Chela's Mexican Grill 

It was just 10 years ago that good, authentic Mexican food was hard to find in Boise. It was a difficult burden to bear if you happened to have moved to the City of Trees from any of the American states that touch the border of Mexico. Back then, you had your choice of three average gringo-ized chains scattered throughout the city and a really good taqueria/carniceria near the fairgrounds. Otherwise, you had to drive to Nampa or Caldwell to get your fix of the good stuff. Thankfully, the number of places in Boise where you can get an inexpensive, decent taco made on a double layer of warm corn tortillas has multiplied like a happy pair of bunny rabbits. This has made for a lot of satisfied transplants who can once again enjoy favorites like carne asada, carnitas and lengua prepared just like when home was closer to the southern border.

Located in the former Hugo's Deli space on State Street near the Plantation subdivision, Chela's has quickly become a favorite haunt for residents in the surrounding area. Refreshing Mexican beverages ($1.75 medium / $2.25 large) like tamarindo and horchata compete with fresh pineapple or watermelon juice as the drink of choice. They also serve two domestics and a hefeweizen on tap, as well as five Mexican beers in bottles. The a la carte menu is straightforward and simple: tacos ($3.15), burritos ($4.25), tortas ($4.75) or quesadillas (corn $3.15 / flour $4.25) are all made with your choice of meat. Carne asada (beef steak), carnitas (deep fried pork), pollo (chicken), pastor (marinated pork), chorizo (Mexican sausage), lengua (beef tongue) and barbacoa (barbecued meat) are your protein options. If you want your meat with rice, beans, a side of corn tortillas and a salad, it'll cost you $10.50. Shrimp or octopus cocktail ($9 small / $12 large) and shrimp tacos ($4 / $4.50) round out the menu. Although not listed on the menu, Chela's also offers raw oysters on the half shell by the dozen ($12) or half dozen ($6), served on ice with lime wedges and fresh strawberries.

My family has eaten at Chela's several times since it opened about a year ago. When you dine in at the take-out-style restaurant you'll have three squeeze bottles to choose from at your table. Two contain green sauces, one contains red. The opaque, lighter-colored green sauce is killer hot. I probably could've handled it in my youth when I had something to prove, but at age 40, it just burns up my mouth. The darker green sauce is a mild one made from tomatillos. My favorite is the red sauce, which I like on pork and beef and also use to kick up the boring chopped tomato salsa you get with your chips and salsa. Among our family's favorites is the carnitas taco, which is always fat with huge chunks of juicy pork, a dollop of white beans and a gob of mashed avocado. It makes for a nice lunch that is not too filling, especially when washed down with a cup of tamarindo. The oysters on the half shell have been consistently good, as has the pastor burrito loaded with marinated pork, white beans, mashed avo, melted cheese, sour cream and salsa. My youngest, pickiest son enjoys the cheese quesadilla on flour tortilla. The food at Chela's is thankfully not a watered-down, gringo version of Mexican food but is one cleaned-up step above the nitty-gritty taqueria fare we love so much. Although the prices are a little higher than at some of the other equally good Mexican take-out joints nearby, I hope Chela's succeeds, and I'll gladly eat there again and again to make sure they do.

--Jennifer Hernandez dreams of a really good Jewish deli opening in Boise.

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