Chuy's is Coming to the Metro
Tex-Mex purveyors beware, a juggernaut is coming from south of the border that will force you to either adapt or disappear.
And that juggernaut is called Chuy’s Fine Tex-Mex.
Anyone who knows me is aware that it’s difficult for me to enter a chain restaurant without holding my nose, but that’s not an absolute rule. Especially when it comes to the restaurant that saved Tex-Mex.
As a youngster growing up in Austin, Tex-Mex cuisine had, for all intents and purposes, run its course. The way of El Chico had proven a money could be made with recipes dumbed down and depleted by cheaper and cheaper ingredients. Buckets of beans and rice with a cheesy, greasy glob of what passed for enchiladas had become the norm, despite only a distant relationship to the root recipe.
But that alone isn’t a bad thing. Evolution is the way of things. However, what was being passed off as Mexican food in the late 1970s had turned the term Tex-Mex into a four-letter word that ended in u-c-k and started with y.
When Chuy’s opened in the early 1980s, the idea was to celebrate chili gravy, cheese enchiladas, crispy tacos and chili-bathed tamales and chiles rellenos. Instead of black wrought-iron grate work, red Naugahyde booths, sombrero-wearing guitarists and oversized votive candles, Chuy’s was adorned with papier-mache fish, hubcaps, and Elvis paraphanalia. The music was modern, the only thing cooler than the vibe was the margaritas. Starting in a tiny spot near Zilker Park on Barton Springs Road in Austin, the competition took notice — especially as the lines out the door at Chuy’s grew and expansion followed. Today, the original Chuy’s is in the same spot, which used to be a forgotten strip of road that connected the city park to the main artery that is S Lamar, and is the centerpiece of a hipster wonderland surrounded by trendy shops, restaurants and the Whole Foods of convenience stores.
Chuy’s is now a Tex-Mex dynasty with other concepts like Shady Grove and Hula Hut on their roster. What does it mean to the metro? At first glance, I’m it’ll have a Whole Foods effect on local Mexican restaurants. Just as local grocers had to up their collective game when Whole Foods arrive, so too will local cafes specializing in Mexican or Tex-Mex fare. This is not to say Chuy’s will serve the best Mexican food in town. But it will probably be the best Tex-Mex in town, and there are few enough folks who discern between the two that it will likely have a large ripple effect.
For places that already have good food, it’ll simply mean investing more in the decor and the bar. For those with mediocre food, it’ll be time to ramp up the menu, improve ingredients and take a step forward to distinguish themselves or look at a new career path.
Michael Hatcher, vice president of real estate and development for Chuy’s, said the Tulsa store will open on Valentines Day, and that their first site on the Western side of the state is under construction inNorman in the former Santa Fe Cattle Co, 760 Interstate Drive. Hatcher said the Norman location should open late spring or early summer and additional sites in Oklahoma City are being sought, but nothing is firmed up at this time.
Have you been to Chuy’s? What did you think? Are you excited to see it coming to town or do you think it’ll just clutter up the landscape.
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