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Posted on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 5:53 a.m.

Chela's offers delicious, authentic Mexican fare

By Julie Halpert

The food business is in Adrian Iraol's blood. A native of Mexico City, his great-grandmother catered weddings that often lasted a week or two, preparing turkeys, lambs, rice and beans required for the celebrations. His grandparents met while they both worked for his great-grandmother. And his father owned parking lots; each one had a stand that sold tacos.

"It's always piqued my curiosity how a business like this would do in the States," he said. The owner of a construction business now living in Saline, Iraol was leary of branching out into the restaurant business, and decided to test his concept on friends, who gave him a positive response.

Nine weeks ago, he opened Chela's Restaurant & Taqueria, which is a family affair. His wife helped set up the dining area, while his three children, two college-aged and one a junior in high school, work there as well.

"We've been overwhelmed" Iraol says, with people who have lived in Chicago and Texas telling him they've been looking for a place like this. He says the restaurant fills a niche for authentic, Mexican street-style food.

I couldn't agree more that Chela's fills this niche. I've often lamented the fact that Ann Arbor seems to have a shortage of restaurants featuring authentic Mexican food, those places with an unobtrusive storefront that you can just stop in and get a quick taco or burrito that aren't part of a chain.

Chela's is as unassuming as it gets. You can easily drive by it, housed in a small shopping plaza on Maple and Liberty. Iraol says he tried to furnish on a budget, purchasing items from the The Parthenon, which recently went out of business, and from Habitat For Humanity. Inside, there's little trace of Mexican decor, just bright yellow walls, linoleum tables and chairs and a counter where you place your order.

It's easy to overlook the bland aesthetics, since the food here is so good. Chela's menu is in English on one side and Spanish on the other. It specializes in the basics: tacos, quesadillas, tamales and burritos; it serves brunch on weekends featuring huevos rancheros. I didn't have the opportunity to sample the morning options, but if it's anything like the rest of what's offered here, that's worth trying.


Chela's Restaurant & Taqueria
693 S. Maple Road, Ann Arbor
  • Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • Plastic: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
  • Liquor: None
  • Prices: Inexpensive
  • Noise level: Quiet
  • Wheelchair access: Yes

I thoroughly enjoyed the guacamole, so much that I needed to order it on both my visits. It was thick and creamy, infused with big chunks of tomatoes and pieces of cilantro, while the chips were served warm. I tried both salsas; the red was nicely spicy as promised, while the lime green sauce, which appeared deceptively watery and bland, packed a nice punch of flavor from the jalapenos, cilantro and garlic. The red salsa was made hotter from two spicy peppers: chile de arbol and guajillo.

Even a basic salad here was wonderful, with healthful greens. Slices of avocado and large pieces of queso fresco, a soft, mild white Mexican cheese, made it heartier, along with a rich, creamy Ranch dressing.

I preferred the basic plain cheese quesadilla — perfectly grilled in a homemade tortilla oozing with melted cheese — over the one with chipotle chicken. There wasn't nearly enough of the chicken, and it tasted dry. The giant burrito was full of fresh rice and beans; I enjoyed both the version with chicken and barbacoa (marinated beef) with a smoky flavor.

The tortas, a giant sandwich that I ordered with breaded chicken, was fine, served on a fresh bun with lettuce, but it was so similar to an American chicken sandwich that I would skip it, instead opting for more authentic-tasting fare. Chela's offers chicken, pork, cheese, strawberry and pineapple tamales. I longed to try the exotic-sounding fruit versions, but they were out of them. However, both the chicken and cheese were hearty and delicious.

The biggest shortcoming in our meals here were the tacos. They're served in a soft tortilla that was not particularly flavorful. There were only three small slivers of carne asada in the beef taco. The potato and vegetarian tacos we ordered were quite tasty, but all were small. Though these are only $1.85 apiece, you'll need to order a few if these are the focus of your meal.

The generally high quality, authentic food can be had for incredibly low prices. The giant burrito and torta each were only $6, which is the highest price on the entire menu.

Our food was freshly prepared and delivered with remarkable speed, under 10 minutes, both on our first visit, when we ordered only a few items and then on our second, when the number of dishes totaled a dozen. Not one item was left out, and the servers were especially pleasant.

I am thrilled to report about this discovery, though word has clearly gotten out. On both visits, the small eatery was full of customers, everyone from parents with young children, to people stopping by on their way home from work. It doesn't surprise me, as they're likely smart enough to spot a great value when they see it.

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Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

Went to Chela's on Stone School @ Ellsworth yesterday. I had two carne asada taco's and thought they were great! Nice portion of meat, fresh cilantro, little squeeze of lime, and the corn tortillas were excellent. Had a side of seasoned black beans that were fantastic, and my husband had a huge carne asada buritto. Also tried the sweet hibiscus tea and...OMG - THE FLAN IS TO DIE FOR!!! I highly recommend this little gem, and you just can't beat the prices!


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

Tortas made with breaded chicken, aka "milanesa de pollo," are absolutely a part of authentic Mexican cuisine.


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.

I had the beef taco and it was the best. I thought the tortilla it was in was very flavorful!


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 11:23 a.m.

When we lost La Pinata on the west side we lost the only good authentic Mexican restaurant in the city. (sorry Tios...but even YOU know you're texmex) Then Senior Lopez's opened up and we got it back for a little bit. I was really sad to see them go, but their location...even though easy to get to...was horrible for a sit-down restaurant. Maybe just restaurants in general cause I think the Howie's there just shutdown. Now Chela's is here...and I have to tell you...I can't get enough of them. They are amazing. Good portion size, the food all tastes fresh and homemade, plus their house horchata is delicious. They might not have a huge menu, but they still have a lot of different flavors to try, and since they're rather cheap you'll want to come back again and again. I don't eat out very often mainly because of cost....and I've gone there to eat twice in about a week period, and I'm still looking for excuses to go back. I keep trying to think of friends that haven't been there yet so I can introduce them to it. So to anyone who likes mexican food, you MUST check Chela's out. You won't be disappointed in the least.


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

Living in the Southwest in area nationally famous for it's regional cuisine, I certainly hope this place is as good as it sounds; but LA PINATA, please! That was about as "authentic" as promises from politicians. Even Taco Bell could have given THAT place a run for it's money. Everything was drenched in so much cheese and sour cream that it must have won an award from Wisconsin! C'mon down to the Southwest and try the many DIFFERENT varieties of food from Mexico. LA PINATA was a best an ordinary version of Tex-Mex. For more variety I suggest La Fiesta Mexicana in Ypsilanti if it's still there.


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 11:08 a.m.

Great food. Nice to have a new lunch spot on the Stadium Blvd. side of town.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 5:01 a.m.

Taco King is new too and I heard they are better. (right across the street)

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

693 S. Maple Road, Ann Arbor

Chip Reed

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 10:43 a.m.

When will the branch on Stone School Road open?

Julie Halpert

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

I just checked with the restaurant and was told it's opening sometime in November.


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Good question! There's been a sign in the window "Chela's - Opening Soon" for months.