VAN HORN, Texas – As you make your way to El Paso along the wide-open roads of west Texas, you’ll come across only a few sanctuaries in this part of the state to stock up on supplies or get a snack.
Van Horn is one of those isolated islands along the way and there you’ll find a Mexican restaurant named Chuy’s and no, it’s not the one you might be thinking of.
Paul Uranga is now the caretaker of the cantina that started out as a hamburger stand when his parents, Jesus and Mary Lou, opened it back in 1959 out in the middle of nowhere.
“We’re 90 miles from the next civilization this way and about 120 miles to El Paso,” Paul said. “You know, it’s different. A lot of people ask us how do you do it, but I guess you get used to it.”
With less than 2,000 Texans living in Van Horn, Chuy’s is a popular stop not just for locals but also legends. You may be surprised to learn that Chuy’s is the old stomping grounds of Johnny Cash, Selena, Ray Price, Conway Twitty, Harrison Ford, and more.
All of these celebrity visits got started back in 1987 when football legend John Madden happened to be passing through on a Monday night.
“If you don’t have cable you’re not going to get reception, so he was passing down this way and he lost reception and he saw lights up ahead,” Paul said. “He told his driver – it was a Monday night – ‘I need to watch this game. See if there’s a place we can watch the game, and we had a sign up that said TV room. He said, ‘There’s a place that has a TV. Check it out.’ So the bus driver gets down first, looked at the place, and said, ‘You know seems like a decent place, nice place.’ So John Madden, that was the first time he came in. He has been stopping ever since at least three or four times a year.”
A fear of being confined in a plane forced Madden to take his famed Madden Cruiser to football stadiums across the country, when driving down Interstate 10, he’d always find time to veer off in Van Horn.
“He’s been here several times, and he was certainly a presence when he came,” said Larry, a Chuy’s regular.
Well if this Tex Mex makes Madden’s mouth water, I’m in. So, we sampled their famous family recipe, flat enchiladas.
I must report, they were a real game winner with a chili powder kick. As for their famous fajitas, they are a real crowd pleaser.
“It’s unique to Van Horn, and it’s just a unique experience that one needs to enjoy.”