With the annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in town next week at the River Spirit Expo at Expo Square, it seems only appropriate to point out some of our favorite chili destinations.
We spotlight some of the Tulsa’s chili classics, as well as something a little different, and an iconic recipe from Tulsa’s past.
This is the best time of year for chili.
Grab a spoon!
These are some of Tulsa’s longtime favorites bowls of chili.
Treys Bar & Grill
7891 E. 108th St.
Fans of the chili at Treys Bar & Grill are fiercely loyal to their favorite chili. And with good reason.
This chili has won awards to earn the bragging rights. Ground brisket chili with a hint of cocoa.
Ron’s Hamburgers and Chili
With 20 locations in the Tulsa area, including 1440 S. Denver Ave.
Tulsans have been enjoying Ron’s since 1975. Several restaurants are still family-run, while others are now franchises. This is a classic chili that gets even better with beans and a thick layer of cheese.
The spice was just right, and it wasn’t greasy. Perfect.
1503 E. 11th St.
You can’t talk about Tulsa’s chili without talking about Ike’s. It recently celebrated 106 years in Tulsa, so you know they are doing something right.
The straight chili is mostly seasoned ground beef, but it’s hard to order it straight because it tops so many wonderful things here — burgers, coneys, tamales and even the ingenious chili mac (chili on one side of the bowl and mac an cheese on the other). It’s meaty. And greasy. And no one complains.
McNellie’s Beer House Chili
409 E. First St. and 7031 S. Zurich Ave.
What goes great with chili? Beer. Who has one of the best selections of beer in the city? McNellie’s.
This chili is zesty with ground beef and chorizo sausage. It has a homemade taste with just enough heat.
Coney Island chili
107 N. Boulder Ave.
A bowl of three-way chili with cheese and onions is a mainstay at Coney Island Hot Weiner Shop in the Tulsa Arts District. The staff cooks new batches of chili daily.
Knotty Pig BBQ, Burger & Chili House
6835 E. 15th St.
The house-made chili at Knotty Pig will be found as part of a chili mac dish, Frito pie, chili cheese dog, chili cheese fries and our favorite — a regular bowl of chili with beans and cheese. Knotty Pig also is a first-rate barbecue and catfish joint.
1528 N. 166th East Ave.
The four-way chili includes a large platter of spaghetti, chili, beans and melted cheese, enough for two lunches frankly. The chili is tasty and quite mild.
In this category, we included some new bowls we have tried recently as well as chili dishes that are a little bit different.
Axel Junkyard Hash
Gnarley Dawg, 6011 S. Mingo Road
If you’re up for a new chili-related adventure, the Axel Junkyard Hash at Gnarley Dawg may be right up your alley.
It may look like a traditional chili dish at first glance, but dig to the bottom of a deep bowl to find out what makes this difference.
Inside the bowl is a “base” of hash browns. Heaped on top of the hash browns is a mix of chunky chopped sausage (this is a sausage and hot dog business, after all), grilled onions, chili and cheddar cheese.
One of the best things about this menu item is how hot the food remained all the way through the dining experience.
At times, potato seems to be the dominant flavor, but make sure you get all the ingredients on your fork at the same time to maximize the experience. You should be full when you leave.
Axel Junkyard Hash is priced at $5.99 on the online menu. It wasn’t listed on the wall menu during a recent visit, but if you ask for it, they’ll create a batch for you.
Coney I-Lander, multiple locations
Coney I-Lander makes coneys that generations of Tulsans have been enjoying for decades.
But if you only try the coneys, you’re not taking full advantage of the chili-covered options.
Among them: tamales covered with chili, onions and cheese. It’s a wonderful marriage of tamale flavor, plus the trademark chili flavor that is synonymous with Coney I-Lander.
A “regular” tamale with chili and onions is $1.89. A cheese tamale (a “regular” with cheese added) is $2.09. Our suggestion is to add the cheese.
Merritt’s Bakery, various locations.
Chili is not what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Merritt’s Bakery, but the soup of the day on Fridays is the Roadhouse Chili, a hearty and satisfying mix of finely ground and tender beef, red beans, tomatoes, onions and chilies in a thick broth that carries a good kick of spice.
One thing that sets Merritt’s chili apart from every other iteration around town is that it’s the only one served with a dessert — usually a slice of white or chocolate cake — along with the more familiar accoutrements of dill pickle spear and saltine crackers. You get it all for $4.50.
White Chicken Chili
Oklahoma Joe’s, various locations
You can’t miss the meat in Oklahoma Joe’s chili, as large chunks of smoked white meat chicken are so plentiful that one might be tempted to eat this with a fork. The meat may be a tad overcooked, but that is somewhat offset by the dairy-based broth, seasoned with celery and mild chilies, and augmented by white beans that add to the creamy texture.
As bowl is $3.99, although one can add it as a side dish to one of the many combo meals for a $1 upcharge.
House-made chili bowl
Ike’s Famous Plate Lunches, 3 E. Fifth St.
The new Ike’s Famous Plate Lunches in downtown Tulsa has been open only a few weeks, but it already has developed a reputation for its chicken and slicks (dumplings) and beef sandwiches. We would add: Don’t sleep on its chili.
This restaurant has no connection to Ike’s Chili House, and its chili recipe was developed by co-owner Dwight Beard when he had restaurants around Okmulgee and Lake Tenkiller.
It is a meaty chili with crumbled ground beef cooked in a slightly spicy, tomatoey sauce with roasted tomatoes, onions, mild peppers and beans. It also can be ordered without beans and as part of a three-way or Frito chili pie.
Laffa Medi-Eastern Restaurant and Bar, 111 N. Main St.
Not yo mama’s chili! It features beef and lamb with the addition of some “off the beaten track” spices with a side of feta cheese and labneh.
It was voted “best overall chili people’s choice” at the Rock N’ Folk Chili Cook Off and is served with Greek pita and a lemony mint side salad, sweet potato fries or fruit salad.
Make your own
Remember the White Chili from St. Michael’s Alley? This is one of our most-requested recipes.
ST. MICHAEL’S ALLEY’S WHITE CHILI
2 yellow onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds cooked chicken, chopped
6 (16-ounce) cans great Northern beans
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
3 cups chicken broth
⅓ cup chopped jalapenos
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons oregano
1. Saute onions and garlic until onions are clear.
2. Add remaining ingredients and cook on medium heat, stirring every 10 minutes or until mixture is hot and well blended, about 45 minutes.