For lifelong chili lover Laura Ianello, kidney beans and hamburger swimming in a tomato base just won’t do it.

Chili has to be thick and hearty, with chunks of meat or vegetables.

The pork green chili at Thunder Canyon Brewery in the Foothills Mall, 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd., hits the spot. The chili comes served up in a bread boule with a side salad, and Ianello orders it every time. Sometimes she makes special trips to the restaurant just for the chili.

“It’s not spoon chili — it’s fork chili” says Ianello, the head coach of the University of Arizona’s women’s golf team.

Growing up, homemade chili often had no kidney beans, no onions and no tomato chunks — appeasement for a picky eater in Ianello’s family. The chili at Thunder Canyon Brewery reminds Ianello why she hates the soupy stuff. Thicker, with a chunk of pork in every bite, is better.

She discovered the brewery’s chili only three or four years ago, but Ianello, 33, has been enjoying Thunder Canyon Brewery since she moved to Tucson from Charleston, Ill., for her freshman year of college in 1998. When her snowbird parents bought a home in the area, Thunder Canyon Brewery became the “local hangout.”

Even before she turned 21, Ianello loved the brewery. During her childhood, Ianello’s father owned a bar and pizza restaurant — “a big old college bar with the pool tables and pinball machine and a foosball table and jukebox” — so the atmosphere and selection of home-brewed beers immediately attracted the family of restaurant connoisseurs.

As a student athlete for the UA golf team, whenever Ianello had golf practice at the Omni Tucson National Resort, she’d pop by Thunder Canyon Brewery to meet her parents for a quick lunch. If she couldn’t finish the food, her parents boxed the leftovers and took them home. At the time, the chili wasn’t her No. 1 pick.

“When you’re in college and you’re an athlete, you are so health-conscious,” Ianello says. “I would never order chili or anything in bread. I would order a salad, because I was thinking about my figure too much.”

Since then, she’s seen the light. The sweet bread complements the salty spice of the chili, and every bite should have a little bit of both. Ianello completes the meal with a side salad drizzled with honey mustard poppy seed dressing. Normally, she orders the Sandstone Cream Ale to wash it down, but right now she’s pregnant.

Even with alcohol out of the picture, dining regularly at Thunder Canyon Brewery is worth it. In the winter, when her parents visit, the family stops by once a week. The rest of the time, Ianello and her husband eat at the brewery every couple of weeks.

They always sit at a booth near the bar to watch golf tournaments or football games.

Grabbing meals here will stay a family tradition.

“We’ll be bringing our future baby Ianello to Thunder Canyon Brewery,” Ianello says, laughing. “I’ll be able to have beer again.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.