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The Best Cincinatti-Style Chili in Van Nuys (long)

Todd Everett | Jan 21, 200208:37 PM

Having noted a few days ago that there's a newish restaurant in the San Fernando Valley that specializes in Cincinnati-style chili, I felt a personal responsibility to find out for myself whether a Chowhound might be interested, and share the information here.

So, I visited the place -- Cincinnati Chili by name -- bringing my lovely dining companion, Desiree, and her two children: the impulsive fifteen-year-old James, and moody eight-year-old Emily. The Ritalin hadn't seemed to help Emily; we thought that maybe whatever the Queen City equivalent of a `bowl of red' is would make a difference.

We were seated immediately, this weekday midafternoon, though owner Giuseppe informed us that there had been a line out the door Saturday evening. Frankly, it wouldn't have taken a large crowd; the place has only a few tables, and no counter. It is clean, and bears an "A" health inspection certificate.

The menu on each table could be read in an instant: there are, essentially, only two food items: chili and "Coneys," the latter described as a "grilled wiener in steamed bun with a dab of mustard topped w/chili and a sprinkle of fresh chopped onions." Orders are served with a small packet of oyster crackers. There's a selection of soft drinks, coffee, regular and chocolate milk, and tea.

Both the chili and the "Coney" are available with shredded cheese. A "3-way" chili comes with spaghetti (very thin, remarked Desiree; more like spaghettini) and cheese only. Add beans or onions and it's "4-way" (as I had it, with onions) for $5.95; a "5-way" has cheese, beans and onions atop the chili and spaghetti. That's the way James had it. Desiree and Emily opted for bowls of chili without any of the additions, at $4.95 (add beans for another 20¢). All are served on an oval plate, about eight inches long. Everybody agreed that if we wanted hot dogs, we'd go to 7-Eleven.

(Cincinnati Chili also serves something called the chili sandwich, which is the Coney minus the wiener. Plain, it's $2.30; add 30¢ for cheese).

While we were waiting for our order, the amiable and enthusiastic Giuseppe explained that he had come to California from Cincinnati, where he managed the main branch of a popular chain of local restaurants called Skyline. The chili here is his own variation of that recipe: milder (though a variety of hot sauces are available for customers to pump up the temperature of their order) and, he says, less greasy. He adds that he uses extra-lean beef, and olive oil.

Fifteen years ago, in a nearby location, his first attempt at a Cincinnati chili restaurant hadn't succeeded; he subsequently worked in other people's restaurants until several months ago, when he and his partner started Cincinnati Chili.

Expatriates from that Midwestern town should feel at home, and evidently word is getting around. Next to the cash register is a book, in which customers are encouraged to enter their names, local address, and the high school they attended in Cincinnati.

We all agreed that the chili is fine (though, never having visited Ohio, we can?t vouch for its authenticity), and reasonably priced. Chili is also available to go, at sizes and prices ranging from $4.95 for a half pint to $19.98 for a quart. If we were in the area -- Van Buys Boulevard between Sherman Way and Van Owen -- we wouldn't hesitate to drop by again; in fact, we'd probably eat there often. Whether it's worth a drive of any length, though (we came in from Los Feliz-adjacent), depends on your dedication or, perhaps, your homesickness.

James, never easy to please, seemed sated and happy. Emily had to go to the bathroom, but then again, she always seems to.

Open Monday-Saturday, 11 AM to 7 p.m.
6855 Van Nuys Boulevard
Van Nuys
(818) 442-0024

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