An old favorite: Frito pie

All You Can Eat

Frito pie has just four ingredients: Fritos, cheese, onions, and awesome. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what the fourth ingredient is. Chili-esque texture and the ability to melt cheese are essential, but beyond that, it can be chopped beef, pulled pork, beans, or anything else you can dream up. While all of these variations are good, old fashioned chili is hard to beat.

I love Frito pie. When going through a break-up or mourning the loss of a dog, I turn to Frito pie, BBQ, and the bottle. Fritos add a crunch (and a smile) to any dish. In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that Fritos have only three ingredients (corn, corn oil, and salt) and that you add three ingredients to make Frito pie. It’s destiny.

photo / radialmonster 

It’s a classic at state fairs, high school sporting events… and that’s about it. This is sad for such a tasty, cheap, and easy dish. The good news is that Frito pie seems to be making a comeback. Bars all around town feature it. Some hot dog and burger joints also keep this old classic on the menu.

Dog Almighty, besides being a great hot dog place, has a superb Frito pie. You can even get a hot dog weenie or corndog on top. They offer meat and vegetarian chili, so I take all of my vegetarian friends there. Billy’s on Burnet also offers a vegetarian Frito pie. They even pride themselves on their Frito pie and consider it one of the best items on the menu. I would patronize them for that fact alone if they weren’t already a great bar.

The Texas Showdown Saloon also offers an excellent Frito pie. Their no-frills approach creates a down home pie. I’m pretty sure they use Sysco chili but are able to transform it into something extraordinary. Wheatsville Coop’s version has tempeh instead of meat, a fair amount of veggies, and is pretty darn cheap for the large amount of food you get. (No matter how much you can eat, don’t order the large – trust me.)

One of my favorite variations is Jo’s Coffee’s pulled-pork Frito pie. I was skeptical at first, but the taste won me over. The juicy pork blankets the generous portions of red onion and cheese, but it isn’t so moist that it makes the Fritos soggy.

Sogginess can be a major problem. Some prefer the Fritos on top to avoid wet Fritos. I’ve never had a problem with this. Some of the Fritos will soften no matter what. If they all get soggy, you have one of two problems: Your chili is too runny, or you didn’t eat with fervor and excitement. I place Fritos on top and bottom to attain an irresistible balance.

I once got the craving but didn’t want to drive across town. I ended up going to the Jackalope for burgers instead. To my surprise, they have a Frito pie burger – a burger with Fritos, chili, cheese, and onions on top of the meat. All of this with a side of waffle fries. My mind was blown.

The best thing about Frito pie is that you don’t have to know anything about cooking to make it. I once bought a bag of pre-shredded cheese, a can of Wolf chili, added Fritos and onions to it, and people thought I had worked for a while. Next time you bring your lunch to work or school, make it a Frito pie kit with all of the ingredients stored separately. Everyone will eye your dish with envious eyes – especially those on a diet.

Restaurants, bars, and home cooks continue to prove that Frito pie is more than just a state fair oddity. It is a delicious part of our regional cuisine and should be celebrated.

More from James Bickham


Anonymous's picture

I’m with you on Billy’s and Jo’s but Dog Almighty has never impressed me. Something about this column is really sexual.