“Frito Pie” is a culinary phenomenon unique to the Southwest. The most common iteration includes Fritos (a snack-style corn-chip), chili sauce (ground beef, tomatoes, spices, beans), and cheese (more often cheese product).
The first time I experienced Frito Pie I was at a high school sports event. My local friends were scandalized that I had never tried the “best stuff on earth.” So we waited in line for about ten minutes, my buddy ordered (in an incomprehensible string of Spanish), and the lady behind the counter handed me this:
I was alarmed. I do not often eat snack chippies out of a bag, with a utensil.
And I’m not going to lie, it was less than great. It was cheap concession-stand food. I saw the potential, but I was not impressed.
The longer I was in Mexas, the more I realized that locally-owned restaurants sometimes feature Frito Pie. I avoided it for a while, remembering the “meh” first impression it made. I actually went the full two years in Mexas without ever encountering it again, quite a feat in such a Frito-Pie-dominated area.
Eventually, though, my spirit of adventure won out. I had relocated to an area (Tejas) just slightly less culturally overwhelming than Mexas. On our date night, I spotted Frito Pie on the “House Favorites” section of the menu and decided to give it another go. And when a waitress came near with a plate covered in real cheese and jalapenos I immediately thought “nachos” and assumed they were not for me. I was waiting for the bag and the plastic spoon.
But it was for me. And this is what I got:
Turns out restaurants take their Frito Pies seriously. It was real chili and real cheese and it was all hot and toasty and delicious. So I decided I actually kind of enjoyed it. Frito Pie became a regular order whenever Yanks come down to visit. It’s too bizarre and strangely yummy not to share.
Recently, however, I discovered Frito Pie 3.0 and I need to let you know about it, because it made my brain explode. If Frito Pie Beta was enigmatic, Frito Pie 3.0 is a complete paradox. Look at it:
It’s GROSS looking.
It’s so wrong. There’s no chili. There’s no cheese. It’s very… earthy looking. I like my foods to be non-tan and this dish is about as brown/khaki/tan-colored as possible. And where was the CHEESE?! It was missing so much… but…
Let me break it down for you.
That “Juice” is what does it. It’s this brothy, spiced mystery juice they keep in pitchers on the side counter and pour over anything you want. The Fritos soak up the juice so everything takes on this extra dimension. Brisket is what that place is known for, so the hand-smoked chopped brisket makes it almost gourmet. I think they also make their pickles in-house, so there’s a little extra sweet-and-tangy vinegar kick.
All of that is good, but you know how I knew this version was the best ever?
I didn’t even miss the cheese.