Chasens Famous Chili History and Recipe

Chasen Famous Chili boiling in a tall stockpot

History of Chasen’s Chili:

Chasen’s Restaurant in Hollywood, California probably made the most famous chili.  The owner of the restaurant, Dave Chasen (1899-1973), ex-vaudeville performer, kept the Chasens Famous Chili recipe a secret, entrusting it to no one.

1936 to 2000 – For years, he came to the restaurant every Sunday to privately cook up a batch, which he would freeze for the week, believing that the chili was best when reheated.  “It is a kind of bastard chili” was all that Dave Chasen would divulge.

Chauffeurs and studio people, actors and actresses would come to the back door of Chasen’s to buy and pick up the chili by the quart.  Other famous people craved this chili such as comedian and actor Jack Benny (1894-1974) who ordered it by the quart.  J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who considered it the best chili in the world, and Eleanor Roosevelt (1894-1962) wife of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sought the recipe but was refused (a complimentary order was dispatched to her instead).  It is said that Chasen’s also send chili to movie actor Clark Gable (1901-1960), when he was in the hospital (he reportedly had it for dinner the night he died).

During the filming of the movie Cleopatra in Rome, Italy, famous movie star, Elizabeth Taylor, had Chasen’s Restaurant in Hollywood, California send 10 quarts of their famous chili to her.  She supposedly paid $200 to have it shipped to her in Rome:

Writing to Dave Chasen about his Chasens Famous Chili Recipe by Elizabeth Taylor, on location in Rome, 1962:

“The chili is so good.  All gone now.  Please send me ten quarts of your wonderful chili in dry ice to 448 Via Appia pignatelli. – Love and kisses, Elizabeth Taylor.”

The original Chasen’s restaurant closed in April of 1995, and the new Chasen’s on Cañon Drive closed permanently in April of 2000.

Learn about the history and legends of Chili, Chili Con Carne.

Chasen's Famous Chili Recipe:
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
1 hr 30 mins
Total Time
1 hr 50 mins

Chasens Famous Chili recipe from the cookbook Chasen’s – Where Hollywood Dined, by Betty Goodwin, published by Angel City Press, 1996.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chasens Famous Chili History and Recipe
  • 1/2 pound dry pinto beans
  • Water
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 pounds beef chuck, coarsely chopped*
  • 1 pound pork shoulder, coarsely chopped*
  • 1/3 cup Gebhardt's chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Farmer Brother's ground cumin**
  1. Rinse the beans, picking out debris.  Place beans in a Dutch oven with water to cover.  Boil for two minutes.  Remove from heat.  Cover with lid and let stand one hour.  After one hour, drain off liquid and discard.

  2. Rinse beans again.  Add just enough fresh water to cover the beans.  Bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered, for one hour or until tender.  Stir in tomatoes and their juice and let simmer five minutes.  

  3. In a large skillet, saute bell pepper in oil for five minutes.  Add onion and cook until tender, stirring frequently.  Stir in the garlic and parsley.  Add mixture to bean mixture.  Using the same skillet, melt the butter and saute beef and pork chuck until browned.  Drain.  Add to bean mixture along with the chili powder, salt, pepper and cumin.

  4. Bring mixture just to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour.  Uncover and cook 30 minutes more or to desired consistency.  Chili should not be too thick - it should be somewhat liquid but not runny like soup.  Skim of excess fat and serve.

  5. NOTE:  You can freeze this chili for several months.  When reheating refrigerated leftover or frozen chili, add a few tablespoons of water to regain proper consistency.

  6. Serves many.

Recipe Notes

* Chasen's used the best beef chuck, center cut, trimmed completely of fat.  The restaurant used a special meat grinder, but for the home cook, meat chopped into one-quarter to one-half-inch chunks is much better than ground meat for this chili.

** Sometimes cumin seed is used in place of the ground cumin.  It is a matter of personal preference.

Famous and Not-So Famous Chili Recipes:

Comments and Reviews

13 Responses to “Chasens Famous Chili History and Recipe”

  1. Nancy

    What an amazing recipe! I used a red bell pepper instead of a green one, added more garlic and maybe a cup more onions. While you could use ground meat I think using the meat as suggested here really makes the dish! When it finished it tasted great but overnight in the fridge truly enhanced the flavor. Liz Taylor was onto something . . .

  2. Ricki Torres

    David Chasen would make very large batches of his chili and then freeze it. He felt that letting the ingredients “marinate” made for the best tasting chili. I completely agree. It’s definitely better reheated. I promise!

  3. Jacquelyn o’Dell

    Made this with ground round and groud italian pork. Add 1/2 tsp. Cloves and 1 T Courisvoer and you will win chile cook-off contests.

  4. Adlar

    Saw Giada making ths on TV… will try

  5. James Anderson

    I had to delight and extreme pleasure of dining at chasen’s many times from the 70s to the 80s at least and I went a couple of times in the late 90s early 2000s delightful place will always miss it good food Thanks for the Memories

  6. Sue Ebert

    Don’t pay attention to other recipes, this is the correct one. The secret ingredient is the butter used when sautéing the meat. Other recipes do not use butter they use oil, and that is not correct. Trust me this is the best recipe for chili ever, I’ve had marriage proposals over it.

    • Nancy

      Sue, thanks for the endorsement, and wow! You must make really good Chili, I hope you accepted a good proposal.

  7. Cindy Schneider

    And I heard he added a secret ingredient at the end- Kahlua! Anyone know if that’s true?

    • Nancy

      Fixed it for you! I hate spell check too.

  8. Lawetta McElmurry

    Been cooking this since 1974….never gets old!

  9. Bradley A Craig

    I have been making this chili for 40 years. As anyone that cooks knows we are always compelled to put our own twist on a recipe. I did that with this one. adding more of this and less of that. After all this time I have gone back to making the original recipe verbatim because at the end of the day, that is Chasen’s Chili and it is Legend.

  10. Bob Font

    I got this recipe out of a cookbook called “Who wants to count calories anyway” some 40 years ago.
    What I do is put the cooked meat in a large bowl, add the onion mixture. Let it cool for 15 minutes while stirring a bit. Now add the chili power so it blends into meat versus dumping into pinto tomato base. Makes it more favorable.

  11. Peter chessen

    My family’s been making this recipe for generations and never ever used ground meat.. always use hand cut beef.. as I like it spicier I generally add more hot peppers… And yes better the next day…


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