Chili and cornbread are a classic combo for a reason: that spicy, earthy flavor of chili pairs well with the subtle sweetness and fluffiness of cornbread. Don’t even get me started on the crispy cornbread crust that soaks up chili super well!
However, food is all about experimentation, which is always a great option on any menu. So here are a few ideas on what to serve with chili besides cornbread.
15 Side Dishes to Serve Alongside Chili Other Than Cornbread
Here are some of my favorite ways to serve chili. You may find a few classic side dishes, while some of them will be exciting ideas to use leftovers or try chili with new flavors.
Without further ado, here are my picks for chili sides you’ll love:
1 – Nachos
This one is a combo that’s tried and true, combining all the deliciousness of chili with the crispy, cheesy goodness of nachos. You can even make a buffet-style, choose-your-own-adventure station with all kinds of nacho toppings.
Place a few bowls of tortilla chips, shredded cheese (I use a Colby jack/pepper jack mix), sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, and any nacho fixings you like.
Many people like to take this in the direction of a Frito pie, which is essentially a bag of Fritos you split open, then pile on the chili, diced onions, and shredded cheese. It’s so simple, yet so delicious!
2 – Coleslaw
I personally like a refreshing slaw with my chili since it contrasts the deep, spicy flavors. It also helps cut the richness so you can eat more chili, and who doesn’t want more chili?
Try a quick red cabbage and onion slaw with an acidic vinaigrette, the classic cabbage and carrots in a mayo dressing, or even an exciting cabbage slaw with shredded apple and lime crema for a dressing. All these options will make your chili night lighter and even more filling!
3 – Spaghetti
Anyone from the Midwest will know what I’m talking about here. The Skyline chili spaghetti is a regional Cincinnati classic that has people raising their eyebrows left and right, but guys, it’s super good.
I won’t try to convince you with the argument that a beanless chili is basically a meat sauce like the one that goes on pasta. It’s unique, but this combination made it to the Smithsonian’s list of “20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America,” and I can’t argue with that!
The classic Cincinnati chili spaghetti is topped with heaps of shredded cheddar cheese, diced onions, and/or beans. You can make it with all or none of these toppings, but I strongly recommend the cheese.
4 – Rice
Rice is a staple starch that has one great advantage: you can flavor it however you want to compliment any dish you serve it with!
Chili with Mexican rice is a warming, comforting mix of harmonious spices. Add a sprinkle of chopped chives or scallions, and you get an oniony bite that kicks it up a notch.
I also like my chili with Chipotle-copycat cilantro and lime rice, which adds an aromatic, herbaceous touch to the spicy, savory chili. You can add cheese to the mix, but a squeeze of lime is all I need to brighten it up.
5 – Fries
Three words: Chili. Cheese. Fries.
This classic has all the makings of great fair food that leads to a blissful afternoon nap. Texas, New York, Missouri, Chicago, and Philadelphia all clamor for the inventor’s title of this concoction because it changed the world.
Now you see this combination on countless fast food and local restaurant menus. It’s super simple to make and the result is always delicious.
You can use regular or sweet potato fries, and choose any kind of cut you like. My favorite cut is waffle fries because you can use them as mini scoops for the chili.
6 – Mac and Cheese
Chili Mac is a comforting combination that can turn a frown upside down. This is also a crowd-pleaser, especially for kids who can be picky eaters.
For a weeknight meal, you can use the boxed mac and cheese for a quick and easy side to the chili. However, if you have a little more time on hand, don’t hesitate to make it from scratch.
Experiment with different cheese blends, addons like sour cream and green onions, or additional spices in your mac and cheese sauce. Paprika, onion and garlic powder, and a little bit of cayenne pepper always add a little something to the mix.
7 – Fried Eggs and Toast
Who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner? Well, I haven’t met anyone like that yet, but I just know that even the staunchest opponent would fall for this combo!
Picture this: a bowl of chili, an over-easy fried egg on top, and crispy toast on the side. The yolk from the egg will combine with the chili, making it even more luxurious and rich while also cutting the spice.
If you’re skeptical, try it once with leftover chili and I guarantee you’ll never look back.
8 – Baked Potatoes
Baked potatoes are a wonderful set-it-and-forget-it side dish. You just throw them in the oven while you’re making dinner, and by the time you’re done cooking, you have your carbs ready!
Once you take them out of the oven, slice the potatoes open, fluff the insides with a fork and immediately add a tablespoon of butter and a generous sprinkling of salt. You can also add some sour cream for extra flavor.
Chili goes so well with the airy, fluffy, mashed potato-like texture of the baked potatoes. It’s also a filling, cost-effective way of feeding a crowd. Win-win!
9 – Biscuits
This is truly Southern comfort food right there. The buttery, flaky biscuits with the spicy, warming chili create a stick-to-your-ribs, nourish-your-soul kind of deal.
There’s nothing wrong with getting pre-made biscuit dough, popping the tube, and baking it. However, if you have the time, make a batch of buttermilk biscuits. I promise they won’t disappoint.
The best part is that you’ll have leftover biscuits to drench in gravy or make a biscuit breakfast sandwich the next morning!
10 – Crackers
This is a simple solution for a snack or a light meal. A bowl of chili with a few Saltines or oyster crackers lightly crushed on top is just one of the simple pleasures of life.
You can dress it up or make it as fancy as you want, but the barebones version is just as delicious and satisfying as any highbrow meal. I know I’ve enjoyed this combo while binge-watching reality TV and I have no regrets.
11 – Leftover Dumplings
This might sound odd, but I’ve tried it and it works. Dumplings of any kind: steamed, fried, or boiled go perfectly with chili!
The thin, doughy wrapper will go so well with the intense flavors of the chili. Whatever the dumpling is stuffed with is probably compatible with it as well.
Pierogi, potstickers, gyoza, or even leftover soup dumplings that lost their soup! Just put them in a bowl and enjoy this special treat.
12 – Grilled Cheese
So many people reported doing this that I had to include it on the list. It checks out, though. The toasty, cheesy grilled cheese with a bowl of chili is a solid combo.
You can dress up the grilled cheese a bit, too! Add tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, and a variety of cheeses and you’ve got yourself a delicious, satisfying meal!
13 – Tamales
If your South American Abuelita has made some tamales for Christmas, then you’ve definitely tried this and don’t need me to tell you about it. For the rest of us who aren’t as lucky, try this if you get the chance!
Tamales are comforting, filling, and a bit of a hassle to make. However, those little parcels from heaven are absolutely worth it.
If you have some time to kill, have a couple of friends over and try your hand at making them from scratch. They’re labor-intensive, but you can taste the love that goes into them.
14 – Polenta or Grits
If you want the corny goodness of tamales but can’t find corn husks and 5+ hours to make them, polenta or grits are the next best thing.
They’ll only take about 30–40 minutes to make, and can be enjoyed fresh in their creamy, smooth form, or the next day as polenta fritters.
Just make sure you cook them long enough and season with salt liberally. No one wants bland, gritty grits.
15 – Salad
Last but not least, a salad can go great with chili for a lighter, healthier dinner. You don’t have to eat the same boring lettuce salad, though!
There are so many options when it comes to greens, toppings, and dressings. Just opt for something that compliments the chili and cuts through the heaviness.
My favorite salad to pair with chili is made of mixed greens, croutons, and a buttermilk ranch dressing. YUM!
Chili night is always fun and exciting. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a warm bowl of chili in front of the TV every now and again?
I hope you got some ideas about what to serve with chili besides cornbread. There’s a world of sides out there that go well with this hearty, comforting classic, so switch things up a bit!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.