Remember El Tepeyac? The restaurant earned such a following in Charlottesville that some were devastated when the chef-favorite restaurant closed its doors in 2015. If you’re among them, consider El Comalito, whose vibe and heartfelt food bring to mind the much-missed El Tepeyac.
The analogy is not perfect. For one, El Tepeyac’s chef was from El Salvador and so, beyond its Mexican dishes, pupusas and other Salvadoran specialties were standouts. El Comalito’s chef, on the other hand, is from Mexico, and so Mexican home cooking shines.
Lucia Ambrosio’s career in the food industry began while working in the fields of South Carolina soon after she came to the U.S. In the brevity of their daily lunch break, she saw an opportunity: cook food to bring to work to sell to her co-workers. It was a win-win. Her peers would get a delicious, homemade lunch without having to go anywhere, while she would make a few extra bucks and savor the pleasure of witnessing people enjoying her cooking. Every day Ambrosio would make two new dishes from scratch, never the same as the day before.
Fast forward two decades, and Ambrosio is serving that same food at her own restaurant. In the interim, she moved to Charlottesville and launched a food truck, El Comalito, which grew so popular that in late 2021 she turned it into a brick and mortar. The space at 905 E Market Street beside a Shell station is ideal, with an unfussy décor that she transformed into a joyous setting with bright colors and pulsing salsa music.
Ambrosio grew up in Veracruz and Puebla, and her food draws on both regions. One standout is enchiladas verdes – shredded chicken wrapped in Ambrosio’s handmade tortillas in a pool of green chile sauce, topped with fresh cheese, and sliced avocado.
Also delicious are crispy, fried empanadas, stuffed with your choice of cheese or chicken.
Other menu highlights include gorditas, tacos, sopes, huaraches, and (acclaimed) tortas, all with a choice of meat, like steak, chicken, tongue, pork, or chorizo sourced locally from Carnicería Vale Meat Truck.
Much like El Tepeyac, El Comalito is a family affair. While Ambrosio cooks, her son Calet and daughter Gisselle preside over the front of the house, where regulars gather, sipping horchata, agua fresca, margaritas, micheladas, and giant mugs of Victoria lager.
El Comalito is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am – 8 pm, and Sunday from 11 am – 4 pm. Closed Mondays. Phone: (434) 227-1936.