Warming and flavorful, with a little spice and crunch, Frito Pie is an easy way to serve a simple chili that ensures its place as comfort food.
It was about a year ago now when I first encountered Frito Pie. I was in New Mexico and when I returned to my hotel one cold evening, I found it laid out in the cafe for guests .
And I can tell you that this was exactly the right time for a warm and comforting meal to appear.
You see we were in Albuquerque to attend the (amazing) annual balloon and the weather had not been cooperating. And this particular evening, even after the green flag went up signaling a “go”, a torrential downpour suddenly and directly hit the fiesta park.
It was serious enough that an evacuation order was given and we ended up drenched as we ran for our car.
We arrived back at our hotel cold, wet, and hungry. And there it was. A big vessel of steaming chili, lots of toppings, with rows of frito bags lined up, their tops conveniently clipped open.
I had to ask the desk clerk what it was and she told me “Frito pie.” And after I went back for thirds and started to thaw out, I decided this might just be the best comfort food ever!
What is Frito Pie
According to Eater, “At its most basic, Frito pie is simply Fritos with chili ladled on top; in Texas, it is typically garnished with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped raw onion.”
Now Frito Pie takes different forms and sometimes comes as a casserole. But, as our hotel did, it’s also served up as a kind of frito pie taco bar where diners scoop out chili and top according to their own tastes.
Finally, it is sometimes assembled and eaten right from individual frito bags. The latter is sometimes called walking tacos, chili in a bag, or taco in a bag.
In terms of its origin, there are arguments between Texas and New Mexico about where the dish originated—check out the above ink if you’d like more on that. But after my story, you can probably guess which state I’m rooting for!
Why You’ll Love This!
Tasty. Even a simple chili is really tasty. Offer up a smorgasbord or tasty toppings and add crunchy fritos and it’s over the top!
Easy. Make a simple chili or open a can–and yes there is organic canned chili. Then cut up your toppings and open some fritos. Easy-peasy!
Versatile. This would be perfect for a easy weeknight dinner, a cub scout event or game day.
Comforting. Perhaps the circumstance of my discovering it gives it an unfair advantage in my heart, but I think most people would agree this falls under the comfort food label.
What You’ll Need
Note that you can use your own chili or canned, in which case you’ll just need fritos and toppings.
- Ground beef. This provides the meaty goodness for the chili.
- Onion. Onion is used in the chili and also as a topping.
- Tomatoes. Tomatoes are used in the chili and also as a topping.
- Taco Seasoning. This delivers chili flavor. You can use an addition tablespoon of chili powder and a tablespoon of cumin if you don’t have taco seasoning.
- Chili powder. This delivers chili flavor.
- Kidney Beans. This adds flavor and texture to the chili. You can use precooked homemade or canned and other types of beans can be substituted.
- Ripe Bell Pepper (optional). I just like to add extra vegetables to recipes.
- Fritos. These add a salty crunch and uniqueness!
- Cheese. This adds creamy goodness and nutrition. Cheddar and Monterey Jack are popular options.
- Other optional toppings could include: jalapeno slices, chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream, or your favorite toppings
- No special tools required!
Step by Step Directions
Chop the onion and topping ingredients as needed. Place each topping into a serving bowl, then set aside.
Prepare the chili (or heat up leftover or canned chili or use your own favorite recipe). In a skillet or Dutch Oven, brown, the ground beef, then add the chopped onion and chopped pepper if using. Simmer until the beef is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Add remaining ingredients and cook another 10 minutes.
Put chili into a serving container (or use cooking pot), and surround this with the toppings. Set out the frito bags, cut open (or fill another bowl with fritos).
Provide each guest with a bowl and let them fill with chili, fritos and the toppings of their choice.
How to Serve
This is a complete meal in itself so really doesn’t need much in the line of sides. But a nice Frozen Strawberry Margarita might be good given the Tex-Mex vibe.
Now as I mentioned, Frito Pie can be served in a few different ways. For the Frito Pie Taco Bar method, set out the chili, fritos and topping and let guests assemble their own bowls.
For the Frito Pie Casserole, you can top the baked casserole with some additional toppings like tomatoes and onions. Then take it to the table and serve guests or let them serve themselves. Consider serving some extra toppings, especially if you want to offer spicy options like a hot salsa, or sliced jalapenos.
Finally, to serve in the bags, people will cut open the bag, then top the fritos with chili and toppings. Personally I’d be inclined to skip this method, fearing burns and spills, and not knowing if chemicals might be released from the bags when the hot chili touches them.
I encourage including at least grated cheese (such as Cheddar or Monterey Jack), chopped tomato and diced onion as toppings. From there go with any extras you’d like. Consider jalapeno slices, chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream, or any other favorite toppings
Variations and Special Diets
I include a simple chili recipe to make sure everyone has access to a recipe that’s easy and quick. But feel free to use your favorite family recipe for this if you’d like.
Of course if you know of a good canned chili that could also work. I even learned that Amy’s makes an organic canned chili. This means that this could become a super easy vegan or vegetarian meal as well since fritos are also plant-based!
Refrigerate any leftovers and you’ll have a few days to serve this up again. But be sure that any open fritos are stored airtight since it would be so sad if they lost their crunch.
Tips & FAQs
Traditionally this is made using taco seasoning. Since I didn’t have any, I ad-libbed with cumin and chili powder, rather than make a grocery run. All good.
I added a chopped pepper for extra flavor and nutrition, in my best add-a-veggie mode. Yes, I’ll stick a vegetable in anywhere it might make sense. But this is entirely optional.
I like to make the chili in an enameled cast iron Dutch Oven. Then it can go right to the table (on a trivet) when I serve where it looks great and retains some heat.
This would also be a great way to serve up leftover chili if you’ve made a giant batch and haven’t used it up.
Best Chili Recipes
- Best Homemade Chili Dog Sauce from Jen Around the World
- Chili con Tres Carne from Hezzi-D’s Recipe Box
- Copycat Empress Chili (Cincinnati Style) from Palatable Pastime
- Frito Pie from Art of Natural Living
- Slow Cooker BBQ Pork Chili from The Spiffy Cookie
- Southwestern Black Bean Chili from That Recipe
- 6 1- ounces individual packages fritos or a regular sized bag
Simple Chili (or you can use a canned chili or your favorite chili recipe):
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 Onion diced
- 2 cups Fresh or canned tomatoes
- I package taco seasoning or 1 T Chili powder and 1 T Cumin
- 1 T Chili powder
- 2 cups beans 1 can, drained and rinsed
- 1 bell pepper diced (optional)
- 1-2 cups grated Cheese cheddar or Monterey Jack
- ½ onion chopped
- 2 tomatoes chopped
- Other Optional toppings: jalapeno slices chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream, or your favorite toppings
- Chop the onion and topping ingredients as needed. Place each topping into a serving bowl, then set aside.
- Prepare the chili (or heat up leftover or canned chili or use your own favorite recipe). In a skillet or Dutch Oven, brown, the ground beef, then add the chopped onion and chopped pepper if using. Simmer until the beef is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 5-10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook another 10 minutes until flavors have blended.
- Put chili into a serving container (or use cooking pot), and surround this with the toppings. Set out the frito bags, cut open (or fill another bowl with fritos).
- Provide each guest with a bowl and let them fill with chili, fritos and the toppings of their choice.
- Hearty Ground Beef Vegetable Soup
- Easy Pumpkin Milkshake