April 30, 2010 – What Chimichangas Mean to Me

30 Apr

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11 am

supermarket sushi

1 can of Diet Hanson black cherry soda

3 pm

El Chaparral

shredded beef chimichanga

Diet Pepsi

For some reason, I remember that the first Mexican food I’ve ever ate was a chimichanga. It was at a Chicago Mexican restaurant chain called Pepe’s. I came to the United States when I was four and growing up, Mexican food was a completely foreign concept to my family. But deep-fried food, that’s a universal language. Pepe’s advertised a deep-fried burrito and deep-fried ice cream. My brother and I thought it was the greatest idea ever conceived (deep-fried ice cream?! mind=blown) and begged our dad to take us. He finally did one day when I was either seven or eight. The deep-fried ice cream was awesome. As for the chimichanga? I don’t think I liked it as much. I’m pretty sure I almost crapped in my pants on the ride home.

This chimichanga from El Chaparral was the first chimichanga I’v eaten since my formative years as a young rabble-rouser roaming the “rough” streets of Chicago. Surprisingly, it’s not a common dish outside of the Southwest part of the country. Most restaurants that do serve chimichangas also scare me with their inevitable heavy-handed cooking. The odds are, if you see a chimichanga on a menu outside of Arizona, you’re probably at a real greasy spoon. El Chaparral, a 40-year-old institution in Sylmar, is such a place. This is the type of Mexican restaurant where the bar is just as prominent as the dining area, where customers prefer to watch MLB baseball over Guadalajara futbol on the many TVs, and where the biggest draw is the fine Mexican tradition of the all-you-can-eat Sunday champagne brunch. The most exotic thing on the menu is the sopes, deep-fried masa with refried beans and meat. Otherwise, it’s your standard tacos, burritos and large fajita plates. And then there was the chimichanga, and my mild curiosity to revisit a faint childhood memory was piqued. At El Chaparral, the chimichangas can either be described as two small burritos or giant taquitos. Either way, it had the same effect as the first one I ate many years ago, bowel-inducing. Ah, nostalgia.

7 pm

1/2 brownie

9:30 pm

a LOT of beer

2:30 am

Damiano’s

1 slice of sausage pizza

After midnight, if you crave pizza but are too drunk to drive anywhere in LA, then Damiano’s is your only option. This is really the only reason why Damiano’s is well-known by locals, because they’ll burn the midnight oil to serve every last drunken appetite. If you can’t make the actual pizza joint, this means that delivery can take over 2 1/2 hours, as I found out many years ago at my then-girlfriend’s place in the Santa Monica area. Hey, ordering pizza from a place over 10 miles away seems like a sound idea when you’re drunk. Damiano’s best virtue is their beer selection, which is sizable. There are several imports and microbrews you can’t find anywhere else. You can only take advantage of this before 2 am, and only at the actual restaurant. But if you’re far, crave pizza and can’t go anywhere to get it? Meh. It’s not bad, and not great. The pizza’s nothing to go through too much hassle to eat. It’s much faster to cook a DiGiorno’s pizza in the oven than ordering one from Damiano’s. That’s exactly what we started doing after that 2 1/2-hour wait.

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