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Chowdown Showdown: Ch-ch-chimichangas Ch-ch-challenge

It's kind of like a burrito, only it's not. But here's Rob Gryder's take on the dish served at three local restaurants.

Let me say up front: This is far and away the most challenging Chowdown Showdown I’ve done so far. Chimichangas sounded good to me this week. While each venue visited served a very filling, delicious meal, I frankly find it hard to sit here now and compare and contrast them.

Now chimichangas, if you’re not familiar, are essentially burritos (only, sort of limited as to what goes inside) deep-fried. Not breaded and deep fried, but after the tortilla has been loaded up with deliciousness, it’s dropped in the fryer for just a quick bit.  

Each restaurant accomplished a delicate, flakey crust. Each of the three chimichangs I enjoyed was stuffed with a similarly spiced beef. Each was huge. Each served with beans, and all three – I kid you not – were served with the very same rice.

So please (Chicago) Bear(s) (30-12) with me while I take on the chimichanga.  

I enjoyed just being here. Nice-feeling place to be; it’s unique. Hey! There’s something to compare – the venue itself!  

Heavy wooden timbers and dark paints create a sort of Northwoods feel. Adding to that feel, a large full bar along the back wall. The booths are crafted from wood. There are windows, but not many. And they’re small. However, Yorkville’s closest restaurant to the river offers views and easy access to and the custom golf-cart place. 

This chimichanga was the most beautifully presented. Clearly some sauce dropped on the middle, coursing down the sides of the tortilla. Beans and rice in their own spheres, with guacamole and cream cheese dolloped on either side as if the chimichanga were a scale.  

This dish will run you around nine dinero.

The Casa Santiago Good: A beautiful and tempting presentation, and there was guacamole. The guacamole was quite delicious and value-adding.
The Casa Santiago Bad: I really couldn’t form an opinion on the sauce. It was almost like a film. It was so thin, and there wasn’t enough to spread around or even focus on one sauce-dominant bite. 

Fast Burrito has an entirely glass (sans one pillar) front, and the walls are painted a sort of peach color that, without much decoration, feels almost clinical. There is, as my dining companion pointed out to me, at least a sombrero hanging on the wall.   

All in all, the place feels lively – what with the heavy dosage of natural and artificial light and the sounds of the easily seen kitchen. There are no servers here. You order at the counter, have a seat, and wait for your order to be called out. The whole place has a feeling of being located inconspicuously on a busy walking thoroughfare in a much bigger city.  

No guacamole served with the dish was kind of a letdown, but I enjoyed the familiarity of the crisp-crusted chimichanga. I’d actually say I preferred these beans to the other two restaurants. I’m not sure, but I think they may pride themselves on their beans.    

The dish will run you about $9.

The Fast Burrito Good: I like the self-servedness, and the guy at the counter had a moustache and a friendly smile.
The Fast Burrito Bad: The burritos may be fast, but it sure didn’t seem like the chimichangas are part of their line of rapidly served dishes. 

Now, Pepe’s is obviously a chain. I prefer not to pit chains against our smaller restaurants, but was closed Sunday and I was hungry. Yorkville only has four mexican-food eateries. If there are more, I’d love to know and check them out. (Perhaps the serves a great chimichanga, but I can’t find a menu online. So it’s hard to plan for that.)

Pepe’s is a plaster-wrapped restaurant that is designed to give you that colonial-Spanish feel. There are pillars, and architectural details that you don’t see at most local restaurants. The front is all glass, which lets in some light, but their interesting plaster partitions and pillars seem to block a big bit of it from reaching the areas where they want you to sit and eat. They compensate for the lack of natural lighting with some can lights that manage to be warmly bright. 

This chimichanga featured the most significant uniquitiy of the challenge – a pillowy tortilla. Think Taco Bell chalupa. Only here, the tortilla is a little thicker, a little softer, and a lot more appetizing. The beans here were quite remarkably not delicious. Almost flat bland.   

The dish will run you about nine bucks.

The Pepe’s Good: Guacamole is a welcomed and value-enhancing addition.
The Pepe’s Bad: What, are your servers vampires? Call your architect back and ask for more of that natural light to reach the dining room.  

And your winner is: Fast Burrito. Because … I could self-serve my water, and I don’t like a lot of ice. Both of the other restaurants had too much ice in their water.

Rick Gryder September 13, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Looks good Rob!
Kathy Tucek September 13, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Pretty funny Rob! The American Legion does not serve Chimis, but I did have a breakfast burrito as my special yesterday! And I'll see what I can do about getting our menu on our web-site. Happy Eating!
Robyn Sutcliff September 13, 2011 at 02:47 PM
I LOVE Fast Burrito. It has authentic mexican food. Ma ma makes all the food her self. They probably don't do Chimichangas because it is an American version of a Mexican burrito. 4 restaurants in Pheonix, Az take credit for thinking of dropping a burrito in hot oil. I really like Casa Santiago too. Both places are great depending what food and atmosphere you are looking for.
Robert J. Gryder September 13, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Stay tuned, Kathy. Obviously I'm thinking about you.
YorkvilleMom September 14, 2011 at 02:59 PM
I dont really agree with the winner being chosen based upon the amount of ice in the water glass. II thought this was a chowdown to find the best chimichanga. It would be like rating a movie based on the amount of butter on the popcorn. Not sure how they win with no guacamole unless you said it tasted much better, which you didnt. Just my opinion though

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