When it comes to chili, divisions between connoisseurs go deep. Some argue that chili is a meat-only affair; others add beans with abandon. The types of chiles used as the base, the level of spiciness, and whether or not sweetness has a place in the mix are all points argued with vehemence by those who love a certain variation (usually the one they grew up eating). Competitions are held for just this reason—chili is an important dish. And while you can always make a pot at home, here’s our list of chili bowls around the South that might measure up to your momma’s recipe.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a Washington D.C. institution since 1958. Owner Virginia Ali and her late husband, Ben, realized there weren’t any places in town to get a good ‘ol chili dog. This proved to be exactly what customers wanted, and these days Ben’s Chili Bowl is still welcoming customers with its authentic 1950s atmosphere— complete with a jukebox—until the wee hours of the morning. Though you don’t have to top your dogs and burgers with chili, why wouldn’t you? Their spicy chili sauce is why locals, visitors, and celebrities drop by. And if you’re craving comfort food, order the Chili con Carne, a warming bowl of simmered meat, beans, and spices, made with love.
1213 U St. NW
Asheville, North Carolina
This upscale dining spot lends a big city feel to the often-casual Asheville dining scene. Chef Duane Fernandes’ Carolina Bison Brisket Chili was created to top the Carolina Bison hotdogs on the menu, but more than a few times it has found its way into a bowl per customer request. Sourced from a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the brisket is slow-braised for 8 to 10 hours for depth of flavor and tenderness before it is added to a sofrito sauce base along with beans, tomatoes, and spices. With subtle heat, this hearty, meaty chili has won over Asheville (and us!).
One Battery Park
Before starting this cozy community café, owner Jenny Levison spent two years traveling abroad and found that one of the things different cultures had in common was the comfort they found in soups. Back in Atlanta, she put her knowledge and experience to work when she opened Souper Jenny. The first recipe she put on the menu was her father’s recipe for turkey chili—a dish with a delicious balance of sweetness and heat. Packed with local yellow, red, and green peppers and four different kinds of beans, My Dad’s Turkey Chili is a hearty crowd pleaser.
56 E. Andrews Dr. NE Ste. 22
Lucy’s Fried Chicken
Chef James Holmes has spent a lot of time in the culinary world, honing his skills in France and running his first Austin restaurant, Olivia, but he always longed for a laid-back restaurant that served fried chicken and good beer. Lucy’s Fried Chicken is the perfect incarnation of his dream, and while the restaurant might be best known for its namesake dish (a recipe from James’ grandmother), the chili has become a customer favorite. In classic Texas style, James makes a “bowl of red,” a spicy mix of brisket, ground chuck, and pork with six different chile peppers. “You can tell the true chili fans,” James says, “when they order a bowl in the summer.” Get a classic bowl served with chopped onion, Cheddar, jalapeños, and crackers, or have some on top of your burger or fries. If you’re really in need of something decadent, don’t miss out on the Dandy Resurrected: chili-cheese fries topped with two fried eggs.
5408 Burnet Rd.
2218 College Ave.
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
Texas-raised identical twin brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox used to host barbecues in their backyard to entertain and feed family and friends. Their impressive home spread evolved into Fox Bros. Bar- B-Q in Atlanta, and while the business has grown, the flavors and down-home feel have stayed the same. Their Brisket Chili started out as a special but was added to the regular menu by customer demand. Cooked low and slow, this bold concoction of meat and spices is traditional “Texas red” from Jonathan and Justin’s upbringing—which means, of course, no beans allowed. Order their chili in a bowl, in their crave-worthy Frito pie, or try it on top of their famous macaroni and cheese.
1238 DeKalb Ave. NE
Home Team BBQ
Charleston, South Carolina
This welcoming barbecue joint loves to find creative ways to use their smoked meats and locally sourced vegetables. Home Team BBQ’s Smoked Chicken & White Bean Chili is a perfect example, and this recipe definitely takes a different approach to chili. After brining their chicken legs, they salt-and-pepper-smoke them. This smoky delicious meat is added to chipotle, poblano, and chile peppers. The resulting chili has the perfect balance of sweet, smoky, and spicy flavors. Served with pickled jalapeños and a dollop of sour cream, this chili might be a creative twist, but it’s hard to beat.
1205 Ashley River Rd.
This popular barbecue destination is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until they “run out of Q.” While folks come from all around to eat their barbecue, the brisket chili has quite a few fans. Made with brisket and short rib trimmings and ground dried chile peppers, the flavors in this bowl are deep and rich. Cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cumin, the chili is then crowned with owner Ronnie Killen’s heavenly chopped smoked brisket for the ultimate experience.
3613 E. Broadway St.