Frito pie. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Review: Big State Drug Fountain and Grill

A good bowl of chili with—gasp!—beans can be found at this throwback soda fountain in downtown Irving.

Back in the October 2005 issue, former D Magazine dining critic Mary Brown Malouf dared to ask, “Where has all the chili gone?” To which one very passionate reader named Chip Black responded that a good bowl could be found right under our noses at the Big State Drug Fountain and Grill in old downtown Irving, where it has been prepared by chef Leland Hallett for more than five years.

Big State’s story is a colorful one. In the early 1900s, the site was a haberdashery, but it became Big State Drug in 1948, run by Jean and Clay Burney until 1992, when they sold to Stacy and Brian Smith, the current owners and pharmacists. We’re happy to report that this cute-as-pie soda fountain and grill still retains its 1950s charm, and policemen, retirees, and folks just looking for a good meal like to grab a stool and order up any of Chef Leland’s specialties.

The man himself says his customers swear that his French toast is some of the best on the planet, and we couldn’t help but covet our fellow diner’s good-looking BLT on Texas toast. But it was Thursday, the day for chili and Frito pie, the lunch of champions, if you ask us.

Chef Leland says his secret ingredient is caffeinated coffee, a trick he learned from his barbecue-cooking days, when he used brewed coffee instead of water in his beans. “The coffee makes it juicy,” he says. “You might want it thick. Some people will come in here and order it with no juice. But I like mine a little loose and runny.” And although the Big State chef concedes that in a competition you don’t put beans in the chili, he does at the soda fountain. And, call us blasphemers, we like that he does. And what about Chip Black, Chef Leland’s outspoken fan? “I want to thank him,” the chef says. “I’m going to buy him lunch.”

Get contact information for Big State Drug Fountain and Grill.

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