Eclectic kitsch. 1950s diner. Classic cars. Upon walking into Chuy's in Warrenville, I knew this would be a different type of Tex-Mex dining experience just from the unique, mishmash decor. Though technically a chain restaurant that got its start in Austin, Texas, in 1982, Chuy's, which opened its first Illinois location in July, prides itself on the mantra, "If you've been to one Chuy's, you've been to one Chuy's."
Once seated in a cushy, glittery throwback vinyl booth (ours was purple) in one of the brightly lit dining rooms, I immediately noticed a collage of overlapping silver hubcaps filling every available inch on the ceiling. Red car taillights form varying patterns on the walls, accompanied by paintings of classic cars dotting the room. Diner-style round tables in the center provide more seating; high-top seating can be found in the bar area. Current pop music playing in the background pleased the younger diners.
Chuy's28244 Diehl Road, Warrenville, (630) 393-0911, chuys.com/
Setting: Funky, kitschy diner feel
Prices: Appetizers: $6.99-$11.69; tacos and burritos: $9.79-$11.69; entrees: $9.99-$11.89
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
Also: Happy Hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, which includes the free fully loaded nacho car and daily drink specials
I was slightly confused by the decor, especially since this is a Tex-Mex restaurant. I expected to see more Mexican influences, of which I spotted only a few, including the painted tiles decorating the open tortilla-making comal near the kitchen.
Decor aside, we were greeted quickly and warmly by our friendly waitress, who brought crispy tortilla chips, a spicy salsa and a whitish deluxe tomatillo sauce to our table. The chips didn't stand a chance as the basket was quickly depleted, but it was just as quickly replenished by another attentive server.
The drinks menu offers quite a variety of Texas-sized cocktails, including fresh-squeezed margaritas (the watermelon and pomegranate flavored rocks ritas sounded enticing), the New Mexican martini (el Jimador Silver tequila infused with green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, and Cointreau and accompanied by hand-stuffed jalapeņo olives), and the 18-ounce King's Punch (Mount Gay Eclipse rum, Malibu rum, pineapple, lime and orange juices with a splash of grenadine). A few domestic beers, nine Mexican brews, including Pacifico, and four wines round out the list. If you hit happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, a free nacho car (chips, salsa, queso and taco meat) awaits along with daily drink specials.
While we mulled over the menu, I noticed that there was no mention of gluten-free options. I asked our waitress and she brought over the manager, who explained that they don't have a gluten-sensitive menu per se. He took time explaining which dishes and sauces would work for those with gluten issues. But a separate gluten-free menu, or GF designations on the regular menu, would have simplified the process.
Appetizers run the gamut from chile con queso to panchos (nachos with fajita chicken, beef or ground sirloin) to quesadillas. As for entrees, depending on your hunger level, you could go lighter with a salad (Mexi-Cobb with fajita chicken and green chiles) or tacos or more filling with the "Big As Yo' Face" burritos or The Elvis Presley Memorial Combo (beef enchilada, cheese ranchero enchilada, chicken tomatillo enchilada, a ground sirloin crispy taco and tostada chips with chile con queso, served with rice and beans as sides).
We decided to go with steak fajitas, veggie enchiladas and a steak burrito. The steak fajitas came to the table sizzling on a bed of onions and green and red peppers. The fajita meat, which is marinated in Shiner Bock beer, serrano peppers, lime juice and secret spices, was seasoned well. Handmade flour tortillas, a blend of cheeses, guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce and sour cream rounded out the dish. Overall, the fajitas got a thumbs-up from the pickiest diner in our group.
The steak burrito, a 12-inch flour tortilla filled with steak and cheese, in this case served with the spicy Hatch Green Chile sauce on the side, was enormous. The flavors blended well, but the steak was a little fatty for our tastes. About ⅔ of the burrito came home in a doggy bag. The accompanying green chile rice added quite a kick of spice. And the earthy-tasting charro beans added some heat as well.
Chuy's prides itself on making each dish from scratch using fresh ingredients. This was evident in the veggie enchiladas, filled with tender, al dente zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, corn, roasted green chiles and serranos. I was surprised when I cut into the first of two blue corn tortillas to find a fresh spinach leaf. While the veggies were the star, I would have liked more filling as the tortillas dominated the dish. The ranchero sauce added a medium level of heat, as did the side of Mexican rice. The refried beans were a standout -- creamy and delicious.
Of the few desserts on offer, the tres leches cake won our vote. The block of moist, sweet cake decorated with fresh strawberries and a caramel drizzle was devoured in mere minutes.
Overall, I was impressed with the service at Chuy's. Drinks and chips were refilled without us asking, our meals were brought out in a timely fashion and our pleasant waitress stopped by often, but without being intrusive. Service like that is a reason to return.
For those who don't live close to Warrenville, Chuy's will be opening locations in Schaumburg (1701 E. Golf Road) and Orland Park (15610 La Grange Road) soon.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.