Reconnecting with Mexican food in NYC, Part 1: Chavellas

Mexican food holds a very special place in my heart tum. I’m not a purist – whether its greasy Tex-Mex nachos glued together with cheddar and jalapenos or authentic Mexican fare starring cactus and chocolate mole sauce, I love it all indiscriminately. My favourite Mexican haunts in NYC? Rosa Mexicano (Mex, guac to die for), Rodeo Bar & Grill (Tex-Mex, crispy catfish enchiladas slathered with some joyously creamy sauce),  Cafe El Portal (Mex, ate there only once and long ago, but Í remember it having a ton of dishes that were super authentic). But this trip I was going to try two new places: Chavellas on Classon Ave, Brooklyn, and Hecho en Dumbo, a Brooklyn transplant that recently found its new home on Bowery in the East Village. If an ethnic joint has any association to Brooklyn (the land of the authentic ethnic grub that’s just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan, but that I was sadly too lazy to visit more often when I lived in the city), you just know that it’s gotta be good.


Chavellas would not be easy to find for someone who didn’t live in the area. Tiny hole-in-the-wall place with a playfully cluttered green and orange facade and tables cramped together on the inside, just the kind of place that gets me excited because I know that the meal is going to be no fuss, just downright honest and simple food.

Chavellas, on Classon Ave in Brooklyn

The proof of a Mexican place is usually in their Guac and chips. And Chavellas totally stood up to the test:  a heaping bowl of creamy-chunky guacamole with a side of warm, soft corn tortillas, that tasted like they’d been lovingly made in some Mexican grandma’s kitchen just a few minutes before they hit our table.
Warm baby tortillas with fresh guacamole

I was utterly confused and conflicted going through the menu – so many awesome choices, like the grilled corn rolled in chipotle mayo and cojita cheese, quesadillas with roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions, enchiladas drowning in cheese and green sauce, tacos stuffed with chicken in mole sauce. These are situations that reduce my otherwise rationale thought process to desperate, futile notions, like why-oh-why weren’t we built like computers: if tummy capacity gets overloaded, you’d just plug in an external tum with a higher capacity and load it up with more good stuff?

The server eventually rescued me from my menu-decision inertia: I was going to have the Chiles Rellenos stuffed with Queso cheese. In retrospect, I’m not sure that the server’s recommendation was the best thing on the menu. Though I quite enjoyed the salty, dense Queso cheese filling beneath the lightly fried chile relleno exterior, I’ve been spoiled by greasy Tex Mex cuisine to expect cheese fillings that are a tad bit more gooey and melty, tomato sauce that’s more rich and creamy, and chile rellenos that have a thicker, crispier crust of fried goodness than the softly fried version on my plate.

My plate of chile rellenos - a bit low on the grease and cheese that many of us Tex-Mex-hogging people have been trained to expect

While the chef had dished out a very timid plate of Chiles Rellenos,  he hit a far more indulgent note with my friend’s order, three gargantuan chicken enchiladas gleefully erupting rich green sauce in all directions.
Gigantic chicken enchiladas, basking under its green sauce and generously sprinkled cheese

And here’s my happy tub of rice and beans – another work of kitchenly love à la Chavellas.

A boatful of rice and beans. Just the way I like 'em.

While my entree didn’t quite hit the spot, I did love everything else on the table and was thoroughly taken in by the charm and simplicity of the place. Chavellas definitely bags a place on my resto recommendation list, especially for a foodie who gets excited by the thought of leaving behind the lights and glam of Manhattan, to trek across to some quiet unassuming Brooklyn neighbourhood and savour the quintessential hole-in-the-wall, authentic Mex experience.

Read about Hecho en Dumbo in Part 2 of this ”Mexican food in NYC” post

Phone: +1 (718) 622-3100
732 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY, USA

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

1 thought on “Reconnecting with Mexican food in NYC, Part 1: Chavellas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *