It's not often that our minds wander to the best chili in Austin. Tourists and locals alike can be forgiven for overlooking humble chili as a classic staple of Central Texas cooking: having the country’s best barbecue and a stellar taco scene will do that. They may wish to reconsider, though: those looking for a taste of classic Austin won’t do better than grabbing some of the best craft beer in Austin to pair with one of our city’s many great bowls of Texas red. Chefs and enthusiasts can debate ingredient lists and prep methods all day long (and they will)—but this list of winning local entries proves that any number of approaches can lead to the perfect recipe for chili success.
Best chili in Austin
West Campus barbecue mainstay Freedmen’s has long been a great spot for upscale barbecue, so it stands to reason that they do a great pit chili. The dish gets the gourmet treatment here, with chopped brisket, pulled pork and beer anchoring the chili, aided by a pureed blend of onion, garlic, bell peppers and jalapenos. A liberal seasoning of paprika and cumin finish the dish, which is cooked on the barbecue pit and served with Fritos, pickled onions, smoked cheddar and chives. (Note: there’s a great selection of whiskey here, too.)
Photograph: Courtesy Freedmen's
Andrew Curren is serious about chili—he shows up twice on our list. His 24 Diner version is dubbed the “No-Bean Chili,” and is a late night bar counter favorite. The chili combines brisket and chuck roast with poblano peppers, Lone Star beer, red onions and jalapenos for a meaty and savory bowl of red. Some shredded cheddar cheese and a slice of cornbread complete the meal. Grab a weighty Stolpman syrah or Marietta zinfandel from the diner’s excellent wine list (curated by master sommelier Craig Collins) as a pairing.
Photograph: Courtesy 24 Diner
The old guard favorite of many Austinites, Texas Chili Parlor’s gruff service, dive bar ethos and 70s vibe make it a popular spot for UT students, tourists and the lege. A standard bowl of red comes in three different heat levels, while a “chili with beans” range includes venison, white pork and hatch chile, as well as a five bean vegetarian version. There’s a full bar here, but simple is best: grab a Negra Modelo or a Shiner and soak in one of Austin’s classic institutions.
Photograph: Courtesy Texas Chili Parlor
A longtime favorite for late-night sustenance, Frank’s chili can be ordered by itself, but many opt to employ it on the restaurant’s chili dog on waffle fries. Owner Daniel Northcutt based the recipe on a firehouse chili-style learned from his father, then added extra cumin for an earthy flavor profile. As per Texas rules, no beans are used, but you’ll find primary flavors of onion, garlic, ground beef and tomato. There’s mild to moderate heat here, as Frank’s clientele include a lot of children, so don’t expect blazing spice (onions and jalapeno add-ons are available).
Photograph: Courtesy Frank
Chef-owner James Holmes has 70s Austin in mind with his old school chile con carne. His Texas-style bowl of red is based off older recipes from the famed Terlingua chili cook-off, with bacon fat, onion, garlic and ground meat at the forefront. Holmes says that “chili needs to make you sweat a bit!” To that end, his secret blend of chili powders and purees are added to give a slow afterburn to the diner’s palate. The plate is served simply with saltines—“the go-to utensil of chili cook-off judges,” per Holmes—and garnishes of onions, cheese and jalapenos.
Photograph: Lucy's Fried Chicken
As a counterpoint to 24 Diner’s no bean version, Drew Curren’s other American restaurant Irene’s goes veggie with his chili at Irene’s. Austin Beerworks’ soon-to- depart Black Thunder schwarzbier is paired with both kidney and black beans along with dried chiles, then playfully garnished with popcorn, cheese and sour cream. While you’re there, grab a slice of strawberry cake for dessert.
Photograph: Courtesy Irene's
A frequent lunch special and carry-out item, Salt & Time’s chili has what co-owner Ben Runkle calls “an unfair advantage” since they employ ground and browned butcher shop trimmings for added flavor. A balanced mix of dried guajillo, pasilla and chipotle peppers are used in the shop’s classic Texas red, along with sauteed onions and garlic. The shop thickens their chili with masa for a heartier texture, and slow cooks it until ready to serve.
Photograph: Courtesy Salt & Time
After conquering barbecue and breakfast tacos, Miguel Vidal now has his sights set on chili. Valentina’s winter warmer is tomato-based, with what he terms a “simple mix of chilis and spices.” Among them are garlic, cumin, paprika, serranos and cooked onions. The bonus here is Vidal’s addition of some mesquite smoked beef or pork: it’s usually some combination of brisket tips and pulled pork. After an initial cook on the stove, the chili is finished on the pit for added smokiness, then plated for diners with cheese, pico de gallo and a warm flour tortilla.
Photograph: Courtesy Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ
This roving truck casts a wide net for chili lovers: variations named after Texas cities offer a range of ingredient and flavor combinations. Their San Antonio chili is a beef and pork-based hearty chili utilizing seeded chili pods and chili puree for a rib-sticking carnivore feast. (No beans or tomatoes for the Alamo City.) The Austin chili goes the opposite direction—it’s a vegetarian lentil chili with tomatoes, but still delivers classic chili heat and spice. Three other variants honor El Paso, Houston and Dallas, and sides of potato salad, Fritos and cornbread are also on offer. The truck is a frequent visitor at both Austin Beerworks and Oskar Blues breweries.
Photograph: Courtesy Texas Chili Queens
Crestview favorite Black Star complements their smart brewpub beer list with a classic bowl of red. Their “Hill Country-style” chili on the dinner menu uses beef chuck from 44 Farms, and adds heat from a blend of chipotle, ancho and guajillo peppers. Garnishes of onions, jalapenos and cheddar complete the plate, which pairs well with the crisp, housemade Self Esteem blonde.
Photograph: Courtesy Black Star Co-Op
South Lamar’s Black Sheep continues to pack in guests with a mix of loud conversation, big burgers and draft beer. Their chili is a surprise dark horse on this list: Black Sheep uses angus chuck beef and some bacon for protein, then adds onion, jalapenos, garlic and a house blend of chili spices. Beans, Fritos and sour cream are available as add-ins.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Chiqui B.