Popular Prospect Heights Mexican restaurant El Atoradero once again is without its acclaimed chef, Denisse Lina Chavez.
The chef — who first gained accolades for carnitas in the Bronx — says she left the restaurant’s kitchen earlier this year due to disagreements with partners, including restaurateur Noah Arenstein. Late last year, arguments about money arose when the partners told her that they could no longer afford the vegetables and meats that she wanted, she says. Chavez is now waiting for the partners to buy her out of her stake.
Arenstein responded that Chavez left “for a number of reasons, including ongoing health concerns.” “I believe the decision is best for everyone, and we look forward to a new chapter. I wish Chef the best of luck in her future endeavors,” he writes.
It’s a loss for several different popular restaurants. Besides the flagship restaurant at 706 Washington Ave., she also created the menu for the the next-door tequila bar Madre Mezcaleria and the Taqueria El Atoradero at Gowanus bar Parklife. Arenstein and other business partners originally opened El Atoradero specifically because of Chavez, whose stellar Bronx taco shop Carnitas El Atoradero shuttered after a rent hike.
The resulting jump to Brooklyn was a critical hit, too: Since El Atoradero opened in Brooklyn in 2015, the chef’s deft hand at carnitas, albondigas enchipotladas, and chilaquiles earned the restaurant three stars from Eater critic Robert Sietsema. It has also landed on best Mexican restaurant lists and has had a spot on the Eater 38.
Chavez previously stepped away from the restaurants in late 2016 due to a health issue and then returned, but now, she says the departure is final. She’s hoping instead to open another restaurant with her son. “I will do something on my own,” Chavez says. “No more partners.”
Update: This post has been updated to add Arenstein’s statement.