I never talk about big chain restaurants. I’m not interested in writing about those places, and you shouldn’t be interested in reading about them. I mean, do you really need my take on an Applebee’s burger? Do you want me to hack up the place with a Chili’s review that starts, I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…?” Nope.
Calhoun’s is as close as I’ve gotten to reviewing a chain, and I only did that one because it is chiefly regional, and still has an indie feel in my book.
I simply love indie places — from dives to white tablecloth (but mostly dives). We never, ever eat at a chain when we’re out of town unless it’s a pit stop on the way to somewhere. I think I appreciate little places because it’s an adventure. Red Lobster? Popcorn shrimp? That party has been going on since the ’80s. No adventure there.
The other day, though, we ate at a Chuy’s for the second time. This time, we ate at the one in Knoxville, Tenn. In case you’re not familiar, Chuy’s is a Tex-Mex place based in Austin, Texas, with locations also in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. Each Chuy’s is a different experience. They don’t have that “chain” feel the way most do. If they know what they’re doing, it will stay that way. The vibe is colorful and upbeat. Watching the person make tortillas in the dining room is a neat experience. And Chuy’s happy hour consists of a nacho bar served out of the trunk of a car. Just put an automobile in a restaurant, and I’m automatically interested.
I’ve had Mexican at about a million places, but Chuy’s stands out simply because of the freshness of the food. It’s almost hard to explain, but when I eat there I can sense the freshness. Nothing comes out of a can.
I had the taco salad. It was tasty, fresh and presented well. Next time, though, I will try something different, only because I need more decadence in a taco salad than the way Chuy’s builds theirs. The “big as yo’ face” burritos are a leading contender for the next trip. Chuy’s also prides themselves in making a variety of fresh sauces. I got the Tex-Mex.
The salsa is made up entirely of freshly chopped ingredients — not pureed or processed like most places. The chips are light and crispy, but not overly unique.
I thought it was interesting that our server, Jen, had transferred to the Knoxville location from Texas when she moved here. That might say as much about the company as the freshness of the food. The next time you see a Chuy’s, try it. If you’re like me, it’s easy to forget it’s a chain — and that’s a good thing.