When Ernestina Martinez came to the United States nearly two decades ago, her hope was to create an authentic Mexican restaurant that would continue the legacy of her mother’s recipes, paired with a classic ambience that would encourage her customers to feel at home and simply talk, or “charlar.”
In Spanish, the verb charlar refers to a casual conversation, one with friends or family, and it so happens to be Martinez’s favorite activity.
“I honestly just love to talk,” Ernestina said. “If my husband and I talk to someone, the conversation lasts for hours and I want that same friendliness in the restaurant.”
She and her husband of 18 years, Luis Martinez run the restaurant together. Luis, who is native to Durango, grew up in New Paltz, and the two have three children together.
La Charla will celebreate its one year anniversary on Oct. 29. While the restaurant’s owner Ernestina is glad to have cemented her place on Main Street, she has hopes of engaging more with the SUNY New Paltz student body and gaining further traction.
“At first it was difficult to find our place,” Ernestina said. “People were used to thinking that Mexican food is only rice and beans, but there is such a huge variety, and we had to introduce that authenticity to the town.”
The restaurant participates in “Taco Tuesday,” “Happy Hour” and a 10 percent discount for all students. In the future, they hope to provide interactive ways to encourage more people to have a drink and enjoy the night, such as having a “Latino night,” every month that would make use of the extensive bar and space that could be used as a dance floor.
La Charla’s stylish space draws a more adult clientele, with menu items being a bit pricier than other, smaller Mexican restaurants in town.
“I take pride in the fact that we don’t make Tex-Mex, it is real Mexican food, handmade with fresh ingredients,” Ernestina said. “These are some of my favorite foods to eat and eating them feels like being home.”
For example, tortillas used for tacos are made in the kitchen daily, requiring someone to consistently make them throughout the night. Salsas, lime and lemon mixes for margaritas, and desserts are all done by the kitchen staff.
The menu’s diverse options include enchiladas, tacos made with grasshoppers, beef tongue, nopales (cactus); entrees such as chiles rellenos (poblano pepper stuffed with cheese), traditional salad and soups and meat options that could include duck, pork, steak or chicken.
From Oaxaca, Mexico, Martinez’s pride in her culture and hometown has not only been displayed through her menu, but it has also translated into an aesthetically pleasing restaurant which features decor from Mexico. This includes the colorful baroque tiles or Oaxacan folk art sculptures called “alebrijes,” featuring a wide variety of real and mythical creatures. They are all hand carved and painted to perfection.
“So far, I’m happy with the way things are going. We now have regulars and if my customers are happy so am I,” Ernestina said. “New Paltz has been good to us, and hopefully one day I can have more locations.”
La Charla opens for dinner at 5 p.m., and at 9 a.m. on weekends for brunch. For reservations, call 845-633-8276. For more information, visit lacharlarestaurant.com or their Facebook page, “La Charla Mexican Restaurant.”