RIP Chili My Soul

by Hanh Nguyen · 7 comments


Chili My Soul, one of my first exciting food discoveries in the San Fernando Valley when I first moved to Los Angeles, is no longer up and running after the passing of its owner Randy Hoffman.

I was aware of Hoffman’s death in June, but didn’t realize that it had caused the business to shutter. I had just visited Chili My Soul a month before following a tiring hike and had ordered a hearty bowl of poblano turkey chili (spiced up to a level 7), topped with green onions, pepitas and dark chocolate chips.

Franklin Ave and Marc’s Muse recently happened upon the gutted establishment, alerting me to its fate. With a feeling of dread, I called Chili My Soul’s number, hoping at least for a recording, but discovered the number had been disconnected.

Chili My Soul is gone.

Rewind to 1999. As transplants from Texas, my roommate and I found comfort at Chili My Soul. We knew chili, and so did Hoffman. His enthusiasm was infectious as he greeted us at the door, urging us to sample all the various chilis and then later proudly having us watch the Food Network feature about the eatery that was played on a loop on an overhead TV.

The small, Encino-based strip mall shop wasn’t impressive. Its plain white walls, however, were adorned with bright chili cutouts for decoration and signage, detailing what the special 10-15 chilis were on the menu for the day out of a possible 30+ flavors — all defatted multiple times. Favorites for me and my friends/family were the Blanco y Verde, Gunslinger, Irish Whiskey, Chicken Barley, Roasted Garlic Chicken, Habanero Mango Chicken and Poblano Turkey.

The flavors were rated on a scale of 1-10 for spiciness, and I always tried Demon, a 10+ spice-level, last as advised by Hoffman. I never did order it for my full meal.

Customization was the key. You could always spice a chili up, consume the chili on a hot dog or over cornbread, or by itself. I always opted for the split since I could rarely decide on just one flavor. A side of garlic bread or cornbread was provided, alongside a few carrot and celery sticks.

Even though I didn’t get a hankering for chili often, I did visit periodically, and was excited to note the changes: Hoffman eventually bought the store next door and thus was able to expand his dining area, and beers were added to the menu.

In January, Bon Appetit magazine ranked Chili My Soul No. 3 among the country’s 10 best chili restaurants, and recently, I caught Chili My Soul featured on a September episode of “Chefs vs. City,” in which two chefs battled two foodies in Los Angeles. One of their tasks was to eat four bowls of Chili My Soul’s offerings, culminating in The Inferno. Check out the carnivorous carnage:

Apparently, Hoffman was “so excited knowing this show was coming.” It’s a shame he didn’t get to see it. 

I’m more than a little dejected that Chili My Soul is gone, but it makes sense. Hoffman was the life behind the restaurant and without him, the Soul had departed as well.

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Philippe’s: French dip birthday treat and death of a patriarch
February 18, 2010 at 12:33

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

H.C. October 16, 2009 at 14:10

I too was incredibly sadden by both Hoffman’s and CMS’ passing (which I’ve patronized for about 5 years now…) ~ their chili fries were the most incredible I’ve had to date. Texas Pride, please, onions, jack cheese and salsa.

Hanh Nguyen October 17, 2009 at 13:40

I never was a good Texan, but man, I’ll miss this chili!

ADB November 9, 2009 at 14:21

No!!!! I only tried two of the chilis on their vast menu and always meant to go back for more. So sad.

starkweather January 30, 2010 at 19:40

I just found this out right now. I never even took my gf there in spite of raving about the place to her forever. I’ll miss Randy.

helene August 16, 2010 at 01:22

I wish Randy’s family would at least release acookbook with the chili recipes, it’s a shame that they’ll be lost forever…

Gordon Campbell August 26, 2010 at 18:00

What can I say – Randy you where a dandy – you gave us such smoke and fire. A chili for my sole and yes what a great eatery. What stories we’ll tell of those days gone by like a vanishing hero – someone who cared about what he was given to be in charge of. GOD gave him the recipes and Randy did the rest – what can we all say – oh yes, “Thank you!”

As a Canadian who lived in LA for 5 years CMS was a great place to eat and take people who came to see the wild, wild west. It was always fun having Randy freeze up a gallon or 2 of one of his famous concoctions and then sneaking them on the plane to send back home. After 9/11 we just had to hide it better and tell more interesting stories when customs said, “What is it?” GOD bless you Randy have a sweet eternity!

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