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Loon Cafe vs. Bulldog NE in a chili shootout

Waning temperatures bring on a craving for chili like no other, but where to go? In this Food Fight, we look at the Loon Cafe, known citywide for its award-winning chili, and the new-school spin on the classic dish by the challenger, Bulldog NE.

The Loon Cafe's Pecos River Red Chili is a local favorite.
The Loon Cafe's Pecos River Red Chili is a local favorite.
Yael Grauer

Loon Cafe Loon Cafe has a casual, friendly atmosphere and prides itself on its chili specifically, with its "best chili" medal on the wall. Diners have some nontraditional chili options--the seasonal turkey chili with white beans comes to mind, and chicken chili, veggie chili, and a green chili pork stew are available year round. But the most popular is probably Pecos River Red, a classic Texas-style chili that is hearty and filling, with lean cubes of tender sirloin steak, onions, Tex-Mex spices, and chili peppers. Pecos River Red is sold at Target Field and is the only chili available in three levels of spiciness. The second most traditional chili on the menu is Pinto's Diablo Chili, which is sweet and smoky, with ground beef and kidney beans. You can't go wrong with chili at the Loon Cafe; a tasty and traditional take on this winter comfort food. All chilies are topped with cheddar cheese, green onion and sour cream and served with a side of Texas toast. Chili is $5.75 a cup or $8.95 a bowl. It is also sold by the gallon or half-gallon for carry-out.

Bulldog's chili, with beef brisket, lime, and creme fraiche, is a new twist on an old favorite.
Bulldog's chili, with beef brisket, lime, and creme fraiche, is a new twist on an old favorite.
Yael Grauer

Bulldog NE The Bulldog was jampacked on a Thursday night. It has more of a nightlife atmosphere with a younger crowd, and the decor is just as trendy: high ceilings, brick walls, and soft lighting. I came for one reason only--the Spicy Texas Chili I'd heard so much about. This beanless chili is listed as an appetizer and costs $7 for a generous portion of what can only be described as a new spin on an old favorite. More beefy than tomatoey, the Spicy Texas Chili is like a beef brisket with a kick. The experimental take on the traditional dish includes creme fraiche instead of sour cream, lime, and the best toasted cornbread I've ever had.

The winner Although the Spicy Texas Chili is a tastier dish, and the new-school flair certainly matched the atmosphere, the Bulldog's version was a bit too far afield to really be considered chili. A strong tomato base and lots of beans aren't a requisite for a good chili, but the absence of both made the Spicy Texas Chili a bit more like shredded brisket--which is not to say it wasn't delicious. But for those craving a good, traditional, old-school chili on a cold winter night, chili like mom used to make, the Loon Cafe is still your best bet.


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