The chili con carne story: How a humble one-pot became San Antonio’s signature dish

More than a century later, chef and restaurateur Diana Barrios Trevino best represents the Chili Queens’ culinary legacy today, having experienced so much of San Antonio’s growth first-hand. Growing up in the kitchen run by her mother Viola, who immigrated from Bustamante in Nuevo León, Mexico, she remembers food being “driven by family and community.”

“My mother felt it in her heart that a restaurant life was something she wanted for our family,” she says. “So it was only a matter of time before Los Barrios was born.”

That Tex-Mex restaurant, first opened in 1979, now has three siblings serving a rich, piquant chili con carne in all its glory across the city. Its shared philosophy— ‘amor, fe y alegria’ (love, faith and joy)—is something Trevino says is now deeply embedded in the city’s DNA: “Every dish here tells the story of our forefathers and foremothers, and our diners are now part of our extended family,” she adds. “They’re loyal—more than that, friends—and many come every day to eat with us. So chili con carne continues to bring San Antonio together.”

This is a simple truth behind the longevity of evocative restaurants like Los Barrios and Mi Tierra Café y Panaderia and the myth of the Chilli Queens. People queue not just for chili con carne in all its hot takes, but for a bite of nostalgia, one forkful at a time.

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