Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hey, watch it, that plate's hot

Chi-Chi's was a cheesy (no pun intended) Mexican restaurant chain founded by ex-Green Bay Packer Max McGee (I have an idea in my head that it was started in MN, home of McGee, who recently died, but I could be wrong).

Mexican food was not so popular in the Upper Midwest for years, and when Chi-Chi's started to spread, our Spanish class was taken there (and ordered to speak Spanish, I think, which was probably the most Spanish that chain has ever seen). We were thrilled -- a field trip that was really a trip to a restaurant, during the school day, with all our friends? Also, no matter how non-authentic the tacos and chimichangas were, you've got to think we were one up on the German and French classes -- and this comes from a lover of German food!


There's also a wonderful in-joke among my friends about Chi-Chi's. We used to organize big group trips to the one in Richfield, MN, and our friend Bob would always, always ask what pico de gallo was. He knew what it was -- we all did -- but it seemed apparent the wait staff had been taught a scripted answer to this, and they never failed to recite it exactly the same way: "It's a spicy Mexican relish! It means 'beak of the rooster'!"


This was just a fun in-friend joke until one day when I was working at my magazine job and a friend and co-worker dragged into my office. "Can I help you?" I asked. She must have been working on one of our food-supply company magazines, because she said -- and I SWEAR this happened -- "Only if you can tell me what pico de gallo (which she pronounced gal-o) is."


Never let it be said I passed up a free joke. I chirped "It's a spicy Mexican relish! It means 'beak of the rooster'!"


I think from then on she thought I was the smartest person ALIVE.


Anyway, this site chronicles Creepy, Abandoned Chi-Chi's, kind of a similar thing to what Not Fooling Anybody does with all recognizable chains that have become something else. I love it. At least one appears to have become a homeless guy's home.

9 comments:

Dunc said...

Our Chi-Chi's became an 'Irish sports pub' a couple of years ago. It's about as authentically Irish as Chi-Chi's was Mexican, so at least some tradition lives on.

Carrie said...

Chi-Chis was the place I discovered fried ice cream as a child. And thus began my life long love of that sweet, sweet dessert.

jovian said...

Another use for old Chi-Chi's in Minneapolis is to turn them into a Dim Sum resturant. This one is pretty darn good.

timbrat said...

Well, in Texas, Chi Chi's didn't fare so well and didn't last long at all. (I mean, we had REAL Tex-Mex here, why eat that crud?) The Chi Chi's that was near my childhood home was only open a few years and then became an Olive Garden (my guess is that it came and went by 1986 or so.) I've noticed that it's now a Chinese Buffet.

Anonymous said...

too funny! my spanish class went to chi chis too. ours is now a place called 'big daddys'. its a sports grill i think. never been there.

Anonymous said...

In 8th grade we went to a local Mexican restaurant and it was so exciting and scary. I don't even think we had a Chi Chi's then (1978). Our local ChiChi's here in Ann Arbor is now a Japanese Steakhouse - Cherry Blossom, not sure if they are a chain.
My son son doesn't believe that we didn't have Mexican restaurants or even a local McDonald's when I was a kid. (same with preschool - off topic, but it didn't really exist when I was eligible in 1968, kids just don't understand that these things that have now weren't always around)

JW said...

"Chi-chis" is Spanish (esp. Mexican) slang for breasts; think of it as roughly equivalent to "tits." (Can I say that on your blog?) I could never really bring myself to eat at a restaurant called "Tit's."

Jessica said...

My aunt worked at Chi-Chi's in the early 80's when I was pretty little. I used to think her work uniform - a long colorful "Mexican" tiered skirt and off the shoulder white blouse worn with hoop earrings- was the most beautiful outfit ever and I wanted to be a Chi-chi's waitress when I grew up.

She told me later it was made out of polyester and totally gross and itchy.

bermanator said...

Man! I had no idea Chi-Chis had gone out of business in the States. I'll never be able to enjoy fried ice cream again...