It was more than a decade ago that I fell in love with the flautas at Chico's Tacos in El Paso, Texas. That visit started a craving that was finally, finally sated, in New York City no less. Chico's Tacos were brought back from Texas, special delivery, packaged in Tupperware that was more expensive than the actual tacos, frozen until I could get to them, and finally reconstituted (Thanks, Mom).
Eating Chico's Tacos once again did two things. First, it made the need to be able to eat them more consistently a necessity. Second, tasting the original rendition reestablished the flavor profile required to be able to do that. Crispy fried taquitos, covered in thinly shredded cheese, and drenched in red watery sauce — dripping, crunchy, melted cheese-drink-the-sauce flautas goodness.
Creating a recipe for a renowned dish is tricky. You can theorize, you can do trial and error, or you can do what was done here: Look to see what's out there already. There's no official site for Chico's Tacos and, as far as anyone can seem to tell, no officlal recipe out there for how to best make these signature tacos.
The two most prominent recipes out there are by The Stanton Magazine and Mexican American Border Cooking. They provide some really insightful guidance on different possible approaches to a successful dish. This recipe uses a home fryer and fresh ingredients for all components for a rendition that looks and tastes pretty close to the original. Oh, and don't forget the toothpicks. You need them to keep the taquitos closed when frying them. (If anyone knows a better way, please chime in.)
Notch out and slice off the stems on the tomatoes and jalapeños. Boil both ingredients and then liquify in a blender. Strain the contents into a bowl using a sieve. Reserve the mixture and use to flavor the filling for the taquitos.
Place the strained liquid in a pot, add the same amount of water, and bring to a simmer, adjusting the salt and pepper as needed. (Keep it on a simmer so that it remains warm while you prepare the rest of the recipe).
In a pan, warm the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the ground beef, sautéeing and breaking it up. Add the sliced jalapeño, diced garlic, reserved tomato and jalapeño mixture, bay leaf, chili powder, and paprika and allow to cook for a few minutes. Then add the water and simmer. When the mixture has reduced, season with salt and pepper and reserve.
Set up a drying station for frying the tortillas and taquitos — a tray or plate lined with paper towels, for instance. Using a home fryer (or, if you don't have one, a vessel in which you can submerge the almost 1-inch-thick taquitos in oil) if you have one, individually submerge the corn tortillas in the heated oil (350 degrees). You're just trying to make the tortillas pliable here so don't cook them too long. Just about 30 seconds each, making sure to remove them before they get stiff.
When they've cooled enough to touch them, place about 2 tablespoons of the filling straight across the high side of the tortilla and wrap it gently but tightly into a cylinder and place the rolled taquito open lip face down. Repeat until you have no filling left.
Take a toothpick and, beginning with the first taquitos you made, pierce the taquito at the farthest edge of the tortilla. Return taquitos to the fryer in batches, frying for about 1 ½-2 minutes.
Halve the jalapeños and boil 3 halves in water until soft. Finely chop both the boiled and uncooked jalapeños (to add texture) and mix with vinegar, lemon juice, and salt.
Place the taquitos in a bowl or, like Chico's, a take-out boat, cover with finely shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese mix. Top with the sauce so that the cheese melts and the taquitos are sitting in the sauce about 2/3 of the way up, cover with a tablespoon (or more) of the jalapeño salsa, and dig in.