Chili’s Grill and Bar

Oldtimer with Cheese

You’ve probably seen ads for Chili’s Grill and Bar on television. If you’re anything like me, the ads haven’t been particularly effective. There’s something about American casual dining restaurant chains I find remarkably off-putting. I must be in the minority, though, because there are over 1,600 Chili’s Grill and Bar restaurants all over the world, 3 of which are in Spokane. One of those is at the Spokane International Airport, which… Are you starting to see why I don’t like going to Chili’s?

Alright, I promised to be impartial, so let’s do this with an open mind.

The first Chili’s was founded in 1975, and according to Wikipedia, its goal was to provide a menu with “different types of hamburgers offered at an affordable price.” When I think about Chili’s Grill and Bar, burgers aren’t really what comes to mind. I think of fajitas, quesadillas, and other Tex-Mex foods. Their menu supports my thinking, with only six burger choices available. At first glance, it looks like there are seven burgers, but two of them are the Oldtimer burger—one with cheese and one without. Calling them two different burgers is cheating. Also, one of the choices is 4 mini-burgers, but I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not that counts.

The Burger

From those limited choices, the Oldtimer with Cheese was clearly the right burger for this review. It’s a seasoned beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, sliced red onions, yellow mustard, and garlic dill-pickles, all on a toasted potato bun. As usual, I asked that the pickles not be included. My server asked if I like pink, so I said, “no pink.”

The burger that arrived at my table looked pretty dull. In the photos on the menu, the burger looks tall, with all of its individual ingredients clearly visible. By comparison, my burger looked short and sad. The potato bun was highly reminiscent of the ever-popular brioche bun, and this even tasted a bit like one. It was toasted and had a very buttery flavor, which I liked.

A peek under the hood revealed a few things. First, I was pleased to see there were no pickles anywhere in sight, but quickly disappointed when I realized the onions mentioned on the menu were also missing. The lettuce was a bit wilted, but it was clear someone had made an effort to cut out the hard columella from the tomato slice (the tough white part in the middle). Whoever took the time to do that, you’re my hero.

The patty had no pink whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean it was dry. In fact, when I gave the burger a little squeeze, I could see grease coming to the surface of the meat. The burger had an excellent flavor, probably because of all that fat. I did think it needed a touch more salt, which is odd because chains usually put too much salt in their food. I’ll bet the pickles were supposed to add the missing salt.

There wasn’t much mustard on my burger, and I found bites to be inconsistent in whether they had any or not. The mustard almost made up for the lack of onion, but the two together would have been preferable.

The Fries

Chili’s Grill and Bar serves “homestyle” fries, which are thick-cut with a bit of skin still on some of them. They’re slightly over-seasoned with salt and pepper (at the very least. If there’s anything else on them, it’s not a dominant flavor).

The fries were warm, but not hot enough. They also weren’t very crispy, and I suspect they were actually a tad undercooked. They weren’t greasy, which is good, as was the quantity. The presentation was odd, and the tall basket they came in further dwarfed the already sad-looking burger.

That’s really I can say about the fries. They were just kind of a miss for me.

The Price

Chili’s Grill and Bar’s Oldtimer with Cheese is $9 before tax, which is probably about as much as I’d be willing to pay to eat this again. After the meal, I felt reasonably full for quite a long time, and actually forgot to eat dinner because I just never really got hungry later on.

The Restaurant

Of the three Chili’s Grill and Bar restaurants in Spokane, I ate at the one in Northtown Mall.

For a chain restaurant, Chili’s Grill and Bar actually has a pretty nice aesthetic, but the old Mexican tile tables felt out of place. Also out of place were the crumbs on my table, as well as something sticky I never could identify.

The men’s restroom was in a state of disrepair. There were broken fixtures, one of the urinals was chipped, and a fair amount of graffiti covered most surfaces. It was also surprisingly dirty, and the air freshener smelled like strong cologne. It was not a pleasant place to be.

The service was prompt enough, but they were apologetic about how long it took anyway.

Each table had a Ziosk tablet, which I never ended up using because my server brought my bill to the table, and I paid her directly. It’s possible Chili’s doesn’t use the Ziosk devices to allow customers to pay, but if not, what’s the point?

You could do a lot worse than the Oldtimer with Cheese from Chili’s Grill and Bar, especially for $9. Despite the issues with both the meal and the restaurant, the burger tasted good, and that’s really what it’s all about.

But let’s be honest: No one goes to Chili’s for the burgers. Which is a shame, because it had a ton of potential. Chili’s Grill and Bar may want to consider recommitting to their original burger-related goals. If they did, perhaps people like me would be more likely to stop in and eat.

Maybe even when we’re at the airport.

Chili’s Grill and Bar
4750 N. Division St. Spokane, WA 99207
(509) 483-7000

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Disagree with my review? That's cool, people have different tastes. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me why you think I got this one wrong. But keep your comments civil or they'll get deleted.

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