They are not authentic Mexican food, and they are not TexMex, either. In fact, Chico’s Tacos are technically not really tacos. What they are though, are the local legends of deliciousness that can only be found in El Paso, Texas.
Most people that have travelled throughout Texas have probably noticed that the further west you go, the more differences you’ll see with Mexican food. The tacos that you find in the Rio Grande Valley, or San Antonio and Austin are different than the ones out west. The taco debate is ongoing and deserves a story of its own to discuss the intricacies, but Chico’s Tacos don’t fit in any category, they’re not even a hybrid of the other tacos.
Chico’s Tacos are stuffed, rolled and fried (think flauta); swimming in a sauce that is somewhere between tomato soup and mild hot sauce, but waterier; and topped with a humongous heap of the yellowest cheese on the planet. The menu item is simply called “Single Order” which is 3 tacos served in a paper boat with green salsa on the side. A “Double Order” (6 tacos) is also available.
So how did this variation of the taco come to be? In 1953, boxing promotor and jukebox mechanic Joe Mora opened his first restaurant on El Paso’s south side as a side gig, using the recipe he created as a teen. The recipe was born because while his parents were away at work, Mora would take care of his younger siblings. With limited resources, he had to be creative with what he had. Meals needed to be simple, and cheap.
When Mora opened his first location on Alameda Avenue, he caught some flak for the name, with people saying that they’re not tacos. Mora’s answer: “right, they’re Chico’s Tacos.” In fact, there is still ongoing controversy between the traditionalists who refuse to eat Chico’s Tacos because they are not authentic, and the rest of us, who just don’t care.
In addition to their legendary tacos, you can also get a hot dog on a hamburger bun topped with chili, mustard and pickles; burgers, burritos and grilled cheese. Don’t forget the crinkle cut fries.
Eating at Chico’s won’t break the bank – a single order with fries and a drink is under ten bucks – cash only but there’s an ATM onsite. There’s also a jukebox in the corner to honor Mora’s profession as jukebox mechanic. Chico’s is pure nostalgia for every El Pasoan who grew up going there and scarfing up these little trays of happiness.
In 2003 the 78th Texas House of Representatives adopted a resolution (HR 84), introduced by El Paso representative Norma Chavez, honoring the Mora family and celebrating the restaurant’s 50th anniversary. Chico’s has been featured on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Standup comedian Gabriel Iglesias mentioned Chico’s in his 2009 Comedy Central special I’m Not Fat, I’m Fluffy, which was taped in El Paso.
When Joe Mora founded Chico’s featuring his creation, he probably had no idea how popular it would be, or how it would grow to be an iconic El Paso institution. Mora died in 1992, but his children have kept up the tradition. Chico’s has four locations in El Paso and serves over 15,000 tacos a day.