I went to school in Texas. I lived in Austin for three years, and it changed me. During my time there, I made lifelong friends, friends who passionately, obsessively, ludicrously talked about food. In many ways, this blog exists because of them. After I met them, I just couldn’t shut my trap about food.
In the years since, I get irrational cravings for Tex-Mex. It’s definitely a vestige from my time there. I’ll be sitting at home, minding my own business, when suddenly, swiftly and seemingly out of nowhere, a bright neon sign will turn on in my brain that will flash the words “NEED QUESO.” That sign does not lie. It never lies.
It’s not just any queso that will satisfy my craving. It has be Tex-Mex queso — gooey and bright orange with flecks of pico de gallo protruding through the sleek surface like cheese-coated moon rocks. I need a salty margarita and greasy tortilla chips. I may even need some fajitas on a sizzling cast iron skillet, especially if it’s been a stressful week.
Happily, for us suburbanites, Chuy’s Tex-Mex, an Austin original, opened up a Fairfax, Virginia location last year. Last month, we took the kids to check it out during their annual Hatch Chile Festival.
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Chuy’s in Fairfax has managed to successfully wrangle together all of my fond memories of their Austin joint and export it to the Virginia ‘burbs. For starters, there’s the bright, kitschy decor and neon lighting. Wait — could it be that my mental neon “NEED QUESO” sign originates from my faded memories of Chuy’s in Austin?
The kids were impressed right away by the bright decor and the in-house fresh tortilla machine, which continuously pumped out fresh, perfectly browned flour tortillas. Their mouths gaped as their eyes explored every colorful surface in the restaurant, which was fine by the hubby and me, who had time to tuck into our shared Texas martini (basically a margarita made for vodka, also known as “the reason I survived my first year of law school”).
Once we sat down, the kids busied themselves with the kid’s menu and crayons, which are a practical must for us these days when we’re dining out (so much so that I carry a coloring book and extra crayons in my purse). We started with some in-house guacamole, which Meimei (my two-year-old daughter) licked clean. She loves herself some “wacanoley” (as she calls it). For the kids, the menu has standard, simplified Tex-Mex fare such as quesadillas, crispy tacos, a mini burrito and a mini enchilada. Our kids opted for crispy tacos, although Ge Ge (my five-year-old son) expressed regret at not being able to try the freshly-made flour tortillas. Our server, sensing that Ge Ge’s regret meant that some serious emotional food baggage might follow, dropped by a few minutes later with a complimentary basket full of plain tortillas. Crisis averted.
As for us, since it was the Hatch Green Chile Festival, Chuy’s had a special menu featuring dishes using freshly charred hatch chiles. I love hatch chiles, so I opted for some shredded pork tamales topped with a creamy hatch chile green sauce (pictured at the top of this post). The hubby, who has never been to Texas, went with the classic beef and chicken fajitas. The pork tamales were great — the masa exterior was crumbly and soft without being dried out, and I loved the gradual heat of the green chile sauce. The fajitas were exactly as I remembered them in Austin — a slightly spiced, hearty portion of steak and chicken over charred bell peppers and onions, all served with standard fajita accompaniments of shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, cheese and pico de gallo. For suburban Virginia, it’s hard to find a slice of Texas that’s better.
Of course, I like my fajitas served with a side of nostalgia about my years there, which I know you can’t find anywhere else but Chuy’s.