The Frito Pie Is Not from Texas: Commence Pearl-Clutching...Now

Jalapeños are a popular Frito pie topping in Texas...if you're not a weenie.
Jalapeños are a popular Frito pie topping in Texas...if you're not a weenie.

There I was in Half-Price Books this weekend, poring over the alarmingly titled 500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late (fearmongering listicles: they're not just for food blogs), when I saw it: a section on our beloved Frito pie. Was the Frito pie endangered?! I had to know.

After reading the small section, I came to find that the "endangered" status of the Frito pie was the least of my concerns.

"We feel it is time for Santa Fe to stop pretending that the Frito pie was created there," wrote Joyce Saenz Harris in the Dallas Morning News. "Historically and culturally, Texas owns this dish, baby."

Okay, so far so good. But what's this about Santa Fe?

Joyce's assertion notwithstanding, most culinary historians do believe that the Frito pie was invented in Santa Fe at the lunch counter of the old Woolworth's, which has become the Five & Dime General Store, at the corner of the plaza. Teresa Hernandez, who came to Santa Fe from Madrid, New Mexico, about 60 years ago told us she had always enjoyed the way local drive-ins served the chili in a paper cup on a bed of shredded lettuce, garnished with a handful of Frito chips.

That's right, folks. A freaking bed of shredded lettuce. Not only was the Frito pie supposedly created in Santa Fe, they didn't even do it right. Get a rope.

C&D Burger Shoppe makes a mean Frito pie.
C&D Burger Shoppe makes a mean Frito pie.
Photo by Troy Fields

The book goes on to further insult the legacy of the noble Frito pie by saying that although Texas may lay cultural claim to the bagged snack, it's still the best when served in Santa Fe. Even that traitor Joyce Saenz Harris gets in on the shanking:

We won't debate provenance with Joyce...but we will point out that she herself observed that the "prettiest Frito pie ever seen" is served at Santa Fe's oldest restaurant, the Plaza. And while it is somewhat iconoclastic -- not served inside a Frito's bag, as is traditional; not containing chile con carne -- it is the Frito pie to eat if you eat only one.

So now the book is recommending that if you eat only one of these iconic ballgame snacks, you eat the one that least resembles the traditional favorite. And those assholes in Santa Fe put beans in their chili. Enough.

Fritos themselves are Texan. Chili is Texan. Cheese and onions...well, we can't lay sole claim to either one, but we're really good and throwing both ingredients into our dishes and making them sing. So I'm sticking with the story I grew up on -- food historians be damned -- the one that tells of the legend of Elmer Doolin and his mother, Daisy Dean Doolin.

C&D's finished Frito pie in all its onion-capped glory.
C&D's finished Frito pie in all its onion-capped glory.
Photo by Troy Fields

Writes Joyce Saenz Harris in her original 2007 article from the Dallas Morning News:

According to corporate lore, Daisy Doolin invented the immortal Frito pie not long after her boys created Fritos.

Early on, says her granddaughter, Kaleta Doolin of Dallas, Daisy helped market Fritos by developing recipes that used the corn chips as an ingredient. In a burst of genius, she was inspired to pour chili over Fritos corn chips, and the rest is history.

And if NPR puts their stock in this story, that's good enough for me. Besides, as one reader reminded me on Twitter that afternoon: "Red Velvet Cake was created in NY but is considered a Southern Dessert. Frito Pie will forever be Texan to me."

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >