Mexican fare to make Elm St. debut



Hungry Yalies can say adios to late-night burrito cravings.

Elm Street’s long-awaited burrito joint, MexiCali Grille, will serve customers for the first time today.

Owned by Yale alumni Than Merrill ’01 and Peter Mazza ’01 and local restaurateur Charles Hague, MexiCali Grille offers patrons fast, inexpensive Mexican cuisine.

“We felt that there was a real need for this, and that this would be something the students would really enjoy,” Mazza said.

Originally scheduled to open on New Year’s Day but postponed because of construction delays, the restaurant will keep its doors open for limited hours today and will continue to operate on a reduced schedule next week. The grand opening will be held this Friday, manager Juliet Desmond said.

Once MexiCali switches to its official hours, it will be open until 1 a.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 2 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“Whenever the bars close, we’re open an hour later,” Merrill said.

The menu includes Mexican staples — burritos, tacos, quesadillas and salads. Prices range from $1.95 for a chicken taco to $6.95 for the “El Gordo” — two tortillas “rolled into one big @$$ burrito,” according to the menu. Salsa and guacamole will be made fresh in the restaurant’s back kitchen, Merrill said.

In addition to limited seating, MexiCali Grille will offer take-out, delivery and catering services.

Mazza and Merrill originally came up with the idea for a late-night Mexican restaurant when they were Yale undergraduates living just a block from MexiCali’s current location next to Ivy Noodle, at the corner of Elm and Park Streets.

“We were obviously financially strapped students, so we couldn’t do anything about [our idea],” Mazza said.

One year after graduation, Mazza and Merrill partnered with Hague, owner of Aunt Chilada’s Mexican restaurant in Hamden, and persuaded University Properties — the group responsible for attracting businesses to campus — to lease the store to them.

Merrill said the store, which was previously occupied by a travel agency, required a lot of work before it could be turned into a Mexican restaurant. They decided to model the restaurant after Mexican quick-serve restaurants in California and the Southwest, Merrill said.

“The fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry is Mexican quick-serve,” Mazza said.

The renovated restaurant includes seating for about 40 people, Merrill said, and features an open grill area. Outdoor seating will also be available during warmer weather. Mazza said the restaurant will be decorated with artwork from local schools on a rotating schedule.

“I’m absolutely pleased with the outcome,” said Andrea Pizziconi ’01, a University Properties development associate. “I knew they would have a great design.”

Hague said he is also happy with the outcome.

“This is much more quick [than Aunt Chilada’s], but still the same high quality,” he said.

Merrill said even neighboring restaurant Ivy Noodle’s owner is looking forward to MexiCali’s opening.

“[The owner] is happy we’re bringing business to this corner, and we’ll help each other out,” Merrill said. “We even talked about doing a joint delivery system.”

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