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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

January 6, 2023

Where Chefs Eat: The Crunkleton’s Richelle Espinosa-Brewer

Rockin’ hearty casual fare is the choice of this executive chef and her DJ husband

By TM Petaccia

Folks in the restaurant industry know good food, so we want to know where they eat when they’re not cooking. In this series, we ask a local chef, bartender, restaurateur, or food artisan to share their favorite restaurants in town and what they order there.

This week, we interviewed Richelle Espinosa-Brewer, aka “Chef Shiki,” executive chef of The Crunkleton, who knows how to pair creative and hearty food with a good cocktail program. When she’s not on the clock, she and her husband, noted Charlotte DJ “DJ Red,” seek a similar style when dining out. “My husband loves food just as much as I do, and we can eat a lot of food,” she says.

Growlers Pourhouse, NoDa
Laid-back pub with a good bar food menu and a wide selection of cocktails and draft beers
Shiki’s order: Raw oysters, roasted oysters, short rib potato skins, reuben sandwich. “This place is my go-to when I get off work early, or have a day off. It’s something about old-school hip hop with the selection of bourbon and whiskey, along with the assortment of oysters. Don’t get me started on how much I love the bartenders there,” Espinosa-Brewer says.

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, Second Ward
Japanese yakiniku (grilled barbecue) where customers share cooked meats over a charcoal grill
Shiki’s order: Meat lovers BBQ course (add shrimp and mushroom ajio, scallion sauce, garlic-herb butter, and spicy miso butter), harami secret pot (with kimchi), Japanese sausage. “This is my favorite place to go to on my day off,” she says. “I wake up starving, and go there so that I can cook all my own food. My husband makes fun of me, because I never turn off the chef in me. My order is the same every time, and yes they look at me funny when I grill my kimchi. Helen, the owner, is such an amazing woman, and always takes time out of her super busy day to say hello to us.”

Tip: “When you order the secret pot, make sure you pour a little beer into the pot after taking the meat out to get all that extra sauce, and pour it on the meat on the grill,” she says.

Jack Beagles, NoDa
Urban tavern with a full bar offering casual American favorites
Shiki’s order: Cajun Wings (all flats) with a side of honey mustard and heavy buffalo sauces and a side of Blue cheese, fried mushrooms with horseradish sauce. “I moved to NoDa because of this bar almost seven years ago. They give me all my fried comfort foods. My order hasn’t changed much over the years,” says Espinosa-Brewer.

Vana, South End
Casual, new American cuisine prepared in a wood-fired kitchen

Chef Shiki highly recommends Vana’s pickled vegetables. Kristen Wile/UP

Shiki’s order: Pickled vegetables, mussels, beef tartare, beef cheeks, lamb neck. “I’ve always loved Bardo (sister restaurant), so when Vana opened up, I was ready to taste all the delicious food,” says Espinosa-Brewer. I love the concept and they execute it so well.”

Vana closed in June 2023.

YUME Ramen Sushi & Bar, Wilmore
Classic and modern Japanese cuisine
Shiki’s order: Hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail jawbone), hamachi ponzu, chu-toro, uni shooter, gyoza, curry don. “I always get the hamachi kama — it’s the best in the town,” Espinosa-Brewer says. “I don’t think you understand how tender and meaty this dish is, with so much flavor. I pair it with a glass of Sapporo or a warmed sake.”

More from this series:

Fin & Fino’s Jonny Cox
Common Market’s Geoff Bragg
Supperland’s Chris Rogienski
Baku and Yama’s Birdie Yang
Nourish and Plant Joy’s Julia Simon

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