DINING: Newcomer Chuy’s stands out in crowded Tex-Mex field

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Dining - A&E

It’s difficult to imagine a chain Tex-Mex restaurant generating much excitement these days. After all, isn’t there already a no-surprises Don Pablo’s, On the Border, or Abuelo’s—or a Los Rancheros, La Hacienda or El Rodeo—within peso-tossing distance of just about every home in central Indiana?

ae-apb-chuys01-15col.jpg Tortillas are made in full patron view. (IBJ Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

Yet crowds are flocking to Chuy’s (14150 Town Center Blvd., 773-7733), the newcomer to Hamilton Town Center. And after a hearty lunch visit—complete with a back seat full of leftovers—I get it. Kind of.

Brassy and boisterous, Austin, Texas-based Chuy’s (pronounced “chewy’s”) is anything but subtle. Salsa and chips are dispensed from a tailgate-ready car trunk. Tortilla-making is a spectator sport. Wacky T-shirts (for sale, of course) are prominently displayed. One room’s ceiling is covered in hub caps. Deliberately uneven tile in bold colors adorns the walls. Eclectically clad staff seem to be bumping into one another everywhere while reciting their faux-casual script. Kids yell. You get the idea.

But the food is abundant, attractive and, for the most part, at or above what I’d expect from Chuy’s chain brethren. Thin chips—and equally thin salsa—were unexceptional, but the Tortilla Soup ($4.29) was a surprising winner. What looked like an excess of broth actually turned out to be its strong suit. Unlike other restaurants that pile in shredded chicken and tortilla strips, then bury it all in sour cream, Chuy’s showed remarkable restraint. The result was worth savoring.

ae-apb-chuys03-15col.jpg Chuy’s Tortilla Soup isn’t overloaded, letting the broth rule (IBJ Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

Shrimp & Cheese Chile Rellenos ($9.99) stuffed a fire-roasted—but mild to the point of invisibility—Anaheim pepper with the title ingredients and tomatillo sauce. Better was the Elvis Presley Memorial Combo ($10.89), tying together a beef enchilada, cheese enchilada, chicken tomatillo enchilada and a ground sirloin taco. For sides, green-chili rice is offered as an alternative to the standard Mexican rice, and charro beans can replace the usual refried. Six house-made sauces are available for dipping and dousing.

Speaking of Elvis, we also tried the Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken ($9.79) and, surprise, there’s pleasure to be had in a tender chicken breast breaded with Lay’s potato chips. It somehow managed to stay crunchy and was nicely complemented by the chile sauce and cheddar cheese.

No, I didn’t know what the Elvis/Tex-Mex connection was, short of his appearance in the 1969 movie “Charro!” But a bit of homepage homework indicated that, while scrambling for cheap décor for their original location, Chuy’s founders covered a blank wall with velvet Elvis posters. Now you know.•

—Lou Harry


  • oops
  • does the writer know food
    The fact that you are comparing american chain restaurants to whole in the wall Mexican joints shows your lack of food knowledge and thats where I stopped reading. I will check out Chuy's

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.