Battle of the Meat Chili

Saddle Ranch Chop House vs. Bison Witches Deli

Now that fall has arrived (yes we know it's still 65-70 degrees, but that's sweater weather to most Phoenicians), there's nothing that satisfies our bellies like a nice steaming bowl of chili. This week, we hit up two local restaurants to see whether their meat-filled versions warmed our hearts or cooled our spirits.

In One Corner: Saddle Ranch Chop House
9375 W. Coyotes Blvd., Glendale

A heaping bowl of comforting cowboy chow...
A heaping bowl of comforting cowboy chow...

This west coast steakhouse chain with locations in Old Town Scottsdale and in Glendale's Westgate City Center is the kind of kitschy, over-the-top place visitors beg to visit because they're convinced that's what the Wild, Wild Southwest is all about. Think stagecoach wheel chandeliers, horse tack on the walls, and the ultimate in drunken humiliation inducers: a mechanical bull. Yee-haw!

Saddle Ranch's bucking bull.

​Our expectations were pretty high going into this one. If there's one dish cowboys do well, it's chili. Saddle House's version arrived piping hot in a cute little iron kettle and topped with onions, cheddar and a dollop of sour cream.

It smelled so mouthwatering that one dining companion sat there drooling with spoon in hand, complaining about the delay while we snapped a few photos.

The wait was worth it. The chili was savory and filled with high quality ground beef. Chunky tomatoes and peppers provided a measure of acidity, while kidney beans anchored the dish with earthy flavor.

No one at our table was a huge fan of onions, but Saddle Ranch did a solid job of calming the sometimes overwhelming bite of onions by using a very finely chopped sweet variety.  

"For a cowboy joint in a Southwest town, I was expecting a little more heat," voiced our dining companion.

Though the chili was flavorful, it was about as spicy-hot as Taco Bell's mild sauce. Disappointing for jalapeno lovers but more palatable to the general population. Still, we thought it was a fine chili; perfect for al fresco dining on a cool fall night.


In the Other Corner: Bison Witches Deli
21 E. Sixth St., Tempe

Bison Witches' chili, ready for your greasy spoon.
Bison Witches' chili, ready for your greasy spoon.

Service is as bare bones as the decor. You'll get your drinks and food in reasonable time, but don't expect a lot of personal attention. It's doubtful the server will come and ask you how your meal is. Our table didn't mind the lack of interaction, though.

We were too busy devouring the heaping pile of chili stuffed inside a bread bowl, first with our eyes and then our eager tongues. Bison Witches' version was diner style -- a simple, meat-based chili with jalapenos and onions, topped with cheddar.

"It's a little orange, and I don't mean just the cheese," said one friend.

Sure enough, the chili had the red-orange tinge that usually indicates greasy spoon food. And it was greasy, especially in comparison with Saddle Ranch's lean version. The meat here was plentiful, but oily -- a fact that was made more obvious by the lack of starchy legumes to soak up the grease. 

Not that the chili was bad. It was thick and hearty, with a nice kick from the jalapenos that really popped every couple of mouthfuls. The white bread bowl helped to mitigate the burn, and also to sop up some of the grease.

It's amazing how much the quality and combination of ingredients differed between these two chilis, especially given the cost of both dishes was about $5 a cup. 

The Winner: Saddle Ranch. No bull.          


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