Main dish Tex-Mex

Tex-Mex chalupas

Tex-Mex chalupa | Homesick Texan

For a Texan, one of the finest things in life is gathering at a Tex-Mex table with friends and family, sharing stories as we dip our chips, being cautious when warned about the hot plates, and enjoying the occasional serenade from a band of guitar-wielding mariachis. For many Texans, the comfort of a meal at your local Tex-Mex spot is pure joy.

Of course, nothing beats a home-cooked meal, though for me a close second is a visit to a beloved Tex-Mex restaurant. Indeed, when I’ve been away, Tex-Mex is often my first meal when I return. And if I’m dining with my mom, then she will most likely be ordering a plate of chalupas, a favorite of hers.

A chaulpa is a fried tortilla layered with refried beans, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and a sprinkle of shredded yellow cheese. This is its most basic incarnation, though it can easily be enhanced with a dollop of guacamole or a scoop of protein such as taco meat or shredded chicken.

Chalupas have been appearing on Texas menus since the 1930s and are a classic addition to the cuisine’s canon. Like most Tex-Mex dishes, chalupas have a Mexican counterpart, in which—depending on what part of Mexico you encounter it—the foundation is flat, as it is in Texas, or formed into a canoe shape, hence the name, which means canoe in Spanish.

In Mexico, the toppings can vary from only salsa to a variety of meats, or even a stack of pickled vegetables. In Texas, however, the chalupa traditionally follows the pattern of tortilla, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and perhaps guacamole and/or a protein. You may think of it was one large nacho and this would not be incorrect.

Tex-Mex chalupa

In Texas, you will sometimes encounter the same dish with the name tostada or tapatia. If you were to ask me what is the difference, I will admit I haven’t discerned that quite yet. Clearly, a road trip for more experiential research is in order! Though no matter its name, a crisp fried corn tortilla layered with toppings is always refreshing and good.

Now, the key to satisfying, heart-warming Tex-Mex is to fix the dishes with care and use quality ingredients. Chalupas, while not complicated, are no different. For instance, while it’s an easy dish to prepare, attention to detail is the difference between a so-so chalupa and one that is truly exemplary.

For instance, it’s important to fry your own tortillas. Sure, it’s smothered in toppings but the true connoisseur can tell the quality of the chalupa’s foundation. The refried beans should have flavor. And I don’t think additional proteins are always necessary, but if you do add meat, insure it’s well seasoned. Likewise, using fresh produce makes a huge difference.

Tex-Mex chalupa | Homesick Texan

As a home-cooking advocate, I do feel the best food comes from your own kitchen but sometimes you just want your your combo plate without having to fuss with making it. Though matter where you gather, when the food is less than satisfying, if the company is good and the atmosphere lively, then a Tex-Mex meal is always an excellent way to share time with those that you love.

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Tex-Mex chalupa | Homesick Texan
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Tex-Mex chalupas

Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

  • Oil for frying
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Salt
  • 2 cups refried beans
  • 1/4 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1/2 cup diced grape tomatoes or 1 ripe plum tomato, diced
  • Guacamole, for serving
  • Sliced pickled jalapeños, for serving
  • Salsa, for serving

Instructions

  1. To make the fried tortillas, pour enough oil in a heavy skillet to come up 1/2 inch up the sides and heat to 350°F, about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature by sticking a wooden spoon into the oil. If it bubbles around the spoon, it should be ready for frying. Line a large plate or sheet with paper towels.
  2. Fry the tortillas on each side until crisp and lightly browned, about 1 minute. Drain the fried tortillas on paper towels and lightly salt.
  3. If not already warm, heat up the refried beans.
  4. To assemble the chalupas, spread each fried tortilla with 1/4 cup of refried beans. Top with lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. Serve with guacamole, pickled jalapeños, and salsa on the side for garnishing.

Recipe Notes

For chicken chalupas, the meat in these chicken chipotle tacos is a good topping. For beef chalupas, you can use the taco meat in this recipe.

  1. As a former San Antonian, chalupas compuestas were my fave with guacamole on top. But was is that rust-colored sauce they pool in the center of the guacamole? Very thin but very flavorful. Its contents have eluded me for years!!!! It makes the chalupa!

    • Lisa Fain

      Lucy—I need to post a recipe for that salsa! I agree…it’s so good.

  2. Diane Gomez

    I grew up in San Antonio eating two kinds of chalupas — one made with queso fresco and one made with cheddar cheese (or jack/cheddar combo). We used to make our own shells, but eventually started using the store-bought kind. My sister and I still fight about whether the store-bought shells need to be warmed up. I always say yes! It’s a must in my house. I still use queso fresco because I like the flavor it has when combined with the beans. The one thing that always confuses me when restaurants make them is when they put the cheese on top of the lettuce! For me, the cheese ALWAYS goes on top of the beans! My order (so things stay in place): beans, cheese, picadillo or shredded chicken breast (if wanted), guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa. Sometimes we add Mexican crema on top. Yum!

    • Lisa Fain

      Diane–When I was in San Antonio this week, I noticed that places there put the cheese on top of the beans so it would melt. But in other spots in Texas, it goes on top of the lettuce, like you would for a taco. Both are good in my opinion. Love the idea to use queso fresco, and if you’re using store-bought tostadas, they should definitely be warmed!

  3. Since I moved to Maryland 22 years ago I’ve been making chalupas at home more than I’ve been eating them at restaurants and I always fry my own tortillas, since I can’t find the flat pre-fried ones in the grocery stores here. When we make them with ground meat, I usually put the refried beans, ground meat and cheese on the fried tortillas and heat them in the oven until the cheese melts, then top with lettuce and tomatos. We’ve decided our home-made Tex Mex is better than what we can get in the restaurants here in Northern MD.

  4. “the comfort of a meal at your local Tex-Mex spot is pure joy.”

    So glad to see “Tex-Mex spot.” Sure, it’s a restaurant—but we always referred to our local as our Tex-Mex joint. And it is indeed local. Maybe a few locations around town, but not a chain. They get to know you there. You get to know the servers and the owner… It was a hangout after activities when the kids were in school. And now with the kids off in the world, it is a hangout every Friday night with close friends.

    To me, the chalupa is one of the foundational items that defines a Tex-Mex joint. Salsa and chips. Flour tortillas. Refried beans. Charro beans. Cheese enchiladas. Fajitas. Margaritas, All so simple in theory, yet so easy to mess up. There is no place to hide poor ingredients or poor technique. And when well done, you taste and feel the pride and love.

    For the record, I’m cheese on the beans. My SO is cheese on the top.

    • Lisa Fain

      Steve–The best Tex-Mex spots/joints are absolutely the local ones where you know the owner and staff and they know you. And yes, while simple in technique, it’s imperative that quality ingredients and care be taken when preparing the food.

      I’m loving this debate about cheese on the beans or on top of the lettuce. I had no idea there was such dissension!

  5. While living in San Antonio in the late 1970’s, when working downtown, we would often eat at the Mexican Manhattan restaurant. My typical order was the regular chalupa as in your recipe plus a guacamole chalupa with beans. It consisted of a chalupa shell, slathered with a layer of refried beans, then topped with a generous layer of guacamole then salsa. Delicious, and the Mex Man is still there and going strong.

    • Lisa Fain

      Ron–Guacamole is a fine addition to a chalupa! And it makes me happy that long-standing Tex-Mex restaurants such as Mexican Manhattan are still open and making people happy.

  6. Donald Prescott

    Lisa: We had a small favorite Mexican food restaurant in Bryan – Garza’s- back in the sixties that had on the menu what has been in my experience very rare (as in not sure I have ever seen them): beef chalupas. After Garza’s disappeared my mother managed to re-create the flavor and it has remained a family favorite. The spices are different than what we consider “correct” for taco meat and is like a thick gravy. Just cumin, black pepper, a little cayenne and salt, served on a concave home fried (corn, not flour 🙂 ) tortilla to hold the slightly viscous meat with shredded whatever cheese, lettuce tomato, guac & sliced olives. Love the website

    • Lisa Fain

      Donald–Thank you for the kind words. Your mother’s dish sounds fantastic!

  7. As to the cheese on warm/hot beans or meat as opposed to on top of the lettuce, I have always believed that warm melted cheese has a different flavor than colder cheese sprinkled on top..
    Perhaps its just in my mind but, I prefer the partially melted cheese..

    Of course, each must decide his/her preference..

    Just found your site through a link from Christina Lane (dessertfortwo) and I am loving what I am reading.. :O)

    • Lisa Fain

      Ross–Thank you for the kind words. While I think both are delicious I can definitely see the advantage of melted cheese!

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