Chillin’ at Chelino’s 

This is the most recent addition to the locally based Chelino’s chain. Diners were mostly groups of four to six men who filled the tables in the simple, cheerful dining room while inhaling the food from the kitchen. There was no way they were leaving the least bit hungry.

The Chelino’s menu takes a bit of studying before ordering, but most of us have our favorites, and it is easy to zero in on them. 

So with our forks poised, server Esperanza Sanchez brought us complimentary chips, salsa good enough to be eaten with a spoon and cheese sauce, along with corn and flour tortillas. We ordered three scoops of so-healthy guacamole ($5.99), which is made fresh all day long. It came on a bed of crisp lettuce, garnished with a slice of tomato.

Then we shared the botana ($7.99), a pleasurable plate holding grilled onions, tomatoes, Mexican potatoes and sliced avocados, along with flavorful fried jalapeños that set our tongues tingling. Those green jalapeño peppers are incidentally named after Xalapa, the capital city of the state of Veracruz, Mexico.

Other starters range from five versions of nachos ($6.99 to $9.99) — including a deluxe, fiesta, grande, bean and a cheese — and a plato fiesta ($7.99) that could easily make a whole meal.

I chose my entrée under the fiesta dinners section of the large menu, and it was the chicken and rice dinner ($10.99). The 5-ounce tender and tasty chicken breast was grilled and topped with melted Jack and Cheddar cheeses on top, and came with rice, refried beans, pico de gallo and guacamole. I requested the well-seasoned borracho beans instead of refried beans, and it was done with a smile.

Our other menu item was topshelf! We were wowed by the Free Willy ($13.99, with lots of bang for the buck). It’s a whole catfish grilled with its head on, cheeks intact. While it was being cooked, our server popped out a few times to beg for more time. It arrived shortly, with the addition of sliced avocado and Mexican potatoes also worthy of attention.

We were wowed by the Free Willy, a whole catfish grilled with its head on.

For dessert, we had a slice of its
awesome flan ($2.75) and churros ($1.95) done in the form of triangles,
made from sweet dough that had been fried and then sprinkled with
confectioners’ sugar.

with familiar south-ofthe-border menu items, Chelino’s also features a
ranchero steak and shrimp dinner ($13.99) cooked with onions, tomatoes
and bell peppers served on a sizzling skillet. The excellent fish tacos
($11.99) are done with catfish grilled in spices and garlic with grilled
fresh vegetables. The nifty shrimp cocktail ($10.99) is presented in a
large, chilled goblet with V8 juice, Tabasco, diced avocado, diced
onion, cilantro and zinged up with a bit of lime juice.

we observed and scrutinized the place, I thought: Big dreams sure turned
into reality here. The local Chelino’s chain is owned by Marcelino
Garcia and began with just three workers. He got his start, like so many
do, as a dishwasher at age 16, then a busboy and then a fry cook. In
the late 1980s, he opened his own place, which has grown to a dozen

50th street version is owned by Marcelino’s brother, Armando. Armando’s
son, Armando Jr., is the chef, and his brother, Jonathan, is a waiter.
Armando Jr. started cooking when he was just 8 years old.

far as the reviewed meal, we could not clean our plates, but that’s the
thing with familyowned restaurants: You feel pretty guilty if you don’t,
and they want to know why. Filled white boxes went home with us.

Photo by Mark Hancock

Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive
aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or
service when appropriate.

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Carol Smaglinski

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