Tastemaking at La Comida Loca

A welcome wave of Latin-inspired restaurants are up and running in the Hub. But not all get the spice just right.
Photograph by Michael Piazza

Photograph by Michael Piazza

Yes, Boston has a handful of taquerias and bars that can sling a fair margarita. But with all due respect, some of these culinary tires are a little worn. We’ve been itching for a real fiesta — one in which there’s an understanding of flavor and tradition as well as of the culture behind the food. This spring, the city is starting to deliver with a number of promising new eateries.

The least authentic of the new crop might just be our favorite. Michael Schlow, an acclaimed chef who knows regional cooking, is conjuring up pan-Latin fare at his latest endeavor, Tico. Edamame tacos — which feature crispy, falafel-like dumplings with tomatillos and crunchy cucumber — are the first clue that he isn’t going traditional. Rather, says Schlow, Tico is “about the bright, spicy, sexy, kick-ass flavors I crave.” Ersatz or the real deal, his shrimp with toasted vermicelli and local shellfish is reminiscent of some of the tastiest Spanish fideos we’ve ever had.

Photograph by Michael Piazza

Photograph by Michael Piazza

The Boston folks behind Lolita have tasked chef Brian Roche (formerly of La Verdad) with dreaming up clever interpretations of classics. It works, but not always; frankly, there’s enough tequila that you may not notice the bumps. Stick with tacos filled with slow-cooked brisket or crispy shrimp and mango slaw.

Then there’s Papagayo. Operated by the team that gave us Scollay Square, Max & Dylan’s, and Tavern on the Water — all a step above chain-restaurant dining — this place features “south of the border” décor that’s friendly and vibrant, but the waitstaff is harried and the food dull. The salty guacamole (made by an avocado “sommelier,” who hand-mixes it a batch at a time) and runny refried beans reveal that better kitchen focus will be required before this fun place becomes a spot to actually grab a decent meal.

Meanwhile, hold on to your sombrero: More joints have just opened. At Faneuil Hall there’s the watering-hole-meets-regional-Mexican-joint Mija Cantina and Tequila Bar. El Centro debuts in the South End this month. And we have high hopes for Temazcal Tequila Cantina, which has chef Todd Hall at the stove whipping up dishes such as roast suckling pig. We’re guessing the wicked view of Boston Harbor and a 300-bottle tequila list won’t hurt business any, either.


Restaurant Information
> Tico, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-351-0400, ticorestaurant.com 
> Lolita, 271 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-369-5609, lolitaboston.com  
> Papagayo, 283 Summer St., Boston, 617-423-1000, papagayoboston.com 
> Mija Cantina and Tequila Bar, One Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, 857-284-7382, mijaboston.com    http://www.mijaboston.com/
> El Centro debuts in the South End this month
> Temazcal Tequila Cantina, 250 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-439-3502, temazcalcantina.com