“Oh, I hope he gets to see this,” said Lori Iraola, one half of the husband/ wife team behind Chela’s Restaurant & Tacqueria. Iraola was anxious for her hus- band, Adrian, to arrive. Why? Their restau- rant on Maple was teeming with families.
Moments later, Adrian arrived and began taking pictures of the crowd. “We wanted to have families (as customers),” he said to the whole restaurant. “This makes my whole day!” he proclaimed, placing his hand on his heart.
The Iraolas opened their first Chela’s at the corner of Maple and Liberty in June 2012. A second location on Stone School near Ellsworth opened late this fall. Inspired by the food that Adrian grew up eating in Mexico City, the Iraolas goal is to bring fresh, authentic, and affordable Mexican food to Ann Arbor.
Both locations are casual, cozy eater- ies with yellow walls sparsely decorated with hints of Adrian’s homeland. Seating is available for 30 or so. On the random Thursday night that my family chose to dine at the Maple location, Chela’s was packed. No worries, though. They have counter service for ordering and patron turnover is quick.
The menu offers tacos, quesadillas, tor- tas (sandwiches), tamales, and salads. Both locations can make items with marinated beef, chicken, and Chorizo sausage while the Stone School location offers turkey instead of the marinated pork available at Maple. Vegetarian versions of all dishes are available, too.
My family of four ordered a boatload of food for $30. We got 3 barbacoa and 1 carne asada taco, 2 chicken tamales, a kid’s quesadilla, chips with salsa and guacamole, and rice pudding and flan for dessert. We chose Jamaica (sweet hibiscus tea) and limeades (lime and cane sugar) to drink, which was especially tasty, with a light, sweet flavor.
The barbacoa (beef) and chicken tacos were served on locally-made, 100% corn tortillas and doused with cilantro and onion. The tacos, small but substantial, tasted fresh and yummy. They made one especially for our 5-year-old daughter with only beef and cheese. She enjoyed separate
bites of tortilla, meat and cheese.
The sizeable order of guacamole had lots of avocado and hints of tomato and cilantro. The red salsa was “hot, but not ridiculously hot,” according to my hus- band. The green salsa and salsa taquera were milder but still flavorful. We ran out of crunchy, salty chips before we finished the salsas and guacamole.
“Oh wow, that’s good,” I said after bit- ing into my chicken tamale. It was moist and spicy, with a nice proportion of meat and masa. My husband liked his tamale as well, while my nine-year-old son inhaled his kid’s quesadilla with Oaxaca cheese.
For dessert we tried rice pudding and flan made from scratch. While the rest of my family passed on the rice pudding, I found it sweet, with a strong cinnamon flavor. The flan was divine — caramel- ized sugar over creamy, sweet custard. Although presented in a plain plastic container, the flan’s flavor and freshness knocked my socks off.
I’ll be heading back to Chela’s to try more fresh Mexican fare. I’ve got my eye on the tortas and quesadillas — I’ll save a spot for you in line.
Katy M. Clark is a freelance writer from Saline.
Chela’s Restaurant & Taqueria
693 South Maple Rd.
4079 Stone School
Monday through Saturday, 10:30am – 9pm Sunday 10:30am – 8pm