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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Homey, weekday Tex-Mex

Posted on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 4:00 AM

A huevos rancheros plate from Chella’s Café.
  • A huevos rancheros plate from Chella’s Café.
Release Date: 2008-03-26

Located in a small yellow house in the shadow of a downtown AT&T building, Chella’s gets lost in the mélange of the neighborhood’s parking lots, charitable organizations, and various medical offices. Were it not for the unexpected recommendation of a few visitors passing through town, I may not have gone there as soon as I did.

I approached Chella’s like a downtown worker with an eye toward price, quality, and speed of service, but the restaurant surprised me with its
attention to design and décor. Each room is painted in a different muted pastel color, and natural light flows through the numerous windows, especially in the coveted enclosed front porch. The artwork was not bad — which means relatively outstanding compared to most restaurants. Owner Rochelle Leyva — who’s been known to host the occasional political fundraiser — has created a welcoming, pleasant downtown haunt that invites you to linger over coffee and (ahem) a paper.

Breakfast plates and breakfast tacos are served all the time at this weekday restaurant. A daily lunch special is available, as well as combination plates, house favorites, and more tacos — textbook Tex-Mex. Other than a plate of calabacita con puerco, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

The prices are expectedly affordable. Tacos average around $1.50. Breakfast plates cost around $4. The most expensive lunch plates were close to $8.

I tried to extrapolate as much as I could from a plate of huevos
rancheros (sunny side up, always) and a breakfast taco of egg, potato, and bacon. The beans on the huevos plate were savory, yet I could still recognize an occasional legume, which made me think that if any manteca was used it was kept to a modest amount. I felt I was in good hands.

The scrambled eggs in my breakfast taco were slightly shrunken. Could the bacon transcend the eggs and save the taco? Almost. It lacked the rich decadence one hopes for in bacon. Others in the group enjoyed their gorditas and vegetarian tacos. “The salsa ranchera that I got on the papas-rancheras taco is probably my favorite thing there,” said one dining companion. “It is warm and spicy and has a nice bright color.” Another carnivore friend recommends the country sausage and egg taco, and notes that the tortillas are savory and soft.

Was the service prompt? Yes. Was the quality exceptional? No, but it was good enough for me to happily return.

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