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.
Green chile may be king in Denver, but there's also some great chili con carne. Westword file photo

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click to enlarge The Rackhouse ladles up a great cup of chili. - KEN HOLLOWAY
The Rackhouse ladles up a great cup of chili.
Ken Holloway
Rackhouse Pub
2875 Blake Street

Proprietor Chris Rippe offers a chili experience worthy of the excellent craft beer from Bierstadt Lagerhaus and C Squared cider being made in the same building. This chili is loaded with generous chunks of beef and pork as well as a blend of black and red beans. But the star ingredient might just be the Bierstadt lager, which makes for a tantalizing taste sensation in every bite. And another hidden ingredient proves the adage that everything is better with bacon. Served with sides of green onions, grated cheese, sour cream and flatbread, the Rackhouse's hearty offering will satisfy your cravings. Those in the know (which now includes you) can also order chili mac off-menu, which comes as a big scoop of chili on the bottom, a scoop of gooey six-cheese macaroni in the middle and another scoop of chili on top.

click to enlarge Sam's No. 3 has had plenty of practice making chili. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Sam's No. 3 has had plenty of practice making chili.
Ken Holloway
Sam’s No. 3
1500 Curtis Street

With close to a hundred years in business (and possibly the biggest menu in town), the iconic Sam’s No. 3 downtown has had plenty of time to perfect its red chili recipe. You can find this chili in many tantalizing dishes as well as straight-up in a bowl. Served piping hot, the Coney Island-style red is thick and rich with lip-smacking chili flavor. Offered with or without beans, the setup includes oyster crackers, red chili flakes and red vinegar. In true Greek-diner fashion, you’ll find the hearty chili on top of burgers, dogs, Toro pots (a Sam's invention) and Frito pie. Up front, owner Sam Armatas is still at the helm directing all the action.

click to enlarge Second Home's chili is a little more gourmet than some. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Second Home's chili is a little more gourmet than some.
Ken Holloway
Second Home Kitchen & Bar
150 Clayton Lane

Meticulously handcrafted under the watchful eye of executive chef Denis Zvekic, the chili con carne at Second Home is a masterpiece. It takes fastidious attention to detail to create a dish this good, which is more than you'd expect in a rustic dish like chili. The meat includes wagyu tri-tip as well as low-and-slow-smoked beef brisket. The blend of chiles includes roasted poblanos, chipotles and more. This chili is also studded with kidney beans, which are cooked just until the centers are creamy. You'll also encounter chunks of tomato that melt in your mouth like butter. Each order is enhanced with sliced green onions, housemade crème fraiîche and aged cheddar cheese from the Longview Creamery.

click to enlarge Steve's Snappin' Dogs has a dog-worthy chili. - KEN HOLLOWAY
Steve's Snappin' Dogs has a dog-worthy chili.
Ken Holloway
Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs
3525 East Colfax Avenue

At one of the best hot dog shops in Denver, owners Steve and Linda Ballas have created an exceptional chili con carne. Steve took his long and abiding passion for food and cooking and set out to concoct the ultimate hot dog chili, which pairs nicely with a locally brewed beer called Steve’s Snappin’ Ale. This robust chili is made with beans and offers top-notch flavor, texture and color. Steve can be proud, because his chili pushes the envelope for all the heat and flavor you can get without overpowering his famous snappin’ dogs.

click to enlarge West End Tap House swaps out the beef for elk. - KEN HOLLOWAY
West End Tap House swaps out the beef for elk.
Ken Holloway
West End Tap House
3945 Tennyson Street

Got elk? Known in the Berkeley neighborhood for Belgian fries and dipping sauces, executive chef Gary Johnson is rocking out a fantastic menu at the West End Tap House, including a kickass bowl of chili con carne made with elk. Although this chili may be lighter and leaner than its beef counterpart, you still get a rich texture with great color and fantastic flavors. Well balanced, it has a spicy but not overdone kick. The elk is tender yet chewy, and the beans round out the hearty bowl of red (garnished with green onions and cheddar cheese). According to assistant manager Matthew McGee, “If we tried to take this chili off the menu, our customers would riot.” It’s that good. If you ask nicely, you can add the chili on top of some award-winning creamy and dreamy orecchiette mac and cheese.

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Ken Holloway discovered his passion for food writing in 2010 when he began touring the country for restaurants showcased on the top food television shows. His travels have taken him to all 50 states and more than 300 eateries. He is an avid home cook who enjoys reading and collecting cookbooks and is a hopeful cookbook author working on a compendium of the best American comfort food recipes.