Guilty Pleasures

Chili Cones at Elmer's Tacos in Chandler Are A Delicious, Deep-Fried Arizona Invention

The Guilty Pleasure: Chili cones
Where to Get It: Elmer's Tacos
Price: $1.25 - $1.95
What it Really Costs: A shot to your ego, if you're the kind of eater who normally frowns on Frito pies, fair food, or things served on a stick. You can't put on any airs when eating a chili cone. 

If you were a student at Chandler High School some time in the last 40 years or so, Elmer's Tacos needs no introduction. The small, family-owned Mexican restaurant, which is located across the street from Chandler High, has been feeding generations of students since the 1970s. 

Of course, you don't have to be a ravenous teenager to appreciate Elmer's take on classic Arizona-Sonoran fare. Over the years, the restaurant has become a local Chandler landmark, beloved by anyone who appreciates the unaffected pleasures of a bean and cheese burrito, crispy flautas, or maybe just a flour tortilla slathered in melted butter (which is available as an a la carte item). 

One of the most unique menu items at Elmer's is a deep-fried snack that you probably won't find anywhere else: The chili cone. What is a chili cone? This tasty snack is made from a deep-fried flour tortilla that has been shaped into roughly the same size and conical shape of a classic ice cream cone.

The cone is stuffed with your choice of savory filling, with options including a mild red beef, spicy green chile beef, or shredded machaca beef. There is also a bean and cheese cone, in case you prefer legumes over animal protein. No matter which cone you pick, it will be finished off with a generous heap of finely shredded cheese. 

On the grand spectrum of highly craveable guilty pleasure treats, the Elmer's cone ranks right up there with an actual ice cream cone. It has the satisfying crunch of an ultra-crispy chimichanga, and combined with its savory, meaty fillings and sprinkling of salty cheese, it pulls a mean flavor punch. 

The Elmer's cone offers an I-can-eat-this-with-one-hand appeal that is hard to resist. You don't have to saw into it, as you might with an overstuffed chimichanga. It doesn't spill or drip like a taco, or ooze like a burrito. It is comfort food simplified, so that you barely have to do anything but enjoy the irresistible medley of cleanly fried dough, softly simmered meats, and cheese. It was designed to be demolished in a couple of ravenous bites. 

This mess-free, deep-fried snack was invented by Elmer Cuen, the founder of Elmer's Tacos, who passed away in late 2015. Elmer's daughter, Lisa Cuen-Rodriguez, tells us that her dad invented the cone about eight years ago as a way to offer a modestly-priced and flavorful snack to the younger crowd that frequents the restaurant. It turns out that adults, too, can't get enough of them, though. 

Today, Cuen-Rodriguez helps run Elmer's Tacos, carrying on the family tradition of deeply comforting and affordable Arizona-Sonoran Mexican food. The Elmer's cone may be the antithesis of haute cuisine, but sometimes you just want something hot, delicious, and crispy that you can pay for with a couple of crumpled dollar bills, or the lint-covered loose coins jostling around somewhere in the recesses of your car. 
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.