This small bar makes the best chili in SE Wisconsin

Gray skies, leaf-less trees and cooling temps tend to put me in the mood for hearty comfort foods. And even though temperatures have been warmer than usual for December in SE Wisconsin, chili-eating weather is here.

Just like we’ve done in the past, we asked our readers to send us their favorite chili hotspots. Three locations were selected, chili was enjoyed, and our results are as follows…
#3 – Shirl’s Frozen Custard 7943 Sheridan Road, Kenosha

Shirl’s is a popular spot in Kenosha for burgers and frozen custard, and I’m a little embarrassed to mention that I’d never been here before. So, needless to say, I was excited when Shirl’s was mentioned for our chili challenge.

The chili at Shirl’s (small $2.79, large $3.39) was decent (I’d say it kind of reminded me of Wendy’s chili), albeit a little inconsistent. One serving was pretty greasy with a really strong oregano flavor and a medium heat level with grilled onions. But a later other serving didn’t seem greasy at all and without the overpowering oregano (yay!), but had virtually no heat (boo!) and raw onions. Maybe one bowlful was scooped and served without being stirred up a bit first; that’s my theory anyway. We also asked for cheese and onions to be added. I kind of dug that Shirl’s used nacho cheese instead of shredded cheddar. It seemed like a very “drive-in” thing to do, and I wish similar places would offer a cheese choice – shredded or whiz.
#2 – Swingin’ Door Exchange 219 E. Michigan Street, Milwaukee

This is a bar/restaurant in downtown Milwaukee that has been slinging drinks since 1931.  The vibe was great and the menu went beyond bar food to steaks and complicated salads.



This chili (cup $3.50, bowl $5.50 + $0.50 for cheese/onions) tastes exactly how chili should taste. Thick and spicy and meaty with diced onions and peppers and exactly the right amount of heat. Shredded cheddar and diced raw onions were served on the side so you could decide exactly how much of each you’d like to add. Simply, really good chili.

I just want to take a quick sec to talk about what a fun place this is – from the kitschy decor to the delicious Moscow mules to the 70’s and 80’s music that was playing overhead to the waitstaff singing Little River Band songs with us – I cannot wait to go back to this place. Great time!
 #1 Toad Hall 611 Wisconsin Avenue, Racine



As delicious as the chili was at Swingin’ Door Exchange, the chili at Toad Hall (cup $3.50, bowl $5) is on new level. It’s just so… complex. Smoky, spicy, but also a touch sweet. You can tell after just one bite that this is a recipe that was developed over time. And topped with shredded cheddar and diced red onions – whoa… Corey, Pope of Chilitown, (the creator of the chili recipe mentioned on the Toad Hall menu), well done, sir!


Just to make your mouth water a bit more, Toad Hall also serves up Frito Chili Pie ($7).

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