Dallas 1963: The Family Who Sold Tex-Mex to America

The five Cuellar brothers who built El Chico: (from left) Willie Jack, Mack, Alfred, Gilbert, and Frank Sr. (Photography courtesy of El Chico)
The five Cuellar brothers who built El Chico: (from left) Willie Jack, Mack, Alfred, Gilbert, and Frank Sr. (Photography courtesy of El Chico)

Anyone who was a kid in the early ’60s remembers the opening of Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. The 212-acre amusement park, built by local real estate developer Angus G. Wynne Jr. and opened on August 5, 1961, changed the way Dallas played. Families, dates, and packs of kids roamed the streets that wove through six distinctive entertainment sections: Spain, France, The Confederacy, Texas, United States, and Mexico.
It wasn’t hard to find Mexico. The aroma of Mexican food filled the air. All you had to do was take a right at the goat cart ride and follow your nose. It took you right to El Chico, the 11th restaurant opened by the Cuellar family.

People came from all over the world to frolic at Six Flags, and many of them ended up in the buffet line at El Chico. Most had never seen Mexican food before and were wary to try it. Even locals had to be seduced into sampling Tex-Mex items with hard-to-pronounce names. Tacos (tack-os) and enchiladas (en-chill-lay-dos) were not served in restaurants that catered to Anglos. And the appearance of that green goopy stuff—guack-amole—was off-putting to snooty diners.

To capture their curiosity, El Chico, and most other emerging Mexican joints, featured American-friendly chicken-fried steak and fried chicken to lure gringos to the table. Cleverly, instead of a handful of fries or a baked potato, they slipped a tamale or a taco onto the plate. For the more adventurous set, El Chico filled its menu with large photographs of their combination plates, so diners could get a visual of what they were ordering.

Wynne owned Four Wynne Farm near Kaufman and dined at the Cuellars’ first restaurant, Cuellar’s Cafe, which opened in downtown Kaufman in 1928. (Continued here.)