Chuy's may be the most misunderstood Tex-Mex place in Houston. Some folks love 'em, and some folks hate 'em, and there's very little middle ground. Rarely do we see such polarization in how patrons react to a restaurant.
Why? It's hard to tell for sure, but we think it's a combination of food that's a little out of the ordinary, and an atmosphere that's not typical for Houston. Chuy's is one of the handful of restaurants that we consider to be a little bit of Austin in Houston, and the Austin attitude permeates everything that Chuy's does.
We're firmly in the camp that loves Chuy's. The Austin-based chain opened its first location in 1982, and we've been eating there ever since. Chuy's version of Tex-Mex is focused a few hundred miles to the west - there's a strong New Mexico influence, with plenty of dishes featuring green chiles. Their annual Hatch chile festival features peppers grown by one particular farm in Hatch, New Mexico.
Our go-to dish at Chuy's hasn't changed in 20 years. It's the Chuy's Special, a unique flat enchilada dish made with housemade blue corn tortillas, roasted chicken, white cheese, and Chuy's tomatillo sauce. It's flavorful without overpowering heat, and has long been one of our benchmark enchilada dishes.
But as any fan will tell you, the appeal at Chuy's is more than the food. Ever since the original Barton Springs location opened, the Chuy's experience has been shaped by the zany decor and the often offbeat but dependably friendly staff.
The Chuy's located across from the Woodlands delivers both in spades. Our favorite room there is the bright, airy bar, complete with a thatched roof, some delightfully kitchy chandeliers, and an airborn school of wooden fish. It's a throwback to an older school of restaurant design where the space was more than one big room with some theme-appropriate artwork on the walls. Another thing we love about Chuy's is that as they open more locations, they don't just replicate their design. Each Chuy's has its own feel and becomes a part of its neighborhood.
The final part of the Chuy's equation is their quirky, friendly staff. The vibe of the original Austin location comes through in the attitudes of the servers, but Chuy's has figured out a way to make sure that this doesn't result in the cool-but-lackadaisical service that's all too often found in the River City.
On our last visit to Chuy's, we ran across a particular server who went so far above and beyond what we expect in a family restaurant that she deserves notice. Anjelia Richmond, who's known at Chuy's as "Cookie", was perhaps the warmest, friendliest service person that we encountered all year. Yes, we were in a restaurant, but we were treated as if we were in Cookie's home. And Cookie was going to make sure that we felt welcome.
So thank you, Cookie, for taking such great care of us, and for making us feel more like friends than like guests. Have a Merry Christmas, sweet lady. We'll see you soon.
Chuy's - 18035 IH-45 S - Shenandoah, TX 77385 - 936-321-4440 - Chuys.com