Chela's Restaurant & Taqueria: Authentic Mexican cuisine where you least expect it

If Mexican style cuisine is what your taste buds crave, you are in luck in Ann Arbor. With many well-known restaurants to try downtown, both new and old, you will never be in want for a taco. However, one of Ann Arbor’s restaurant gems may not have been on your radar.

Located at 693 South Maple Rd., Chela’s Restaurant and Taqueria is serving some of the best authentic Mexican favorites to West Side Ann Arborites. Surrounded by a barbershop and liquor store, this outwardly modest restaurant is making a name for itself. The owner, Adrian Iraola, sat down to discuss the restaurant he has worked so hard to create.

At first he was nervous about the location, “Many said don’t go there, many restaurants have failed.”

However, as more factors began to fall into place for him to own a restaurant he felt the timing of the open space was too fortuitous to pass by.

So Adrian and his wife, Lori, used a lot of “elbow grease” to bring their vision into fruition. Much of the décor was purchased from the old Parthenon restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. They took the chairs and painted them a deep yellow to give off a Mexican vibe. The booths received extra love, as Lori stitched them together herself.

As for the food, Adrian had to conduct many taste tests among friends and family to guarantee it turned out exactly how he wanted it. When asked about the origin of the recipes he replied, “The food itself is very common. It has been in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years. Tamales are consumed by millions every morning in Mexico City. We have used that same approach but made it healthier. We don’t deep fry items, nothing is processed, and we make it fresh everyday.”

He did admit his own taste buds prefer the spicier options, but he had to tone down some of the recipes so that his food would appeal to all of his customers. He makes fresh salsas with different spice levels for those “chili heads” like himself.

What Adrian is most proud of is the impact his restaurant is having on the community, “My wife and I are sharing our culture. Many people in the Midwest have only eaten tacos with lettuce and cheese, we try to show them new ways, like with cilantro, onion and lime.” He is especially proud when he sees younger kids expand their palates, “We have a wonderful family that comes and their 10 year old daughter can eat two sides of the super spicy salsa, and she doesn’t flinch!”

Adrian is delighted that the community has embraced his cuisine, so in turn he tries to support the community around him, “We get our bread from White Lotus Farms here on Liberty Road. We believe in enhancing the local economy.”

So what are the top sellers? Barbacoa (beef) and campechana (chorizo and carne asada) tacos. Adrian describes barbacoa as marinated beef baked for three hours in its own juices. They then add special spices and grill it. The meat is used in various dishes, including their famous tacos. The chorizo is also made in-house, as he states “we sell it as soon as we make it.”

The restaurant’s flavors are catching on. Many online review-board bloggers rave about the quality. One popular restaurant rating website gave Chela’s five out of five stars, and raters describe the overall experience as either “excellent” or “very good” (with the clear majority being excellent!). Not even once was it given an average or less.

What else will you find at Chela’s? Classic favorites, such as burritos, tamales, salads, tortas (a Mexican street food style sandwich) and yes, even dessert! For only $2 you can get flan as an after dinner treat.

If the quality won’t lure customers in the prices sure will. Tacos are only $1.85 a piece and come on a warm soft-corn shell. Vegetable tacos are available for the vegetarians of the bunch, and quite honestly they are just as satisfying as their meat counterparts.

The most expensive item is the burrito, which comes with rice, beans, cheese and additional items of your choice, still for only $6. Alcohol is not served, but they do offer fountain drinks and homemade Horchata (Mexican beverage made with rice) and Limeade. To see the full list of food choices and specials visit http://chelas.co/menu.

Chela’s has truly become a favorite among Ann Arbor’s West siders during the past year. Adrian has fulfilled his vision of bringing quality Mexican street food to the Midwest, and it is catching on fast.