Mexican Cuisine by the People, for the People
Habanero Mexican Cuisine represents the transformation happening in Mott Haven. In the summer of 2016 Victor Calixto, a custom woodworker in the neighborhood walked by a newly vacant spot on the corner of E 134th Street and Lincoln Avenue. That same day Mr. Calixto and his family embarked on a mission to open an affordable Mexican restaurant for local workers, like himself.
A year later, on July 4th 2017, Habanero opened its doors creating a welcoming and open atmosphere for all of its customers and the Mott Haven neighborhood.
“The inspiration was a shared love of food,” says Laura Calixto, one of Mr. Calixto’s daughters, who helps operate the family-run restaurant. “A lot of the times Mexican food gets distorted,” she explains “Some people make it too traditional to the point where it’s boring. Other people try to be too innovative to the point where it’s taken completely out of context. So, we wanted to find that middle ground where it’s still traditional.”
Daniel Aguilar, Mr. Calixto’s son-in-law and Laura’s brother-in-law, achieves that balance between traditional and modern as the head chef of the restaurant. He’s in charge of all the recipes on their expansive menu. It was important to collaborate within the family, explains Sonia Aguilar, Calixto’s daughter and Aguilar’s wife, “because we have experiences where we go to a Mexican restaurant and you don’t see a Mexican eating there.”
Habanero is full of locals, Mexican and others alike—Aguilar caters his cuisine to both. He brought out some guacamole served with plantain chips instead of the traditional tortilla kind, his inspiration for his recipes come from his experience as a chef in Caribbean Latino restaurants and integrating those flavors to appeal to the diverse neighborhood.
Now, three months later, customers rave about Habanero’s hospitality. It was important for the Calixto family to create a comfortable space for all customers to feel at home. “The community has been reacting well,” says Sonia, “we have customers from construction sites, from the Clocktower. We see people from anywhere, from different backgrounds, and that makes us really happy.”
The restaurant recently catered the opening night of Bronx Native’s pop-up shop, a local fashion label highlighting the Bronx. The family expects to create more relationships on October 22 at Rocking the Bridge, a community block party under the Third Avenue Bridge.
“We find that it’s good to know our neighbors and introduce ourselves,” says Sonia. “We want the community to know we’re here not just to do business but support the community.”