Best of Denver

The Ten Best Bowls of Chili Con Carne in Denver

Green chile may be king in Denver, but there's also some great chili con carne.
Westword file photo
Green chile may be king in Denver, but there's also some great chili con carne.
In the land of green chile that is Denver, finding the best bowl of chili con carne can be a difficult task. The main characteristics in a good chili are tender beef, spicy yet balanced flavors, a satisfying thick and hearty texture, and a dark-brown color. When it comes to the heat factor of chili, you want enough to grab your attention, but not so much that you burn your mouth and can’t enjoy the other flavors. Here are the ten best in town, in alphabetical order, all made from scratch and served in bowls with simple accompaniments, on half-pound burgers and quarter-pound dogs, and even ladled onto gooey mac and cheese.

click to enlarge The Cherry Cricket's chili recipe dates back to 1945. - KEN HOLLOWAY
The Cherry Cricket's chili recipe dates back to 1945.
Ken Holloway
Cherry Cricket
2641 East Second Avenue

This landmark in Cherry Creek North offers up the most unusual bowl of chili on this list. The Cherry Cricket is known far and wide for great burgers, but its chili recipe goes all the way back to 1945 and original owner Elizabeth McGuire. According to manager Samantha Taxin, the recipe is described as “Sioux City Southwestern red chili.” The Southwestern flair comes through with a pleasing combination of beef, chiles and spicy flavor; but what makes it unique is a distinct sweetness — not overly so, but sweet nonetheless, which comes as a front note that surprises your palate immediately. When asked, Taxin throws up her hands as if to suggest that there's a secret ingredient that diners will only be able to guess at (because she's not telling). You can order a bowl by itself or have it ladled on top of your favorite burger or “dawg.”

click to enlarge Chicago's chili will make you yearn for the Windy City. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Chicago's chili will make you yearn for the Windy City.
Ken Holloway
Chicago Style Beef & Dogs
6680 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood

Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Joe and Luanne Margotte and their daughter Dianne Margotte-Zimmerman, this tribute to the Windy City on West Colfax (in the heart of the 40 West Arts District) offers up a mighty fine bowl of red chili. Joe is one hell of a good cook, with impeccable attention to detail. His bowl of red is thick and hearty, with great color and texture, including beans. You'll find well-balanced chili flavor without too much heat. If you yearn for the sublime experience of a Chicago-style chili dog, you needn't look further than West Colfax.

click to enlarge Elway's makes a Prime chili. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Elway's makes a Prime chili.
Ken Holloway
2500 East First Avenue

True to John Elway form, the former quarterback's namesake restaurant aims high, whether it's in the staff or the cooking. So even a simple bowl of chili must be of the highest quality and worthy of the Elway brand. According to culinary director Tyler Wiard, “John Elway always strives for excellence and guards against becoming complacent with success.” The spicy steak chili is a game-changer that lives up to Elway's reputation. At its heart is USDA Prime steak, which is trimmed and cut by hand to the proper size for chili. The flavor is bright and bold, with a Broncos amount of kick. The heat will get your attention, as it should, but it’s not overpowering. The bold flavor is enhanced with great texture and a deep mahogany-brown color. If you go for a bowl, you're definitely going to score big; it’s accompanied by crispy tortilla strips, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and finely diced red onion.

click to enlarge Newbarry's does Coney Island-style chili right. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Newbarry's does Coney Island-style chili right.
Ken Holloway
Newbarry’s Restaurant
2995 West Jewell Avenue

At its current location since 1948, this popular neighborhood diner is best known for serving breakfast all day, so an egg-topped skillet could be lunch or dinner, too. But Newbarry's also serves fantastic red chili. New owner Luis Colin recently reworked the recipe to cut back on the fat a little without sacrificing mouthfeel and that hearty stick-to-your-ribs quality. The makeover has been a smashing success that hits all the right notes. It’s well balanced and well seasoned,so it can stand alone, but you can also get it on a wide variety of menu items, including burgers and dogs.

click to enlarge Peppers serves up chili and good stories. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Peppers serves up chili and good stories.
Ken Holloway
Peppers Restaurant
3500 Morrison Road

Great stories abound from Peppers owner George Strompoulos, such as how he met his wife on a skiing trip to Aspen in 1972 (and their marriage is still thriving today). Or how his diner's time-tested chili was adopted from his original partner, Milt Latsonas, who got it from his father-in-law as a Coney Island hot dog recipe, which is one way to order it here. This chili is available with or without beans and offers a rich combination of versatile flavors and textures.