even though it's our favorite mexican in town, we've somehow not yet written about chava's. they've got the freshest, most delicious homemade salsa, the guacamole can't be beat (those of you chanting "nachomama's" might as well be asking "what's guac?"), and how can you go wrong with a selection of fresh fruit margaritas? you can't. duh.
the rustic ceiling tiles, bright glass mosaic lamps, swiveling twin fans, and terracotta tiles really make this place feel authentic without trying too hard. you may think sombreros and faux greenery are borderline hokey, but they've really struck a comfortable balance here: it's just festive enough without being cheesy. the building itself is quite beautiful and inviting from the outside, and its proximity to other soulard attractions like the market really make it a prime location. sitting outside really makes you feel like part of the neighborhood, and they even welcome your canine amigos, too.
we've had some great servers here, and although a large staff can sometimes mean that tables get overlooked in the chaos, chava's staff are very friendly, observant, and efficient. it's not unusual to have three different people bring us our food. we've found that besides signifying a less personal experience, it just means that when we're out of chips and salsa, they're on it. we may not feel lavished by anyone's attention, but we're there for the food, after all.
we have usuals when we come here. we almost always get an order of the guacamole to start, because the housemade chips (cooked in a veg-friendly fryer, hooray!) and salsa are delicious, but without their guac, it's a little like having apple pie without the a la mode.
then, we order a vegetarian quesadilla for clark and the vegetarian fajitas for lois. the quesadilla is unique in its vegetable quotient, including not-often- seen ingredients like squash, zucchini, baby carrots, and baby corn. we were skeptical the first time, but it only took a couple bites for it to change how we looked at everyone else's vegetarian quesadillas. we actually feel satisfied and relatively guiltless after eating here--no small thing, as we usually just see bell peppers and handfuls of cheese at other mexican joints. and don't get us wrong, you'll get handfuls of cheese here, too, but chava's just makes sure that there's some actual substance in these quesadillas for the cheese to melt over. who would have thought you could have all the gobs of cheese you crave and feel pretty healthy at the same time?
the serving size of the fajitas is pretty generous, so be prepared to take some home. the vegetables are seasoned lightly enough to be just that much more tasty without overpowering the natural flavors there, and we've never seen them overcooked. the tortillas served on the side are soft and warm, but lois usually finds that the veg medley, guac, and cheese on this happy platter don't require actually being made into fajitas to be satisfying. maybe that's just her impatience--who could wait two more minutes to assemble the food when it's just as good as it is? however you like your fajitas, your tastebuds and your belly will be completely satisfecho.
we do also recommend building your own burrito (the guajillo salsa is great with the veg medley). while these are pretty much the only vegetarian options here, we don't find ourselves missing anything else. with the historic soulard market just a half mile away, this is the perfect spot to fill up for lunch after you've whetted your appetite browsing produce and spices.
vegetarian-friendly score:b (because the rice and beans aren't always vegetarian--we've heard conflicting things from different staff, so we just avoid them)