A Bowl of Chili Surrounded by Ingredients and Tortilla Chips.

Is Atlanta the chili capital of the Southeast?

We explore the phenomenon and tell you where to find new classics in Atlanta.

Like many cities across the United States, fall is the peak event season for Atlanta. Families enjoy haunted houses, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, art fairs and more, but there is a signature event that sets the Greater Atlanta area apart from other cities: The chili cook-off. 

Though the Texas-born stew is common in parts of the South, Southwest, Midwest and Northeast, Atlanta has helped popularize — and change — chili culture in the Southeast and beyond.

Arguably one of the city’s most anticipated autumn events, The Chomp and Stomp Chili Cook-Off and Bluegrass Festival draws more than 30,000 total guests each year. In fact, for the last 13 years, Stomp and Chomp has seen a 20%+ rise in attendance year-over-year. The event began in 2003 by locals to preserve the parks and other public areas of Cabbagetown, Atlanta’s first National Landmark Historic District, but has since transformed into an unofficial rite-of-fall-passage for Atlantans.

Chomp and Stomp isn’t the only chili game in town. The Atlanta Chili Cook Off in Dunwoody features 50+ competitors, from home cooks to restaurants and caterers. The Suwanee Chili Cook-Off & Music Festival is a newcomer celebrating its second year of operation and is certified by the International Chili Society — meaning winners will be eligible to compete at the World Champion Chili Cook-Off. And, in restaurants and bars across Greater Atlanta, you’ll find chili on the menu, with variations that bring the heat and change the game. 

The spread (and enthusiastic attendance) of events like these is interesting for a region that hasn’t traditionally been known for its historic chili roots.

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How chili spread across the U.S. 

The earliest accounts of chili are unsurprisingly from Texas, beginning with cowboys and carried westward by gold miners on the trail to California in the late 19th century. One written account from a “forty-niner” (the moniker for someone seeking gold) describes combining chunks of beef with chili peppers, seasonings and a thickening agent to make the stew that we know today as chili. Thus, chili’s roots extend from Texas through New Mexico and all the way to California, following the dining traditions of pioneers on the trail.

Chili was then exported to the Midwest by way of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where the dish became a trend du jour in places like Cincinnati and parts of Missouri. These regions popularized “chili parlors” which spread across parts of the U.S. in the mid-1900s, where novel approaches and ingredients diverted from traditional Texas red chili. 

Later, parts of the Southeast contributed to modern chili adaptations. Louisiana chilis may substitute sausage in place of beef, or integrate Cajun spices, for instance. Kentucky chili adds spaghetti noodles into the mix à la Cincinnati’s infamous Skyline Chili. (A discussion for another time.) 

Yet the Southeast region, as a whole, can’t compare to Atlanta’s mainstream embrace of chili, with spirited competitions, tens of thousands of fans and widespread chili options at restaurants and bars throughout the Greater Atlanta area. 

Atlanta is creating signature iterations of the classic dish

One of the easiest routes for finding a bowl of chili in the Atlanta area? Follow the chili champions. 

The 2022 Chomp and Stomp winners in the restaurant category all have barbecue and burger ties, with the number one prize going to Grindhouse Killer Burgers, whose signature sandwiches begin with premium beef — the cornerstone to any great burger or bowl of chili. Peek at the chili description on its restaurant menu and you’ll see a familiar combo with a twist: Combined with ground beef and brisket, they’ve added chorizo, which brings another level of spice and an extra dimension of flavor. 

Souper Jenny is another reigning chili queen who has won several titles thanks to her family recipe, which diverts from traditional chili by using turkey as the primary meat. The satisfying bowl combines brown sugar with a generous dose of chili powder, balancing the “sweet and heat” for a flavorful spice that won’t overwhelm your senses. 

Over at Park 82 Restaurant, Executive Chef Aaron Jones has won multiple awards for his chili recipe, including taking the title at The Atlanta Chili Cook Off in 2022 and 2021. You can stop by the restaurant and order “Aaron’s Famous Chili” notable for its fried chili peppers, providing an extra kick.  

For vegans and vegetarians, finding a delicious bowl in Atlanta is surprisingly easy. Slutty Vegan’s Hawt Toddy, for instance, is a decadent meal in itself, loaded with bean, peppers, Impossible Pork and a savory mix that has “Sluttified” chili in the best way possible. 

Go out and a grab a bowl for yourself

If you find yourself wanting to get in on the Atlanta chili craze this fall, make sure to patronize one of the restaurants or above, and attend one of the many chili cook-offs where you can experience the novel interpretations of a dish that’s nearly as old as the United States — but making strides right here in ATL.

Chomp and Stomp Chili Cook-Off and Bluegrass Festival
Nov. 4, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Purchase of spoon required to taste, $15

Atlanta Chili Cook Off
Nov. 4
Brook Run Park
Tickets start at $15

Suwanee Chili Cook-Off & Music Festival
Nov. 11, 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Suwanee Town Center Park
Ticket prices TBA

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Festival Goers in Their Halloween Costumes.

9 weird, wild and unique fall events in Atlanta

If you’re all about finding a new favorite this fall, look no further.

The fall season in Atlanta is magical as the trees turn golden and the air feels crisp after a few months of scorching heat. Many head to the mountains, from Blue Ridge to Ellijay, for apple picking and other quintessential fall fun, but the Greater Atlanta area will be bustling with festivals and events. Popular classics abound, but if you’re looking to experience something new, check out some of Atlanta’s unique fall activities.

The Ghastly Dreadfuls at the Center for Puppetry Arts
(Oct. 11 – 28)

This long-running Atlanta tradition features different spooky stories each year, presented in different styles of puppetry, from marionette to shadow puppets. Ask any of the attendees who come back year after year — it’s a Halloween event that everyone should experience at least once. Equal parts ominous and silly, the group describes the show as “an old-school cocktail of death and humor.” If you’ve been looking to shake up your fall calendar, this is the ticket. (Admission starts at $22; includes entry into the Worlds of Puppetry Museum)

The Highland Games & Scottish Festival
(Oct. 21 – 22)

Find your tartan and head out to the Highland Games & Scottish Festival in Stone Mountain Park. The festival includes lively pipe bands, Scottish athletics, competitions for piping and drumming, Highland dancing contests, Scottish harping and more. You can also enjoy delicious Scottish food and drinks, clan tents and vendors selling unique British Isles goods. (Tickets start at $22.50)

Atlanta Couple Enjoying the Fall Festivities.

Atlanta Streets Alive
(Oct. 22 & Nov. 12)

Exciting news: Atlanta Streets Alive is returning as a monthly event for the fall of 2023! Three miles of Peachtree St (from Mitchell St SW in downtown Atlanta to 15th St NE in Midtown) will be closed to traffic for four hours on these Sundays. It provides the perfect opportunity for you and your friends to walk, run, stroll, bike, scoot or rollerblade on the open street. Join ATLDOT in creating a more sustainable and pedestrian-friendly experience by eliminating cars from the equation for an afternoon. (No ticket required)

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Little 5 Points Halloween Festival & Parade
(Oct. 22)

Join the spooky, quirky and bizarre celebrations in Little Five Points this Halloween, with live music, food, drinks, a Halloween market place, 3D haunted house and a fantastical parade on Sunday. Ready to be spooked even more? Sign up for the clairvoyant tour guide on a mile-long, 90-minute walk through Little Five Points’ historic and eerie landmarks. (No ticket required; clairvoyant ghost tour tickets start at $25)

Cosplayers at the Anime Weekend in Atlanta.

Anime Weekend Atlanta
(Oct. 26 – 29)

The largest anime convention in the Southeast returns, and first-timers may find themselves immersed in what feels like another universe. The four-day weekend is packed with events, including a cosplay contest, exhibits, swap meets, screenings and special musical guests and famed voice actors. Attend the Starlight Idol Festival, visit the expansive Manga library or purchase a meal at the Kuma Kuma Maid Café. (Tickets start at $95)

ONE Musicfest
(Oct. 28 – 29)

This year’s ONE Musicfest at Piedmont Park features big names like Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson and Megan Thee Stallion. The festival will take place over two days and include a special Hip Hop 50 stage in honor of Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary. (One-day tickets start at $169)

Book Festival of the MJCCA
(Oct. 28 – Nov. 19)

For 32 years, the MJCCA’s book festival has brought Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, big-name celebs and more, creating one of the most extensive, impressive literary lineups in the Southeast. This year, hear from celebs like Uncle Jesse John Stamos and Henry Winkler or take part in meet-and-greets, book signings and community readings from bestselling authors and emerging talent. Peruse the whole list — there are more than 40 authors to choose from! (Paid events start at $13)

Pots of Chili at Chomp and Stomp, Atlanta's Chili Cook-Off.

Chomp and Stomp
(Nov. 4)

The Chomp and Stomp festival is the fall season event in Atlanta. Cabbagetown, Atlanta’s first National Landmark Historic District, has a rich history and adds to the charm of this festival. This one-day event allows visitors to sample dozens of different types of chili. The festival starts early in the morning with the Romp & Stomp 5k Run, followed by a highly competitive chili cook-off between teams and local restaurants, and ends with live bluegrass music. (No ticket required; chili “sampling” spoons start at $10)

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Atlanta Comedy Film Festival
(Nov. 12)

Enjoy hilarious screenplays, short films and other works of art by local and comedy filmmakers. The festival is one of the featured events from Cinema Life, a film collective that operates festivals focused on independent filmmakers and their projects. Held at the Wild Heaven West End Brewery and Gardens, you can even enjoy a beer and a laugh. Just make sure to leave the kids at home: Due to the adult nature of the content, the event is 18+ only. (Tickets start at $15)

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