Apropos that National Chili Day falls on February 27, a time of year when we could all use a shot to the arm of spice and warmth. With so many renditions around town of chili and chili-based creations (looking at you, chili cheese fries), Chicago is a good place to celebrate National Chili Day and have a great Chilli Dog. In honor of the heady holiday, here's a roundup of top spots to get your chili fix.
(Chili cheese dog at DMK Restaurants)
Kuma's Corner may be best known for its torso-sized burgers and metal atmosphere, but one dark horse on the menu is the chili. As one would expect, this thing is brimming with just as much beef as a burger, laden with fiery chiles and zesty onions. It's hefty, hearty, meaty, and just what you want when you're done enduring the line at Kuma's Corner. Whether or not you want to follow the chili with a burger is between you and your heart doctor.
For something a little healthier, Heartland Cafe makes mean alternative chilis. The Rogers Park staple sports two versions, one made with buffalo and a bean-centric vegetarian iteration. The buffalo chili is exceptional, discernibly lighter and cleaner than bulkier chilis around town, but not lacking in the flavor department. It will fill you up and satisfy you without murdering you. The vegetarian chili is a solid effort as well. Although missing the familiar meaty texture, the chili flavors are resplendent and the al dente beans provide a pleasant pop of texture amidst the vegetables and spices.
Not normally on the menus, chili cheese dogs are making a special National Chili Day appearance at DMK Restaurants this week. Made with brisket chili from County, smoked low and slow, the meaty medley is heaped over hot dogs and piled with cheese. Considering DMK's track record for meaty deliciousness, this is a surefire success. The dogs are available at County, DMK Burger Bar, and newly opened DMK Burger & Fish in Evanston.
For something a little more low-brow and throw back-y, you can't outdo the gluttonous marvels at Susie's Drive-Thru. The far northwest side institution has been peddling no-frills chili cheese dogs for years, shortening life spans with its intoxicating melange of spiced beef chili, crisp hot dogs, and pillowy buns, which serve to soak up much of the chili goodness and turn the whole thing into a sort of elongated sloppy Joe. Chase it with some cheese fries and a milkshake in any number of wild flavors and it's a meal fit for a king.
Leave it to a diner steeped in Americana nostalgia to perfect the chili cheese fries template. Eleven City Diner does a masteful job with its belt-buckling appetizer, a heinous hodgepodge of crisp, starchy fries shellacked with pungent chili and gooey Wisconsin cheese, which melts down into the dish creating a sort of meaty, spicy poutine.
For a version that seems healthy at first, but then gets bacon-d, there's Grange Hall Burger Bar. The quaint West Loop nook serves up turkey chili fries made with shredded white cheddar and diced white onion, which is all well and good, but then crumbled bacon gets sprinkled into the mix and takes it to the next level, as bacon often does.
- Matt Kirouac