Now, Chuy's as a chain has been around a little while. These two guys, Mike Young and John Zapp, opened up a Tex-Mex eatery in a former barbecue joint in Austin, Texas back in April 1982. Their goal was to serve fresh food - which is pretty awesome and a complete simplification of what they do.
In 1989, the two brought Hatch green chiles in to their restaurants from farms growing them... see, some peppers propagate and can be harvested several times a year, but Hatch green chiles are harvested only once a year. As manager Brent Schleuse was telling me while showing off the West Little Rock location of Chuy's, many of those farms were switching over to Anaheim chiles, which were easier and quicker to grow but which have an entirely different taste profile from Hatch green chiles (Anaheims are sweeter). The pair found a farmer who was growing the Hatch green chile for his own personal use - they convinced him to grow them for Chuy's. Those peppers are harvested in August, and today Chuy's purchase nearly two million pounds from these fields in the town of Hatch, New Mexico (which, I would assume, is where they got their name).
We went into the entry, where above our heads these wooden fish were schooling about. These pescado are each individually carved by a family in Mexico, a thousand pescado for each location of Chuy's.
You'll note all those dog photos. If you happen to bring in a photo of your dog for the wall, you get a free appetizer. So there's that!
Brent also let me peek into the Art Room, where one artist has committed his dreams to canvas. There was a private group in there, though, so I didn't shoot it.
Brent lead me back to the hubcap room, where Hunter had already started to imbibe in a pina colada. No worries - this version was alcohol-free and it's now her new favorite thing. Or at least it was, until she tried my also nonalcoholic strawberry daiquiri.
We were also offered a Mexican Martini, a version of the Texas Martinis Chuy's does so well. These martinis come shaken, not stirred with tequila and your choice of Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Patron Citronage. This Mexican Martini, which includes a green chile infused El Jimador silver tequila and Cointreau, is a special offering for the Green Chile Festival.
There was also this... heh, crazy drink. It's a a blackberry prickly pear swirl House Grand Rita. You'll note the multiple straws. It's one potent beverage.
The other thing you see there is the creamy jalapeno dip, and it's not on the menu. You have to know to order it. So do, get it alongside your salsa. It's Ranch-based with jalapenos and spices but it's not all that spicy, and it goes marvelously well with the house chips.
Next up - one of my favorite items, the Spinach Chicken Enchiladas. I love a good combination of cream and peppers, and this one was really satisfying. It's chicken roasted on the bone and then pulled off (which gives a great texture and which is super moist), jack cheese and fresh spinach leaves rolled up in corn tortillas that are then topped in green chile cream sauce and fresh roasted green chiles and tomatoes. This is lovely, with nice tones of heat and cool together. It's served with green chile rice, which I find a little biting but otherwise delightful, and with refried beans. The beans and rice are all vegetarian, by the way.
This is the Burrito Loco at Chuy's. It's a flour tortilla stuffed with Hatch green chile and poblano peppers, jack cheese and charro beans. It's covered in roasted pork green chile poblano sauce, roasted green chiles, Cotija cheese and crisp marinated red onions and serve with green chili rice. Now, note the pork is not inside the burrito. That poblano sauce would make that tortilla wet in an instant, so this gives the possibility for good contrast to the plate. I brought one of these home for Grav and he devoured it - savoring the nice low heat throughout the dish.
I rather liked the crisp marinated onions, too. They're essentially onion refrigerator pickles, but they're only allowed to marinate a few hours, and they're not allowed to stand all that long, so you're not going to get day-old mushy onions with these. Nice texture!
I'm already a big fan of these green chile street tacos, which are steak carnitas (that's right, beef carnitas), Cotija cheese, tomatoes, roasted green chilies and cilantro in small hand rolled corn tortillas. They're served with green chile rice. They're small, which means they fit well in the hand. The beef has a nice heat imparted from those chiles, and with a little squeeze of lime they were delectable.
And then there was the Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken, a tender chicken breast breaded with Lays potato chips, deep fried and smothered in green chili sauce and cheddar cheese. It's served with green chile rice and refried beans. So yes, potato chip-encrusted chicken. And this works.
I wouldn't know anything about that) and the augmented version tastes like the sort of thing you'd like to down after a night of drinking. You really could spend a whole evening at Chuy's and wrap it up with this.
Of course, that's not what we wrapped up the sampling with. We skipped the Valley Combo, which is a Spinach Chicken Enchilada paired with a Cheese Chile Relleno topped with Hatch green chile sauce drizzled in sour cream. I mean, we were already stuffed. But we had to try this.
If you don't recognize what this is, well, this marvelous concoction is a Tres Leches cake. It's a cake made with three milks. More succinctly, the cake is baked, then pricked all over with a toothpick. Three different milks - milk, cream and sweetened condensed milk - are poured over the top and allowed to soak in, and it's served on a bed of Crème fraîche. And dadgum it's good. The only way I could think to improve it is to have fresh Arkansas blackberries with it, but we're out of season now, so maybe I'll remember to remind the Chuy's folks about that suggestion in May of next year.
There are three Chuy's in Arkansas - in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Rogers. For more information, menus and specials, check out the website.