There’s more to Chico’s Fat Cali-Style Burritos & Tacos than you know.
Shaun Goldman was making sushi at Hibachi Japanese Steak House in Suncrest when he got to know Todd Perry. No, it’s not the burritos and tacos promised in this article’s subtitle—this story involves a few cuisines.
That was around a decade ago. Perry was looking to open a restaurant and discussing it with his favorite sushi chef. “He’d spent some time in California and wanted to bring some of the vibe here, as well as the food culture,” Goldman says. That is, Mexican-inspired dishes made with the freshest ingredients and served up in an chill, laid-back space. Perry opened his restaurant in 2009 and named it for his friend Chico. “And the burritos are notoriously large, so that’s where ‘fat’ came from,” Goldman says. Perry eventually persuaded Goldman to join his team and, in 2012, they became co-owners.
Chico’s Fat Cali-Style Burritos & Tacos, or Chico’s Fat, is the kind of walk-through counter-service fast-casual place that Chipotle created and popularized—but with a grill. “You can build your own burrito, bowl, quesadilla, nachos, or tacos by picking the beans, meats, and toppings you want—that’s the basis,” Goldman says. Meat options include grilled and spicy shredded chicken as well as grilled beef with or without sauce, barbeque shredded beef, and a ground beef sourced locally from Morgantown Farmers Market vendor Hawthorne Valley Farms. There’s also a honey chipotle tofu. Beans come pinto, black, or refried, and there are salsas at several levels of heat, guacamole, corn bread, and other add-ons. A few menu items are pre-designed—fish tacos are dressed with baja slaw and jalapeño crème fraîche, for example—but almost everything is customizable.
“We do as much as we can fresh, everything from the beans to the salsas,” Goldman says. “We take pride in that. It’s one of the harder things to find nowawdays, hand-processed foods made in-house. It’s trendy, but it’s hard to pull off.”
Most popular by far are the burritos, followed by bowls, tacos, and quesadillas. A signature menu item is the Grilled Cheese Taco. “It started with a blend of a quesadilla and a taco together,” says Goldman, who came up with the idea. “We tried different ways to prepare it. My partner got the idea to grill the cheese on the flattop and make a crust that way, and that was by far the best. It started as a novelty a couple years ago but turned out to be a standout item.”
Goldman and Perry operate with what might be called an irrepressible love for the food service industry. Chico’s Fat has had solid business since it opened in 2009. But in 2014, the pair saw an empty storefront next door in the same building as an opportunity to create a second restaurant and reduce costs by sharing equipment. They started High Street Pasta Co. “We thought we could create some inventive pasta dishes and provide a great product at an extremely affordable price for the students, with sandwiches, that sort of thing as an accompaniment,” Goldman says. Maybe it was the wrong idea in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it just didn’t catch on the way Chico’s Fat did. After two years and several attempts to reconfigure it, they closed the shop.
Meanwhile, Goldman has indulged his love for the art of sushi in recent years through a weeknight gig at Oliverio’s Ristorante on the Wharf. “I look at it as fusion,” he says. “It’s a challenge to incorporate the Italian ingredients, but one thing I was always known for was creativity with the rolls. I set up at the bar, and it’s a well-kept secret. My faithful regulars advertise me by word-of-mouth.”
And this past spring, Goldman started stocking a sushi grab-and-go case beside the cash register at Chico’s Fat. “I make everything fresh every morning,” he says. “California Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, Veggie—there are about 10 rolls in total that I do on a regular basis.” Don’t say it doesn’t belong in a Mexican restaurant until you try the Red Hot Chilly Pepper Roll: house-made pickled jalapeño, spicy tuna, green onion, and flavored rice. “The response has been great.”
Italian, Japanese, Mexican—all of this exuberance is about serving good food, but it’s also about the food-service community. “I appreciate the sushi tutelage I got at Hibachi, and it’s nice to provide opportunities for the staff here and help guide them as they grow and mature,” Goldman says. “I love what I do. That’s why I work so hard.”
456 High Street, 304.241.4712, chicosfatburritos.com
photographed by Carla Witt Ford