The family recipe has been passed down for three generations.
Cinnamon and sugar sparkle along every nook and cranny of the still-warm churros tucked into a paper bag, a side of silken sweet cajeta for dipping. The familiar fried dough is beautiful in its simplicity and deep in history.
The ingredients – flour, oil, sugar, eggs, salt – are common in most kitchens, but together make a pastry dough known as “choux”. Choux pastry dough is the same dough that is used in French pastries, such as éclairs. Piped through a churrera, the star-ridged choux dough floats in bubbling hot oil, which creates a light, toasty texture and fries the dough to a perfect brown crisp.
The batons are then rolled in sugar and cinnamon and served with a dipping sauce, from chocolate to strawberry or cajeta — a heady Mexican caramel made with goat milk.
Beliefs about the churro origin include… sheep
The origin of the churro is uncertain; the inventors are either Chinese, Portuguese, or Spanish. But it’s believed to have been a popular fried bread made by Spanish shepherds while in the mountains. The name refers to the churra sheep they tended, as the ridged and curling churros resembled the animal’s horns.
The tradition of serving the churros with hot chocolate (for dipping) came from the Spanish conquests in South America and was influenced by the introduction of cacao to Spanish cuisine. Since then, churros have become popular throughout South and Central America, trickling up from Mexico into the southwest.
It runs in the family
Churros continue to be a tradition in Tucson, especially for the Pintors. Rick Pintor and his son, Ricky, own Just Churros — a food truck dedicated to the classic art of making churros.
The business, then called Los Churros, was started by Rick’s father, Modesto Pintor, in 1981 in Douglas, Arizona and it has become a family business, making Ricky the third generation to run it.
“I used to help my tata when I was younger,” Ricky says of his grandfather. “I would help him at the carnivals, then he would give me some money to go play. I would have that in my blood to continue the tradition.”
Ricky hadn’t always planned on running Just Churros, though. He started as a hip-hop dancer, teaching dance to kids and running his own company, Show Biz Dance Kids. His company earned a place as ninth in the nation, performing on ESPN and at Disney World.
When he started his own family, the idea of continuing the family tradition came back up.
He reflected on his time helping his grandfather. “I think it was like about 10 years ago I helped him at the Cochise County fair. I saw the line he created and I thought there was a lot of potential. They’re fresh and nobody really has fresh churros anymore. You have to go to Mexico otherwise. I talked it over with my dad and was like, ‘alright, let’s get some started.’”
Simple treats with a summer twist
Now, Just Churros is going on seven years as a business (still using the 38-year old family recipe). Their menu focuses on the classic churro with a dipping sauce. Eight churros come in a bag served with a choice of sauce, including strawberry, chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, or cajeta.
They also offer churros à la mode, an addition Ricky and his wife decided on as a solid summer staple. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is added to the churros, melting into the fragrant cinnamon-sprinkled grooves, creating the ultimate comfort food.
Their best seller is the classic pairing of a bag of eight churros with chocolate dipping sauce.
The secret ingredient to success
The churros are made to order with the Pintor family recipe. “The main part of the recipe is love,” Ricky says as he carefully taps flour into the mixer, eyeing the dough as he goes. “It’s quite simple, but it’s the passion behind it that creates the goodness out of it. You can tell when food is made with love.” Their recipe is authentic. “I haven’t seen any other recipe like ours.”
Even the churro machine is homemade. “It’s like a churro bazooka,” Ricky laughs. The design is unique — a long metal cylinder that Ricky feeds dough from the mixer and it extrudes right into the shimmering oil.
He uses a knife to cut the lengths of dough, which surface and turn golden brown. Ricky deftly scoops up the crispy fritters, turns them over in cinnamon and sugar, and folds them into a paper bag.
Keeping up with the food truck
The food truck is usually found at El Guero Canelo on Oracle, but they have served as far as Sahuarita. Throughout the year, they serve churros at events like the Tucson Rodeo, Tucson Meet Yourself, All Souls Procession, Tamale Fest, the University of Arizona Book Fair, and the mariachi conference.
They also do weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations. To track the Just Churros food truck, their location can be found on their Facebook page. (So can a picture of Alton Brown and a bag of their fresh treats).
Just Churros has come a long way as a business since Modesto Pintor opened up shop in 1981. “The churros just started small and grew from there,” Ricky explains. “We’re just ordinary people with extraordinary churros. We’re not really business people, but we’re taking it one step at a time.”
What the future holds
But the Pintors are talking about future plans. “We’re not exactly sure where we want to go yet, if we want to keep it as a trailer or have multiple trailers. There are many ideas out there. Franchise or café…we’re thinking about maybe a café in the future. Only time will tell.”