Red Chile

Chili con carne literally means chile with meat, and in its original, true-Texas form, that is what it is: beef that is chunked or coarsely ground saturated with the flavor of chile either in the form of pureed roasted pods or chile powder and a liquid medium. Some spices, such as cumin, salt, and pepper, are welcome in the Lone Star paradigm, known as a “bowl of red,” but beans are taboo. Chili con carne’s beginnings predate the Republic of Texas. Historians speculate that Mexican families living on both sides of the Rio Grande stewed beef with peppers not only to stretch the quantity, but, in the same way other cultures use curry spices, to disguise the taste of less-than-fresh provisions. After the Civil War, chili became identified with the “chili queens” of San Antonio’s mercado, an anything-goes outdoor bazaar where Texans dined on tamales, enchiladas, and fiery chili con carne. The queens who served it were colorful women in festively embroidered peasant blouses. Most contemporary accounts make a point of their virtue, despite a reputation for flirting with customers. Still, by the time the chili queens and their wares were banished for health-code violations in 1943, Texas-style chili had developed an enduring reputation as a red-hot meal at the edge of dining respectability. (Note that we are using the New Mexico rule of spelling: chile with an E when referring to the plant or pod, chili with an I when referencing the stew.)

Restaurants With This Dish

Joe & Aggie’s Cafe - Green Chili Enchilada
Joe & Aggie’s Cafe


Anita Street Market


Crisp-fried chimichanga is smothered with red chile sauce and topped with guacamole.
La Fiesta Cafe


Little Diner


Wrapped fry bread taco on a plate ... native-American tacos
Fry Bread House



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