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Dayton Food Wars: Cincinnati style chili

Welcome to the first ever installation of Dayton Food Wars, where each month I pit two local food favorites against each other in a head to head food showdown. This issue features the Battle of Cincinnati style chili. Cincinnati style chili isn't merely food. In this area, it is a religion. Fights have been known to break out over which chili restaurant is better and how it should be eaten. For this matchup, Skyline Chili is going head to head and toe to toe with Gold Star Chili.

A Goldstar three way and coney dog.
Andrew Fong@Flickr

To enjoy Cincinnati style chili, the first thing you need to do is throw away any preconceived notions you have about what chili should be. Cincinnati style chili breaks the chili rules with its unique combination of ingredients. Be prepared to savor the flavors of cinnamon, cloves and chocolate while leaving behind chili peppers and powder. Don't expect of bowl of steaming spicy stew either-in the Cincinnati area, we prefer our chili to be served over a plate of spaghetti or a hot dog. Here is an ordering guide for anyone who may need one:

  • One Way-a bowl of chili
  • Two Way-spaghetti topped with chili
  • Three Way-spaghetti topped with chili and finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • Four Way-spaghetti topped white chili, cheddar and onion or beans
  • Five Way-spaghetti topped with chili, cheddar, onion and beans
  • Six Way (not available in all restaurants)-spaghetti topped with chili, cheddar, onions, beans and garlic cloves
  • Coney-hot dog topped with chili, cheddar, onions and mustard

Gold Star Chili was born in 1965 when four brothers from Jordan opened "Hamburger Heaven" in Mount Washington. After realizing their chili was outselling their burgers, they dropped most of the menu items and renamed the restaurant "Gold Star Chili". Gold Star is the official chili of the Cincinnati Bengals and currently operates approximately 95 locations in the Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky area. Their chili can also be found in Chili House restaurants in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Russia and Syria.

Skyline Chili was founded by Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides and three of his sons. After working for another Cincinnati style chili restaurant, Empress Chili, Lambrinides struck out on his own and the first Skyline opened in 1949 on Glenway Avenue, atop of Price Hill. Skyline currently operates approximately 100 restaurants in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida. It is the official chili of the Cincinnati Reds, Columbus Blue Jackets, Kings Island and the Cincinnati Zoo.

According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume 2 million pounds of chili a year, making our area the Chili Capital of the United States. At one point in time, chili lovers could enjoy the flavor of our local fare at Chili Fest held at Yeatman's Cove along the Ohio River. Sadly, this event is no longer celebrated.

For this month's war, I have decided to enjoy coney dogs, hold the onion. All things being equal, the only judging criteria I used for this week was the chili itself. While not all hot dogs are created equal, Skyline and Gold Star both use dogs (buns, cheese and mustard) that are similar enough in taste to not affect the outcome of this contest. The Skyline chili has a sweeter taste and somewhat wetter consistency. Gold Star has a spicier flavor and is a bit thicker, both of which are assets in my eyes. In the battle of Cincinnati style chili, I declare Gold Star the winner. I prefer the spicier flavor and thicker texture. For my Skyline loving friends, fear not. My completely, totally unscientific research reveals that the majority of people prefer Skyline by 4-1 margin.