Chimichanga History and Recipe

Chimichanga, or “chimi,” has achieved cult status in Tucson.  A Chimichanga is a Mexican-American fusion large burrito prepared with a choice of meat, vegetables, and spices. deep-fried to a golden perfection, and served on a bed or lettuce with cheese and mild sauce.  The residents of Tucson take their chimis very seriously and prefer large, overstuffed versions.  Every restaurant and mom-and-pop eatery has its own version of this favorite dish.

The southwest is well known for its delicious Mexican food, and the residents of Tucson, Arizona, boldly proclaim their city the “Mexican food Capital of the U.S.”  The city has its own version of Tex-Mex food, which it calls Arizona-Sonoran Cuisine.  Because southern Arizona was once part of the Mexican state of Sonora, this style is considered the “soul food” of Arizona.




Chimichanga History:

Culinary historians and Arizona restaurants argue about exactly where and who invented the Chimichanga.  Two Tucson restaurants claim bragging rights to creating the first Chimichanga.

The strongest claim comes from the El Charro Cafe, the oldest Mexican restaurant in Tucson. – Source:  Food Timeline.


1922 – El Charro Cafe – Tucson, Arizona – Family legend say that Monica Flin, who started the restaurant in 1922, cussed in the kitchen when a burrito flipped into the deep fryer.  Because young nieces and nephews were in the kitchen with her, she changed the swear word to “chimichanga,” the Spanish equivalent of “thingamagig.”  

The word is probably an adaptation of a Mexican curse word. The two words have similar letters in them, so it was an easy mistake to make.

The term, chimichanga, was long considrerd a nonsense word-a Mexican version of “whatchamacallit” or “thingamajig” – reputedly coined in the 1950s in Tucson, Arizona

It was also noted that the word chang’a means female monkey in Spanish and a chimney of the hearth.  When put together this becomes a polite version of “unmentionable Mexican expletive that mentions a monkey.”Source: Arizona Folk Lore Center, by Jim Griffith.

No city wants to be more associated with the Chimichanga than Tucson. The city’s tourism office even went as far as publishing an ad in the nationally circulated Food & Wine magazine, inviting Americans to visit Tucson, “home of the chimichanga.”


1946 – Macayo’s Mexican Restaurant – Phoenix, Arizona –  They insist that Woody Johnson created the chimichanga in 1946 when he deep-fried unsold burros to serve the following day.  It is said, that he would put unsold burritos into the deep fryer and sell them as “toasted monkeys.”  They came to the conclusion that chimichanga means toasted monkey.  When a chimichanga went through the deep-fryer, it would become golden-brown.  This color resembled a toasted monkey.


2011 – Both restaurant owners agreed that the dish should be made official.  The restaurants’ joint effort to garner 5,000 signatures before sending it off to the state legislature has already accumulated more than 2,200 signees, according to the official website.  To present date, the bill has not been passed.

Some lawmakers said that while they enjoy the fried dish, they believe it’s more important to focus on key issues in the state and not what its official food should be. 



Chimichanga Recipe:

Chimichanga History and Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: Makes 6


6 (12- to 14-inch) flour tortillas
1 pound ground beef (hamburger)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup red chile sauce or enchilada sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 cups chopped green onions
Chopped tomatoes (optional)
Guacamole (optional)
Sliced black olives (optional)



Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Warp stacked tortillas in aluminum foil, and heat in oven 15 minutes or until hot.  To microwave, wrap a stack of tortillas lightly in paper towels and warm on high for 6 or 7 seconds per tortilla.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, brown ground beef; drain, leaving beef in the pan.  Add onion, chile or enchilada sauce, salt, and pepper; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until onions are transparent.

In the center of each warm tortilla, spoon 1/6 of meat filling.  Fold tortilla, tucking in the ends to make a secure fat tube, and fasten with wooden toothpicks. NOTE:  Assemble only 2 or 3 at a time, as the tortilla will absorb liquid from the sauce.

In a large pot or deep fryer over medium heat, add at least 4 inches of vegetable oil.  Heat oil to 375 to 400 degrees F.

Fry the chimichangas (1 or 2 at a time), approximately 3 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oil, drain, and place on serving plates.

Top with Cheddar cheese, lettuce, green onions, and any optional ingredients that you prefer.

Makes 6 Chimichangas.

Related Recipes:


Food HIstory    Southwest Beef Recipes    Tortillas   

Comments and Reviews

One Response to “Chimichanga History and Recipe”

  1. Chris Merle

    Tucson has Sonoran style Mexican food. It is NOT a version of TexMex.


Leave a Reply