Jimmy Changas

Lunch at Jimmy Changas
It would take knowledge of a history of success of a particular restaurant group to entice me to drive to Deer Park/Pasadena area for a quick lunch.  Such is the case of the growing world of restaurant concept successes by Russell Ybarra.  He literally grew up in the business of Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurants. I as reared in Shoreacres and the closest “Mexican Restaurant” to us was El Toro in LaPorte, owned by the Ybarra family.  It was, literally, the first “Mexican restaurant” I ever ate at! So, after Ybarra founded the extremely successful Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen group with its first location in Pearland in 1993 and later, the Bullritos concept of quickly served cooked-to-order Tex-Mex food, it is looking like he has the golden touch in the crowded Tex-Mex food industry in Houston.    I attended a “soft opening” a few months ago of Ybarra’s newest concept, Jimmy Changas in Pasadena near Deer Park and had been looking for an opportunity to try it again.

So, when I had a function in Texas City yesterday to attend, I decided to travel through Deer Park and try out a few items in Jimmy Changas for lunch on the way.  I asked my server what she felt would describe Jimmy Changas and its approach to food.  She told me to imagine a “kicked up” Gringo’s.  After dining there, I disagree with that characterization.  There IS a kicked up approach to the restaurant itself.  More formal in design and décor, it is slightly more formal than a Gringo’s.  Certainly the service at Gringo’s did not need to be “kicked up”.  I think that from the standpoint of service, Ybarra would bristle at the idea that the level of service in one of his restaurants was any better than in any other (except in a Bullritos where there is counter service).  The service I experienced at Jimmy Changas was attentive and courteous. Although (full disclosure) I know Russell Ybarra, he did not know that I was dining there, nor did any of his staff know me.  I ordered so much food that my server warned me that I would “probably need several doggie bags”.   At any rate, I would describe the food as “Tropical Tex-Mex”.  While there are Tex-Mex staples on the menu, street food-inspired offerings typical of Tecate taco stands (Traditional and Fajita Rolled Tacos), Tamale Plates and El Paso Burritos (a tip of the sombrero to classic Tex-Mex offerings)… the flavors of the signature items there are strongly influenced by coastal Mexican areas I am familiar with… such as Veracruz, and the Baja Mexico Pacific coast. Lots of seafood there… and several offerings with crawfish featured (Texas/Mexico/New Orleans fusion?).

Regardless of the influences that helped Ybarra craft the menu at Jimmy Changas, the menu is different from “standard Tex-Mex”… it is different from “plain Mexican” and it is interesting enough to stand on its own and warrant a visit to try it.
Shrimp and Mango Tostada Salad
A real Summer star on the menu is the Shrimp and Mango Tostada Salad. This colorful salad is a food photographer’s delight and it was stacked with large shrimp, chunks of sweet mango and creamy avocado, pecans, black beans, red peppers, strawberries, lettuce and what the menu describes as “our signature Margarita vinaigrette dressing”.  There was a nice contrast between the sweetness of the strawberries and mangos against the more traditional combination of the avocados with shrimp that actually made the salad fun to eat. Aside from the fact that the overall package was seriously delicious, a lady diner at the next table spotted it (it’s about 5-6 inches tall) and came over to my table and walked around looking at it from all angles, then announced that she was going to order it. She later thanked me as she left, so I have no problem at all with recommending it.
Pollo Marisco
The Pollo Marisco was one of the server’s recommendations and frankly, I was surprised by how delightfully polite this dish was! Chicken breasts were covered with crawfish tails and a creamy simple white wine sauce.  I think the dish demonstrated a resistance to the temptation to produce a self-important glop typical of Mexican restaurants and instead was smooth and understated. As I planned to take some home to share, I forced myself to stop eating it long before I was ready to.  
The Veracruz

The Veracruz is a kind of surf, turf and fowl dish with bacon-wrapped shrimp served with a combination of beef and chicken fajitas (I was offered the choice of just beef fajitas instead of the combination, as I was already having an entrée with chicken).  This dish shows off two things I think that are done well at Jimmy Changas.  First of all… if you are just looking for beef fajitas, this may just be the place to go. In the world of fajitas, restaurants soak skirt steaks in everything from soy sauce to coffee to Italian salad dressing.  Jimmy Changas’ fajitas are simply marinated in pineapple juice and lime juice. The tenderizing effect and the acidity of the lime juice combined with the sweetness of the pineapple juice adds the tropical flavor I mentioned, yet is another example of the adherence here to the adage that “less is more”.  As far as the bacon-wrapped shrimp are concerned, somehow the bacon was cooked through without over-cooking the shrimp. It’s difficult to do it in my opinion, but the combination of these shrimp with the fajitas showcases two things done right here.

House-made Fresh Corn and Flour Tortillas

I am sometimes criticized for only writing about the good I see and it is sometimes said that there must be “something wrong in every meal”, but I ignore it.  While I didn’t order it on my lunch visit today, but at the soft opening, I tried what has become one of the most popular dishes at Jimmy Changas. A house specialty is Stuffed Avocado.  This is a breaded and stuffed whole avocado (stuffed with beef or cheese) served atop a “ranchero salsa”.  Every one of my tablemates at the opening of the restaurant months ago thought that this was wonderful. Me? Not too much. I thought that the combination of the avocado and the deep frying was too contrived (gratuitous textural contrast) and distracted from the creaminess of the avocado. Yet, everyone else loves it. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.  Just sayin’.

Black Beans
There is a choice of refried, black or charro beans with most entrées.  I ordered a different one with each entrée and my personal favorite were the black beans, but the charro beans were well-seasoned and tasty, too.
Possibly, unrelated to the food and service, I want to mention that employees at Jimmy Changas  (responding to my questions) talked about feeling honored to be able to work for Ybarra.  While I was aware of his community charity work (He was honored by the Greater Houston Restaurant Association for much of this is 2009), he seems to take an “extended family” approach with his employees.  He has done everything from providing needed medical care to employees who needed help to buying a home for one who lost his due to a catastrophe. I mention these things because knowing what type of a person owns and (hands on) operates this company makes me feel good to eat there. It may also have something to do with why the food and service at Jimmy Changas are really good in my opinion.

A second location is slated to open in the Spring of 2012 on Highway 646 in League City.  The new location, like the one in Pasadena,  will also be family-friendly with a fun playground for younger members of the family dubbed “Jimmy’s Jungle”.

 5144 Center Street

Pasadena, Texas 77505



3 Comments on “Jimmy Changas”

  1. Every time I go to Jimmy Changa's I promise myself to branch out from my favorite salad EVER in the whole world, but it just doesn't happen. The Shrimp and Mango Tostado Salad with the Margarita Vinagrette wins hands down without fail. There are other lovely and appetizing dishes being served all around, but this salad is just superbly incredibly delicious!

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