Smokey Cincinnati Chili Tacos

 Smoky Cincinnati Chili Tacos
Let’s talk tacos first and foremost. I love them. Growing up in Southern California, tacos have always been a part of my life. There is just something about them that screams comfort food. I have even enjoyed authentic homemade versions of tacos from food trucks and little stands in the Baja region of Mexico. All are different but so many have been worthy of my love.

What has appealed to me most about tacos is their adaptability to so many fillings and flavors. Growing up we ate them only a certain way, the typical fried corn tortilla, ground beef filling, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream. I loved them prepared this way and always will. However, as time has passed, I’ve noticed my penchant for making everything into a taco. Is it a phase or a fad for me?…I don’t think so. I’ve been at it for a while now.

Whether it’s last night’s leftovers or today’s Cincinnati Chili, into a tortilla it goes. I think I’ve served just about everything as a taco at my house…I just can’t help myself. And I’ve seen all these little taco stands and trucks popping up in my area with interesting takes on the taco itself. 

As you may already know, I am currently working with Sargento Cheese as a Journey Flavor Correspondent for 2013, Chef Rick Bayless is also on board with this project and has identified top food and flavor trends myself and other food bloggers are exploring. One of these top trends he has identified are Smokey Tacos.  

Taco fillings are being influenced by all sorts of cuisines with everything from Spanish tapas to Japanese tempura found in the tortilla. And smokey fillings are popping up with cheese playing a balancing role in the building of these flavorful dishes.

While I have always had a passion for tacos and smokey food, I also have an undying love of chili. Chili with beans, without beans, spicy, mild, Texas style and of course Cincinnati chili. Chili from Cincnnati has always been a fun dish to play around with. I know how absolutely fanatical folks are about their Cincinnati chili and the toppings they use. I find it kind of fascinating. I can’t wait to one day be in Cincinnati…tasting it there. I think it’s reason enough to make a trip.

Smokey Cincinnati Chili Tacos open face
While I have made many versions of Cincinnati chili, I have tweaked this recipe to suit my own tastes. Adding smokey paprika (my own personal flavor trend) to impart a bit of a smokey flavor without altering the taste too much. I still wanted all the authentic seasonings to shine through. And they perfection!

Now, for anyone who is not familiar with Cincinnati chili, it is a regional style dish that flavors the meat with various amounts of seasonings like cloves, allspice, cinnamon and even chocolate. It is served based on a designated ingredient series known as….

Bowl chili in a bowl
Two-way chili and spaghetti
Three-way chili, spaghetti and cheese
Four-way chili, spaghetti, cheese and onions
Five-way chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans

Now add this Smokey (Five-way) Cincinnati Chili to a warm soft taco shell. Yes, it’s not traditional but it’s a great way to savor this chili’s unique flavor. Plus, let’s not forget how popular spaghetti tacos have become, made uber famous by a certain kid’s television show. 

I prefer Cincinnati chili with the five-way toppings. They all play a role in imparting the flavor experience I enjoy most. If you’ve ever looked at images of Cincinnati chili you will see it is covered in cheese. What I show you here for picture taking purposes is a minor amount compared to what is normally used. The cheese really works to balance the interesting flavor this chili imparts. I used Sargento Fine Cut Shredded Sharp Cheese for this recipe. Feel free to load up your taco with more cheese as is traditional.

Print Recipe

Smokey Cincinnati Chili Tacos

Recipe from: Created by Cathy Pollak for | Serves: Makes 8 tacos



  • 4 cups water
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 3 cubes beef boullion
  • 3 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (do not substitute)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce

To Build Your Taco:

  • 8 soft taco size flour tortillas
  • 1/2 pound dry spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans
  • 2 cups Sargento Fine Cut Shredded Sharp Cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onions


  • Bring water to a boil. Add ground beef, breaking up until meat is no longer pink. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on low uncovered, for 2-3 hours. Chili should be thickened but still slightly runny gravy when done.
  • Build your taco in your warm tortilla with cooked spaghetti, chili, cheese, beans and onion.

Smoky Cincinnati Chili Tacos a perfect combination
Aren’t these fun? What interesting tacos have you made? 

Disclosure: I am currently working with Sargento Cheese over the next year as a Flavor Journey Correspondent. While I have been compensated for my time, as always, all opinions are my own.

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Post a Comment


  1. Val 1

    Yum!! I love the idea of this. I love Cincinnati chili too but smokey sounds even better!

  2. Rita 2

    Inn a taco shell….brilliant! I love Cincinnati chili too and tacos!

  3. Krystal 3

    This girl born and raised in Cincinnati gives you a big thumbs up on your recipe! And we do have lots more than just chili (then again, the chili is enough LOL).

  4. Chili and Tacos… you really can’t go wrong!

  5. Kristin 5

    I agree with Krystal! Thumbs up! I lived in Cincinnati for 13 years. It’s an amazing city (GREAT FOODIE TOWN) and certainly one to put on your bucket list. Every time I go back to visit, my favorite chili restaurant is the first stop I make! And of course, like you said, just about anything is good wrapped in a tortilla!


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