The Indy Burger Guy visited Nick’s Chili Parlor in the Eagledale neighborhood of Indianapolis on Saturday, April 15, 2017.
Nick’s Chili Parlor has been a staple of Indy’s west side since 1974, when they first opened their doors to the public. As a child, my parents used to work on the west side of town and I remember my father taking me here on occasion for chili dogs, one of our favorite treats. But, much like Mug-n-Bun, I hadn’t been back to Nick’s Chili in years.
A lot has changed. I remember the restaurant being wood-paneled everywhere, with booths scattered here and there. I remember the entire place seeming dark and not well-lit. (These are my memories, so there may not be a good deal of accuracy here, given the hazy nature of recollection – mine in particular.) Now, the place has been updated, thanks to some renovations back in 2010, to a more modern-looking diner/fast-food concept. The front end is still set up very much like a cafeteria, though (which is consistent with my memory). You walk up, grab a tray and some silverware, select your desserts and/or cold sides – like potato salad and cole slaw – then order your hot items, which are then prepared in the kitchen behind the counter. If you order a drink, you’ll be handed a hard plastic cup to fill with your choice of beverage.
While a piece of my childhood longed to get the chili cheese dogs I remembered so fondly from my youth, my hunt for the best burger in central Indiana compelled me to one of the four (very simple) burger options. Nick’s menu is incredibly basic, focusing on doing a few things well than trying to do too much (which I certainly appreciate), giving them a hamburger, a cheeseburger, and variations of each topped with their signature chili.
I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to order the thing a restaurant is famous for. I’m not the type to go to a seafood restaurant and order chicken fingers or try the salmon at a steakhouse. So, it killed me a little getting a burger from a chili parlor until I saw that Chili Cheese Burger! Surely, this is the answer to my dilemma and, as it’s a chili parlor, it’s going to be far closer to a ‘signature burger’ than their plain cheeseburger would be. So, naturally, I ordered that. (I plan to do something similar when I get around to visiting John’s Famous Stew.)
The burger was tossed on the flattop grill behind the counter right as I ordered it. It was a little too perfectly shaped for my liking, but the speed with which it was cooked was enough to convince me it wasn’t frozen (at least, not when they started grilling it – before that… who knows?). It’s then topped with a piece of cheese (the menu doesn’t specify, but I assume it was either American or Cheddar) and doused with a large spoonful of Nick’s Chili before the top bun is affixed. Sliced red onion and pickles are served on the side. (Though I didn’t ask for lettuce or tomato, these were not offered as options by the ladies behind the counter, so I took that to mean they were not available as toppings.) I also ordered a side of onion rings and a sweet tea and sat down at a booth until my food was brought out.
The burger itself was not much to look at. It’s about as simple as burgers come, but with the added bonus of having chili on top. To be honest, the chili made the burger look more like a Sloppy Joe than a cheeseburger. And it’s as messy as you’d expect it to be – the bottom bun managed to hold together well only because the chili topped the burger. That affected the eatability, but not as much as I had expected it to, truth be told.
The burger itself wasn’t anything too major. The chili was thin and, overall, fairly mild – more zesty than spicy – but after having tried the thick and meaty chili from the Red Key Tavern, I was kinda underwhelmed by Nick’s chili offering. There *was* a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot on the table, so I could’ve added more heat, but I want to taste the burger as intended. (In the future, though, I would probably add some mustard as I felt the burger could’ve used the extra kick.) The onion added a much-needed freshness to the proceedings, while the pickle gave a nice tangy tartness that was very tasty.
All-in-all, Nick’s will serve you a tasty burger, but not one that I’d write home about (as the saying goes). It’s the kind of place that keeps a fairly simple menu and, because of this, they’re able to serve the items on the menu they do have quickly and with great flavor. Nick’s is the kind of place that has stayed in business for so long because of the loyalty that it inspires in its customers with consistent quality food and great service. You’d do well to give them a shot, if you haven’t already.
FINAL RANKING: 7.0/10
Nick’s Chili Parlor
2621 Lafayette Rd.
Cost Range: $ ($6 and under)