Chuy's: Will it become the new Annie's Santa Fe?



Austins popular Tex Mex restaurant will bring its creamy garlic dip to the Plaza.
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  • Austin's popular Tex Mex restaurant will bring its creamy garlic dip to the Plaza.

This week's announcement that a new restaurant chain was taking an empty location on the Country Club Plaza finally answered the question "Who will take over the old Figlio Italian Restaurant space?"

The answer is Chuy's, a popular Tex Mex operation based in Austin, Texas. The Plaza Chuy's will be the first outpost of the 31-year-old chain restaurant in the Kansaas City metro. Famous in Texas for the distinctive kitschy interior design, the restaurant is scheduled to open in the former Figlio space at 209 West 46th Terrace this autumn. That dining area was created by the J.C. Nichols company for a short-lived Glibert/Robinson pan-Asian restaurant concept, Alice Wong's, in 1986. Figlio - initially opened as a franchise of a Minneapolis-based restaurant and saloon - opened in the late 1980s and was later operated by the Kansas City Haddad Restaurant Group; it closed earlier this year.
Chuy's, a casual dining venue known for its large portions and family-friendly environment, will be a good fit for the Country Club Plaza, according to one Kansas City native who has lived in Austin for the last 15 years.

"I worked at the old Annie's Santa Fe back in the day," she says. "Hell yes it will be a good fit."

By most accounts, the cuisine at Chuy's will be superior to that served at the Plaza Annie's Santa Fe (where the kitchen used a bank of microwave ovens for most dishes), which was another Gilbert/Robinson concept that had its heyday as a swinging singles scene in the 1970s and '80s. And it had a slightly kitschy quality of its own: the centerpiece of the bar was the oil painting of the restaurant's namesake (and best-known brothel owner) Annie Chambers.

"Chuy's is a little bit tourist-y," says the former Kansas Citian, "and it's beloved by families here in Austin because it's not expensive and the portions are gigantic. It's a very happy place with a friendly vibe. But it's not going to attract the same diners who prefer to eat more authentic Mexican food on Southwest Boulevard."

A local art director gives the chain high points: "Nothing stands out, as far as the food goes, but it's a great place to go if you have a group of friends to meet and don't want to deal with a smaller setting where your conversation might intrude on others."

If the locally-owned Zocalo is the upscale Mexican bistro on the Country Club Plaza, then there's plenty of room for a more economical, family-friendly scene.

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