How Chimichangas Were Accidentally Invented

Chimichangas are arguably one of the best food creations of all time. A crisp, perfectly deep-fried burrito packed with protein by way of beef, chicken, pork, or beans, chockfull of melted cheese, and easily accentuated with pico de gallo, guac, or sour cream — it's a pretty unbeatable treat. But how did this versatile masterpiece originate? What caused the creation of such a rich, indulgently savory food? Believe it or not, the invention of the chimichanga is a hotly contested topic and, dare we say, a bit controversial.

TASTE notes that one of the more well-known theories of the invention is the story of Monica Flin, founder of Tucson, Arizona's famous El Charro Cafe. The story goes that, while cooking, "Flin accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep fryer and instinctively began to mutter "chingada,' a Spanish swear word roughly analogous to the f-word." Today, El Charro's website proudly deems them as the home of the original chimichanga and the restaurant is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. 

Is the El Charro claim of being the original chimichanga creator rooted in truth, though? According to the LA Times, there are numerous Tucson, Phoenix, and Mexico-based chefs and eateries all claiming that they were the originators of the chimichanga.

Arguable origins of the chimichanga

The El Charro Cafe website proudly has a section noting Monica Flin was indeed the "inventor of the chimichanga." It also states that chimichanga can claim to be a nonsense word akin to thingamajig, which as noted above, was muttered by Flin in order to avoid using a common curse word. According to What's Cooking America, the 1922 chimichanga claim by the El Charro Cafe is contested by Macayo's restaurant that says its founder, Woody Johnson, created the dish in 1946. That chronology is a bit wonky, if Monica Flin did indeed create the dish twenty years earlier at the Tuscon restaurant that, to this day, proudly claims to be "the home of the chimichanga."

Interestingly enough, by 2011 both Macayo's Mexican Restaurant and El Charro agreed that the chimichanga should be made the state's official food. Together, they petitioned over 5,000 signatures and sent it to the state legislature, where the bill still sits, unsigned (via Passionate About Food). Perhaps the signing is delayed because there is one good reason to never order a chimichanga from a Mexican restaurant, or maybe government officials have more important laws to focus on.

Other possible inventors of the chimichanga

An interesting take in OC Weekly speculates that Chinese settlers in the Arizona/Mexico area actually originated the food in the early 1900s. This is derived from the correlation between a chimichanga and an egg roll, and the fact that chimichanga may have its origins in the Cantonese language instead of as a Spanish 'nonsense' word. That's certainly a fascinating theory in this debate.

Zocalo Public Square reports that the chimichanga is indeed a Mexican food that was invented in America, a confluence of the flavors of Mexican food and the deep-fried indulgence of American food. However, the same article notes that some claim that the food did indeed originate in the Sonora area of Mexico. While the idea of a deep-fried burrito may, or may not, have been an explicitly American creation, it has become a beloved staple in Mexican-American cuisine.

The origins may be disputed, but whichever happy accident led to the creation of the chimichanga, this versatile fried dish is enjoyed today by many.