AUSTIN, Texas (NEXSTAR) — Even though it’s located smack-dab in the middle of Tex-Mex and barbecue country, Austin’s food culture has another claim to fame outside of traditional local fare — it’s a Chili’s restaurant located at the corner of 45th Street and North Lamar Boulevard in central Austin.
For the uninitiated, the restaurant located at 4420 N. Lamar Boulevard has become somewhat of a local legend over the past several years.
Many of the restaurant’s Yelp and Google reviews even mention its reputation.
“After hearing about this legendary establishment for several years, I finally decided to see if it lived up to all the hype. I’m generally pretty skeptical but let me tell you I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the hype is well deserved,” reads a November Google review.
Another Google review reads: “A ride or die Austinite’s favorite queso can only be found at Chili’s, along with some of the best frosty margs and $5 marg of the month. Other places are often overrated by the Lazy and Dumb Californians who are ruining this amazing city. But Chili’s is true, local, Austin Cuisine!! 5 Stars!”
In a city filled with endless culinary options, how did a Chili’s franchise — one of over 1,600 in the world — become a signature destination for locals and tourists alike?
Many Austin residents themselves don’t seem to be too sure.
“Can someone explain to me why the Chili’s on 45th and Lamar in Austin has such a hold on everyone that’s ever lived in Austin?” reads a tweet from July.
The answer appears to be Reddit — though Redditors themselves can’t seem to remember when or in which thread it specifically it began, its birthplace is generally agreed to be in the r/Austin subreddit.
While many Reddit threads attempting to find its origin exist, one from seven years ago (yes, the joke has been bubbling for that long), provides a decent grouping of some of the oldest early mentions and possible origins of the meme.
The thread “Here it is, the origin of 45th and Lamar Chili’s joke” points to several instances, including an 11 year-old Reddit thread when someone answered the location to the question: “What’s your favorite hidden treasure/hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Austin?”
“Chili’s on 45th has the best burgers in town,” said one user.
Another user in a post just a year later (2012) recommends the restaurant to an incoming Austin visitor, saying it has “a real nice ambiance and a good bargain.”
Many Redditors agreed the joke’s original proliferator is a now inactive account by user u/anonymous10101010, whose profile (which hasn’t been updated in seven years) includes several replies promoting the location.
The user even suggested “the booth by the bathrooms at Chili’s, 45th and Lamar” as a spot for a marriage proposal.
Additional theories about the location’s renown include speculation that students of the University of Texas Austin popularized it or that a Reddit user offering designated driving service on New Year’s Eve 2011 didn’t pick someone up who was waiting “in the corner booth.”
Nexstar reached out to the Chili’s brand owner Brinker International to ask if it was aware of the local internet phenomenon and had any comment. A Brinker representative said it was “excited” to hear more about it and offered to communicate with local management for comment. We will update this story when we receive a response.
Though Austin residents may never know where or when exactly the joke began, one thing’s for sure: it has survived and become local legend.
“The rumors are def true,” one Yelp user wrote in January. “The service went dummy hard. Felt like I was at a fine dining establishment. Oh wait, I was!”