Viva Mexico, and Zocalo!

1220887473At Chowder, our eating schedules leave us little time for serendipity. With events and openings every week, there’s not much opportunity to stumble into the city’s lesser-known gems.

Last week, though, I headed over to Brookline’s much-anticipated Roadhouse BBQ for an early look; it was supposed to be open by Wednesday. Greeted by a closed door (and a cheery sign saying they’d be open on Monday), I had to come up with Plan B.

So, I wandered into Zocalo Cocina Mexicana on Commonwealth Ave., a smallish Mexican joint with a great pedigree. (Like Zocalo in Arlington, it’s run by Ricardo Ramos, who also co-owns Ole Mexican Grill in Cambridge.) And with that move, I came one step closer to finding my holy grail: Tasty, affordable Mexican food in a slightly dressed-up but still neighborhood-y setting.

As a native Californian, I grew up with this kind of restaurant, but it’s practically nonexistent in New England. By and large, Bostonians have to choose between taquerias (Anna’s, Olecito) and more upscale spots (Ole); there’s a dearth of options in between. Well, there’s La Verdad, but I ain’t braving Lansdowne Street on game nights.

Zocalo’s food is both authentic and fresh, influenced by the traditional food of Oaxaca and Veracruz. The cochinita pibil, a braised pork dish tinged with citrus and served with a smoky chipotle sauce, was a home run, while the the radish—and red cabbage-strewn fish tacos had just the right tenderness and crunch.

The only drawback? No full liquor license, so no Patron or Herradura to sip with my meal. But Zocalo earns bonus points for the made-to-order guacamole, spiked with herbs, tomatoes, and fresh lime. It’s a far cry from the green goo most places serve, and I’d head back just for that.

And depending on when Roadhouse finally opens, that may be sooner than I’d planned.

Zocalo Cocina Mexicana, 1414 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton, 617-277-5700,