Thursday, May 8, 2008
Rudy Gutierrez /EL PASO TIMES, Rodolfo Gonzalez/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Whether you get your taco fix at Chico's or Chuco's depends on whether you are in Austin or 570 miles to the west. Chico's is a chain in El Paso. It is suing Chuco's, on 10th Street in Austin, for trademark infringement. Chuco's is hoping a name change will calm the waters over its 'drowning tacos.'
I gotta try this place out now.
For El Paso expats, Chuco's hits spot
A name change is on the horizon after Chico's Tacos files lawsuit for trademark infringement.
By Suzannah Gonzales
Thursday, May 08, 2008
When at home, El Pasoans stop at Chico's Tacos. When in Austin, they stop at Chuco's Tacos.
But El Pasoans-turned-Austinites might soon stop at the Drowning Taco: Chuco's plans to change its name.
The move follows a federal lawsuit filed in El Paso. Chico's, an institution there, is alleging trademark infringement, saying that Chuco's is playing off Chico's with, among other things, its signature dish: rolled tacos in a special sauce, topped with shredded cheese, bright green salsa and served in a paper boat tray for under $5.
Rather than fight the lawsuit, the owners of Chuco's hope the name change will settle the matter. The menu will stay the same. Three beef rolled tacos at Chuco's cost $2.60, and six cost $4.93.
For those in Austin, Chuco's is the closest they can get to Chico's without making the eight-plus-hour drive.
"It's not Chico's, but it's good," Austin police officer Lorenzo Castro said.
At Chuco's, located in a yellow house on West 10th Street near North Lamar Boulevard, Castro said that when he goes back to El Paso once a year, the first place he stops and eats is Chico's.
"Now I don't have to worry about that. I can come here."
Mark Centeno, a die-hard Chico's fan with a three-times-a-week Chuco's habit, said that when you meet someone from El Paso, you ask where they went to high school, and then you talk about Chico's.
"It's a bond," he said.
Chuco's co-owner David Sahagun, who was born in Mexico and grew up in El Paso, says he tells customers five to 10 times a day: "We do not want to be Chico's; nor do we ever want to be Chico's."
The idea for the restaurant, which opened last fall, was to offer fast Mexican food in a casual-dining setting in that area of Austin, Sahagun said.
Other than that one item on the menu, Chuco's is completely different from Chico's, he said. While Chico's offers only the red, tomato-based sauce with their rolled tacos, Chuco's offers red and green tomato-based sauces and a vegetarian option.
Sahagun said the eatery represents both El Paso and Austin. In a hallway in Chuco's, opposite a University of Texas flag, a UT-El Paso flag hangs. The names of area high schools are painted around the flags. It makes El Pasoans nostalgic.
Sahagun has had to repaint the El Paso-area school names four times because of people writing their names next to their school. If it happens again, he says, he's not going to repaint.
Lawyers for Chico's and Chuco's currently are discussing the matter out of court, according to Chuco's lawyer Mark Osborn. They deny the allegations of trademark infringement.
"We don't want to fight with them," Sahagun said. "People came here for the food, not the name. We don't really care about the name. We'll change it."
The handful of Chico's locations in the El Paso area are owned and operated by the Mora family, who declined to comment for this story.
The dish of three or six rolled tacos — also known as flautas or taquitos — is nothing new and is common in parts of Mexico, Sahagun says.
They're also called tacos ahogados. Translation: drowned tacos.
El Chuco is a nickname for El Paso, El Pasoans say. It's short for "Pachuco," a zoot suit-clad hombre from back in the day. Naming the restaurant Chuco's, where pretty much all of the managing staff hails from El Paso, was a tribute to their hometown, Sahagun said.
"I'm from El Paso, and I love Chico's, mystery meat and all," said Mando Rayo, who wrote about the "Chuco's VS Chico's Smackdown" in the Taco Journalism blog and gave Chuco's four stars. (Chico's got five.)
"As my husband says, this is equivalent to the notion of every hamburger hut suing the other for sticking a slice of bacon in a burger and claiming trademark infringement," Trudy Alfaro Esquivel, a former El Pasoan living in Austin, wrote in an e-mail.
"El Pasoans have Chico's in their heart," Sahagun said. "I want Austin to have Chuco's in their heart."
Additional material from staff writer Rick Cantu.
***And to make you hungry watch this.