Of all the activities I detest, crawling in rush-hour traffic on the 405 from West LA to Sherman Oaks is near the top of my list. It falls just beneath packing to move and scouring the LA Times employment section for a job. I refuse to take on this torture, unless the payoff is magnificent. A hankering for great chili and a small restaurant in Encino named Chili My Soul combine for a good reason to get in my car, turn on talk radio and endure a crawl over the Sepulveda pass.
Located in The Smart & Final Shopping Center on the Northeast corner of Ventura and Balboa Blvds. in Encino, Chili My Soul is a chili connoisseur's paradise. With over 30 flavors, each cooked for a 30 hour, four-stage tenderizing and de-fattening process, you really must taste it to believe it. 12 to 15 flavors (including vegetarian) are rotated each day. Daily menus are available for online perusal at chilimysoul.com.
The restaurant's small mom & pop feel masks the national fame it is gaining after being featured on The Food Network, Esquire Magazine and several local television shows. Upon entering, the bright-colored menu's and huge variety of chili decorations mix perfectly with the aroma of multiple chili flavors. The ambiance leaves no doubt that you've stepped into the domain of someone's extreme passion for chili. Owner, Randy Hoffman has mastered his passion and the web site's online guestbook full of praise from "chili heads" and many requests for out of state shipping back up this claim.
"Hi! Have you been here before?" is asked of any new face before the front door can close behind them. At Chili My Soul this question doesn't feel pushy -as if from an overanxious salesperson. This greeting, as it turns out, is a necessary introduction to the Chili My Soul system -a system where undecided customers are encouraged to taste sample cup after sample cup of chili until the perfect flavor, heat level (1-10) and delicious sides can be chosen.
My first visit to Chili My Soul was 6 years ago when the restaurant sported only 3 small tables which encouraged take out. Since then space next door has been added for a dining room and I've been a regular customer. I've earned kudos from chili-loving friends for introducing them to this restaurant that was once a great secret.
Last week I took my wife for some of her favorite chili (Habanero / Mango Chicken). We arrived to find Demon (10+) was also on the menu that day. She normally doesn't eat beef but the challenge of tasting a 10+ chili was too much to resist so she requested a sample. After 15 seconds and no change in her facial expression, she announced that it was hot and progressively hotter each moment. Eventually she fanned her mouth and succumbed to the power of Demon with some rapid eye blinks and the "wow" that all chili heads love to exclaim when they taste "good hotness."
I laughed, and feeling no need to confirm my masculinity, I was happy to order my favorite, Deep Beef (3). We sat in the dining room where our meals were brought to us within two minutes by staff I've found to be consistently courteous. My wife tasted her Habanero / Mango Chicken first. "Just unbelievably delicious" I saw her lips whisper with her second bite loaded and ready. I took a bite of my chili and noticed it was a bit warmer than usual. "Hmm. Maybe the sip of Sprite made my mouth more sensitive," I thought, so I took another bite to get used to it. In 30 seconds, the initial heat had blossomed into the first blow torch I've ever had in my throat. I must have been served Demon (10+) by mistake [insert scary organ music]. Much to my wife's entertainment, I was able to demonstrate (no pun intended) how ineffective fanning, sucking air through my teeth and rocking in my seat can be when seeking relief from Demon.
To the credit of Chili My Soul, a correct order of Deep Beef was rushed to me with the apologies of the staff. Some cornbread, water and fresh carrots brought welcome relief while my wife wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes. Fortunately, this experience was truly an exception to my regular visits to Chili My Soul. Demon hits the spot for some but I happen to be a lightweight.
If you love chili, want to experience an amazing variety of flavors and don't have 30 hours to cook each one yourself, then you must visit Chili My Soul. You won't be sorry. And they won't "Demonize" you -unless you ask them to.