It’s not a spaghetti sauce, although it’s served over spaghetti and has Mediterranean spicing.
It’s also not exactly what most would consider a chili, although it’s called one.
It’s more like a chili cousin.
Welcome to Tacoma, Cincinnati-style chili.
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That’s a regional Cincinnati specialty that’s tough to find in the Northwest.
Whalen’s fiancée Kathy Raring is the owner of the restaurant. He’s the one behind the chili recipe. This isn’t his first restaurant. He previously owned the Old General Store in Roy, which became known for its Cincinnati-style chili after Whalen added it to the menu.
There’s chili spaghetti ($7.25-$11.95) that can be ordered two-way (spaghetti and chili), three-way (spaghetti, chili and cheese) or four-way (spaghetti, chili, cheese and onions). The menu doesn’t list five-way, though (that’s the four-way with the addition of beans).
Whalen’s favorite is the three-way, which is also the tagline on the diner’s storefront. It cheekily reads, “It’s a GREAT DAY for a 3 WAY.”
If you’ve never tried Cincinnati chili, it’s a beef-and-tomato simmered stew spiced with cinnamon and allspice. That it was the creation of Greek immigrants in Ohio explains that assertive spicing.
Countless chili parlors have sprung up all over Cincinnati. In recent years, they’ve turned into regional chains, with multiple locations from Ohio to Kentucky.
“They’re like Starbucks. There’s a Skyline on one side of the street and a Dixie’s on the other side. You could throw a rock and hit a chili parlor in Cincinnati,” said Whalen by phone.
Whalen said his version is close to the Skyline chili. He boils ground beef until the fat is rendered and the texture smooth. He simmers the beef with onions, tomatoes, the Mediterranean spices, cumin and chile powder, as well as some other flavorings (which are a secret).
The result is a fine-textured sauce meant to be served over spaghetti. He’s also got Coney-style hot dogs topped with Cincinnati chili ($3.75-$4.25). Whalen said he takes the Cincinnati chili concept one step beyond with chili burritos ($6.95-$9.95).
The menu also lists salads, sandwiches and wraps, as well as breakfast served all day.
Whalen is working on a vegetarian Cincinnati-style chili that will be bean-based, but he hasn’t perfected the recipe just yet.
The Chili Parlor
Where: 5640 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma; 253-472-6829.
Open: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday.