Where to Find the Best Texas Chili In Houston
Texas chili aficionado Joe Cooper, who authored the 1952 book “With or Without Beans: an Informal Biography of Chili”, once said, “[t]he aroma of good chili should generate rapture akin to a lover’s kiss.” I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but I’ve had some pretty memorable chili experiences in Houston well worth sharing. If you’d like to learn more about the history of the slow-simmered, fiery medley of meat, chili peppers, onions, garlic and spices, take a look at my guide, “Texas Chili: What it is, What it Isn’t & Why I’m Obsessed With the State’s Favorite Dish”.
A good pot o’ red is Texas comfort food at its finest. While it’s satisfying any day of the year, many restaurants only serve it during “chili weather”. Stone Cold Meats and Ploughman’s Deli are noteworthy examples.
In those cooler months, you can also look to your favorite barbecue joints. Some must-try bowls include Gatlin’s BBQ’s Smokehouse Chili, Reveille Barbecue Co.’s brisket chili (located in Pinehurst, a little northwest of Tomball), the one-off chili specials at Tin Roof B-B-Q and the Angus beef chili at Firecraft BBQ.
It’s also common for bars and breweries to host chili cookoffs beginning in the fall. If you’re a fan of extra-spicy chili, cookoffs are going to be the best bet, aside from making it at home. A few of my personal favorites include the Texas Beer Experience’s annual Chili Cookoff at The Cove Craft Beer & Wine, The Creek Group’s H-Town Chili Throwdown held at Onion Creek each year, and Saint Arnold’s Brewing Company’s One Pot Showdown — which features much more than just chili.
Below are 13 options around Houston that feature Texas chili, in some cases chili with beans, on menus year-round.
Candente, 4306 Yoakum: The Frito Burrito here might be my favorite chili dish in town. This Brobdingnagian belt-buster is filled with true Texas red chili, cheddar, queso and chopped white onions for just $17. It has heft and could easily make two or three meals. Texas red chili is also sold by the bowl for $15 with cheddar, white onion, sour cream and Fritos on the side. The flavor of the chilis shine in this one.
The Pit Room, 1201 Richmond: The same restaurant group that owns Candente also runs this acclaimed barbecue joint just a few blocks away. It serves a popular, smoky Texas red chili for $8 for a cup and $11 for a bowl, and Frito pie for $13. I find chili made with smoked brisket can often lose its bark, and the flavors may get lost in the pot, but this one does a fine job of balancing flavor and texture.
Washington Avenue / Memorial Park
Henderson & Kane, 715 Henderson: This family-owned and -operated general store and barbecue establishment in Old Sixth Ward offers a thick, rich TX Red Chili with finely ground 44 Farms Black Angus steak and a good bit of heat for $10.50 per bowl or $7.50 for a cup. Frito pie is available fully loaded for $9.95. The first bite, coupled with the service and surroundings, immediately transports you to small-town Texas.
Good Dog Houston, 903 Studewood: The owners of this local restaurant elevating the humble hot dog to gourmet status pride themselves on making everything from scratch using the best ingredients possible. That ethos really shows in the award-winning Beef + Chorizo Chili with finely diced red onions and crème fraîche, which is available by the bowl for just $9 or on the Frito pie. The chili is also a topping on a few of the signature hot dogs, including the Chilin’ Dog, Picnic Dog and the Chili Cheese Please. It can also be added to any other dog. Non-meat-eaters will be happy to know that Good Dog also has a two-bean Vegan Yankee Chili ($10) made with Beyond Meat.
Onion Creek, 3106 White Oak: The Creek Group hosts its H-Town Chili Throwdown here annually. It’s one of the better cookoffs in Houston, and it also happens to be where Mayor Sylvester Turner told me that my first-place chili was the best he’d ever had. Grab a Classic Dog topped with old-school chili, cheddar and red onions for $12, or chow down on an order of Texas Frito Pie with chili con carne, red onions, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese and pickled jalapeños for $10.
Goode Company Armadillo Palace, 5015 Kirby: Ice cold longnecks, two-steppin’ and classic Texas fare bring crowds to this 17,000-square-foot dance hall and event venue, which boasts a pair of bars, three stages and an outdoor beer garden. Its signature Chile Con Carne is dressed with cheddar, jalapeños, diced onions and Fritos. It’s filled with rustic, uneven chunks of beef rather than ground meat, which gives it a beautiful, authentic texture that stands out from the rest of the list. Also, the rich, reddish-brown hue is spot on.
Wild Oats, 1222 Witte: The entire menu is an homage to the native foods of the Lone Star State. Where else can you find chili, made with locally-sourced and butchered Texas Wagyu from R-C Ranch, colorfully dressed and sold by the shot seven days a week? It’s also offered by the cup or bowl for $10 and $14, respectively, with “no beans, no ’maters.” It packs some impressive, well-integrated heat and is garnished with thinly-sliced fresh jalapeños and green onions, diced white onions, Fritos, shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream to cool things off. The restaurant, from Underbelly Hospitality, recently relocated from the Houston Farmer’s Market to Spring Branch, and has revamped the dishes, including its chili recipe. It’s satisfying and earthy, with a hint of Abuelita Mexican Chocolate. This is the simon-pure, partner.
Houston Barbecue Company, 1127 Eldridge: This old-school, Central Texas-style barbecue joint offers comforting, pit-smoked brisket chili with beans topped with green onions and shredded cheese. It’s sold by the cup for $3.95 or by the bowl for $5.95. It has a nostalgic, home-cooked quality that really hits the spot.
Chelsea Deli & Cafe, 1538 Kingwood Drive: Chili at this stalwart neighborhood deli will only set you back $3.65 for a bowl or $2.65 for a cup, making it by far the best value on the list. It contains finely minced beef and offers only mild heat. It’s thicker than it appears (the test is to see if you can stand your spoon straight up in the center of the bowl) and it’s a surprisingly flavorful take on what I call old-school diner or deli-style chili.
The Burger Joint: The chili with beans here is a great bang for your buck at just $4.49 for a cup and $5.99 for a bowl. It’s a hearty portion that’s well-seasoned with just a touch of heat, and includes kidney beans. It also appears on the chili cheeseburger, chili queso hotdog and chili queso fries.
Avalon Diner: The homemade chili at this long-standing all-American diner is made from a Terlingua International Championship Cook-off award-winning recipe and is garnished with shredded cheese and onions. It’s sold by the bowl for $7.45 or the cup for $5.75. It is also featured on a number of dishes, including the chili cheese hot dog, Frito pie, chili cheese omelet and on a knife-and-fork open-faced chili cheeseburger.
Molina’s Cantina: The Old-Fashioned Chili Con Carne has been on the menu at this Houston-based, family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant since 1941 and is adorned simply with only melted cheese and chopped onions. It’s a classic interpretation sold by the bowl for $9.50 or by the cup for $8.25. It’s also featured as a topping on the highly recommended Enchiladas de Tejas and tamales — which have the historical distinction of being the first dish to feature chili as a topping.
Treebeards: This one is for the bean lovers. Here you can find a robust beef chili with beans, topped with shredded cheese and green onions, by the cup for $5 or by the bowl for $9.50. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its red beans and rice, so if you were to seek out this style, this would be a safe bet.
As long as you know where to look, Houston has plenty of delicious restaurants to choose from when it comes to chili. There is, however, one locale in Houston that I wouldn’t recommend. If you should find yourself killing time in the Air France Lounge at George Bush Intercontinental Airport before a lengthy international flight, do yourself (and all of the innocent passengers onboard) a favor and skip the pot of chili with beans at the buffet line. It’s a trap (or a hilarious prank). Happy trails!
Mario-Sebastian Berry is a wine and spirits vendor who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. Currently, he represents Blanco, Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s associate editor and social media manager.