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Take Ever-Popular Chili to the Next Level

traditional chili bowls

Consumers, it seems, can’t get enough chili. Whether the “bowl of red” has beans, is vegetarian or it isn’t even red, operators are finding inventive ways to menu this customer favorite.

In fact, mentions of “chili” on restaurant menus are up 6.3% overall in the last five years, according to Technomic research. And mentions of “chili” as an appetizer or starter jumped 9.9% during the same time period, the Chicago-based research firm says.

One possible reason for chili’s enduring popularity? It’s simply so versatile. Plus, not only can it be made ahead; it’s even better if it is.

Here’s a look at some of the innovative ways restaurants around the country are preparing and using chili:

Switch Up the Protein

Chili doesn’t have to be made with ground beef, or even with beef at all. Creative chefs are incorporating everything from garbanzo beans to turkey to buffalo in their chili variations. Texas Chili Parlor in Austin offers a popular 5-Bean Veggie Chili, along with a White Chili made with pork and a Black Bean & Elgin Sausage variety. Iconic San Francisco eatery Tommy’s Joynt dishes up steaming bowls of Buffalo Chili with rice. Local, sustainable Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room in Big Indian, NY, has an ever-changing menu, but it has featured venison chili topped with pickled Honeycrisp apples.

Go Over the Top with Toppings

It’s time to shake up the classic mountain of shredded cheddar, dollop of sour cream and smidge of chopped white onion; there’s a whole world of chili toppers out there. At Melt Eclectic Cafe in Cincinnati, the cozy neighborhood diner’s wildly popular vegetarian chili is offered with a drizzle of dairy-free, cashew-based cheese. The Institute of Chili food truck in San Antonio ups their dish’s comfort factor with an optional fried egg topper. Or, go for upscale comfort food like the turkey thigh chili from Boston’s Tico restaurant that’s crowned with Manchego and micro cilantro.

Break out of the Bowl

Chili is at home in a bowl (ceramic or bread), no doubt. But this savory, stick-to-your-ribs favorite is a welcome and craveable addition in so many other applications and even dayparts. Branch out of the bowl and use chili as an accent to waffle fries, sausages, pasta and more. The Pylon from Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Miss., features a waffle topped with a split hot dog, chili, cheddar, mustard, chopped pickles, onion, jalapenos and oyster crackers. Dew Chilli Parlor, which has been slinging bowls of red in Springfield, Ill., since 1909, tops two tamales with chili, cheese, sour cream, corn chips and sport peppers in its Torpedo menu item.

Follow the Customization Trend

Millennial and Gen Z diners have come to expect and demand customizable dishes. And chili’s a perfect canvas for DIY hacks. Offer a toppings bar or pots of chili made with a range of proteins. At Chilli Parlor in Springfield, Ill., chili is served at five heat levels, from “mild” to “firebrand,” and the beans and meat are cooked separately so customers can request extra (or none) of a given protein. 

This post is sponsored by Bush’s Best®

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