On the Line is about supporting local restauranteurs by shining a spotlight on them each week. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Karla Vasquez–business owner, wife, mother and CrossFit advocate. Her desire to bring authentic Mexican cuisine to the masses resulted in Chelas just less than two years ago. With killer breakfast tacos and a hard-working kitchen, the restaurant she created with spouse Art is a gem tucked in a Laguna Niguel plaza.
Tell us about your two types of breakfast tacos, and how late you serve them.
Our two breakfast tacos are our "Americano Taco" (scrambled eggs, choice of bacon or rib-eye, topped with Colby-Jack cheese) and our "Mexicano Taco" (scrambled eggs, choice of chorizo or shredded beef, with onion and cilantro, then topped with Colby-Jack). Our boy's personal favorite is the Americano bacon on flour tortilla topped with cheese.
But our most popular and absolutely delicious is our MVP burrito. The name speaks for itself! It has scrambled eggs, bacon, rib-eye steak, crispy hash browns, guacamole and Colby-Jack. We serve breakfast Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Your earliest food memory:
Black beans, plantains and sugar cane.
Your best recent food find:
Veggie burger with an organic quinoa, mushroom, onion, potato, carrot and zucchini patty. It was topped with avocado, bacon, greens and Muenster cheese. The Shwack Beach Grill in Dana Point served it with homemade chips it called Spuds.
Most undervalued ingredient:
I think cabbage. In the beginning, most of our customers were hesitant about trying our menu options with cabbage–90 percent of our menu has cabbage. It just gives that fresh crunch to most foods. It resists heat very well, won't get soggy quickly and serves as a carb substitute. I can eat most of our menu options, such as breakfast, on a bed of cabbage if I choose to not eat tortillas that day. You can make so many menu items with it: soups, casseroles, salads, coleslaw, etc.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
I feel it has the best-quality steak and seafood.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Vodka and soda with lots of lime. We call it Crazy Water. It doesn't taste the same anywhere else. Maybe that's because Art makes it with so much enthusiasm.
What's the menu item featured on your Facebook page?
Our fajita burrito, one of my personal favorites. It has grilled red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, cheese, and black beans. I love it naked on cabbage with chicken.
One food you can't live without:
Bacon and black beans. Bacon goes well with sweets, sours, salty and everything in between. And black beans are my go-to with Mexican food.
What is your best-seller?
Our newest addition: the shrimp and rib-eye burrito. It has avocado slices, green and purple cabbage, pico de gallo, and chipotle sauce. But since we've been open, the biggest has always been the Chelas carnitas burrito. Our carnitas are exceptional–very moist and tender.
We read your tortillas are cooked to order. How much longer does it take to prepare a meal for customers?
Not much longer, approximately three to four minutes extra. But it's worth the wait. Our tortillas are raw and cooked on-site. The burrito won't rip apart on you. That's one of our pet peeves.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
When I was dating Art, his mother, Roselia, was cooking a huge meal for friends and family. I remember clearly his father cooking a pig in their outdoor brick oven. They made delicious dishes with certain parts of the animal. In this case, he pickled the pig's feet with vinegar, onions, dried chiles and carrots. Well, I wasn't going to turn down my soon-to-be father-in-law, so I tried the pickled pork feet. It was a strange texture, but I'll have to admit, it tasted pretty good.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
On a weekend, I would be making French toast for the kids with toppings such as coconut, mixed berries and bananas. And I let them rejoice with the whipped cream. For Art and myself, an omelet with bacon, onions and spicy peppers. Very little cheese.
Why don't you have a salsa bar?
It was always one of our observations that salsa bars are abused and dirty in most places. They devalue the quality of the salsa. When people have it at their disposal, they take it for granted. We prefer serving it ourselves. We take pride in our produce and the quality of our salsas.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
I would have to say it was "nachos–no beans, no cheese. Just rice. Meat raw in a separate container." Did we do it? No, we did not. We try accommodating requests as much as possible, but if we feel it will jeopardize our food quality, we'd rather be sincere and offer them a different choice. We'd rather do that than serve them something that will not taste good and, ultimately, end up disappointing them.
Chelas Mexican Grill is located at 29975 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 10, Laguna Niguel, (949) 542-4606; www.chelasmexicangrill.com.