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.
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.