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Dragged Kickin and Hollerin Into Chuy's on North Lamar

I feel like the Marquis in front of the tribunal.I expect the Host to have a long pointed nose and be wearing a steel helmet.
I expect the multitude of culinary sufferings to be of the kind that will make me grieve with an intensity heretofore unimagined.

These are my thoughts as I walk the walk of Chowhound shame...the walk that ends with the doors of Chuys being swung open and the very bowels of culinary Hell flayed open for all to see.

I can hear MPH's deep mocking laughter in my head as I'm seated.Not a good harbinger by any stretch.

I'm here unwillingly so I order the most innoccuous thing I can think of:Queso,small and a Bohemia.The Queso arrives in a small monkey cup with a basket of chips and two salsas:One red and one white with lots of green flecks.The chips are the highlight of the meal[along with the service which is both charming and rapid].House fried thin corn chips with a touch of corny flavor.The red salsa is bad but the white salsa is worse.The red's main problem is the only flavor is a disagreeable vinegary note.On second thought it really reminds me of when lime juice spoils.It's good one day and the next the lime is done.My guess is they used spoiled limes in the production process.The white salsa is spoiled.It's a sour cream base and I love sour cream and all it's iterations:Crema,Creme Fraiche,table cream,clabbered cream...you name it.If it comes from a good Guernsey or Holstein Cow then I'm down.But this salsa needs to be carted out to the dumpster.It's rancid.The Queso is the classic Extra Melt version available all over town with the exception of this version being scorched...not burnt mind you,scorched.It's inedible but the good part is I'm stuffed.When you eat food this bad you fill up real quick.

Later in the evening following a show I needed to soothe my tattered taste buds with some goodness.So it's off to Saul's on East 6th St in the Primo's parking lot.It took a good half hour or so to get fed because the word has finally gotten out.If you need Hog Testicles[and who doesn't?]or Pig Ear tacos then this tiny food cart is the place to be.I've written before about these beauties[Chowhound Assignment:Go A Place Never Reviewed On This Board]and the words still ring true.This is straight up Mexican Soul Food served from the heart of Blanca,a very fine Mexican cook.

I'm sure the Chuy's apologists are firing up the laptops and channeling Evelyn Wood as they send me all their favorite Chuy's menu items."you haven't lived til you've had their.......".I'm not interested.I'm sure there are many fine dishes on their menu but I'm not returning.With all the fantastic Mexican and Tex-Mex in Austin I don't have the time,money or energy to pay Chuys a return visit.

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  1. We were up there last night looking for Marisco's Tampico - I must have gotten the directions wrong because I couldn't find it. As we were driving by Chuy's, I said to my wife "don't even think about it." She laughed because she knows that I hate it. We went to T&S instead and had salted egg w/pork mustard green soup, some wonderfully huge, meaty oysters (I think that they were called San Diego oysters - one shell was over four inches by three inches) and S&P fish instead.

    I love north Lamar restaurants - I find myself going up there again and again. Next, it is going to be that Mojarra place where Ba Le was.

    Oh, and you haven't lived until you are awakened at 3 AM with gastrointestinal duress from a Chuy's avocado bomb.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rudeboy

      You've probably figured out the location of Marisco's Tampico by now, rudeboy, but I'll note (just in case) that the north location is between Rundberg and Braker at 10601 North Lamar. On my way to Pho Saigon and Saigon Market yesterday, I checked out both MT North and La Mojarra Feliz Ostioneria [which is next door to Pho Saigon, for those who don't know].

      And scrumptious, your purgatory at Chuy's would elicit some shudders of compassion from this 'hound in addition to that fiendish laughter that you imagined. After all, it could have been me—or any one of us. The horror! The horror! ;->

    2. Chuy's sucks. If you say otherwise, your opinion is null and void on this board for eternity. :-P

      That "white salsa" is ranch dressing with mild jalapeños diced up in it. It was the house dressing until some frat boy decided to use it as salsa and it caught on like a venereal disease.

      2 Replies
      1. re: achtungpv

        I love their fajitias with the fresh tortillas, queso and jalapeno ranch sauce!!!

        Everything else is just ok.

        1. re: achtungpv

          Speak for yourself, achtungpv

          Chuy's isn't THAT bad.

        2. I still have a gift certificate from Chuy's given to me five years ago by an apartment owner who wanted to compensate me for the inconvenience of a remodel he was doing. Not even the prospect of free Chuy's is enticing enough to drive me to that degree of self-flagellation.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Twill

            Well, I'd go if it were free. I actually like their hamburgers and wedge-cut fries. Want my mailing address?

            1. re: rudeboy

              Thanks Rudeboy, I am probably one of the very few Texans who does not like Mexican food. Once it gets past the chips and salsa, I just don't care for it. I usually look for the hamburgers and you'd be surprised how good the hamburgers are at Mexican restaurants. I sometimes get wired in with the work group to go to Chuy's for lunch. Now I can look forward to it.

              1. re: Meshelle

                I actually was at the Chuy's for a Dining for Life group dinner. (I was outvoted.) I was hungry waiting for a table to open up for such a large group so I tried the sauces and it was exactly how sc discribed them. When the food came, the waitress gave me my Chuychanga, leaving the last plate balanced on one side of the tray to go crashing to the ground and spraying our feet with food and shards of glass. We had management come over and I actually felt bad for our server because it was clear she was visibly shook up afterwards.

                1. re: QTG

                  Well, if you find yourself in that position again, order the wedge cut fries, but order them extra crispy. You have to insist that the server will actually place the order properly...sometimes they will just nod and they are not crispy. When they do come out properly prepared, they are very, very good. Besides those fries, the burger, and the green chili stew, the food is almost as bad as Serrano's or El Mercado. But not quite that bad.....

          2. I'm in a contrary mood today, so I'll go ahead and post this. This is for those of you all who would be caught dead in Chuy's.
            Not only is there something good at Chuy's, it's a menu item eschewed by chowhounds. That's right, the kids' menu chicken nuggets (or is it chicken fingers?) are good. I ordered some for my toddler on my last visit there (about 2 months ago) and they were actual chicken, deep-fried. Which is what most chicken nuggets/fingers purport to be, but are not. I kept stealing them from my kid, who wasn't going to eat that much anyway, and they were far better than my whatever-covered-in-green-sauce.
            Please disregard all my posts now, I've confessed to liking something from the kids' menu at Chuy's.

            1 Reply
            1. good lord. it's just another popular tex-mex place... why so much hatred? the regular salsa is about the most basic salsa you can make (tomato, onion, cilantro, lime, garlic, etc.). i find it tastes just fine... not good, not bad, just middle of the road. and the creamy jalapeno is just ranch dressing (not sour cream) with green chilies and jalapenos. do you hate ranch all together? do you hate peppers? i don't see how this could possibly be so offensive.

              i'll agree with you on one thing... the queso. it is consistently burned and never worth a damn.

              now i'm just an average joe with a paasion for food, which is why i read this here board. i won't claim to have the most descerning palate or the most excuisite tastes in cuisine, but i think anyone could have an agreeable time at chuy's if they take the time to dismount their culinary high horse.

              i could go on to name my favorite items off their menu, but i'll refrain as that seems an exercise in futility. just my two cents :-)

              1 Reply
              1. re: dwohlfahrt

                If you have 1 or 2 of their Mexican Martinis the food doesn't taste as bad.

                The drinks are good and strong.

              2. Hi,

                As a fan of green chile - I haven't yet found a place with better sauce. Trudy's is okay - but I miss 'smothered burritos' I enjoyed in Denver. Any suggestions are welcomed.

                1 Reply
                1. re: anjgupta

                  You know the one thing I liked there was the Thu. special. Pork tacos w/green chile sauce. But like many places w/hipster staff they sent me exploring.
                  I lived in Colorado years ago and long for some of that green chili?.
                  It's hard to describe to people who aren't familiar w/that regional dish. I always liked it covering a western omelette or biscuits and gravy w/ shredded cheese on top. Or on top of enchiladas(my favorite enchilada topping) and chile rellenos.
                  The green chile chicken enchiladas at ZTejas work.

                2. I must be in a really good mood today, for I will now say something positive about Chuy's.

                  They have a self serve salsa bar.

                  I would give every Mexican restaurant in town an automatic 1 star upgrade if they had them.

                  By my math that gives Chuy's and Guero's one star each. :)

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: chucklesmcfarland

                      Chuy's has plenty going for it, most notably the crispy cheese relleno with deluxe tomatillo sauce. Guero's has nothing remotely resembling flavorful.

                    2. Scrumptiouschef:

                      Why all the hate?

                      No, seriously, I do agree with you 100%.

                      Back in the day I would have fallen into your "Chuy's apologists" group, the person who would defend this restaurant and all its iterations to the very end.

                      Not so as of last night.

                      The hubster and I decided to try the somewhat-new Chuy's on South MoPac. We'd been meaning to try it ever since it opened, but the intimidating always-full-no-matter-what-time-of-day-or-week, large parking lot always put us off.

                      But, last night, we were successful getting in. Glad/not-so-glad we did. Now we're armed and aware, not only b/c we were simply curious, but b/c now we know what that particular Chuy's is like.

                      Attentive, friendly greeting/host staff, attentive, friendly waiter. The usual fun, bright, over-the-top Chuy's decor we all love. So far, so good.

                      Right?

                      So sad that service can be so good but food can be so bad.

                      No problem getting seated and served chips/salsa (?) (still wondering about this verson -- it wasn't bad, per se; it's just that I've always referred to the "salsa" they served as "pico de gallo," not salsa") and water. No problem getting our drink and food orders in and served.

                      The problem we experienced occurred taking the first bite. This means: chips and salsa.
                      The chips we got were not even close to warm and had clearly been sitting cold soaking up their own grease. Not pleasant and very flat. The pico de gallo WAS really tasty and fresh, but it should have been served as pico, not as salsa.

                      Seems like a lot of people on this board are complaining that the Chuy's queso they've been privvy to is burned/scorched. Not our experience, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The queso we got was not only very watery and tepid in temperature, but had a distinct "off" flat wang to the flavor. But that's not all ...

                      So we get to the quesadillas ... what in the world is up with the non-grilled, flat bread version of flour tortillas? Really tasty quesadillas served virtually anywhere else consist of very thin flour tortillas, encasing cheese and other varied ingredients, grilled like a grilled-cheese sandwich -- only with tasty, thin flour tortillas, not flat bread which would be more appreciated in a Greek restaurant. The nachos were just plain bland and uninspired -- shmears of no-taste refried beans with small bits of onions, a smattering of melted "cheese" on tostadas that were burned beyond taste-bud recognition around the edges. The flautas were indeed hot, and I'll give them that, but had no flavor whatsoever -- it was clear to the palate they'd been deep-fried in too-cold oil, and that they'd absorbed most of it.

                      Redemption of the order? Well, the creme fraishe was fine, along with the "guacamole" (and I use that term lightly -- it was clearly just creamed avocado) -- even if we only got thimbles-full of either. And thankfully our order came with plenty of jarred/canned jalapeno slices, along with the salt and pepper shakers on the table, so at least we were able to get SOME flavor from what we ate.

                      My friends, my vitriol stems from that fact that Chuy's used to serve at least passable food, and at times, indeed, excellent food. I sincerely fear that Chuy's is now just riding on their name only -- that, and on their strong drinks and seriously bovine, Kool-Aid swilling following.

                      If it is truly good Tex-Mex food you're looking for, please look elsewhere.

                      If it is good, strong margaritas, lively atmosphere, and youthful, yuppified, see-and-be-seen attitude you're going for, this is definitely the place to frequent.

                      In sum, I will say this -- this Chuy's location's service is excellent. No complaints about that at all. Our waiter was all over us like a bad suit. All service was great. I have absolutely no complaints about the service.

                      But with regard to their actual food, if last night was any indication, and I'm sincerely hoping it wasn't, it is not worth considering, unless you have had copious servings of margaritas, are verrrry hungry, and do not care what it tastes like.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: SoCoBelle

                        Your queso had the flavor of a flat wang? That sounds terrible!

                        Seriously, though, I would have to agree on almost every point, although I'd be even less generous. I'm dragged to Chuy's once or twice a year when friends or relatives are in town, but I refuse to go there normally even though my partner actually likes it. Even he had a few bad things to say about it the last couple of times (and I'm talking about Barton Springs location). The only thing I'd disagree with in your review is that I think the margaritas are pretty terrible. Very Kool-Aid-y flavor, even in the top shelf margs, which is just unforgivable. The fact that they'd mix good tequila with whatever it is that comes out of that gun is unspeakable. Margaritas are my normal drink for most of the year, but if I'm stuck going to Chuy's I opt for the Mexican Martini or their version of it that includes a little hot pepper. The spiciness at least masks the Kool-Aid flavor of their mix.

                        1. re: angusb

                          Bahahahahaha! Nice twist! Although I hadn't intended to put it exactly that way, yes, indeedy, our queso did have a flat wang. (Or should I even want to admit that?) Someone was definitely paying attention.

                          Too bad the B.S. location isn't doing any better. Based on their traffic, guess they truly are just riding on their rep.

                          And you're right, I WAS being generous describing their margaritas -- should have just said "stong" and omitted the "good." And I think comparing them to Kool-Aid is being just a tad generous. They taste more like Pixie-Stix diluted in water. Rots and rots of multi-colored citric acid. Ah, ode to the dear, good, decent floater we wasted on top of those last night. And ode to the good ol' days when Chuy's did have decent 'ritas. Hell, ode to the good ol' days when Good Eats used to be here along with their excellent fresh lime frozen 'ritas for $2.50 during happy hour.

                      2. I don't understand all of this hate for Chuy's, a local institution to many people around here. True it is certainly not my first choice for TexMex, but it is FAR from my last choice (can anybody say Baby A's?). My wife and several friends love it there. They certainly aren't hurting for business, that's for sure. and a few Chow Hounders refusing to go is not going to have the least affect.

                        19 Replies
                        1. re: danny_w

                          I agree -- I really don't understand what is so bad about Chuy's. Like you, it's not my first choice for TexMex -- I go to Amaya's or Vivo for that. But if I had to choose from among Chuy's, Trudy's, or Baby A's, Chuy's would win, hands down.

                          1. re: danny_w

                            danny_w, this is not hate necessarily. A lot of it is bitterness. I can certainly appreciate Chuy's cute/funky aesthetic, and lively atmosphere, but the food never rises above average, and it has slowly gotten worse over the years. This is a board where people discuss and debate the merits of local restaurants, so Chuy's is a fair (and large) target. As for Baby A's, I don't have a friend or relative who could possibly drag me there again. The food and drinks there are far below average. They're unacceptable. As in not even worth mentioning.

                            1. re: angusb

                              Fair enough, but much of what I read on this issue would be construed by many people as hate (just search the above posts to see what how many people called it just that). I don't think that belongs on this (or any) board.

                              1. re: danny_w

                                Searching every post on this page, one single person said "I hate it." The only other instances of the word "hate" all occur in sentences like "Why all the hate?" and "Do you hate peppers?" The reason for all the talk is BECAUSE Chuy's is an institution, and apparently feels it can therefore rest on its laurels and let the already-not-high quality continue to slide. And they are right...as long as tourists and students with Mom & Dad's credit cards continue to fill the place, they obviously can continue being "good enough." Believe me, I know I'll be going there again, and if I could find one single item on their menu that was reliably good, I'd stick with it.

                                1. re: angusb

                                  I've found the Elvis Fried Chicken to be a good standby for a forced Chuy's visit. It's unhealthy as anything you can imagine but usually tasty enough.

                                  1. re: Carter B.

                                    I usually go for the Southwestern Enchiladas with an extra egg. Closest I've come (although still a long way off) in Austin to Las Cruces enchiladas. El Arroyo used to have a brisket version that was pretty good, way back when.

                                  2. re: angusb

                                    Firstly, I think which Chuy's you go to makes a huge difference. The one on North Lamar has never been good. I personally think the one on 183 is head and shoulders above the rest, with a second to Barton Springs. Agreed, most of the food there is average at best. However, at the 183 location, someone there truly loves salad and it shows every time I order my standby: Mexi-cobb salad, sub beef fajita meat, nix the avacado, add another strip of green chile. Salad always comes out with nice crisp leafy greens, washed but always dried (I HATE it when places wash and don't dry the greens - soggy salad BLECH!), lots of cabbage and tomatoes, three kinds of cheese (put to the side so I decide how much/little I want) NEVER a browned/core bit (seems to happen all the time elsewhere) and lots of freshly roasted green chile. What's not to love? I've also made a habit of asking for another bowl of the salsa/pico and mixing it in with the jalapeno ranch (never been rancid or off in the least at the 183 location).

                                    Again, I dread going into the one on North Lamar and have experienced the bad quality control others have, but 183 seems to have it down when it comes to certain dishes.

                                    1. re: amysuehere

                                      Thanks for the food tips, Carter B and danny_w. Most times, I do end up ordering the Southwestern Enchiladas, but I'm wondering what meat you get? IIRC it comes with a choice. I normally get chicken, but sometimes it is a tender but bland stewed chicken and other times it seems to be dry-roasted (and I mean dry) chopped breast. I will definitely try the fried chicken next time, since that's something I've never tried before.

                                      And amysuehere's point does remind me that I used to be an advocate of the Barton Springs location over the one on North Lamar. I would tell people that the Barton Springs location was much better, so it's easy for me to believe that the 183 location might be regularly better. I haven't been to that one in about 6 years or so, and I've never tried the one by Costco off William Cannon/Mopac, just because I live practically downtown and those are so far away. My comments are almost entirely about the Barton Springs location.

                                      1. re: angusb

                                        I usually get the Southwestern Enchiladas with ground beef. I used to like the similar flat enchiladas at El Arroyo with brisket, but they don't have that anymore I don't think (I haven't had it in years).

                                      2. re: amysuehere

                                        That's interesting, that's the only Chuy's I go to and I think it's pretty great. Maybe it's like Arandas, where there are wildly different opinions over each specific location. I always get the relleno and enchilada combo, which are a pretty good deal at $8.79. I'm more of a rellenos fan, and they get those right consistently. I'll take Chuy's over Trudy's and *especially* Polvo's anyday.

                                        xoxo,
                                        null & void

                                        1. re: NWLarry

                                          I was never a believer in Chuy's until I had the shrimp relleno with hatch green chile sauce (at the Barton Springs location). Good lord. Crispy, spicy, tasty. More, please.

                                          1. re: catarata

                                            I love rellenos but have never had one at Chuy's (although I've almost ordered it many times). I'll have to give it a try. My wife absolutely loves the hatch green chicken enchiladas.

                                            1. re: danny_w

                                              Danny, as a born-n-raised El Paso gal and you being a LC guy, I assure you, you should not - repeat - SHOULD NOT get the rellenos at Chuy's. You'll be very dissapointed. They are not the fluffy, cheesy goodness you think of. They are pressed in cracker crumbs. Just wrong on so many levels.

                                              1. re: amysuehere

                                                Thanks for that, I'll not consider them then. I was born in El Paso, raised in Van Horn, and lived for 3 years in Las Cruces. Man I miss the food out there! Unfortunately it is a little to far to go for a lunch break, and I haven't been in quite some time. Do you know of any place in Central Texas that comes anywhere close?

                                                1. re: danny_w

                                                  Jorges on Hancock has New Mexico enchiladas and verde pork that are pretty close to authentic. Relleno is pretty decent too. They've got some real misses, though (fajitas are pretty bad).

                                                  Los Pinos in Hudson Bend does a fair job on the rellenos.

                                                  I hear the taco truck on Riverside does mean street tacos and I plan on giving them a whirl soon.

                                                  Lambert's claims to do authentic sal picon, but I haven't tried it yet (love the boar ribs too much...)

                                                  1. re: amysuehere

                                                    Thanks! I'll have to give Jorges and Los Pinos a try.

                                                    1. re: amysuehere

                                                      I was at Jorge's last week and ordered the New Mexican green enchiladas. There was nothing else to taste besides salt. No spice or any inherent chile flavor either, just soggy red tortilla saltiness with chicken. The rice is really salty as well. Really disappointing.. and I like salty food too, more than the average person. The only thing that I can give them credit for now is that they make their own tortillas (corn, flour, and chips)

                                                      Back to the thread, Chuy's is my Austiny-Tex-Mex stand by, usually consistent, fast service, no wait. The type of place where you find one thing you like and never divert.

                                                      1. re: topodrinko

                                                        Guys and gals, there is so much better Mexican food than Chuy's, that I don't know why we talk about it. Chuy's, Salt Lick, El Arroyo, Rudy's, etc are the tourist traps that all the magazines promote. I have eaten at all of them and they are just ok. I like to find the little out of the way places that try to bring something extra. Chuy's is for a young crowd and after that 2nd margarita who cares about the food. Sorry to be griping, forgive me. I be better tomorrow.

                                                        1. re: topodrinko

                                                          topodrinko,
                                                          No wait? You have obviously never been to the Round Rock or 183 North locations. I have never been to either location when the wait was less than 20-25 minutes, and quite often an hour or more. When do you go, 3PM?

                                  3. Chuy's is great...after you've had the displeasure of sucking down Lone Stars at ACL all day.