On Tuesday, New York Times food critic Pete Wells gave Oaxacan restaurant Claro a two-star review. A collaboration between Freek’s Mill owners J.T. Stewart and Chad Shaner and chef T.J. Steele, the Mexican restaurant has turned heads with its tasty moles and goat cheese memelas. Eater also gave Claro a nod in January, giving it three stars for its wood-fired, smoke-infused cuisine.
Claro, located on Third Avenue in Gowanus, Brooklyn, first debuted its tasty take on Oaxacan cuisine in August 2017. Featuring artwork by Oaxacan painter Francisco Toledo, the restaurant is situated in the former space for The Pines, a New American eatery that focused mainly on pasta. For its latest incarnation, the space has been transformed into a Mexican wonderland complete with homemade pottery crafted by Francisco Martínez Alarazón.
The kitchen is helmed by Chef T.J. Steele, who fell in love with Oaxacan cuisine after moving to Oaxaca City in 2002. Adorned with tattoos celebrating tacos and the god of maize, Steele runs the restaurant’s outdoor wood-fired oven, as well as the more conventional gas oven indoors. Under Steele’s guidance, the kitchen churns out complex moles, rich sauces that are traditionally believed to have originated in Oaxaca. All the corn used in Claro’s dishes is from Criollo, Oaxaca and is stoneground in-house by restaurant staff.
Despite the layers of tradition that run through Claro’s cuisine, the menu also includes some modern twists like kale salads and dishes flavored with Jerusalem artichokes. The restaurant offers a wide selection of tortillas and tostadas with tasty plates of lobster chile relleno and goat meat tacos. Traditional offerings like chochoyotes, a type of corn dumpling, are updated with kale and chicken consomé. The restaurant bar sports a collection of cocktails, mezcal and beer, including the ubiquitous aqua fresca, a fruity blended drink popular in Mexico.