Thursday, June 30, 2011

51st State - Texas Chili

It was a few weeks ago that 51st State tweeted that their new dish was a Frito Pie, and that intrigued me. Fritos may just well be my favorite snack food. So though it's taken me a few weeks to finally try the triple pepper, Shiner Bock braised Texas Chili, the wait finally paid off. Against the backdrop of the Bay Bridge, I ate what just may be my highlight of the week.

As much as I have a deep fascination with the state of Texas, I can't say that I am all too familiar with Frito Pie. Actually, my first and only real association with the dish comes from King of the Hill, a show that I loved and watched religiously. Peggy used to make Frito Pie as one of her signature dishes, and I always wanted to try it! In my head I always imagined what it would be like. Well, today it was as if Peggy came to life and served me up her specialty. It was everything I had always dreamed about and more.

When I saw the tweet from 51st State that it was their one year anniversary Wednesday and that they were close to my work, my lunch plans were set. I grabbed a colleague who is also a big fan of street food, and we set off to enjoy the nice weather and grab some yummy food. She already knew that she wanted to try the Mochiko Chicken, and I told her that it was one of my favorite street food dishes. When we arrived I had a slight hesitation over whether to order a Patty Melt or the Texas Chili, but the nice guy at 51st State gave me a sample of the chili to try. As soon as I took one bite I knew this was the dish I wanted.

First, I love beans. I really do. I eat them all the time, in fact. But I don't like beans in chili, and most chilis have beans. But not Frito Pie chili! The chili in a Frito Pie is served up Texas-style, which means no beans and all beef. I liked the sound of that! 51st State's chili has an amazing flavor. It has a tomato base with notes of chili, pepper and garlic. It is spicy, but spicy in a good way. It enhances the flavor of the food but never overpowers it. It is warm and hearty and comforting. The beef is slow braised and perfectly tender. In fact, it's soft enough to cut through it with a plastic fork! And 51st State gives you a ton of it—my plate was huge! This wonderful mixture is then served over a bed of Fritos, topped with sour cream, green onions, cheddar cheese and jalapenos. Two lime wedges are included as a garnish.

I can't say that there was one thing I didn't like about this dish. I thought that the Fritos would turn into a soggy mess if I didn't eat it quick enough, but that didn't happen. They absorbed the liquid of the chili, but they just took on another pleasing texture that was gritty and never squishy. It was actually a nice contrast to the occasional crunch of an untouched Frito. The whole dish had a nice smoky undertone, and the cheddar cheese gave it a sharpness that lingered on the tongue.

My Frito Pie was definitely enhanced by the gorgeous San Francisco weather that day, and my colleague and I enjoyed lunch on Embarcadero while soaking up the sun. Even now while writing this review, my tummy is rumbling at the memory of my lunch. It's the current special, so I would run out and get it while it's still on the menu. Peggy Hill would be proud.

Rating: 5/5 (ratings guide)

51st State (@51ststatesf) $7.00 per pie, plus 50-cent surcharge for credit

Does reading this make you want to try this vendor? Tell them that you saw them at I Left My Cart in San Francisco and support San Francisco street cuisine!

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