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Contemporary Cantina

Next time you’re in the mood for Tex-Mex tacos, fajitas or some cheesy quesadillas, consider visiting Tulsa’s only individually owned El Chico, where Gil Inkelaar loves taking care of families.

Donna Leahey
Valerie Grant
June 29, 2017

Those who love the fresh flavors of avocado, lime, tomato, and jalapeno are blessed with a plethora of delicious Tex-Mex dining options in Tulsa and Green Country. But next time you’re in the mood for tacos, fajitas or some cheesy quesadillas, consider visiting Tulsa’s only individually owned El Chico, at 21st and Mingo. Look for the big, blocky building painted with festive and friendly Southwestern colors.

On a hot, bright summer day the turquoise doors welcome guests into the spacious and cool interior. The building’s 45-year history shows in its character, including an interior brick wall and high ceilings. The dining rooms are spacious and well lit, with natural light spilling in through the many windows. Fresh Tex-Mex flavors scent the air and you know you’re about to get fed right.

Gil Inkelaar and his wife, Tommi, purchased the restaurant four years ago after Gil’s 20 years working for the corporation. “The difference here,” Inkelaar explains, “is that the owner is in the store all the time making sure everything goes just right. We’ve got new paint in the dining rooms — we tried to use brighter colors, cleaned the graffiti off what used to be exterior walls.” The bar has recently been remodeled, adding more mirrors, more storage and more televisions.

Inkelaar’s El Chico is a family business and he loves taking care of families. “I always want to make sure the children are having fun,” he says. Since they serve a lot of families with younger children, he adds fun touches like a bowl of Jell-O with kids’ meals, crowned with a dollop of whipped topping. He has also added a frozen strawberry daiquiri to the menu, alcohol free of course, but made in a daiquiri machine just like the adult version.

El Chico Chicken Quesadilla Burrito Bowl
Chicken Quesadilla Burrito Bowl (Photo: Valerie Grant)

When you show up, be sure to check the chalkboard for special additions to the menu, like the sirloin that is unique to Inkelaar’s El Chico. But whatever you order, it’ll be fresh and delicious.

Come with an appetite, because you’re not going to want to miss any of the tasty items on this menu.

Start off by treating yourself to guacamole made at your table, to order. Your server uses fresh ingredients and prepares it right there, giving you the opportunity to make requests so that it’s exactly the way you like it. One of the chalkboard specials is the Puebla Platter, a generous sampling of tastes which includes meaty empanadas, taco wraps, El Chico’s unique take on the jalapeno popper, beef brisket nachos, and smoky-cheesy bacon-wrapped shrimp. The whole platter comes with tasty sauces for dipping.

El Chico La Bandera
La Bandera (Photo: Valerie Grant)

For a lighter meal, El Chico has a great selection of soups and salads, including tortilla soup with grilled chicken, tortilla strips, avocado, and Jack cheese. The Quesadilla Circulo Salad is a colorful dish of salad greens topped with chicken, corn, black beans, tomatoes, cilantro, and cheddar with a sesame-chipotle dressing.

The most popular items are usually the fajitas, served with flour tortillas, grilled onions, peppers, tomatoes, rice, frijoles rancheros, pico de gallo, sour cream, and your choice of guacamole or cheddar cheese. There are several plates available, including the indulgent Mixed Grill, which is steak, chicken and sautéed shrimp; or the even more indulgent Top Shelf Fajitas with steak, chicken, shrimp and baby back ribs on a sizzling skillet. Inkelaar’s personal favorite is the Chicken and Mushroom Fajitas, which includes crispy bacon, tender mushrooms, and melted Jack cheese over tender and juicy fajita chicken.

Of course, El Chico has a full roster of enchilada dishes, burritos, tacos, combos, lunch specials and more. But leave room for dessert; you will not regret it. There’s not a bad dessert choice to be found, but be sure to consider Mama’s Favorite Mexican Apple Pie. The pie is served hot on a sizzling skillet, topped with cinnamon ice cream. Just before handing this sweet treat to you, your server tops it with a rich Mexican brandy butter sauce which sizzles and pops. It’s creamy and sweet and delicious. Pro tip: Don’t leave your spoon resting on the hot skillet.

Every evening from 4-7 p.m. is happy hour with 22 ounce pilsners for $2.75. There’s a special happy hour menu which includes brisket quesadillas and $1 tacos.

El Chico
9825 E. 21st St. | Tulsa
Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

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