The Complicated Origin Story Of Chimichangas

The chimichanga is a fairly simple concept: a deep-fried burrito filled with meat and other stuffings. However, the origin of the chimichanga is less straightforward.

The chimichanga is a Tex-Mex classic and recipes can vary, but there are a few essentials. For one, it must be made using a flour tortilla. According to the Los Angeles Times, the best chimichangas are fashioned from handmade Sonoran-style tortillas. These chewy, pressed-thin tortillas lend themselves to crispy textures when fried and allow for the effective conduction of heat from hot fryer oil to the chimichanga's interior.

The inside of a quintessential chimichanga contains a number of cooked fillings: seasoned meat, beans, and rice. The seasoned meat is usually carnitas (pork), carne asada (grilled steak), or barbacoa (braised beef). The beans are typically refried beans, black beans, or pinto beans. The rice is usually white, yellow, or Mexican-style. Classic chimichanga fillings also include cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Chihuahua cheese. Although it's not considered a definitive quality of the chimichanga, some people top the fried burritos with a traditional Tex-Mex sauce, like queso, enchilada sauce, or salsa verde.

In recent years, people have taken the idea of a fried burrito and run with it. For instance, there are now dessert chimichangas stuffed with apple pie filling, bananas, peanut butter and chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and more. 

How the chimichanga came to be

As with many classic dishes, a number of restaurants lay claim to inventing the chimichanga, most of which are located in Tucson, Arizona. According to the Los Angeles Times, Monica Flin invented the modern-day chimichanga back in the late 1940s or early '50s when she owned El Charro Café in downtown Tucson.

In a tale that echoes the creation of the chicken wing, the chimichanga was the result of a happy accident. Flin was making a late-night snack of burritos when one of her young nieces bumped into her — startling her and sending a burrito into a vat of hot oil. Flin reacted — the story goes — by saying a Spanish pseudo-expletive: "Chimichanga!"

Another popular origin story follows a similar path. Tucson restaurant Macayo's claims founder Woody Johnson also accidentally dropped a burrito into his deep fryer. As the LA Times notes, two other Tucson-area restaurants — Micha's and Club 21 — also assert that they invented the chimichanga. One interesting urban legend ties the chimichanga — whose resemblance to an egg roll is hard to deny — to Chinese immigrants who settled in Sonora, Mexico, in the early 1900s (via OC Weekly). 

While many of these stories romanticize the creation of the humble chimichanga, it's not hard to imagine the idea of people just chucking stuff they already like into a vat of hot oil and a name eventually coalescing around it. Anyone who's been to their local county fair knows people love tossing all kinds of food into fryers — to delicious effect.