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Chico's Tacos: Best Fast Food Ever?

Chico's Tacos: Best Fast Food Ever?

Thirteen years ago, I fell in love with Chico's Tacos in El Paso, Texas. But I hadn't had them since. That's how I recently ate Chico's in New York — deconstructed, and brought back in Tupperware that cost more than the tacos ($1.83 per order).

Sauce gently warmed on the stove, flautas thawed from the freezer where they'd been stored, then flash-fried, placed in the lovingly transported boat, covered with cheese, broth, and jalapeño sauce — I paused to appreciate a dish I'd built up for more than a decade, wondering, "Would it live up to the memory?"

Bite after bite of that crisp, cheesy, spicy mess did. No, I couldn't feel the hot El Paso sun, and New York's skyline didn't disappear — but that sense of satisfaction, comfort, the feeling of finding some secret culinary home to luxuriate in, that was there. And for these reasons this dish made my list of most memorable meals of 2011.

Click for more of the Most Memorable Meals of 2011.

Chico's Tacos: Best Fast Food Ever? - Recipes

The tacos are the best I have ever had. I fly to El Paso just for them sometimes. I decided to fly to LA to buy a car instead of having it shipped to me just so that I could stop at Chico's Tacos on my way home. I always pack a cooler full to bring back to family and friends.

24 - 28 of 86 reviews

You order a double order of rolled tacos, get the green chile sauce (hot) and an order of fries to dip in the cheesy sauce. Classic El Paso meal you can't go wrong.

Horrible experience. I went there because my son recommended from one of the TV 'cooking shows'. I wonder how much "they" paid the producers of that show. first of all, CASH ONLY. their food reminds DRY 'cardboard' with water-down tomato juice. YUK

I love this place. What it lacks in atmosphere and pomp, it more than makes up for with the food. The tacos and the hot dog (served double and split on a hamburger bun with Chili) are just awesome. When you get the tacos (if you do it right. ) you will have this paper taco "dish" with a lot of sauce and cheese left over that is for your fries. El Paso poutines, once you put the fries in there. Excellent, especially with their Jalapeno salsa. A must try when in El Paso. Look for the oldest, dirtiest, Chicos location that you can find. (Montana Avenue is a good choice!) The building carries with it years of flavor and "charm"!

Chico's is very different. The tacos are just rolled flautas with ground beef serve in a pool of wet sauce with cheese, but it tastes great! This is a no frills and cash only joint and most of the clientele were hispanic. I really loved it!

This Restaurant Reimagines El Paso’s Favorite Taco

The flautas ahogadas at Tacoholics are bathed in salsa verde, drizzled with a zippy crema, and sprinkled with queso asadero.

Rolled tacos, or flautas, are everywhere along the Texas-Mexico border. At Brownsville’s Easy to Go Tacos, they’re served with cueritos (pickled pig skin) at Sonora’s Taco Grill, you get six in one order, and they come topped with cabbage. But the most famous rolled taco joint in Texas is arguably Chico’s Tacos in El Paso . Chico’s is such an institution that the Texas Legislature honored the local chain in July 2003, to mark the company’s fiftieth anniversary . However, Chico’s Tacos’s signature dish—small flautas, topped with a flurry of orange cheese bits, immersed in watery tomato salsa in a paper serving boat—makes for a love it-or-hate-it experience. Some folks live and die by it, going so far as to have orders mailed to them . Others avoid stepping into a Chico’s Tacos. Place me in the latter camp, and I am no stranger to the city—my wife’s family settled in El Paso after making the trek from Taxco, Mexico, in a covered wagon. Flautas ahogadas—drowned flautas, so named for the sauce they come bathed in—are an El Paso specialty, steeped in tradition and perfected over decades. Until now, few chefs have dared to experiment with them much.

Across the city, flautas ahogadas are typically bathed in red salsa, following the precedent set by Chico’s. You can find them at restaurants like La Tapatia, Fast Lane, and the Taco Shop. The latter even offers a vegan filling option of jackfruit. At Carlos & Mickey’s, they’re called Chiquis Flautas and gussied up with an avocado wedge. At Lucy’s Restaurant, yet another El Paso stalwart, they’re known as taquitos and served as an appetizer of four drowned flautas. Still, despite these small variations, most flautas are served topped with crema, lettuce, tomato, maybe a scoop of guacamole, and queso fresco, plus salsa on the side.

At Tacoholics, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shopping-center storefront restaurant on the city’s East Side, they do things a little differently—and the result is the best flautas ahogadas in El Paso. Here, the dish barely resembles the version served at the aforementioned spots, and it all starts with the salsa: a salsa verde. “When we first came out with those, it was us paying homage to the most popular street food in El Paso,” says owner Jessie Peña. In 2015, Texas Monthly named these tacos among the best in the state , and that description still holds true.

But if you don’t plan ahead, you might be in for a wait. As the pandemic continues, Tacoholics remains open for pickup and delivery only. When I placed my order over the phone, I was told the single box of flautas ahogadas wouldn’t be ready for an hour. (It ended up being more like twenty minutes.) However long you wait—and you should wait in your car—the order of five flautas ahogadas will be served nearly deconstructed for quality assurance. The flautas arrive tightly rolled and stuffed with your choice of filling: sirloin, chicken, pork, or even tofu. They’re drizzled with a zippy crema and sprinkled with queso asadero (an El Paso favorite cheese), chopped cilantro, and diced raw white onion, all wrapped in foil in a paper boat. A Styrofoam cup of steaming tomatillo salsa comes on the side, and everything is delivered in a clamshell container. No, it’s not as striking a presentation as it would have been had I been seated in the dining room. The garnishes would’ve arrived atop the salsa in that case. For takeout, the dish comes disassembled for maximum freshness and safety. Peña says that’s a priority, especially since the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Latinos . (El Paso is more than 80 percent Latino.)

“We’re not competing for the dining experience anymore,” he says. “So our to-go has to be that much better. It has to be packaged right. We want to make sure that we seal it correctly so that it stays fresh.” He tested the setup himself by taking an order home, he says, to make sure the dish didn’t get soggy in transport—a common problem he noticed while tasting to-go flautas from some of his competitors. Peña adds that after taking an initial 70 percent hit because of the statewide shutdown imposed to slow the virus’s spread, Tacoholics has recovered all but 30 percent of its pre-COVID-19 sales. “I’ve got no complaints,” he says.

Ultimately, for Peña, the flautas ahogadas, which I favor filled with richly seasoned carne asada, are a childhood comfort food that he gets to tinker with as an adult. “It affected me enough in my childhood, when it was a great leftover comfort food at home, that I acknowledge it in my restaurant,” he says. “Hey, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do this right and we’ll do our own spin on it to honor the city and the region we’re from.”

In other words, don’t fret about how to assemble the dish. Just pop open the Styrofoam cup of salsa verde and pour its contents over the fried rockets of delight. There is enough sauce, and the flautas can take it. Then go to town, preferably while sitting on the hood or trunk of your car. Yes, I realize it’s hot in El Paso right now. It’s hot all over Texas right now. That’s just how it is. And Tacoholics’ flautas ahogadas are worth the minor suffering that triple digits bring.


There are many ways to cook chicken for Tacos de Pollo.

For example, you could slow cook chicken breasts with a Ranchero sauce in your crock-pot, just as we did for these savory Shredded Chicken Tacos, simmer it on the stovetop like in our Tinga de Pollo recipe…or, you could take a major shortcut, and use this recipe!

For a quick and easy weeknight meal, we used a traditional chicken fajitas recipe for inspiration. Only rather than cooking on the grill, we cooked the chicken fast on the stovetop using boneless, skinless chicken thighs! Chicken thighs are much more forgiving than chicken breasts and are much more likely to stay tender and juicy after being subjected to high heat and fast cooking methods.

  1. Pat the chicken thighs dry and cut them into strips.
  2. Drizzle the chicken strips with oil and taco seasoning. Then, toss to combine.
  3. Add oil to a pan and heat it up.
  4. Sear the strips of chicken, turning once, until cooked through — about 7-8 minutes.

Rolling Taquito Question

I have seen on TV some restaurants that make taquitos. They roll the corn tortilla into the taquito. At home I have to head up the tortilla to make it flexible enough to roll without it splitting. Then I put a tooth pick through it unless I put them in the freezer first to hold them together then no tooth pick required.

In videos of restaurants making them I see them having stacks of tortillas and just rolling them without any heating them up first and no tooth picks through them. It's as if they have specially made tortillas that are already flexible enough and also no need for tooth picks to hold them together.

A great example is if you watch "The Best Thing I Ever Ate", TV Personality and Chef, Aaron Sanchez goes to the tacquito fast food joint he went to as a kid and they show them rolling them. They have stacks of tortillas and the owner says they get these tortillas made for them specially every day. I wonder if they are made differently. They don't do any heating of the tortillas just pull them from the stack. They roll without cracking along the edges and they roll smoothly. Oh this place is called Chico's Tacos I think. It's in El Paso, TX.

Do you think these are specially made with higher oil content so they are not as dry therefore roll without heating them up first or cracking? I researched on the internet and found nothing on this.

Chicken Tacos Recipe

Finding a substantial upgrade to such a common meal is a real treat. And the good news is that you don’t have to worry about re-creating each element teaspoon perfect. Just get everything on the table and have at it. Trust me it is worth it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I occasionally take shortcuts on these tacos and they still come out delish. However, there is one element on the menu that I would consider non-negotiable and that is the salsa. Freshly made salsa is the hidden driver of these tacos so I highly recommend making it from scratch. Your family/friends will be forever grateful!

(Note: ingredient amounts are designed to gobsmack 4-5 hungry people. Feel free to adjust based on your gathering.)

Start by roasting 7-8 plum tomatoes in a 400F oven. You’ll need six of them for the salsa and 1-2 of them for the rice, dependent on their size. They’ll need about 20-25 minutes to roast in the oven.

This is essentially a double batch of our Tomato Jalapeno Salsa so you can always check here for more details on it, but I’ll list out all the key details in this post as well.

As the tomatoes roast you’ve got plenty of time to get started on the other elements.

The cookery and seasoning on the chicken isn’t crucial so feel free to do what works best for you. My default seasoning usually looks like this:

So in the above pic you’ve got:

2 Tablespoons crushed New Mexican chile
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked black pepper
dollop of oil

Keep in mind that the crushed chile we’re using is less concentrated than standard chili powder (more details on it here.)

Chop up two chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and give them a good swirl in the seasoning bowl. Set aside until you need it.

The rice is a very simple Mexican Rice. You’ll need a couple tomatoes that are roasting in the oven so I usually start the rice about halfway through the roasting period and snag the tomatoes from the oven before they are officially “done”.

Heat a glug of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of rice.

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is turning opaque and light brown.

Add one of the roasted tomatoes to a blender along with 1/2 onion and a single garlic clove. (You can use two tomatoes if they are smaller.) Combine well and add to the saucepan, letting the puree cook into the rice for a few minutes.

Add 2 cups of stock (I use this chicken stock ) and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until the liquid is absorbed, somewhere around 10-15 minutes.

Once the liquid is absorbed set aside and cover, letting the rice sit in its own steam for a few minutes. And definitely salt to taste. I added another pinch to this batch.

For the chicken, I usually start by cooking 3-4 tablespoons of onion in a glug of oil over mediumish heat.

Once the onion is tender add the chicken and form a single layer as much as possible. Let the first side cook all the way through and then give it a flip, briefly cooking the second side.

Don’t eat it yet! Put the cooked chicken in a serving bowl and cover with foil.

I usually start the guacamole when the chicken goes in the pan as you only need a few minutes to make it. We’re using our Basic Guacamole recipe for these tacos and it’s the perfect fit because of its simplicity. You don’t need tons of extra flavor in the guac because you’ll be getting so much flavor from the salsa.

In a bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2-3 tablespoons of chopped onion, and the juice of a single lime. (I usually crush the onion with the back of a fork to mimic a molcajete and release some additional oils.) Add the flesh of two ripe avocados and combine well.

Salting to taste is crucial here. I added another pinch of salt and cut open a second lime for another squeeze. You’ll end up with an awesome batch of guacamole that comes with the potential to be your new default guac recipe.

In addition to six of the roasted tomatoes, you’ll need the following ingredients for the salsa:

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno
pinch of salt (optional)

Add to a blender or food processor along with the tomatoes and give it a pulse blend. No need to blend it all the way as it prefers to be left a little chunky.

Yum! Sometimes this salsa is perfect even without the salt so feel free to omit it. It’s also worth tasting it for heat ( capsaicin ) level you can always add more jalapeno for a more fiery version.

Yes, you can whip up a batch of refried beans, but I usually default to this method:

I usually take that shortcut with these tacos as you don’t need much flavor from the beans. Of course, if you want to make a fresh batch of refried beans there is some good info on that here.

In addition to the homemade salsa, there is one other non-negotiable aspect of this recipe. Serving up the chicken tacos hot and crispy makes them taste infinitely better, so I highly recommend trying that the first time you make them.

Sure, you can put a pile of corn tortillas on the table and let people build their own, but I think they are so much better if you crisp up the tortilla and melt the cheese before serving. In other words, you’re building the first half of the tacos with beans, rice and cheese, and letting your peeps build the rest of the tacos themselves.

Heat up a skillet or comal to mediumish heat. Add four corn tortillas (or as many as you can fit) and give each of them a layer of beans, cheese and rice.

Let these cook for 1-2 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the tortilla is starting to turn golden brown. Keep in mind that people will fold them as they eat them so you only need to cover half of the tortilla with the beans and rice.

As these cook, make sure the other elements are ready to go on the table: chicken, guacamole, and salsa.

Then it’s time to chow down! Don’t forget to loudly recommend a goopy, over-the-top serving of salsa in each taco. When these piping hot crispy tacos are drenched in a freshly made salsa then at least for a few minutes all is well in the world.

Yes, you’ll have to head back to the stove to crisp up a few more batches, but I think this step is totally worth it. I do it 100pct of the time because it creates a rich flavor that most people have never had before.

And there you have it. Chicken tacos that you might make a couple hundred times over the next few years.

And don’t forget that they are super forgiving. There are times when I’ve made these tacos for family/friends with all of the elements made from scratch, including the tortillas and refried beans. There are also times when I’ve taken substantial shortcuts like using leftover rice and canned beans. And I always get the same reaction, i.e. beaming peeps and happy stomachs. So please remember that you’ve got some leeway on the elements the important thing is to get them on the table and let your family and friends go wild combining them all.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below or you can always send me an email.

Birria Red Tacos Prove Soaking Your Tortillas Is a Genius Move

A taco isn’t truly complete without a few accoutrements—a sprinkle of cilantro and diced onions along with a splash of salsa offer the perfect final touch. But while the focus tends to be on the toppings, when it comes to the red taco (a longtime Mexican favorite and recent sensation in the Los Angeles culinary scene) it’s the tortilla itself which takes center stage, dipped in a fiery oil bath and then fried for a flavorful and eye-popping finish.

It Begins with Birria

The foundation to a red taco is birria, tender hunks of meat that have been braised in a fragrant broth. While birria can be served simply as a soup (you can even add ramen noodles to the mix), tortillas are commonly enlisted to transport all that goodness to your belly.

At popular Los Angeles food truck chain Pepe’s Red Tacos chef Joe “Pepe” Mercado prepares a scratch-made bone broth blended with 11 herbs and spices including a trio of chiles (anaheim, guajillo, and ancho) which give the liquid that signature crimson hue.

A native of Jalisco, the birthplace of birria, Mercado learned the recipe from his mother who would prepare the dish for breakfast when it is traditionally served.

Like many red taco purveyors stateside, Pepe’s specializes in birria de res (beef) which Mercado acknowledges isn’t something you’ll typically find across the border. “If you go to Mexico and ask for birria, you’ll get served goat [chivo]” he says. When you use beef, it’s called barbacoa. Here in the States, it got confused and people just called both birria.”

Mercado’s cut of choice is lean and tender chuck roll which is simmered in the broth for several hours. “We cook it to where all of the fat has broken away from the meat,” he says.

An Overnight Sensation

Ready to eat? Not so fast! If you want to take the red taco route (which, of course you do) a little more patience is in order. Be sure to make room in the fridge because your birria’s gonna need a few more hours to chill out. This is done in order to allow the fatty oils from the broth to rise to the top and solidify.

“We filter that fat and we’re left with all of the pure oil of the meat and all of the flavors that it cooked in,” says Mercado. “That’s what we dip our tortillas in. Some people think you just dip it into the broth. If you just dip it into the broth and grill it, the tortillas will fall apart because of all of the liquid and water.”

The Red Dipping

Now it’s finally time to take the plunge. Corn tortillas are the standard (but flour works too) and Mercado prefers to double up to ensure a sturdy foundation for your tacos. Grab a pair and, holding them together, give them a dip in the oil. After they’ve soaked up that flavor-packed red gold, toss the tortillas on a hot skillet, around 30 seconds on each side until they’re slightly crisp but still pliable. (If you want to add cheese, now’s the time to do it.)

Pile on that meat and all the fixins’ and serve with a side of broth because why let a single drop of that precious liquid go to waste? Sip straight up or take a cue from Mercado and submerge your taco in the broth French dip style. “That’s traditionally how we in Jalisco eat it.”

A Shortcut to Preparing Birria at Home

If you want to recreate the magic of Pepe’s Red Tacos at home, Mercado now sells jars of just-add-water (plus meat and garlic) birria paste, the same base that he uses to prepare his broth.

Birria Paste, $6.99 from Pepe's Red Tacos

Below you’ll find instructions for preparing red tacos using Pepe’s Red Tacos Birria Paste.

Quick and Easy Steak Picado — A Favorite Comfort Food

It’s a dish my mom whipped up como nada. Steak Picado, a spicy beef stir fry that melds together beautifully onions, green peppers, garlic and other seasonings and transforms even the toughest cuts of beef into mouthwatering bites. This dish is also popular in Guatemala, Panama and Cuba. Differences among countries are slight. In the Mexican version, fresh tomatoes are used while elsewhere tomato sauces and pastes may be part of the base. Like my mom, I love making this dish when I don’t have a lot of time and need a piece of beef to stretch and feed hungry mouths.

Steak Picado Recipe
Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes to an hour


1 ½ – lbs beef steak of choice (tenderloin, round)
2 tablespoons, vegetable oil
4-5 fresh Roma tomatoes, cut into wedges (or one large can diced)
Up to 2 cups water (see directions)
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green bell pepper (or other color), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
1 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

  1. Heat a large frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Brown the beef in skillet and drain on paper towel.
  3. Add oil to the skillet and heat for about one minute.
  4. Add the onions and cook until translucent about two minutes.
  5. Add the garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapeno.
  6. Add back the beef.
  7. Stir in seasonings.
  8. Add water slowly to barely cover the beef and vegetable mixture you may not need all two cups, as it really depends on the size of your frying pan. You don’t want it to become a cocido de res.
  9. Bring the water to a boil.
  10. Cover with a lid, lower the heat to medium and cook about 40 minutes, stirring frequently. Make sure to check that the liquid hasn’t completely evaporated. You want a little juice in the pan.

Serve with a side of rice and/or beans and some warm tortillas. A double margarita couldn’t hurt either!

For leftovers: I love cooking down the mixture a bit more and scrambling it with eggs. Makes for a perfect breakfast burrito.

Recipe Summary

  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 (6 ounce) cans black olives, drained
  • 1 (16 ounce) jar salsa
  • 24 (6 inch) flour tortillas
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

Boil chicken breasts for 20 minutes or until they are thoroughly cooked. Drain breasts well and let cool. Use an electric food processor or manually shred the chicken and set aside.

Use an electric food processor or blender to puree the olives. In a mixing bowl, combine salsa, olives, and chicken. Heat tortillas in microwave for about 20 to 30 seconds.

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the chicken mixture into the center of each warmed tortilla and roll the tortillas tightly, using toothpicks to keep them closed.

Heat oil in skillet over a high heat. When the oil is hot, place the rolled taco into the oil and deep fry until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup lemonade
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (12 ounce) package corn tortillas
  • 1 head lettuce, shredded
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 (8 ounce) package shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 (8 ounce) jar salsa
  • 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream

In a large skillet over medium heat, combine chicken, lemonade, olive oil, lime juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, and bay leaf. Simmer until chicken is no longer pink, and juices run clear, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas in the oven or microwave until soft. When chicken is fully cooked, transfer to serving bowl. Place lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, and sour cream in serving dishes. Each person can create their own wrap, using their preferred ingredients.

Watch the video: Chicos tacos (November 2021).