El Amigo Pepe wins first place in chili crawl

NILES —The Hunter Ice Festival came to a close Sunday.

Even as sculptures faded in the rain, hundreds gathered to participate in the annual chili crawl, which traditionally closes out the festival and features dozens of local chefs and business owners’ take on the dish.

Festivalgoers were given a certain number of tickets to trade for a sample. After making a full tour of the dishes scattered throughout downtown, they voted for the best chili. 

This year, El Amigo Pepe claimed the first place “People’s Choice” title for the best chili. This is the 10th consecutive year that the restaurant has placed in the competition.

Students from Niles High School earned second place in the competition, followed by a third-place win from Mark Alstott/The Brass Eye.

El Amigo Pepe business owners Ana and Jose Mendez cooked up a chili with ground beef and a pinto bean base.

Jose and Ana’s daughter Gabriela Morales, who helps to manage the restaurant, said customers who tried the chili were not disappointed.

“They kept saying ‘we are just going to use all our tickets here,’” Morales said “They loved the kick that it had to it.”

Morales said they were happy to claim the first-place title, but happier to see people drawn to downtown businesses.

“My parents get really excited,” Morales said.  “They love the fact that it is the people’s choice [for a winner]. We do it every year for fun, because we enjoy seeing downtown Niles filling up and getting to be part of the community. To have an award is just the cherry to top it off.”

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