Since its 1982 opening in Austin, Chuy’s has expanded to 38 locations throughout the Southeast United States, and recently the restaurant has come to Lubbock. Popular with many already, the location opened in September to rousing success. The location’s general manager, Wacey Estes said when the Facebook page was opened, the goal was to get 1,000 likes by September 5th. “It blew up. I think we’re at 8,200 – 8,300 likes right now.”
Upon arriving at Chuy’s, I was told the wait would be about 30 minutes, a norm, I was told by the hostesses, for weekday evenings. I was suggested to enjoy the bar during my wait, where I could sit and enjoy chips and salsa from a serve-yourself cart. The salsa itself is delicious. It has a very pico de gallo consistency, with just the right amount of heat. It’s very tomatoey and quite fresh-tasting. Upon asking, Estes told me this location alone goes through, on average, “120-130 25 pound cases of fresh tomatoes a week.” He also said the restaurant uses all fresh meat and that they never freeze it. He said he considers people – the customers – and good food first; profit second.
One of the first things I noticed about the decor was a boxed shrine to Elvis Presley. One of these is at every Chuy’s location, a tradition which began at the first Chuy’s which was decorated with garage sale finds. “Elvis kinda became the patron saint of Chuy’s,” Estes said. If you wander around the restaurant, you’ll find eclectic decor ranging from hanging hubcaps to wacky-colored floor tiles. It’s a fun sort of chaos for a fun sort of place.
I was seated in the patio lit with overhanging lights and Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” drifting from the speakers. After receiving an iced tea, I placed an order for the “Chuy’s Special” and a bowl full of their “famous” tortilla soup. My waiter was consistent and attentive, and very friendly. He was the one who helped me pick out my meal (I had never eaten at a Chuy’s before).
When my food arrived, I observed that the “Chuy’s Special,” though described as an enchilada, was not rolled like one. It was stacked juevos rancheros style: flat blue corn tortillas with fresh pulled chicken covered in tomatillo sauce, very fresh-tasting cheese and topped with a dollop of sour cream. As I ate it, it reminded me of Santa Fe, N.M., a city I spent some time in during my childhood. The flavor was very southwest and I think the blue corn tortillas were my favorite touch. It was not a spicy dish. The tomatillo was very fresh and overall the dish was savory and light.
The rice and beans served with my main dish were nothing special, but they were good, and that matters a lot to me at an institution offering Tex-Mex/Mexican food. I typically eat mine mixed together and was happy to be able to do so.
My tortilla soup was also a bit of a surprise. It was different from any tortilla soup I’ve ever had. In my experience, most tortilla soup is thick, and more stew than soup. This was definitely a soup, the broth being delicious and containing an unexpected avocado, fresh diced tomato, and corn, in addition to the chicken and tortilla chips. This was the highlight of my evening and I highly recommend this soup.
I finished my evening with the sopapillas, which had a light sprinkling of cinnamon powder on top. I appreciated how light they tasted and how they were not over-fried as I’ve experienced at many Tex-Mex restaurants. They were a pleasant way to end my meal.
Overall, my experience at Chuy’s was enjoyable. The atmosphere is fun and inviting to all sorts of folk. “Fresh” was my word of the evening for all of my food, from the tortilla chips to the sopapillas. I could understand why the company had developed a sort of following and was instantly popular here in Lubbock. I recommend this location not only for its food, but for its friendly and inviting staff. It is clean, and a great place to take friends. Just be prepared for a wait. It will be worth it!