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As our group waited for a table, we asked about the “swirl” and “dot” options for the margaritas that lined the wall—giant, spinning tubs full of bright green, yellow, and red Slurpee-like frozen liquids. “You can mix and match the flavors however you want,” said the bartender. “Just like 7-Eleven.” A quick glance around confirms the cheeky comment as very on-brand for the Chuy’s chain—the original opened in Austin, Texas, back in 1982—with each location boasting its own distinct yet kitschy decor: hubcap-lined ceilings; random, plastic trees sprouting from the dining room floor; a Candy Land–esque color palette. But it’s the quality Tex-Mex fare that has Chuy’s outposts dotting more than 10 states. Freshness is the corazón of Chuy’s mission. Housemade tostada chips arrive still hot with a batch of salsa fresca that’s made every hour, and the steamy, homemade tortilla soup is packed with chunks of avocado and tomato, corn cut straight off the cob, and tender chicken. Entrées hew to the standards (tacos, fajitas, etc.) but the options are far from basic: the Big as Yo’ Face burrito stuffs juicy, medium-grilled cuts of steak into a hand-rolled flour tortilla topped with a housemade sauce (go with the mild ranchero or spicy green chile), and the zesty Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom cheese sauce layered over enchiladas is tasty enough to eat off the floor. Our only complaint—aside from disappointing Mexican rice—was being too full to finish the pillowy sopapillas we ordered for dessert.
Chuy’s, 6825 Houston Rd., Florence, (859) 525-2489; 7980 Hosbrook Rd, Madeira, (513) 793-2489, chuys.com.
Originally published in the January 2014 issue.