Chela & GarnachaBy: Yehudit Mam
The Loaeza family hails from Mexico City. And, boy, are we lucky to have them! They are bringing authentic Mexican food to New York City one neighborhood at a time. They started out with Mexico Blvd., their very successful taco truck, which roams Midtown and DUMBO serving tacos and tortas to busy New Yorkers. Now they have opened their first storefront in Queens.
Chela & Garnacha is one of the few places in the city where you can enjoy an authentic Mexican food experience. As their menu points out, traditional Mexican cuisine "(not to be confused with Tex-Mex)" has been designated by UNESCO as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage". Forget about intangible, it's freaking delicious.
The Loaezas specialize in traditional antojitos, generously served Mexican tapas. They have their own unique culinary invention: "intrincadas," which as their name suggests, are a bit intricate. Family lore has it that back in Mexico City, desperate at having nothing to serve for dinner one day, the owner's mom took everything she had in the fridge and created this very special masa (a secret recipe you can't get out of these people for love or money) and topped it with whatever she had at hand. They are unmissable: light, crispy masa patties topped with guacamole, chipotle sauce and your choice of chicken or flor de calabaza (zucchini flowers). Yum.
It seems that New York has three kinds of Mexican joints: fancy places where you may mortgage your house for a guacamole which may have been prettified with stuff that should never go in the same sentence with guac; inauthentic Americanized places with nachos and slushy margaritas; and the humble taco trucks and neighborhood dives of Mexican immigrants that are hit or miss, and, at least in terms of decor, mostly miss. Chela & Garnacha is a great hybrid that offers quality traditional cooking at Queens prices, and it is welcoming and stylish.
Together with his parents, Jorge and Marlene, young Jordi Loaeza has devised a menu of classic Mexican taquería fare, such as fresh guacamole and chips, seasoned spring onions, ceviche, quesadillas, flautas (long crispy tacos), volcanes (yes, volcanos) and the famous intrincadas. Their fresh salsas are fantastic. They also have ten kinds of tacos, some of them vegetarian, and several different meats in fabulous preparations like pork al pastor or adobo, chicken tinga, Baja style fish tacos, shrimp adobo and steak, either in "drunken" pasilla sauce or as carne asada. This place is the real deal.
They have a great selection of Mexican beers, three kinds of Micheladas and a sensational margarita made with agave wine that has all the flavor and less of the hangover of a tequila one. (Ask for the spicy one, with serrano chiles.) And for people who love cavities, there's Mexican Coke (made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup) and Jarritos fruit sodas.
Tip: It's not on the menu, but order a "gringa"—al pastor pork on a flour tortilla with melted cheese. You're welcome.
LOGISTICS: Chela & Garnacha, 33-09 36th Ave. Astoria, Queens, 917-832-6876