As Wayne Whalen of Tacoma’s Chili Parlor can attest, all chilis are not created equal. To some, this stick-to-your-ribs dish conjures up fond memories and the nostalgia of a favorite family recipe. For others, it’s a decadent topping for hot dogs and fries. Still others revere chili for its spicy kick that leaves the eyes watering.

Cincinnati chili sets itself apart from the rest with its savory Mediterranean flavor. Immigrant restaurateurs of Greek and Macedonian descent introduced this chili in the 20s as a meat sauce to top off long hot dogs (called “coneys”) and spaghetti. With a base of ground beef, stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, other Mediterranean spices and sometimes even chocolate, this chili often has a soup-like consistency.

Unlike most chilis, which rely on beans, meat or peppers to lay the foundation, Cincinnati chili’s most common ingredient has historically been spaghetti. Add-ons like cheese, onions and beans lend themselves to the qualification of “ways” for this chili-turned-sauce: two-way, three-way, four-way and five-way chili are common classifications when it comes to this regional dish. The Chili Parlor’s saucy tagline — “It’s a great day for a three-way!” — celebrates Cincinnati flavor and fan-favorite pairing of spaghetti, chili and cheese (along with the owner’s cheeky sense of humor).

Wayne Whalen and his fiance Kathy Raring hung up their shingle in 2016 along South Tacoma Way. “The chili parlor has always been a dream of mine,” says Wayne. “I knew there would be a niche for it because there’s no restaurant quite like this one anywhere in the South Sound.” He put Cincinnati-style chili on the Pacific Northwest map when he added it to the menu of a restaurant he owned in Roy, the Old General Store.

Chili Parlor Tacoma
Wayne Whalen, an Army transplant from Ohio, introduced the iconic taste of Cincinnati to the Pacific Northwest with the Chili Parlor. Photo courtesy: The Chili Parlor

The Parlor’s menu highlights some of the iconic dishes unique to Cincinnati. Chili features prominently into the offerings, of course, with dishes like the chili-topped spaghetti, coneys, a chili cheeseburger, chili cheese sandwich and chili cheese fries. There’s much more to the Chili Parlor’s menu, however, than standard chili-topped fare. Creamy tomato bisque is a favorite that locals love so much that a handful stop by to stock up the office fridge with the stuff. Juicy burgers made with Angus beef as well as chicken, pork, chicken fried steak and turkey sandwiches are a safe standby for diners who find themselves a little too timid to try out Cincinnati chili on their first visit.

An impressive list of appetizers and desserts bookend the Chili Parlor’s well-rounded menu. All-day breakfast meals, vegetarian options, gluten-free items and a list of simpler dishes just for kids cater just as heavily to chili connoisseurs as to families and patrons with dietary restrictions. While not everyone takes to Cincinnati’s signature saucy chili, reviews of the restaurant all seem to echo the sentiment that service couldn’t be friendlier. Wayne and Kathy are warm, friendly, attentive and adept at making their guests feel welcome.

Part of the charm, customers agree, is the old-timey atmosphere of this Edison neighborhood that hearkens back to a simpler time. Checkerboard tile, booths against the walls and an L-shaped bar complete with sweet-parlor swivel stools invite diners to wax nostalgic as they enter, and the Cincinnati influence blends in beautifully. Sipping on a hot cup of 25-cent coffee or drinks like sweet regular and green tea add to the retro ambiance.

Hobo caviar
Sample staple dishes from the heart of Cincinnati plus plenty of other plain old good eats just a few minutes outside of downtown Tacoma at the Chili Parlor. Photo courtesy: The Chili Parlor

For couples and families looking for a little entertainment along with their meal, Wayne and Kathy host trivia night to complement date-night dining. Coursed meals, which the couple offers every so often for special occasions, step the casual menu up a notch.

Sidle up to a taste of Cincinnati and sample the crave-worthy recipe that put Ohio on the culinary map at this one-of-a-kind South Sound diner.

Chili Parlor
5640 S Tacoma Way
Tacoma, WA 98409