In my attempt to consume some of the meatier delights from Jonathan Gold’s 99 Things to Eat Before You Die in LA, I convinced some of my coworkers to join me on a trip to Chili John’s in Burbank. In addition to reading about it on the list, I had heard a lot of other great things about the place, so I was surprised to find it pretty empty for lunch on a Friday. We all found a seat at the horseshoe-shaped counter and began our journey into chili.
Chili John’s has been around for a long time. In fact, it was founded in 1900 by a man from Wisconsin named John. So this isn’t some frou-frou California-style chili loaded with avocado and tomatoes, this is chili in its purest, most meaty form, to get cheeseheads through those cold Wisconsin winters. Although John himself passed away in the ’30s, Chili John’s seems to have kept to its roots. They do offer a vegetarian chili that probably would have made John gag, but the chicken and beef chili are still going strong.
The staff stuck inside the counter were incredibly friendly and offered up some samples for everyone to try before choosing what they wanted. I tried out their spicy beef and chicken chili, then decided to go for the beef. The chili doesn’t come with beans (as it shouldn’t), and the real way to order it is on spaghetti. So I went with this and watched as our guy dipped his ladle into a big vat of chili and dumped it on some spaghetti. I ordered some cheese to top it with and was ready for action. The cheese came in a little cup so I could put as much as I wanted in, and poured on the whole thing. There didn’t seem to be a high enough chili to spaghetti ratio, but I dug in voraciously and found myself in chili bliss. It was spiced just perfectly and was pure beef and spice. This Wisconsin-style chili could definitely compete with my delicious Detroit chili. Plus, my concern about there being too little chili was way off. The ratio was perfect and I was definitely not stuck with extra spaghetti in the end.
But I was still hungry, so my coworker and I decided to split a chili dog. We opted for the spicy chicken chili on this one, to be healthy of course. Then dumped another cup of cheese on that sucker. The dog was just like a chili dog should be: completely inedible by hand. I had to whip out a fork and knife to eat the dog and even doing that it took a few bites to get through each cutout. Although the spaghetti with the chili was amazing, the hot dog was the highlight of my meal. You couldn’t ask for much more from a chili-dog outside of Detroit.
At the end, we all got a little pie to share, and this lemon cream pie was the perfect ending for a prefect lunch outing. Chili John’s definitely lived up to my expectations. From the no-frills interior to the great staff to the perfectly spicy and seasoned chili, there wasn’t one thing to complain about. I’d highly recommend the place for anyone seeking some good food. Hell, even the vegetarian in the group was a happy camper.