As a Texas city bordering Mexico, El Paso has its own brand of Mexican food and it is far from Tex-Mex. We eschew almost any hint of Tex-Mex, which is why Chuy’s had us all scratching our heads when they decided to open a location at the Fountains at Farah. After almost a year later, El Pasoans are still divided. While many have excitedly embraced this addition (there is still about a 20-30 minute wait at peak times), the rest staunchly refuse to eat at an “inauthentic” Mexican eatery, especially one that is not local.
Before opening to the public, Chuy’s had Barracuda PR organize a media event to introduce the restaurant to the community. I was invited to what had to be one of the highlights of last year for me. I feel really bad that I am barely posting this almost a year later, but I’ve dealt with the usual busyness of life, a corrupted SD card, and having to rewrite this all over again after the WordPress app on my phone deleted this post.
It was interesting and inspiring to hear about their beginnings and the current processes. Yes, it’s now a chain, but they had to start somewhere guys! At one time, this was a small, local bar and restaurant in Austin that didn’t have enough money to properly decorate. The remainder of their budget went into purchasing hubcaps to cover up a stained ceiling and other decor that included a velvet Elvis painting. Being broke and creative has set the decorating standard for all their locations, but now they have a much larger budget that includes a lot of handmade, hand-painted items. They like to say that, “If you’ve seen one Chuy’s, you’ve seen one Chuy’s.” Each location looks different, but all have some form of a hubcap room and an Elvis shrine. The beautiful, kitschy decor is reason alone to visit these fun restaurants.
At the event, we were given a tour of the kitchen where everything is made fresh and in house. A sign hangs in the kitchen that reads “con ganas,” which roughly translates to with desire or doing something wholeheartedly and with fervor. Nothing is frozen here, save for ice cream and children’s menu items. Even the corn and flour tortillas are made from scratch (tortillas for the tostadas are purchased from a regional tortilleria due to high volume); you can watch them hand roll and warm the tortillas, just try not to be a creeper. I love to order half a dozen blue corn tortillas to go, since it’s one of the only places in town that sells them. Texas martinis (they use green chile-infused tequila) and Margaritas are a must, when fresh lime juice is involved, and you won’t find any sweet and sour or pre-made mixes here. The cocktails pair well with their weekday happy hour (4-7 pm), which includes free nachos (!). A gorgeous vintage car trunk accommodates salsa, refried beans, ground beef, chile con queso, and thin, crispy tostadas. Unfortunately, the chile con queso is not vegetarian friendly, so I recommend asking for a side of Boom Boom sauce (extra fee may apply).
I have set aside my disgust for Tex-Mex and embraced Chuy’s with open arms due to its veg-friendliness and chile rellenos. Most of their sauces are vegetarian or vegan (scroll to the bottom to see the veg-friendly listings) and both refried and charro beans are vegan. The menu can be overwhelming, so let me help you by telling you that the #7 Vegetarian Combo plate is where it’s at. It comes with a cheese chile relleno smothered in Ranchero sauce, a veggie enchilada rolled in a homemade blue corn tortilla and stuffed with corn, peppers, squash, spinach, and cheese and also topped with Ranchero sauce (and rice and beans). You can also opt for other sauces, like the Salsa Macha and Salsa Baja, both exclusive to the El Paso location. The sauces were created exclusively for El Paso and developed by one of their chefs who hails from Chihuahua. Both salsas deploy tomatillo and chile de arbol, but the Baja has a fresher, zippier taste, while Macha has a nice spicy kick.
I have never liked the taste or texture of eggs, which is why I don’t care too much for chile rellenos with their eggy, pillowy batter. A Chuy’s chile relleno is like a giant jalapeno popper, with chicken-fried batter that’s light and crispy, thanks to the addition of crushed Lay’s potato chips. I usually only eat half the relleno, because it is a green chile volcano oozing an endless amount of cheese.
You can choose between Mexican rice or green chile rice which is mostly dry and nondescript. Your other side choice is between refried or charro beans. The refried beans are flavored with spices and caramelized onions, which sound great, but were a little too Tex-Mex in flavor for me. I loved their soupy, flavorful charro beans, but as a Hispanic I was disarmed by their name. Every Mexican household has their own recipe for charro or cowboy beans, and they most always have bacon, chorizo, weenies or all of the above. It’s a nice surprise, but a lot of El Pasoans will have a problem with this.
I’m not one for dessert, but the tres leches cake at Chuy’s is very good. The cake has a nice crumb and is creamy with a touch of sweetness without being heavy. Chuy’s may not be for everyone, but it’s a fun environment with a menu that packs variety. We’re not used to this style of Mexican fare, but it’s a nice contrast. Also nice, is how supportive of the community this chain is; a portion of proceeds are donated to local charities like Creative Kids.
Thanks to the Nash Veggie blog for being an excellent resource! Here are the vegetarian & vegan listings copied from their site:
- Ranchero (vegan)
- Tomatillo (vegan)
- Salsa Baja (vegan)
- Salsa Macha (vegan)
- Deluxe Tomatillo
- Boom Boom
- Chips & Salsa
- Special Nachos
- Cheese Quesadillas
Salads (all dressings are vegetarian; Cilantro Vinaigrette is vegan)
- Guacamole Taco Salad
- Grilled Chicken Salad (no chicken)
- Mexi-Cobb Salad (no chicken)
- Dinner Salad
Sides (all vegan)
- Flour, Corn, Blue Corn, Wheat Tortillas
- Mexican Rice
- Green Chile Rice
- Refried Beans
- Charro Beans
Tacos, Sopapillas & Burritos
- Guacamole Tacos
- Bean & Cheese Tacos
- Bean & Cheese Burrito with above sauces
- Bean & Cheese Sopapilla with above sauces
Chile Rellenos & Enchiladas
- Cheese Chile Rellenos
- Veggie Enchiladas
- Cheese Enchiladas with above sauces
- #3 Taco & Enchilada (sub vegetarian taco & enchilada)
- #4 Relleno & Enchilada (choose your own vegetarian options)
- #5 Chalupa & Enchilada (no chicken on chalupa, sub cheese for chicken enchilada)
- #6 Enchilada, Taco & Chalupa (sub vegetarian enchilada & taco, no chicken on chalupa)
- #7 Vegetarian Combo
- All desserts are vegetarian but selections can vary by location so ask your server for options.