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:
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Chimichanga, Chimichanga History, Chimichanga Recipe
Servings: 6
  • 6 12- to 14-inch) tortillas, flour
  • 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 Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • 2 cups green onions, chopped
  • Tomatoes, chopped (optional)
  • Guacamole (optional)
  • Black olives, sliced (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. Makes 6 Chimichangas.



Food History    Southwest Beef Recipes    Tortillas   

Comments and Reviews

9 Responses to “Chimichanga History and Recipe”

  1. Chris Merle

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

  2. Joseph Martinez

    That is correct Chris. Tex-Mex is completely different. My Great-Grandmother, Rose White, was the original cook with Monica. Her old black & white photo can be seen hanging in El Charro downtown. The photos were taken by her son, my grandfather, Frank Martinez. I can attest, coming from the source, that although it was not officially on the menu right away, El Charro was serving Chimichangas long before Macayo’s was even a restaurant. El Charro has been in business so long that they’re grandfathered by the Department of Health & Safety to serve meat that has been cooked by the sun outdoors (the real way). Macayo’s has their own version that doesn’t even come close in comparison. I could give the benefit of the doubt in the sense that maybe he thought he invented it and just didn’t know it was already being done somewhere else, since I’ve been guilty of that myself, thinking I’ve come up with a brilliant idea only to find it’s already been done, but to go and steal the name Chimichanga from El Charro and calling it your own, with a fake explanation that “makes sense” is taking it a step too far. El Charro is run by the same family since its beginnings, in fact, they’re the oldest family run Mexican restaurant in the United States, and they’re too humble to argue or defend their creation. My great-grandmother was the longest employee ever to work at El Charro. I truly miss her cooking…

    • Whats Cooking America

      To clarify on the Tex Mex comparison, it is referenced to illustrate how Tex Mex was a fusion of Mexican-American cuisine created by Mexican immigrants.

  3. Gwen

    Not hearing years here, but I learned to make chimis in Tucson in 1979ish. And I don’t remember the restaurants. One was in a strip mall. Anyway, no beans no beans no beans. I learned mine as scrap meats. Now I mostly use pork, various kind…carnitas, Tex non shredded carnita chunks, and ground. Then sofrito Chile’s or bell peppers, onions sweated. And cheeses, jack or good Tillamook melting cheddar. Fresh flour tortillas. An here’s my east coast kicker, shallow fry in peanut oil, and for nonpeanut people 123 oil, very centro American. Serve on shredded romaine or lime cabbage cole slaw. Decorate with guacamole, salsa, jalapeños, and sour cream. 30 year old recipe!

  4. Charles R Urrea

    The swear in question was “Chingon/a” which was curtailed with “Mi changa” My monkey. Ergo Chimichanga

  5. johnny

    First off El Charro is not real Mexican food that simple it’s not , yes it was made by a Mexican falily sence 1922 and it’s good but it’s not the real deal period it’s just not it’s Tex Mex food it’s a Americanized cuisine that was invented to attract the American people !! Carlota knows this very super well and now clainming they invented the chimi lol now that’s something to really laugh about .. The best Mexican restaurant to have ever been in this town was from 2000 and 2004 call Cien Años owned at that time by Santiago Wolfolk and Paco Martinez in which case I do remember Paco said he worked for El Charro but he always new it wasn’t the real deal and his Dream finally came true unfortunate for a short time only due to health complications is my understanding but I tell you the food was excellent they made real Mexican food .. El Charro is good but it’s Tex Mex and influences from Sonora Mexico that’s all but still good .. Sorry for the wake up call ..

  6. Maria

    The absolute best Mexican restaurant in Tucson was La Parrillita on South 6th Avenue. You could not get more authentic than that. No freezers no microwave ovens and NO YELLOW CHEESE!

  7. Tree Trimming Thornton

    A Chimichanga is a Mexican-American fusion large burrito prepared with a choice of meat, vegetables, and spices and ilove it!

  8. Marco Valencia

    Chivichangas or Chibichangas were already being served in Sonora, Mexico at the very least at the turn of the 20th century, likely way before. As Joseph Martinez implies in his post, this dish likely has many independent origins. Frying tortillas is just so natural in Mexico. Close your eyes, drop your finger randomly in a map of Sonora, go there, talk to the oldest people, and they will all tell you that they all ate chivichangas/chibichangas that their grandmothers or great grandmothers cooked as per the recipes from their own mothers and grandmothers. I do not dispute that El Charro stumbled upon the dish back in 1922. Thing is, it was already out there in the other side of the border. It is like fighting over who invented tacos or carne asada. Just enjoy every good version of it :).


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