Chili burger

Los Angeles Times ProQuest Jack Smith (columnist)

Chili burger
Tomboy's chili-cheeseburger with fries.jpg
Chili burger with fries
Alternative namesChili size, size
Place of originUnited States
Region or stateoriginally Los Angeles
Created byLikely Thomas "Ptomaine Tommy" DeForest, 1920s
Main ingredientsHamburger patty, chili con carne
VariationsCarolina burger

A chili burger (also known as a chili size,[1] or simply size,[2][3] stemming from "hamburger size"[4]) is a type of hamburger. It consists of a hamburger, with the patty topped with chili con carne.[5][6][7] It is often served open-faced, and sometimes the chili is served alongside the burger rather than on top. The chili may be served alone, or with cheese, onions, or occasionally tomatoes as garnishes.


Chili burgers appear to have been invented in the 1920s by Thomas M. "Ptomaine Tommy" DeForest, who founded a sawdust-floored all-night restaurant, "Ptomaine Tommy's", located in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Ptomaine Tommy's was open from around 1919 to 1958, where his chili burger was referred to as "size", and chopped onions as "flowers" or "violets".[2][8][9][10][11]

The term size for a chili burger arguably derives from the portion size of the chili used at Ptomaine Tommy's.[1][12][13][14] Ptomaine Tommy "had two ladles, a large and a small"[3] with which to serve his chili, whether smothered on top of the burger or in a bowl;[3] originally the ordering lingo used by his patrons was "hamburger size"[3][4] vs. "steak size",[4] but later simplified to "size" and "oversize".[4] The use of the shorthand term "size" for burger-size portion of chili (in a bowl or on a burger) then gained currency throughout Los Angeles.[3] Ptomaine Tommy was forced to close his restaurant August 10, 1958 and sell his property to satisfy creditors,[15] and he died just a week later.[16][17] His service to the community and his invention was noted by resolution of the California State Senate that same year.[2]

Food author John T. Edge considers the invention the milestone that marks the start of "traceable history of burgers in LA", a first step to what he considers the "baroque" character of the Los Angeles hamburger scene.[18] By interviewing former customers and friends decades after the fact, columnist Jack Smith wrote a definitive article in 1974 about DeForest and the dish that he had invented which became a very important part of the history of Los Angeles.[19] What helped spread the popularity of this dish was Deforest's diverse clientele which included doctors coming off the late shift at the local county hospital, fight fans on their way home after attending matches at the Olympic Auditorium, and people associated with the Hollywood film industry.[19][20]

Several US food chains specialize in chili burgers. One of these is Original Tommy's, which dates to 1946.[21][22]


Carolina Burger

The Carolina Burger is a regional variant of the chili burger served with coleslaw, mustard and chopped onions.[23] Common in local restaurants in the Carolinas, it is also periodically offered at Wendy's restaurants as the Carolina Classic.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b Sherman, Gene (September 19, 1957). "Cityside". Los Angeles Times. p. 2. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  2. ^ a b c California State Senate (1958). The Journal of the Senate During the ... Session of the Legislature of the State of California. s.n. p. 344. Retrieved December 4, 2012. Senate Resolution No. 55: Relative to congratulating Thomas SI. '"Ptomaine Tommy" DeForeat Whereas, Thomas M. DeForest, noted restaurateur of the community of Lincoln Heights ... where the popular specialty of the house was a plate labelled "size" consisting of chili, hamburger, and beans...
  3. ^ a b c d e Smith, Harry Allen (1969). The great chili confrontation: a dramatic history of the decade's most impassioned culinary embroilment, with recipes. Trident Press. pp. 23–24. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Dolan, Don (2009). "A Los Angeles Sandwich Called a Taco". In Kurlansky, Mark (ed.). The Food of a Younger Land: A portrait of American food- before the national highway system. (preview). Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101057124. OCLC 458326756.
  5. ^ Butel, Jane (2008). Chili Madness: A Passionate Cookbook. Workman. p. 103. ISBN 9780761147619. OCLC 269676763. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  6. ^ Shopsin, Kenny & Carreño, Carolynn (2008). Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. Random House. pp. 167–. ISBN 9780307264930. OCLC 225852465. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  7. ^ Sauceman, Fred William (2006). The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South. pp. 148–149. ISBN 9780865549906. OCLC 63705843.
  8. ^ Grace, Roger M. (January 15, 2004). "Old Menus Tell the History of Hamburgers in L.A." Metropolitan News-Enterprise.
  9. ^ Snyder, Tom (March 17, 2000). Route 66: Traveler's Guide and Roadside Companion. Macmillan. p. 113. ISBN 9780312254179. OCLC 43575475. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  10. ^ Powell, Lawrence Clark (Winter 1984). "A Memory of Byways". California History. 63 (1). California Historical Society. p. 85. doi:10.2307/25158198. JSTOR 25158198.
  11. ^ Harvey, Steve (October 10, 2000). "Pay Now, Pay Later—or Pay the Price". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  12. ^ Thompson, Clay (November 23, 2005). "Why There's No Channel 1 on Television". Arizona Republic. According to the International Chili Society, the "size" part came from the owner of a Los Angeles chili parlor known as Ptomaine Tommy.
  13. ^ Sherman, Gene (August 14, 1958). "Cityside". Los Angeles Times. p. 2. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  14. ^ Roderick, Kevin (March 16, 2006). "Dissing Tommy's". LA Observed.
  15. ^ "Landmark Falls To Debt: Ptomaine Tommy Forced to Close Up". Los Angeles Times. August 11, 1958. p. B1. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  16. ^ "Ptomaine Tommy's Cafe Operator Dies". Los Angeles Times. August 19, 1958. p. B2. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  17. ^ Smith, Jack (1980). Jack Smith's L.A. (snippet). McGraw-Hill. p. 88. ISBN 9780070584716. OCLC 6280644.
  18. ^ Edge, John T. (June 23, 2005). Hamburgers and Fries. Penguin. pp. 99–. ISBN 9781440627583. OCLC 860833816. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  19. ^ a b Smith, Jack (December 26, 1974). "Sizing Up Ptomaine Tommy". Los Angeles Times. p. H1. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  20. ^ Gower, Melrose (July 18, 1937). "Ptomaine Tommy's Chili Bowl Lures Hollywood Night-Lifers: Picture Stars Seek Escape From Too-Lavish Sets of Night Clubs and Late Spots by Favoring Modest Retreats for Their 'Parties.'". Washington Post. p. T7. Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  21. ^ Gould, Lark Ellen (2004). Los Angeles Off the Beaten Path. Globe Pequot. p. 34. ISBN 9780762752270. OCLC 853623117. On May 15, 1946, a young Tommy Koulax introduced Los Angeles to a new kind of burger—this one with a chili con carne base
  22. ^ Gold, Jonathan (May 16, 1996). "The Tom Bomb". Los Angeles Times.
  23. ^ Murrell, Duncan (June 2011). "Burger, with Everything". Our State. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  24. ^ "Wendy's Brings Back a Regional Classic". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. February 12, 2006. p. E6. Retrieved December 7, 2012.