Capital Cuisine

La Chilanga brings authentic Mexican cuisine— and entertainment—to the New Orleans area.

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Photo by Jose Garcia

Leslie and Israel Curiel dreamed of opening a Mexican restaurant for many years, but the road wasn’t always easy. They started their journey in 2006 working 12-hour shifts at Leslie’s mother’s Chilangos Taco Truck. The working conditions were hot, and they found it challenging to introduce customers to authentic Mexican tacos.

However, Leslie and Israel were determined to bring the tastes—along with the accompanying merriment—of Mexico City to New Orleans. They opened Chilangos Taqueria in 2008, and then later Chilangos Seafood, before finally opening La Chilanga in April 2019. “La Chilanga is a remix of the Chilangos, where we apply what we learned in past experiences,” Leslie says.

In the beginning, the Curiels found it difficult to be an Hispanic-owned business in New Orleans. However, they have found a lot of support over the years by participating in the Hispanic Chamber’s networking and annual events, including the Dia de los Muertos Festival, of which both La Chilanga and Chilangos Seafood have been a part.

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“There was not help at the start,” Leslie says. “But there were a lot of people in the city fighting for our rights. New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, and the city of Kenner, are now making us feel at home. And they are bringing us new tools to help us operate better and offer better service. The Hispanic Chamber and El Centro have helped us and given us tools to learn the city better. Every year has different challenges: new laws; new locations; new distributors. When we started working, we were teenagers. The dream to become successful and bring jobs to people is coming true.”

While they are always looking for new offerings from Mexico City to add to the menu, there are several standout dishes that make La Chilanga unique. “If you want something different where you can amaze your date, ask for the Molcajete,” Leslie says. “It has a boiling sauce with a perfectly cooked fajita, shrimp kabobs and melted cheese.” Every Sunday, the menu includes hot and fresh menudo. And the pozole is served in a Mexican pot that almost transports the diner to Mexico City. Some of the most popular drinks include the Tamarindo, the Mango Michelada and the Jarritos Loco.

Not only is the food authentic, but also the jovial atmosphere. “Like in Mexico, we celebrate our birthdays with tequila and some funny hats or masks,” Leslie says. “We are really noisy, so we add matracas to the party. Our taco Tuesday is a joy with DJ Flako playing from 6-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, we have karaoke. We love to see people enjoying themselves and making memories.”

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With the emergence of COVID-19, the Curiels went from seeing their restaurant packed to being completely closed on the Governor’s orders. Once they were able to reopen La Chilanga, the Curiels at first could only offer curbside pickup and delivery. The cost of doing business also went up as ingredients and cleaning products became more expensive.

The Curiels have also had to adapt to new technology and new processes. For example, they started working with Uber Eats and DoorDash for deliveries. They also updated their point of sale system for better operations. Now that inside dining is allowed again, they are making sure to offer customers hand sanitizer and proper spacing for social distancing. They are also ensuring that all staff members wear masks, while also monitoring their health.

“During this time, we all have to adapt—there is no choice,” Leslie says. “We have to survive this crisis. But I’m so grateful with my team and with the customers who never left us behind.”

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La Chilanga (504) 470-2056
3229 Williams Blvd., Kenner, LA

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