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Chico's celebrates 35 years

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Chico's co-owner Adrian Vargas holds a plate of shrimp tacos.

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Christina Ruotolo

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

At a time when Cabbage Patch Kids were flying off the shelves and Michael Jackson was singing “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” Chico’s Mexican Restaurant opened its doors on March 10, 1983. For 35 years, the restaurant, at 521 Cotanche St., has been serving up great Mexican food and drinks in an upbeat, uptown atmosphere worthy of any fiesta. As other restaurants and five American presidents have come and gone, Chico’s has remained in its original location and, for many, has become a household name.

From the single taco to more sophisticated Mexican dishes, Chico’s offers an expansive menu with prices ranging from $2.99-$24.99. Choose from sopas (soups), ensaladas (salads), sandwiches and wraps, combination platters, appetizers, del mar (of the sea), fajitas, especialidades (specials), as well as steak and chicken options.

Most of us have eaten at Chico’s, had drinks at the bar, celebrated someone’s birthday over margaritas with chips and salsa or have picked up food to bring home for dinner. For many, it feels like a second home where you are greeted with warmth and hospitality with authentic Mexican music playing in the background. Co-owners Mike Horton and Adrian Vargas are proud of what Chico’s has to offer to patrons.

“You can always expect an incredible, south-of-the-border dining experience,” Horton said. At Chico’s “the fiesta never ends.”

The décor is a mixture of colorful Mexican blankets, stained glass, hanging baskets bursting with plants, a large wall mural and a unique colorful bottle cap mosaic in the Cantina (bar) area.

In March, to celebrate the restaurant’s 35th anniversary, Chico’s is bringing back some old favorites from past menus. Enjoy the Costillas, baby back ribs served with fries and salad or the Puerco Milanesa, which is a pork tenderloin dipped in a spicy house batter and grilled to perfection. It is served with a cheese enchilada, rice and beans. You also can choose from the Calamares Fritos with dipping sauce or the Pollo Limon, a chicken breast dipped in spicy batter, grilled and covered with lemon juice and broth.

For my Mexican food tour, I started with the most popular item on the menu, Shrimp Tacos. Take fresh shrimp, lightly breaded and fried and add soft flour tortillas, top them with pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and cheddar cheese, cilantro and a drizzle of white sauce. The shrimp was succulent, and the tangy sweet white sauce was vibrant mixed with the pico de gallo. Mexican heaven on plate. The dish comes with three tacos and is served with rice and refried beans.

Next, I tried another taco-inspired entree, the Steak Street Tacos. Start with seasoned strips of sauteed steak and pile them in a corn tortilla with melted white cheese, fresh sliced onions, cilantro and sliced avocado with half a fresh lime. It was juicy, fresh and flavorful. I love the sweet corn flavor from the tortilla and the combination of savory meat and onions with fresh cilantro, a bright squeeze of lime and a final clean bite of avocado. This dish comes with three tacos, Mexican rice and refried beans.

I ended my tour with a new entree that is unique and sophisticated, the Pollo Yucateco. A long, thin grilled chicken breast filet is covered with roasted Anaheim peppers, strips of cooked bacon, melted Monterey Jack cheese, fresh cilantro and pico de gallo. This dish was visually and aromatically incredible. You get a smoky, deep flavor from the pepper and bacon mixed with cheese on top of a thin tender piece of chicken with a burst of fresh pico and cilantro at the end. This dish is served with Mexican rice and refried beans.

Desserts include the popular Fried Ice Cream, which is a frozen mound of creamy vanilla ice cream that has been rolled in a sweet cornflake breading and flash fried until golden brown. The ice cream ball is set in a crispy cinnamon sugar shell and drizzled with honey sauce, dollops of whipped cream and garnished with a cherry. You can also try other Mexican specialty desserts such as flan, churros, chocolate chimis, sopapillas or cheesecake.

Chico’s offers lunch specials from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday for $6.99. Monday is Chicken Picado, Tuesday is Chicken Flauta, Wednesday is Enchilada Suiza, Thursday is Steak Picado, and Friday is Pollo Blanco. Just a few of the daily dinner specials include ACP VII (Arroz Con Pollo) for $8.99 on Monday and a spicy Texas burrito for $7.99 on Tuesday. Kids eat free from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 5-10 p.m.Tuesdays. (One free kids’ meal with purchase of adult entree and beverage). Chico’s has half-price appetizers from 5-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday in the Cantina area with a beverage purchase and half-price house pitchers and house lime Margaritas for $2.99 on Thursdays.

The Cantina offers many favorite Mexican Cervezas including Corona, Dos Equis, Pacifico, Tecate and two of the newest Mexican beers to our area, Corona Familiar and Corona Premier, a low-carb, low-calorie option.

Chico’s is known for traditional margaritas, with 15 types of tequila. They range from non-aged blanco tequila like Patron, rested tequila that has been aged two to nine months like Altos, or tequila like Don Julio that has been aged one to five years.

The House Blood Orange Margarita on the rocks features house tequila, blood orange and lime margarita mix. It is shaken and served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. The tequila had a nice heat, but was not overpowering. Mix that with the salty rim and sweet orange back-flavor, and it’s a tasty sip of spring. The second drink to fall in love with is the frozen mango margarita. This drink was icy mango perfection, smooth, creamy and my new favorite drink for spring and summer.

Restaurant hours are from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. The Cantina is open from 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily. For more information, call 757-1666 or visit www.chicosrestaurant.com.

Bone Appetit

The Humane Society of Eastern Carolina (HSEC) will host a Bone Appetit fundraising event from 4-9 p.m. March 21 at Villa Verde, 2601 E. 10th St. Ten percent of all food and drink sales will be donated to HSEC. Write “for HSEC” on the receipt and alert the server. Visit www.hsecarolina.org.

Send information for Hot Dish to hotdish@reflector.com.

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