By Bob Uphues
A Chicago couple who are restaurant veterans have taken the reins at Xelva Mayan Kitchen, the Mexican restaurant at 8819 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield, determined to put the pint-sized eatery on the map.
"We're not going to make big changes," said Karla Marin, who met her husband, Luis Alvarez, while the two were working at a Mexican restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. "What we're trying to do is just improve the concept that was created by the previous owners."
The menu still has an Oaxacan bent – the "chapulines" (grasshopper) tacos are still available – but the couple said that everything except the tortillas is made from scratch now, from the moles to the barbacoa and al pastor to the beer-battered shrimp for the tacos, burritos, quesadillas and cemitas (sandwiches).
"We have better recipes, better ideas and really what Brookfield wants, which is more authentic," Marin said. "People are really tired of places that say they are Mexican but don't want to be authentic. What we want to provide is quality and authenticity and especially create regulars and be part of the community."
In addition, they make a fresh tomatillo salsa and a spicier red salsa from grilled tomatoes and jalapenos. You can also sample their horchata, made daily from scratch from oatmeal and rice and without the use of syrups or artificial sweeteners. There's also a pineapple/cucumber agua fresca made daily.
Another specialty on the menu are the Mexico City-style green chilaquiles, traditionally a breakfast dish of corn totopos served with eggs, queso fresco, avocado, pico de gallo, crema and salsa verde.
That the cuisine of Mexico City seeps into the menu isn't a surprise, given Marin's background. She grew up in Mexico's capital, where her grandmother parlayed a flea market torta stand into a chain of four restaurants.
"I grew up peeling tomatoes and taking stones out of beans," Marin said. "I was little, but it needed to get done because I was there. My grandma really wanted things to be done the right way, and that's how I grew up."
Marin moved to the United States at the age of 14 and got her first job working in a California restaurant.
Since then she has worked in many restaurants, most recently as general manager of the Andersonville restaurant, where Alvarez worked as a chef. They say they are passionate about food and want to create a loyal following in Brookfield.
"When people say something like, 'We never tasted anything like that before,' we feel proud," Alvarez said. "We want to do something better every day."
One thing Marin and Alvarez are working hard to do is bring back customers who were turned off by the prior management's erratic hours of operation. Unexpected closures were a common complaint on social media in recent months after an enthusiastic reception when Xelva first opened under another name in August 2018.
Xelva is open seven days a week. The hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Marin and Alvarez have updated the restaurant's website to reflect menu changes as well as the new hours. They'll soon have WiFi back up and will take phone orders.
"We are really positive about everything and we think that, in time, this is going to be something," Marin said. "People are going to enjoy what we do."
More information can be found at xelvamayankitchen.com.