Perhaps it’s the intrinsic party-like atmosphere, the refreshing cold beers and high octane spirits, or the simple yet characteristic deliciousness of the food. Once you have it, craving Mexican food is a habitual ritual that isn’t so easy to break.
Having travelled to Mexico before, owners John and Lani Elsley were inspired to open up El’ Chapos, just a few doors down from their other restaurant /bar, The Whistler, on High Street, Maitland. Presumably named after the biggest drug lord of all time, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, aka ‘Shorty’ – the US federal government considered Guzman (not Gomez) to be the most ruthless, dangerous and feared man on the planet – El’ Chapos of Maitland is an obvious ode to the good times we can all share when Mexican inspired food and fare is on the menu.
The decor downstairs is simple, light and fun. The walls are washed white and skirted by a band of teal blue. All the usual, culturally iconic motifs are here; sombreros, cactus, pinatas, dia de los Muertos figurines.
Upstairs, things get a little more formal and provincial with dusky colours, fairy lights and high pressed ceilings. Both rooms buzz with Friday night, post-work-week revellers letting off steam with legally obtainable and heavily taxed drugs, like cold Coronas ($8), Pacifico’s, and Dos Equis ($8.50), wines from South Australia and Victoria, some from New Zealand and some from Spain ($7.70-$46), but none from the Hunter Valley. Cocktails come in to play a little later; Magaritas, Palomas ($16-$18), while the hard stuff, in the form of tequilas and mezcals ($9-$30) land on crumb laden tables, even later still.
By day or by night, El’ Chapos food menu is decent enough to satisfy any craving you might develop while exploring The Levee’s shopping and dining precinct.
Start with a basket of tortilla chips and guac, or maybe a basket of jalapeno poppers; stuffed with cheese, creamed corn and spice, and then deep-fried to create crispy, salty, not too hot pequeno bocado sabrosos.
Gene Autry would be excited to bite down on any one of El’ Chapos tacos. There’s the softness of the pulled pork or beef brisket; indeed, either one would be a welcome sight after a long day in the saddle, particularly as they’re laden with all the squishy brown onions, pliant black beans, creamy crema, soft guac, or yielding bits of pico de gallo you could dream of.
In the evenings – during date night or with a fancy group of friends – you might consider the feasting fiesta menu offered by El’ Chapos and imaginatively titled, Just Feed Me. From just $30 a person (minimum two), you’ll get a parade of chips and guacamole, grilled corn, six mixed tacos, uno quesadilla and sweet and crispy churros for dessert.
The burritos are a good way to mata el hambre, even when shared between two people. All the hits are present and accounted for; pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, fish, and frijoles for those of us keen beans not wanting to consume the flesh of any beast from either the land or sea; i.e. vegetarian options are available.
The Elsleys make a mean cartel, with restaurants and bars spread around Newcastle and Maitland; including craft beer hangout The Blind Monk, the ex-Bacchus, art-deco spectacle of Babylon in Newcastle, plus The Whistler and El’ Chapos in Maitland. The beers are cold and foreign (como el vino), the cocktails are crafted with the same amount of care as a Whistler coffee, while El’ Chapos’ food is un asunto suave; as fresh and authentic as any accountant would allow.
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