Frito Pie Just Might be Austin’s Best—And Most Customizable—Snack

Top your Fritos with tons of chili or balls of cheesy octopus

By Matt Taylor-Gross

Published on July 26, 2018

At la Barbecue, thick cuts of smoked brisket and house-made beans make for one hell of a Frito pie.

Unlike most pies, Frito pie isn't baked, it's assembled. Born in Texas, the Frito pie is served at fairs and ballgames, and it's traditionally made by ripping open a bag of Fritos, pouring in some sloppy chili, and topping it off with grated cheese. Tom Micklethwait of Micklethwait Craft Meats in Austin is a Frito pie aficionado; he says this Austin favorite came about because Frito Lay and a Texas canned chili company partnered up to make a portable snack at a Texas fair.

It ended up being so popular that restaurants started making their own versions. Around Austin you can find Frito pie anywhere and everywhere, from old-school greasy spoons to beer joints, and even at James Beard-nominated restaurants. Most places have ditched the foil bag—although if you really look, you can definitely still find it served the original way—but the basics remain: At its core, Frito pie is just a bed of the salty corn chips piled high with all kinds of fixins. And there are a lot of riffs on this popular pie.

Aside from the crunchy base, the Frito pie can be topped with just about anything. Pricy cuts of smoked barbecue are taking the place of cowboy canned chili at places like la Barbecue, Micklethwait, and at Styles Switch BBQ, and some places are making their own "Fritos" in-house. And some of them may not bear any resemblance to any Frito pie you've seen before. Bryce Gilmore of Odd Duck crafts his pie with goat chili and a blue corn tortilla chip, all topped with soft scrambled eggs. Kemuri-Tatsuya's take on Frito pie involves some fried octopus fritters and towering corn chip strips. No matter how fancy a Frito pie gets, it's still a great comfort food.

East Austin watering hole Yellow Jacket Social Club keeps it old-school by serving the dish in the bag (the bowl is just there to help with the heat).
Barbecue restaurant Stiles Switch tops their brisket Frito pie with pickled red onion.
Billy’s on Burnet keeps it simple with house made chili, chips, and cheese, with tomatoes onions on the side. Billy’s also makes a stellar veggie Frito pie.
The Pit BBQ has been around forever, and their Frito pie is solid comfort food.
Phil’s Icehouse might have the best bang-for-your-buck Frito pie in town.
Kemuri-Tatsuya sinks 2 large octopus fritters in their chili, complete with corn chip art in the back.
Micklethwait Barbecue is very serious about their Frito pie. Just look at that brisket. The wait is totally worth it.
James Beard-nominated chef Bryce Gilmore makes a goat chili Frito pie at his restaurant Odd Duck that is just almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Lambert’s takes Frito pie to the brunch menu—a solid move, since Frito pies are great for curing hangovers.

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