and ground coriander. Was very good, if I do say so, but the ground chuck I used was riddled with gristle and bone. Slightly offputting.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                Looks good, but the written directions are in conflict with the ingredients list. The spice measurements don't match.

                1. re: aynrandgirl

                  Right you are. I altered the ingredients of the recipe without altering the instructions. Hence, the 3/4 T. of oregano is the correct measurement and it should be added in step #3. Disregard the oregano in step #4.

              1. Tolbert's in Grapevine. This is the family that wrote the book "A Bowl of Red" and founded the World Chili Championship held annually in Terlingua, Texas. It is now named after them.

                423 S Main St, Grapevine, TX 76051

                1. Tip's Tap Room, Frio City Rd, SATX

                  DeWese's Tip Top Cafe, Fredericksburg Rd SATX

                  1. I was at Big Woodrow's with some friends and saw the chili on the menu and decided to try it and was glad I did. Chunks of beef, nice spice and grease level (!). More tomato than I prefer plus bits of tomato and what I think was bell pepper but they were cooked down so it wasn't like it was a beef/vegetable stew. I'd rate it one of the best in the city that I know of.


                    I'm not quite so high on the chili I had at Papa Joe's BBQ near Memorial City Hospital. I was going to give them credit for chili grind meat but the manager said it was 'hamburger meat' by which I think he meant hamburger grind. I still give them credit for not stirring or overcooking it so it turned to sludge and for making their own from scratch - no way this was out of a can like so many places serve. I think it was a pretty straight forward Tolbert's recipe which I find lacking in complexity. I think they should add a little tomato, maybe one or two more varieties of chiles for a more complex taste. It came with a grated three cheese blend plus chopped green onion tops; I picked up some pickled onions and jalapenos from the condiments bar. It had a nice heat level, wasn't greasy, didn't seem to have any thickener in it which it might have used in this case to add some more complexity.


                    I should have mentioned above also the bison chili at Bubba's Texas Burger Shack on Westpark.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: dexmat

                      Thanks for the terrific report, dex.

                      You know the surprising lack of restaurants specializing in chili has got me considering opening on out here in Lubbock. If done right, I think such a place could be a hit.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        I wish you luck - and I'll definitely check it out if I'm ever in Lubbock. Some grad student should write a thesis (or perhaps one already has) on what has happened to our official dish. One excuse I hear is that everybody thinks their recipe is the best so they don't order it at any restaurant. Down here, many places only serve it in cold weather, not year round. I think there are lots of reasons there seem to be so few good bowls of chili available; I think it's probably found more commonly in small town cafes, etc., rather than big cities. Maybe we big city slickers have just gotten too fancified in our eating tastes? I'd love to hear some other poster's opinions of the sparsity of offerings.

                        1. re: dexmat

                          It's funny though, barbecue is no more sophisticated than chili, yet there are cue joints in every Texas town with 3,000 people or more, and Houstonians, Dallasites and Austinites are not too proud to sit down on a bench in some smokey dive and wolf down a plate o' ribs with their bare hands. Seems to me as though the same people who relish barbecue would also queue up--no pun intended--for some bodacious chili.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            Great barbecue, especially brisket, is exceedingly difficult to make at home. In fact, many folks would tell you that it's impossible unless you've got some sort of fine homemade pit, or fancy expensive rig. So I'm always going to order it out, preferably from one of our legendary pitmasters.

                            I'd never even attempt it at home. I've had too much tough and inferior brisket over at other people's houses to even try.

                            But on the other hand, give me a few hours in my kitchen and I'll turn out the best "bowl o' red" in the state.

                            I love chili. Love it. But I never, ever order it in restaurants. Not because I'm "too fancified," but because I just always like mine better.

                            And I don't think I'm unusual in that.

                            For one thing, I'm always suspicious of the ingredients used in restaurant chili. Maybe it's junk meat. Maybe it's cereal fillers and stretchers. And that doesn't even count the flavor.

                            I don't know anybody that orders it in restaurants, for the exact same reason that I don't. It's easy and cheap to make at home, and we all think ours is the best.

                            1. re: Jaymes

                              I'm sure there's a lot of truth to what you say, but there are many restaurants (BBQ not included) that serve fare which is pretty cheap and easy to make, and they do great business. Just look at the proliferation of sandwich shops, pizzarias and burger joints.

                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                Well, as they say, if you pick one thing to do and you do it really well, you'll be successful. Chili is certainly popular. Not to mention that it's easy to prepare for prepared-food sales in market refrigerator cases and freezers.

                                If somebody opened a place and had four or five kinds of wonderful chilis, and then eventually worked into also selling it in frozen tubes to take home, they might be wildly successful. I had a really good white chili at a restaurant out in California (of course) made with turkey, cannellini beans, and several different types of chiles, and topped with the traditional cheese and chopped onions. It was terrific. Might be a good inclusion into your 'several different types of chilis' restaurant. Think I'd also offer baked potatoes. Even mediocre, commercially-made chili is good over potatoes.

                                I think Marie Callender's sells a lot of chili and cornbread. And somebody is buying all those cans of chili at the grocery store. So maybe you've hit upon a real gold mine here.

                                1. re: Jaymes

                                  Thanks for the encouraging words, Jaymes.

                                  My tentative plan is to work up 12 varieties of chile that will be on offer on a daily basis. Eleven of them will be beef-based, and the twelfth will be New Mexico green chile stew. I've worked up all twelve recipes and am in the process of purchasing all the exotic ingredients and testing the recipes in the kitchen.

                                  In addition to offering chili by the bowl and by the cup, I'll have chili burritos (chili and cheddar wrapped in a flour tortilla), Frito pies and cornbread. Might also have ice cream for desert. Will have to check on the local liquor laws, but if a liquor license is prohibitively expensive, it might be a BYOB place.

                                  And I've come up with the name: El Comanchero Chili Company. :)

                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                    There will be a branch in Houston I presume?, or will I have to rely on mail-order?

                                    Great minds thing alike - just so happens a few years back a friend and I were working on a similar project. We had developed a number of recipes, argued about the the overall concept, location, etc. We had settled on 9 varieties of chili, varying by heat levels, seasoning mixes, and types of meat. We had doubts about the viability of a chili-only venue so planned to offer soups and stews for those not as cumin and chili-pepper addicted as ourselves, sandwiches and sides. In this part of Texas this would include gumbo and catfish stew as well as some soups like chicken soup and bean soup. We had registered a couple of DBAs and almost registered a domain name too, for a future website.

                                    We talked to an SBA counselor who happened to have restaurant experience, took an SBA course, and also talked to a couple of restauranteurs who we thought were being honest with us. The consensus was that the menu was too confusing and needed to be simplified (in terms of varieties of chili) so we trimmed it to 5 and planned to offer others as Specials of the Day or For a Limited Time Only until we found out what really sold (We had more than 9 recipe concepts, anyway, and would have done stunting with other varieties).

                                    Neither of us had any experience in the restaurant biz so friends and family were not keen on the idea. Then my friend got transferred and the whole project died as I wasn’t willing to try it on my own. I still think about it from time to time, especially with the burgeoning mobile food scene here - a chili wagon would be a lot more doable.

                                    Good luck with yours and keep us advised.

                                    1. re: dexmat

                                      Let me bring up the baked potato again, regarding the "viability of a chili-only venue."

                                      There are small restaurants/cafe surviving on what is basically a "nothing but baked potatoes" concept. They really are good covered with chili. And if you offered them, too, folks that perhaps are not so into chili, would still be willing to join companions that want to go there, if they could order something else.

                                      Also, potatoes have the huge advantage of being cheap. And you could mark them up considerably.

                                      But whatever, hope you keep us informed. Such an interesting endeavor. Best of luck.

                                      1. re: Jaymes

                                        That sounds like a very good idea. I'll certainly keep it in mind. And your statement that some restaurants are thriving while serving basically nothing but baked taters is heartening food for thought--so to speak.

                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                          Here's a chain that is doing very well selling baked potatoes. I do think it would be a good match. For one thing, many of the toppings that are popular on baked potatoes also are traditional on chili: cheese, onions, sour cream, jalapenos, etc.


                                          One thing that I've noticed with one-item concept restaurants is that it is a help to have a fall-back item that most folks can resort to.

                                          As in, "I don't want to go there tonight. I'm not in the mood for chili. And I'm a vegetarian."

                                          "Well, you don't have to have chili. They have baked potatoes, too."

                                      2. re: dexmat

                                        I definitely believe in simplicity, but also believe in variety. I think it will be possible to provide up to 12 chilis while making clear the salient differences.

                                        And, oh yeah, another feature will be an extensive line of pepper sauces and BBQ sauces for sale. There are a few stores around the country (including one in greater Houston) that sell basically nothing but hot and savory retail food products. I thought about doing that, but instead have decided to incorporate that concept into a modern chili parlor.

                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                          Let us know if this ever happens - we're only about an hour and a half southeast of you, and I'd make the trip, for sure.

                                          I also think you should consider a tongue-in-cheek Cincinatti chili (take-out only!) for the college kids. Just don't call it chili. ;)

                                          1. re: shanagain

                                            Should I make it out of tongue n' cheek? That might actually go over pretty well with the local Mexicans. ;)