Tex-Mex cuisine might share ingredients and inspiration with Mexican food, but the menu at any Tex-Mex restaurant will include dishes that you won't find at authentic Mexican restaurants. Tex-Mex food as we know it is primarily a 20th-century creation, mostly Mexican recipes translated into Texan and then across the southwestern United States. One of the most popular Tex-Mex dishes is the chimichanga, and its origin story comes from a restaurant in Arizona.
A chimichanga is a large deep-fried burrito, usually filled with shredded pork, ground beef or chicken, topped with cheese and a mild sauce. How did the burrito go from traditional to deep-fried favorite? By accident.
Located in Tucson, Arizona, El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. Founded in 1922 by Monica Flin, the restaurant serves Northern Mexico-Sonoran style food with Tucson style.
The story goes that in the 1950s, Monica was frying ground beef tacos. She accidentally dropped one of the burros into a frying pan filled with vegetable oil. The hot oil splashed and Monica's reaction was to curse, but because her young nieces and nephews were in the kitchen with her, she thought quick and changed the Spanish cuss word to chimichanga, which is the equivalent of "whatchamacallit" or "thingamajig."
There's another possible origin for the name of the dish; chang'a means female monkey in Spanish, and so once the flour tortilla was fried or baked, it turned golden brown like a toasted monkey.
At El Charro, the chimichangas come with rice and refried beans; if you order the dish "elegante style" you'll get enchilada sauce, melted cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo on top. They also serve mini chimichangas.
Making chimichangas at home isn't hard. Make your favorite burrito filling (don't forget to add more cumin and chili powder) and warm your flour tortillas. Place the filling down the center of each tortilla then roll the tortilla up, tucking in both ends. Place a toothpick on the seam side to keep everything together while you fry each chimichanga in a pan or deep fryer with several inches of oil heated over medium heat. Cook until golden brown and crispy (total time for frying should be about three minutes), then let the chimichanga drain on a paper towel.
Serve this Tex-Mex main dish with your choice of shredded cheese and a side of refried beans and Mexican rice.