Recipe: Holiday House’s Chili Cheeseburger

Re-creating the beloved burger chain’s signature dish

Photos by John Anderson

Many native Austinites' eyes light up when you mention Holiday House. Everyone has a nostalgic tale about their childhood and this Austin classic. They will not only tell you the tale, but specify which Holiday House was "theirs."

"Ours didn't have animals. We were the Tarrytown location," Eric Mills said to me when I asked him about Holiday House. Eric is a server at Eldorado Cafe, a native Austinite, and also waited tables at the Bitter End back in the day. The Airport location had the aquarium. Barton Springs had Charlie the alligator. Eric exuded joy as he described his 10th birthday, held at the restaurant. It's not that the food was so great, but the experience always was. It was a comfortable place for Austin families to dine out together and create memories.

That joy immediately disappeared when he told the story about Jeanne Daniels, the animal rights activist/vegan who inherited the property and shut down the restaurant with the famous chili cheeseburger because no business in the West Austin shopping center she owned was allowed to serve any animal products. Thirty years later, he is still mad to the point it can change his mood for a second. He isn't the only one still pissed.

Chili Cheeseburgers

Seasoned beef burger patties (recipe below)
Truck Stop Chili (recipe below)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 tablespoons chopped white onion
4 hamburger buns

• Place cooked patty on bun.

• Top with ½ cup of the prepared chili, ¼ cup of shredded sharp cheddar, and 2 tablespoons of chopped onion. Enjoy!

Seasoned Beef Burger Patties

2½ pounds ground beef
½ cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt

• Place ground beef in a bowl.

• Add the seasonings and mix gently into the meat. Be careful not to overmix.

• Form balls with the meat about the size of a baseball (7-8 ounces each).

• Shape into flat patties and cook on the gas grill, charcoal grill, or griddle to the temperature desired.

Truck Stop Chili

2½ pounds ground beef
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cups chopped tomato
1 cup chopped jalapeño (remove the seeds for a milder chili; keep them in for more heat)
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
½ cup ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons granulated onion
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups beef stock
One 15-ounce can enchilada sauce

• In a pan, brown the ground beef and strain grease. Return to pan.

• Add the onion, red bell pepper, tomato, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook until veggies are soft, about 5 minutes.

• Add the seasonings (chile powder through oregano). Cook for 5 minutes.

• Add the stock and enchilada sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-high.

• Cook at a gentle simmer for 45-60 minutes or until sauce hugs the meat and is decently thick.

Note: It's important to give this some time. If at 30 minutes the chili is thick, add a bit more stock/water to keep cooking for 45 minutes minimum.

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