Small menu allows this East End restaurant to focus on the details
The beauty of Chilaca Mexican Grill is in its simplicity and attention to food, rather than the ambience. The small restaurant opened in an island strip center in 2016, but already has a comfortable, lived-in feel and a following.
Some restaurants collapse under the weight of an overly ambitious menu, but this East End eatery is in no such danger.
The restaurant, where patrons order at a walk-up counter, serves just a few items, but serves them well. You have your choice of burritos, burrito bowls, salads and tacos and a few accessories. Nothing more.
Chilaca provides food fast. The walk-up-order arrangement evokes a food truck experience under a ceiling. But this isn’t fast food. We all walked away satisfied we had eaten a fresh, home-style meal.
Our party of three on a December weekday was in search of authentic, tasty tacos served in an efficient way to get us back to work on time. Chilaca didn’t disappoint. Two of us opted for the steak tacos. The third tried the chicken tacos.
The steak was nicely marinated and spiced, as was the chicken. The meat in both cases was perfectly tender. I can’t help but judge a taco by its tortilla. Chilaca’s flour variety was thick enough to hold a taco together well, but light enough to not overpower the flavors. Rice at Tex-Mex restaurants rarely gets attention, but Chilaca’s cilantro-lime rice was an ideal complement to the meal. Our only complaint about the rice? There wasn’t more of it.
Brothers Haris, Hashim, Sammy and Waris Mustafa are the owners of Chilaca Mexican Grill. We caught up with Waris Mustafa to learn more about the restaurant:
How would you describe the atmosphere of your restaurant?
Casual and very island centric.
What makes it unique?
We are the first to use chilaca peppers here on the island and beyond, as I have been told by Houston Avocado Co. — a produce company. Chilaca pepper is very unique and has a great flavor with a very acceptable portion of hotness.
What was your inspiration for creating Chilaca?
I have always thought that there weren’t enough fresh and healthy meal choices on the island, and that led me to create Chilaca’s menu. The idea is to think about what’s most important to customers these days and the answer is simple: Customers want healthy, fresh and affordable choices. That’s exactly what Chilaca Mexican Grill offers.
How did you choose the name?
I was inspired by similar concept restaurants and wanted to name it after an ingredient that is unique and can be incorporated into our entire menu, and that brought me to chilaca peppers. Chilaca peppers are not available in supermarkets and are only delivered to us on the island.
Personally, what’s your favorite dish?
Our Chilaca steak is the best, probably the best you will have without going to a fine-dining restaurant.
What has surprised you about operating a restaurant?
Customer reviews. People take those reviews way too seriously and sometimes forget that small businesses are run by folks just like them and angry reviews can hurt businesses. We take those reviews seriously, but reviews remain for months and months, while the issue was resolved the same day.
Chilaca Mexican Grill
708 Holiday Drive, Galveston