Go to nearly any Little League event, Saturday night football game, or State Fair in Texas and you’ll find – aside from a certain buzz in the air only present around large crowds of excited people – that all these places have one thing in common. You’ll see it proudly displayed on the concessions board, or being devoured by a group of friends gathered around a well-worn picnic table. It’s hard to resist the allure of the Frito Pie. Served straight from the bag, chips layered with hot chili and gooey cheese, Frito Pies are, according to Briana Valdez, owner of HomeState, “simple, gratifying, and pure Texas.”
Born and raised in Texas, Briana knows a thing or two about Texan cuisine, a harmonious, if not eclectic, blend of Spanish, German, Czech, and Mexican cultural influences, with a dash of American Cowboy thrown in for good measure. After moving to Los Angeles, Briana envisioned her newly opened restaurant HomeState as a casual, comforting stop for anyone and everyone. And she longed to bring the best Texan cuisine, so emblematic of her childhood, roots, and culture, to the California masses. Here, Briana leads us through how she brought her vision for Frito Pie to life.
Fritos, as we know them today, were invented by Charles E. Doolin, a Texas native and confectionary store owner. While at a gas station one day, Doolin stumbled upon a man making and selling fried corn chips in a bag, an already popular beach snack in Mexico. On the hunt for the perfect snack to add to his own store counters, Doolin bought the man’s patent and 14 customers on the spot, beginning his lifelong journey to perfecting Fritos. Today, while Fritos are consumed by the handful (or bagful) in nearly every corner of the globe, they are still made in Plano, TX from just three simple ingredients: corn, vegetable oil, and salt. A perfect Texas snack, they provide the delightfully salty, crunchy base for Briana’s imagining of the Frito Pie.
When developing HomeState’s signature chili, Briana went deep into chili literature, researching the nuances of high-quality, authentic Texan chili. Briana spent months in her home kitchen, testing and tweaking her recipe to combine the best ingredients available today with all the carefully preserved flavors and nostalgia of her childhood. The result is a sumptuous, savory, no-beans-allowed chili, replete with rich beef chuck, smoky bacon fat, and a well-crafted blend of chili spices. Ever conscious of catering to every type of eater, HomeState also offers a vegetarian version.
Seen by some as a superfluous addition to an already perfect dish, for Briana, the toppings on her Frito Pie are the perfect complement to the fried, heavy (perfect) goodness of Fritos and chili. At HomeState, the Frito Pie is served with warm, melted cheddar cheese, crisp iceberg lettuce, juicy diced tomatoes, red onions (pickled in-house of course), jalapenos for an extra bit of spice, and a healthy dollop of sour cream.
Perhaps the most essential ingredient to HomeState’s Frito Pie, the Frito bag adds just the right amount of accessibility. Frito Pies were never meant to be served on fine china. No, the Frito bag, slit down the middle and stuffed with deliciousness, is far more inviting.
“Bag in one hand, plastic spoon in the other, you can eat your Frito Pie anywhere – no mess, no fuss, and no cleanup.”
And yet, for just this reason, Briana worried that the bag may seem too pedestrian for Los Angeles, a city filled to the brim with fine dining. At first, she sought creative ways to serve her Frito Pie in anything but that crinkly, shiny, plastic and aluminum bag. That is, until she floated her idea by Nancy Silverton, who, fresh off her own first encounter with an authentic Texan Frito Pie, convinced Briana otherwise. “She practically grabbed me by the collar and said ‘you must serve it in the bag!’ It gave me the confidence I needed to share the dish, in its true form, on the HomeState menu,” says Briana.
Ever since, the Frito Pie, in all its humble glory, has maintained a steady presence on HomeState’s menu, ready to welcome home Angelenos and Texans alike.