Allegedly invented by the mother of (Dallas-based) Frito-Lay founder Elmer Doolin in the 1930s, Frito pie undoubtedly has more merits in regional nostalgia than in actual taste (and certainly nutritional value)—but when in Texas, you gotta try one. Even in Austin!
In its most traditional form, this local delicacy consists of beanless beef chili and cheese (and often chopped jalapeño and/or onion) dumped into an open bag of Frito corn chips. Seriously. And many purists will eat it, and call it Frito pie, only if it’s served in this manner, as it’s supposed to be portable. But if you’re not chowing down at, say, a high school football game or a county fair in Texas, you may encounter this dish as a platter using the same ingredients. And that’s OK too.
Where: Admittedly, Austin is not the most typical of places to try this Texan treat, but you can still find plenty of it here. Ours is from Tamale House East (1707 E 6th St., map), the last remaining restaurant of a popular family-owned local chain that’s otherwise known as the home of delicious migas and breakfast tacos.
When: Wed, 9am-3pm; Thu-Sat, 9am-midnight; Sun, 9am-4pm
Order: The $2.50 Frito pie “dinner” would probably taste best after a long night of bar-hopping, when all you want to eat is something super salty, meaty, and cheesy. Failing that—since this place closes at 3pm—try it at lunch (and may we suggest a side salad?). The Fritos miraculously retain their crispiness despite being doused in soupy chili, and while the clumps of yellow cheese are over-the-top here, the bits that melt suggest why this “pie” has achieved such iconic comfort-food status. We can imagine it working well as a snack at a baseball or football game, especially since taking the Fritos out of the bag, as Tamale House does, seems to mean supersizing the overall portion. Plus, there is something charming about eating out of a chips bag, isn’t there?
Eds' update: Frito pie does not appear to be on the restaurant's menu anymore. Please see our alternatives.
Alternatively: For a few more bucks, the Frito pie at Billy’s on Burnet (2105 Hancock Dr., map), served with tomatoes and onions on the side, gets props. Some places put a twist on the classic: See the fancified $10 take on Lambert’s (401 W. 2nd St., map) bar menu—made with chopped beef brisket, pico de gallo, goat cheese, and queso—and the Frito pie burger at dive bar The Jackalope (404 E. 6th St., map). The real deal, however, lives on at Shady Grove (1624 Barton Springs Rd., map), where “Airstream chili,” onions, jalapeños, Jack and cheddar cheeses get dumped into a bag of Fritos—and served with a spoon. Check out this Eater article for lots more Frito pie in Austin!