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In The Family
Who Invented the Chimichanga?

The fraught origins of the deep-fried burrito.

Put simply, the chimichanga is a deep fried burrito, usually served with cheese and sour cream, sometimes guac or salsa, always delicious. But while the dish has been a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine, especially around Tucson, since the 1950s, its origins remain as hazy as a pot of bean broth. The most popular theory dates back to the 1920s, in which Monica Flin, the founder of Tucson’s famous El Charro restaurant, accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep fryer and instinctively began to mutter ‘chingada,’ a Spanish swear roughly analogous to the f-word.

But El Charro was a family restaurant, and in such genteel times, Flin quickly course-corrected to chimichanga, which would have registered at the time as a nonsense word. Others have since laid claim to inventing the chimichanga, but they share a theme of accidentally deep frying something that was intended to be griddled. That may be what happened, or, just a theory, some cook late one night, after a few too many tequilas, may have decided that the only thing better than a burrito is a FRIED burrito, and the rest is history.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.