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Who Created the Chimichanga?

If you’ve never had a chimichanga, you’re missing out.

This incredible southwestern dish is the burrito’s golden-fried cousin. The best part is that it’s just as customizable. You can have yours any way you want it.

As with many beloved foods, this genius idea’s origin is a mystery. Read on to learn more about this deep-fried delicacy.

Let’s eat up!

What Are Chimichangas?

Chimichangas are similar to burritos. The main difference is that they’re deep-fried! Most contain the same standard fillings like rice, beans, meat, and cheese.

Mexican-style rice and yellow Spanish rice are two popular choices. Refried, pinto, or black beans may be used. Carne asada, barbacoa, and carnitas are common meat options. Many recipes use standard Tex-Mex cheeses like Jack or cheddar, but queso is a frequent substitute.

But just like burritos, chimichangas can be customized endlessly. You can use different flavor profiles, replace the rice with other grains, or add extra fillings. Vegetarian recipes might include sweet potatoes or other veggies in place of meat. You can even omit meat and dairy to create a vegan version.

Was Tucson, Arizona, the Birthplace of the Chimichanga?

These delicious deep-fried meal is a favorite among southwestern food lovers. So where did it come from?

The official origins are unknown, but there are some theories. The most common story claims that in 1922, a cook at El Charro in Tucson accidentally dropped a burrito in a deep fryer. The cook nearly used a profane word in Spanish but stopped herself halfway, accidentally inventing the name “chimichanga.”

A similar theory traces its creation to a Phoenix-based restaurant called Woody’s El Nido in the 1950s. Owner Woody Johnson supposedly experimented with them quite a bit. But the origin story claims that he, too, accidentally dropped a burrito in a deep fryer.

Some say the chimichanga came from Mexico, specifically in the Sonora region. According to this theory, Mexican immigrants brought the dish to Arizona. Strangely, though, this dish doesn’t often appear in restaurants in Mexico.

Pro Tip: Pair your chimichanga with one of these Best Canned Margaritas.

You can’t go wrong with a delicious chimichanga.

Thanks to their southwestern origins, most chimichangas incorporate Mexican-inspired spice mixes. Herbs like allspice, cumin, cilantro, cinnamon, and oregano are popular. Chili peppers like habaneros, pasillas, and guajillos are also common.

The easiest way to add flavor to your deep-fried burrito is to season its filling. You could use a spice rub on your meat or season the beans, grains, or vegetables. Pre-made seasonings and sauces are a simple way to make your meal flavorful. For a spicier dish, consider adding chili powder or adobo.

You can top your chimichanga with a variety of sauces. Many restaurants use tomatillo salsa, cheese, or carne con chile. Mole, the delicious Mexican sauce with chocolate, is another tasty option. But even store-bought salsa will jazz up your entree.

Are Chimichangas Hard to Make?

This meal may look intimidating, but it really isn’t. Chimichangas only require a little more effort than burritos.

Start by preparing your fillings. Cooking everything beforehand will make assembling and frying much easier. Once the insides are ready, warm a large flour tortilla in a skillet or the microwave.

Lay the tortilla flat and put a layer of rice down the middle, leaving space on the sides. Next, layer your fillings, alternating them to create the perfect bite. Fold the short sides of the tortilla in, followed by one long side. Finally, roll your tortilla and tuck in the loose ends as you go.

Fill a frying pan with high sides halfway with cooking oil. Put your burrito in the pan seam-side down and fry on medium-high heat for a few minutes. Flip it, cook for a few more minutes, and boom: your chimichanga is ready for toppings (and eating!)

Pro Tip: After fueling up on chimichangas in Tucson, enjoy these 9 Best Things To Do in Tucson, Arizona.

Homemade Chimichangas
Chowing down on a chimichanga while in Tucson, Arizona is a must.

Best Chimichangas in Tucson

Can’t wait to eat a deep-fried burrito? We recommend trying one in Tucson, where this delicious dish was born. Here are three restaurants boasting some of the best chimichangas in the city.

El Charro

Start your chimichanga quest at the place where it all began: El Charro. This family-owned Mexican restaurant opened in 1922. Sice then, it’s been a favorite among Tucsonians for more than 100 years. Founder Monica Flin loved to cook, but after her husband died, she went into business for herself.

Visitors can choose from eight different styles of burrito or chimichanga. The menu includes a vegan option with hemp and avocado, one with al pastor-style chicken, and another featuring the eatery’s famous carne seca. With awards and honors from the James Beard Foundation and Trip Advisor, chances are El Charro’s entire menu is delicious.

Mi Nidito

Mi Nidito means “my little nest” in Spanish. When the Lopez family started the restaurant in 1952, it was a fitting name. Only four tables were inside. More than 70 years later, Mi Nidito is thriving and seats nearly 100 people.

This spot specializes in Sonoran-style Mexican food. Their menu also offers eight styles of chimichanga that can be ordered “enchilada style” with sauce and melted cheese on top. But Mi Nidito isn’t just beloved among locals. There’s even a “President’s Plate” named after former president Bill Clinton, who visited in 1999! Other famous visitors include Willie Nelson, Enrique Iglesias, Linda Ronstadt, and Kathy Griffin. 

El Minuto

El Minuto is another time-honored hotspot. Juan Shaar opened the eatery in 1936. Today his great-granddaughter Zulema Salinas runs it. This restaurant is also a celebrity magnet: musicians ZZ Top and Los Lobos are among its most famous visitors.

The menu features seven chimichanga styles. They include carne seca, red or green chili, and even a chorizo and egg option. Salinas says their seca is so tasty that some out-of-state visitors buy extra to take home. After more than 85 years in business, El Minuto hasn’t lost its magic.

Delicious, Deep-Fried Dinner

If you’re craving delicious Mexican flavors and the comfort of a deep-fried treat, the chimichanga is a perfect compromise. This tasty entree has captured the taste buds of foodies everywhere.

It’s strange to think this incredible dish may have been invented by mistake. But hey, that’s why it’s called a “happy” accident, right?

Next time you’re in Tucson, try one of these tasty mishaps for yourself!

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