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Review: New Chela’s Tacos location a missed opportunity to evolve

December 27, 2018

Note: This is a Just a Taste review, which the Express-News does soon after a restaurant or bar opens to give our first impressions.

The new Chela’s Tacos Mexican Restaurant location on North St. Mary’s Street is certainly bigger. But better? That’s another question.

Chela’s Tacos owner Celia Davis has been making waves in the city for nearly a decade, earning the mantle of best taco truck in San Antonio from the Express-News in 2009. She opened a counter service brick-and-mortar on Broadway near Austin Highway in 2015.

In June, plans were announced for a new Chela’s location in a sprawling multiunit space on North St. Mary’s Street and Mulberry Avenue in the former Joseph’s Storehouse. At the time, an upscale experience with table service, a full bar and expanded menu was promised.

What has materialized since the new Chela’s opened in September seems more like a half step: no new menu items, the bar only serves beer and wine and orders can be placed at the counter or from the table.

That being said, the food that made the first two Chela’s incarnations so likable is still very much on point, even if it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

On the menu: It’s right there in the name, folks: tacos. I tried three of them, and they were all consistent with the kind of results that led Express-News dining critic Mike Sutter to give Chela’s a “worth a drive” rating in his 365 Days of Tacos series.

The cochinita pibil ($3.50) was loaded with deeply flavorful ribbons of pork, the pirata ($3.75) countered tender chopped beef with gooey cheese, and the shrimp ($4.25) taco was overflowing with vibrant grilled vegetables and a tangy cream sauce.

Chela’s serves a ho-hum Combo Plate ($10) with a stringy chicken flauta, a bland bean and cheese chalupa and a respectable gordita, all buried under an avalanche of shredded lettuce, chopped tomato and avocado slices. A small bowl of caldo de pollo ($4.99) delivered a soothing warmth, but offered little beyond the expected.

Far more engaging were the Tamales Oaxaqueños ($4 per tamal). They’re chubby parcels of silken masa stuffed with a variety of fillings — I opted for strips of poblano chiles — and steamed inside a fragrant banana leaf. They’re a delicious reminder that the word “tamal” means different things to different people.

The tamales were upstaged only by the Costra de Chela ($9.25). It’s been on the Chela’s menu for years, and with good reason. Take a tender, homemade flour tortilla, top that with an irresponsible quantity of cheese sizzled on a griddle until the edges crisp up, then layer on a choice of meats — al pastor-style pork for me — and you have one of San Antonio’s most indulgent celebrations of cheese.

As it stands, the newest Chela’s location is little more than an expansion of a strong and established brand. If we’re lucky, it will provide a platform for evolution in the future.

Location: 3420 N. St. Mary’s St., 210-267-1511, chelas-tacos.com, Facebook: @chelastacostruck

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Paul Stephen is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | pstephen@express-news.net | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen

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