We first heard about The Chili Shak when we received an invitation to attend their one year anniversary last July. The anniversary gathering was ultimately canceled due to lack of response, so we placed them on the “must visit” list which is easily longer than a grocery store receipt for a family of ten. This family run restaurant, with nothing but chili on its mind, can easily be identified as a hidden gem. Tucked away in a small strip center on the corner of Fondren and Braeswood, you could easily pass it up if not for the large pictures of nicely presented chili dishes along the facade.
I want to personally thank Katharine Shilcutt (Food Writer, Houston Press) for the Chili Shak food porn that crossed my screen several times over the last 30 days. She is the reason for the “out of the blue” craving that resulted in the food envy that immediately ensued. I knew I had to bump them up on the list and pay them a visit sooner rather than later. I planned my outing with one hour to spare and I was on a mission to get my chili on!
As I entered the restaurant, I knew chili was in the building! When I approached the counter to place my order, I was asked if it was my first time. I nodded my head in agreement as if I was being given a prize or something. I was handed a small paper cup of chili and took it to the head like a pro. This completely changed my perception of what chili had to be. When I think of Texas chili, I picture large chunks of beef, an entourage of beans, a more red than brown color base, and a spread of tomato chunks that appear here and there. This is not that chili!
This California version was smooth, with smaller pieces of beef that were clearly ground and cooked down enough so that every time it hit the tongue, you got the full effect. I didn’t notice any beans and if there was tomato present, it was only by taste and not by sight. This chili was earthy, rich and full of flavor; yet mild and not spicy. It was brown in color and this very “simple” looking chili made you wonder about the complexity of the recipe. My mind began to wonder…what chiles did they use? Maybe just chili powder? What about the peppers? The spices? As with the Tootsie Pop commercial…”The world may never know”. This was hands down some of the best chili I’ve tasted in Houston (and possibly beyond).
My choices for the day were the Chili Beef Dog and my childhood favorite, the Chili Fritos (I call it a Frito Pie). The Chili Dog comes with mustard and chili, but I added cheese for good measure. The beef dog is split half way through which provided a good resting place for the heaping portion of chili that lay in between and spanned over the edges of the bun. The bun was soft and although it did an okay job at withstanding the load, I did go in with a fork and knife to start the process. It got really messy, really quick.
The Frito Pie was amazing and reminded me of some of my best meals as a child. When I was small, we would open a bag of Fritos and pour the chili straight in the bag. Oh yes, those were the days. I topped my Frito Pie off with cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Both meals were off the rocker good and I loved the fact that the chili was always the featured act and was never overpowered by anything else. I can’t wait to go back to try the Chili Rice Bowl (dish that birthed The Chili Shak), the Chili Burger, and the Chili Nu-Nu’s (Spaghetti with Chili). They also carry other items like Nachos, Burritos, and Baked Potatoes.
The Chili Shak came highly recommended to me and I want to pass the same recommendation on to you! So go out and enjoy!
The Chili Shak
9900 Fondren Rd.
Houston, TX. 77498