Authentic Mexican food that brings serious heat, if that’s what you want, can be found at La Chaparrita, a grocery store and restaurant on Red Bank’s West Side with an affectionate slang Spanish name meaning “shorty.”
Lunch at one of the three cozy tables in the Shrewsbury Avenue gem is probably not so different from your mom’s — that is, if your mom has music blaring while she prepares hundreds of tamales just steps away.
This place was in an almost constant state of hustle and bustle when PieHole stopped in this week, with customers walking in to pick up take-out lunches. If you opt to stay put, assume that the table you are sitting at is communal.
Putting away the larger-than-average portions would be an act of overindulgence unless one comes in starving to death. PieHole was a little overwhelmed by the gargantuan sandwich, or torta.
Asked when ordering if we’d like it hot, we established that a little heat would be nice. This should come as a warning as the torta automatically comes with jalapeno peppers.
Served on a soft, spongy white Portuguese roll, the torta is prepared in true Mexican style: smeared on the bottom with refried beans, and layered with a flattened, breaded-and-fried chicken cutlet, slices of avocado, Oaxaca cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayonaise and a spicy slice of grilled poblano pepper. The extra heat was snuck into this fiesta of flavor, but it played well with the fresh, and refreshing, vegetables.
Our order of enchiladas also induced a bit of sweat, thanks to the requested salsa verde, or green sauce. Five corn tortillas wrapped around spicy, shredded chicken came swimming in a dish of tomatillo sauce that didn’t hold back on peppery chiles. Topping the dish off with shredded lettuce, plenty of sliced avocado and crema — a less-tangy version of sour cream— helped to tame the ambrosial but wicked sting.
La Chaparrita, at 185 Shresbury Avenue, is open every day from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.