If you are born and raised on either coast, then the concept of a Frito Pie/Walking Taco is likely going to be completely alien to you. I myself, as a lifelong East Coaster, had never heard of them until I saw the recipe in Homesick Texan's cookbook, but apparently Midwesterners (who call it a Walking Taco) and Southwesterners (who call it a Frito Pie) just love these things for football season... because what better thing to eat in the stands than warm chili put inside a bag of chips? And that's basically the long and the short of what this is: take a bag of chips (canonically Fritos obviously), cut it open lengthwise, pour on some chili, and top with shredded cheese, jalapenos, onions, etc.
Now, I had basically forgotten it since I saw it in Lisa Fain's cookbook, but recent hype about the next Doritos Locos Taco (for those who ignore fast food news: a ground beef taco made with a Doritos shell) got me thinking about the Frito Pie again. I mean people really seem to love those Doritos tacos, but I swore off Taco Bell somewhere in my mid 20's and I think it's best for both of us if I continue to keep my distance... so why not just do a Frito Pie with with different kinds of Doritos? Not that I pretend this is some kind of genius idea, since people were already doing it and the advertising itself shows a taco coming out of a Doritos bag... but I thought it was a good excuse to try this iconic recipe I don't fully understand.
I used Pioneer Woman Cook's recipe instead of Homesick Texan's simply because I didn't feel like roasting chiles and I have some ancho chile powder I really like. The only problem with Ree's recipe is that Ro-tel is not readily available in Boston, but you can imitate it by just using a can of diced tomatoes and a small can of diced chiles (though you'll end up with more than the 10 oz she calls for). The other thing I did differently was to follow The Food Lab's advice on browning ground meat: wherein you deeply brown 1/4 of the meat, and then add the rest, cooking it only until it is no longer pink... which is supposed to leave you with more tender meat without sacrificing flavor.
Now, after being raised on the ground beef and beans style of chili I have come to favor Texas style chili much more... and this recipe didn't change my mind... but while you could certainly skip the beans it's hard to see how big chunks of meat would really work well here. Otherwise I think I still prefer my chili in a bowl with regular tortilla chips or corn tortillas... but it is an undeniably fun way to eat some chili that I don't doubt would be popular with kids or at a Super Bowl party.
While the picture shows only nacho cheese flavor Doritos, I did try a handful of other flavors that I could find in $1 2 oz size bags at a nearby convenience store... and I would say that the sweet spicy chili flavor combo worked out the best specifically because of the sweet contrast. I suspect I would also like Cool Ranch for similar contrast related reasons.
As much as fans of the genre might disagree, I don't think you'll find the Frito Pie to be a life changing experience... but they are fun and worth making all the same.