Photo: Nuevo Anden, Flickr.
"Basically, in the next four years, we should be close to 50 restaurants," spokeswoman Ashley Ingle says. "We've branched out from Austin over the years, and we're kind of trying to replicate that hub in the Southeast."
Chuy's has opened restaurants in five Texas metro areas since 2006, when a venture capitalist pumped money into the franchise. But the chain didn't stray past the state's borders until this fall, when it opened a location in Franklin, Tenn. (Another restaurant group operates an unrelated chain of Chuy's in California and Arizona.)
"Nashville has a lot of similarities to Austin," Ingle explains, citing the freeway network, live music scene and Dell Computers' presence.
While the vast majority of Mexican restaurants around Nashville serve the same lineup of enchiladas and chimichangas, Ingle says Chuy's specializes in recipes drawn from the microgastronomic region that runs from New Mexico's Hatch Valley through South Texas' Rio Grande Valley. While dishes like the chain's signature steak burrito and chicken tortillas are likely familiar to eaters weaned on bean dip, Ingle says they're distinguished by the restaurant's use of freshly-made blue corn tortillas and fresh green chile sauce.
"You'll see green chiles in a ton of our dishes," Ingle says.
The new seriousness about Mexicanesque cookery that seems to be taking hold in towns where anything buried under cheese and sour cream was once classified as south-of-the-border food got an extra boost in late 2009, when the Mexican Restaurant Association held its first national convention in Kansas City. The group, launched by the Mexican government, aims to educate American eaters about traditional Mexican food – and steer them away from latter-day innovations like nachos.
"There is Mexican food in Nashville, but Chuy's is just a little bit different," Ingle says. "We met people in Nashville who were like, 'I drove two hours to be here.'"