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Chili coming up again

Not in the way you think, although Mrs. Olsen's (on the beach in Oxnard) says on its menu "Our chili speaks for itself—sooner or later." But today I was looking back on some of the previous chili discussions on this board and not finding nirvana.

Beginning when I was quite young, any time I went to a restaurant that served chili, I wanted to try it. I might have been eating breakfast, but if chili was on the menu, it was on my table. I love chili, and all chili is different—except at chili cookoffs, where everything is a variation on the same tired Texas version, and the only virtue seems to be spiciness.

I came from the midwest, and grew up on what turns out to be more or less the Cincinnati version, although I didn't realize that was so until much later. Cincinnati chili in LA? Forget about it. Okay, Chili John's is superficially similar, mainly thanks to the spaghetti, but the spices are somewhere else. While I have roots in the midwestern style, really good Texas chili can ring my bell. New Mexico Green Chile Stew can be a religious experience, but try to find THAT in LA.

I can't really have much of a conversation with anyone who thinks that the slime they put on Tommy's burgers in chili. No common ground there. I can tolerate Fatburger's chili, on the other hand, although I'm not really sure why. Slaw Dogs, a random choice, doesn't try hard enough. The Hat's chili I didn't really notice when I ate it. The burger joints' versions are generally perfunctory.

But what I'm working up to is that I just had a surprisingly fine bowl of chili at lunch today, at the last place I would have expected it: the fourth floor bar at Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills. Go ahead, throw your elitist spears, I understand. But damn, it was fine, served with grated cheese, chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream (eww). I wolfed it down with great pleasure.And it was so guilt-free that when I finished, I couldn't even see my reflection in the bowl. It cost $10.50 and was probably the bargain of the menu.

I've tried Tub's (just okay) and I used to go to Chili My Soul. (The owner promised to make a Cincinnati for me eventually, and I've never forgiven him for dying.) I tried Chili addiction, which was decent when it opened, but went downhill faster than Sarah Silverman's material.

So I'm wondering if the eclectic diners here have found some other chili around town that I ought to experiment with. Are there other upscale department store lunch places that are secretly turning out something fine? When I was young, there was a hardware store in Bedford, Indiana which had a lunch counter chili that was world-class. Is there a chili counter in a three-day tire store somewhere in the valley that has eluded detection?

Or should I just go cook for myself?

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  1. Neiman Marcus Cafe used to do a fine popover. But I haven't had it for years now ...

    1 Reply
    1. There's a truck that goes around with high reviews called "The Chili Philosopher". I thought it was fine but not worth the cost. Check it out.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ns1

        Thanks. I'll seek it out. Can't pinch pennies when chili is involved.

        1. re: farmertomato

          you may like it then, because I will agree that the ingredients were of high quality.

        2. re: ns1

          The Chili Philosopher was awesome, triple beef chili worth the pennies

        3. Great DIY dish and hard to find a good bowl here as opposed to a dog topping.
          Vindaloo paste and jimmy dean breakfast sausage in my brews. I never made it to tubs. Just ok you said. I'm not above Wendy's.

          1. Try the Chasen's chili available at Bristol Farms. Good stuff

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ernie

              and i guess sit at one of the original booths.

            2. Jinky's offers at least six varieties daily and they are great. Some people say it is based on recipes from Chili My Soul.


              1. i liked the sarah silverman allusion.

                i like chili. my take is that the origins of chili/highly spiced meat in general was about making meat of questionable freshness(not to mention less than quality cuts) palatable by the use of spices and slow cooking to break down the connective tissue of cheaper cuts of meat, etc. something like chili *should* taste better with better cuts of meat, but why subject/waste a better cut of meat to a recipe/technique used primarily to mask the deficiencies of a lesser cut of meat? i guess where i'm going with this is that if i were going to try and compare chili recipes i'd want them all to use the same cut and quality of meat so i could more accurately compare technique and spice choice.

                i suspect you'll be happier DIY. having said that, what constitutes a good bowl of chili? besides a decent amount of heat and cumin, i like to use a little cocoa and some red wine to add some underlying depth.

                8 Replies
                1. re: barryc

                  Thanks for noticing the little Sarah S. remark--kind of snuck that by. I make Cincinnati chili of my own that I consider pretty damned good. I use ground turkey instead of beef==cuts the grease, no way to tell the difference. Cinnamon, chocolate, cumin, allspice, onions, bay leaf, crushed tomatoes, segregate the beans. It's great, and it makes the house smell dreamy, but the batch is large, and it's a bit of trouble for me, a non-cook. So I look for something decent and local. Jinky's is okay, as noted above, but unless they bring the original Chili My Soul guy back to life, there's none that move me. I do appreciate all the discussion here, and I'm now following the chili truck's Twitter feed.

                  1. re: farmertomato

                    i am originally from ohio myself, but i just don't get the cinnamon.

                    my vegetarian version is actually more popular than the ground meat version. i slow cook the beans overnight separately with cumin garlic, jalapeno & onion (they're good enough to eat as is). and then lightly saute separately what are basically ratatouille ingredients plus corn and then assemble so that the veggies don't get overcooked and lose consistency. a lot of people have eaten it and not realized that there was no meat in the dish.

                    OTOH it was also what i served the night when someone took a boxcutter to my neck while feeding the homeless... (from CH, i think nosh is the only one to have seen the scar from that.)

                    1. re: barryc

                      That sounds great, and we're not at all committed to meat. I taken note of your method and added it to my file. Thanks.

                      The cinnamon is from the Greek roots of this dish, as is the unsweetened chocolate. I don't really notice it as a separate flavor, just part of the overall taste, and of the wonderful aroma.

                      But, I'll also note to avoid the boxcutter.

                      1. re: farmertomato

                        here i'm still in the hospital with a drainage tube coming out of my neck. but chicks dig scars, and i get a lot of free drinks when i tell people at the bar how i got the scar.
                        i got the idea from a thomas keller recipe for a lentil sweet potato soup actually. pre-cooking and assembling at the last minute allows the flavors of the ingredients to come through separately, and between the mouth feel of browned mushrooms (put them in a pan and don't stir them for at least 2 minutes to get the maillard reaction), the corn and relative crunch of barely cooked squash, it's pretty substantial. the eggplant, onion and tomato get cooked the longest before assembling.

                          1. re: barryc

                            How appetizing.
                            Can you please skip the graphics and just write about your meals? I can never decide if I prefer the fruit cocktail at White Memorial or California Hospital.

                        1. re: barryc

                          i used to make a veggie version that subbed pureed eggplant for the meat... all other ingredients the same; it was a WW recipe.

                        2. re: farmertomato

                          Sarah's hilarious. I noticed it too... I was going to chastise you severely. Anyone got chili intel for OC'ers?

                      2. Was this the white turkey chili? I looked up recipes and all I found were ones for their white chili.

                        1. I have a long-time former Taos-resident friend who brings over New Mexican Green Chili for me a lot, because she knows I love SoCal style chile verde. Of course the two are very different things, but it's true, it doesn't exist in L.A. that I know of.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: jesstifer

                            you will be able to get NM hatch chilies here soon.
                            there is a thread devoted to it.

                            1. re: jesstifer

                              S.C. chili verde? isn't that essentially the mexican version?

                            2. I still have yet to bite the bullet on the Lindy and Grundy $20 chili... but most recently when I went on a Chili tear, the best one I had was from Grocerie on La Brea. It's a mix of pork and beef and SO good on its own, in a frito pie or with pasta.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Dommy

                                "...from Grocerie on La Brea." ???

                                1. re: sel

                                  It's a small cafe run by the Foodink catering company. Most of the food there is good, not quite great, but the chili they usually have in the case is wonderful.



                              2. they had that chili philosopher joint in West LA earlier today,

                                1. Try Shaka's in Alhambra, for some reason, to me, Hawaiians make chili that I like1 Art's The Art of Hamburgers in El Monte makes a chili I like. Try Johnny's Shrimp Boat on Whittier, you might like it, get the chili and rice.