Catfish Stephens: El Rio Grande Regular Since 1971

In 1985, an ailing Catfish Stephens was instructed by his doctor over the phone to immediately make his way to a hospital to be admitted for surgery to treat a collapsed lung.

On his way there, however, he told his girlfriend (Stephens was “between wives” at the time) who was behind the wheel to pull into El Rio Grande. His then-future wife reminded him that the doctor wanted him to “immediately” get to the hospital, prompting him to repeat his instruction, “Pull into El Rio Grande.”

In a gravelly voice reminiscent of Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn from the Coen Brothers’ 2010 True Grit, Stephens recalls telling her, “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna have a burrito first.”

When she retorted that the doctor and the staff were waiting on Stephens at the hospital, he explained, “They’re gonna have to wait a little longer.”

Stephens ate his usual, a chili cheese burrito. After finishing what he thought might be his final meal, he finally arrived at the hospital for admittance. When the nurse asked Stephens where he had been, he told her, “Lady, if I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die full.”

Well, obviously, Stephens didn’t die, but he did spend two weeks in the hospital with a tube in his chest. And in the ensuing 30 years, he says he has sampled much more of the El Rio Grande menu than just the chili cheese burrito.

All told, the former Marine and highly experienced (former) bouncer has been an El Rio Grande regular since 1971 and has become good friends with El Rio Grande’s founder and patriarch, Joe Urdiales, along the way. From splitting with Mr. Joe bags of peppers Stephens bought during a work excursion in Texas, to protecting his diminutive amigo from an unruly biker, Stephens has become like a member of the extended Urdiales family.

Of his four wives, Stephens says all but one have eaten at El Rio Grande, with the lone exception being his first wife, to whom he was married when he was still living in Arizona in the late ’60s. But Stephens dismisses that fact by mentioning that marriage only lasted two weeks, anyway.

Stephens has celebrated about a dozen birthdays at El Rio Grande. And while he says he hasn’t had any wedding parties there, he has celebrated a couple of divorces at El Rio Grande.