Taste Bud: Check out Chuy’s chiles
One of the best things about having a column like this one is that you get invited to media shindigs, such as the one I recently attended at Chuy’s.
I’d been to Chuy’s twice before, and both times I walked away thinking, “Eh.” Turns out that both times I ordered the wrong thing, because the food I sampled as part of the Austin chain’s Green Chile Fest kick-off was damn tasty.
The media was treated to a brief video history of the green chile and its importance not just to Mexican food but also to Mexican culture, along with samples of two chile-infused margaritas. But I was there for the food, and for the most part, I was wowed. Here are brief reviews of the green-chile menu items we tried:
Mexi-Cobb Salad: A miniature version of this was our starter. It was fresh with plenty of seasoned fajita chicken, big chunks of fresh avocado, tomatoes, greens, cheese and — of course — fresh green chiles. Interestingly, the “dressing” was actually the creamy jalapeno dip you get with your complimentary chips. Delicious.
New Mexican Rolls: “New Mexican” because, presumably, all of Chuy’s green chiles come fresh from a single farm in Hatch, New Mexico. These come as an appetizer and as a meal, with sides of rice and refried beans. They were fairly basic concoctions of the same fajita chicken, cheese, cilantro and green chiles, wrapped and fried, but they finish lighter and fresher than you’d expect from anything fried. The upshot here is that the chiles play a more prominent role in the flavor blend than in some of these dishes.
Green Chile Chicken Taquitos: Once again, the peppers come through with a clean but subtle bite. The tightly wrapped, crispy shells contain chicken and chiles and are served with the signature creamy jalapeno dip/dressing. It was around the time I was eating this that Chuy’s marketing/bar/catering manager Andre Bradford asked aloud, “Is anybody’s mouth on fire yet?” No, but keep ’em coming.
Mama’s Stacked Enchiladas: An interesting take on the enchilada wherein the shells are not rolled but layered, with ground sirloin, jack cheese, sour cream sauce and Chile Ranchero sauce. Thick with cheese and plenty of mole sauce, it’s like Mexican lasagna.
Tacos al Pastor: This is the only dish we tried that left me fairly unimpressed. I’ve had a number of versions of the al pastor taco, which features pineapple roasted pork, but this one wasn’t a contender for Best I’ve Tried. That said, my standards tend to be impossibly high once I’ve found a flavor blend I prefer. These were still solid, if a bit on the dry side for my palate.
Fajita Beef Chuychanga: But this? This is one of the best forms of Mexican food I’ve ever had. Wow. If I had ordered this either time I went to Chuy’s, I’d have been going back, even with my aversion to chain restaurants. No, it doesn’t pack the originality you’ll find at El Mundo, but it’s in that neighborhood. This thick burrito is packed with fajita beef, cheese, the signature green chiles and cilantro, and rests on a delicious Hatch Green Chile sauce. (I could drink that stuff with a straw.) The drizzle of sour cream sauce may not be enough for most palates to tune down the medium heat from the chile sauce, but let’s face it: It’s a green chile festival. Just relax and go with it.
If you get to Chuy’s by Sept. 9, you can get in on this limited-time menu (for god’s sake, get the Chuychanga!). In addition, you can buy fresh green chiles to go — just $2.25 per pound fresh, $3.50 pre-roasted and $4.50 roasted, peeled, deseeded and diced.
I walked away with a big bag of chiles myself and have already roasted a couple of them. And you know what? I ate them skin, seeds and all, because I don’t mess around.
Check out chuys.com for more info on the chili fest and special menu.