Chili, cheese, and chips ... whats not to love? Frito pie is big in Texas, where Gabe Thompson of LArtusi used to grab a bag in the cafeteria snack line at school, and he paid delicious homage to his childhood memory at this Septembers San Gennaro festival. Enamored with the walking taco, we set off to find versions at dive bars and barbecue restaurants around the city, and we hit the chili-laced motherlode, turning up worthy specimens at everywhere from Williamsburg watering hole the Levee to East Village cocktail haunt the Beagle. Check out our slideshow to see how each of the gut-busters stacked up.
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RUB208 W. 23rd St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-524-4300; $9.95
Though Righteous Urban Barbecue is known for its smoked meat, the Chelsea spot also serves a stellar Frito pie. It might be our favorite because of the generous slice of nacho cheese ... or maybe it’s the addition of baked beans. The bag is laid down on a red-plastic bowl before being buried by the chips, chili, baked beans, nacho cheese, diced white onion, and, finally, sliced jalapeños. And no matter how delicious it is, this one's sized for sharing.
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Branded Saloon603 Vanderbilt Ave., nr. Bergen St.; 718-484-8704; $7
You may get distracted by the many options on Branded Saloon’s vast menu (alcoholic milkshakes, anybody?), but focus on what goes well with the Frito pie. Shredded yellow Cheddar and sour cream crown this veggie-heavy version, which leans Southwestern thanks to the inclusion of corn kernels. While the spicy meat version is most authentic, there’s also a meat-free variety.
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Cowgirl519 Hudson St., at 10th St.; 212-633-1133; $7.95
The bar at the West Village’s Cowgirl may be decorated in antler clad light fixtures, but the chili here is definitely not moose. Served in the bag with a flurry of almost too thick Cheddar fluffing out the top, it’s a meat-and-bean version with a whole lot of kick. The Über-moist meat becomes even more succulent when you mix in the sour cream; jalapeños are provided if you want to really make your mouth burn. Extinguish the heat with one of Cowgirl’s margaritas.
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The Brindle Room277 E. 10th St., nr. Ave. A; 212-529-9702; $12
Jeremy Spector’s East Village charmer is known as much for its terrific lunchtime burger as for its morning doughnut program, and those who live within delivery range should also know about the Frito pie. Brindle Room’s version of the stomach-stretching dish is for delivery only (though in-house diners can somehow luck out if they specially request it). The perfect balance of meat-and-bean chili to Fritos means every chip gets its share of the spicy meat. A layer of cheese gets lost in the mess, but that’s okay ... it’s really all about the beef and chips.
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Double Wide503-505 E. 12th St., nr. Ave. A; 917-261-6461; $9
East Village newcomer Double Wide serves a unique, upmarket spin on Frito pie. The short-rib chili is spooned into a cast-iron skillet and topped with chips and chunks of aged white Cheddar. The whole thing gets a quick melt in the oven before being presented to your bar-stool or backyard perch. Slices of avocado, a scoop of sour cream, and sliced jalapeños are served on the side for your mix-and-match pleasure.
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Mable’s Smokehouse44 Berry St., at N. 11th St.; 718-218-6655; $4.95
Mable’s Smokehouse has a Southern charm and a smoky aroma that will hit you as soon as you walk in the door. Pre-game before your barbecue platter with this Frito pie, which features mild shredded Cheddar and sour cream on the side. The all-meat chili is the most tacolike of the bunch, meaning there’s plenty of saucy stuff to scoop up with your Fritos.
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The Beagle162 Ave. A, nr. E. 10th St.; 212-228-6900; $5
The Frito pie at this cocktails-and-apps spot takes the form, appropriately, of a six-bite snack. You’ll find the bowl of chunky chili, chips, onion, and grated Cheddar in the “tidbits” section of the menu, and while it's definitely a cheffy version of the rough-and-ready dish, refinement can't hold back the big Texas flavor.
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The Levee212 Berry St., at N. 3rd St.; 718-218-8787; $4
Sidle up to the bar or snuggle into a wooden booth; what isn’t up for discussion at the Levee is ordering anything to eat but the Frito pie (not that you have many other options). This addictively lowbrow bar version features a ground-meat-heavy chili heaped over chips and glow-in-the-dark orange cheese sauce. It's the only version we sampled that features the chili on top, a move that might be innovative, but leaves the cheese-to meat-to-Frito ratio a little bit skewed.
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The Brooklyn Ice House318 Van Brunt St., at Pioneer St.; 718-222-1865; $4
It’s not surprising to see dock workers in yellow coveralls and waders playing Iron Man pinball and swigging cans of beer-cozy-swaddled Pork Slap Pale Ale at the Brooklyn Ice House. What is more surprising is how good the dive's spicy, meat-only chili is. Chips are left in the bag before getting a double scoop of the stuff and a slathering of warm nacho cheese. Sliced jalapeños are added for extra bite, though they're hardly needed.