Chili's Beirut: A Godsend of Texmex Flavors in Lebanon

Since childhood, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for Chili’s. This was the restaurant that used to award grade school students with vouchers for free kid’s meals if their academic performance was impressive. Talk about a tasty treat! So with every straight-A report card or Student of the Month certificate I took home, a visit to Chili’s was assured. Perhaps more telling, it was the last eatery I dined in before permanently moving across the Atlantic to this part of the world. I still recall those juicy, marinated Mushroom Jack fajitas I had on that Last Supper—oh so mouthwatering.
I’d known about Chili’s Lebanon since my arrival here nearly three and a half years ago, but I never had the occasion to drop in. Perhaps it was my concerted effort to expand my horizons and appreciate the local food offerings that I unintentionally renounced my subscription to American mainstays like Chili’s (and TGI Friday’s). But last Saturday finally found me transported to a space and feel very un-Lebanese, to Gemmayze’s cozy Chili’s branch with its dim lighting, diner booths, wooden bar, and blown-up replica of the iconic chili pepper logo hanging from the wall.
Boy had I been aching for some classic Texmex cuisine with those uber-generous American portion sizes. Loaded nachos nearly always top the list of cravings I satisfy on trips back to the heartland. So it took very little time and hesitation to hone in on my choice of appetizer, chicken nachos, to be washed down with the house specialty Presidente Margarita.
The liquid loot arrived first, in a blue shaker, accompanied by two salt-rimmed martini glasses filled with ice and a wedge of lemon. The margarita is a blend of hand-shaken Sauza Commemorativo Tequila, Patrón Citrónage orange liqueur and Presidente Brandy. Smooth, light, and refreshing, you’ll be tempted to siphon it all up in one gulp with the supplied straw.

The nachos made their way to our table soon thereafter, a delightful array of bold colors masking the tortilla chips, which themselves were arranged like the arms of a windmill. Each chip—a fourth of a flattened corn tortilla shell—was blanketed neatly and entirely with a thick four-cheese mix concealing slices of chicken breast and garnished with diced tomatoes and roasted jalapenos. Dollops of real sour cream and fresh house-made guacamole rounded up this picture-perfect platter that was just as impeccable in taste as in presentation.

The Fajita Trio was an obvious pick for a main, with tender flanks of grilled steak, marinated grilled chicken and five juicy garlic-lime shrimp sizzling on a bed of thickly-cut onions and green bell peppers. A half-dozen warm flour tortillas were served alongside a plate of guacamole, sour cream and grated cheese. What I adore about fajitas is that you can either bundle them up in wrap form with their requisite sides, or fork them into your mouth straight off the wood-serving plate and into your boca. Both ways convey the same incredible deliciousness.

Rarely is there room for dessert after gorging on an appetizer and main at any proper American restaurant, and today was no exception. In fact, the pair of us shared said appetizer and main, and a sweet ending after this feast seemed sinful. Chili’s world-renowned Molten Chocolate Cake will simply have to wait.
The verdict? Chili's is your sure destination for a hearty Texmex fix, a miracle to come by in Lebanon. (Trust me, last week’s nacho debacle wasn’t the first I’ve encountered: it’s rampant everywhere outside good old American establishments.) The service was first-rate, with a very gentle manager named Avo making the rounds several times throughout the evening, as well as a knowledgeable waiter and bartender. The ambiance was a breath of fresh air—a relaxed, casual bar and restaurant equipped with HDTVs in every corner and making for an ideal venue to watch sports games (we tuned in to the Argentina v. Belgium match on our visit).
You honestly feel as if you’re back in the States (even the neighboring dining booth was populated by Yanks!), and it’s not until you alight onto the street level that you remember you’re on Lebanese soil.


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