A Chef’s Guide to Mexican Food
“In general, my opinion when it comes to Mexican food in Boston is that it still has a long way to go here compared to other parts of the country,” says La Brasa chef Daniel Bojorquez. The sentiment is not an uncommon one. As good as the restaurant scene is when it comes to, well, just about any other type of cuisine, Boston is still suffering from a dearth of Mexican options.
Bojorquez points to the long bouts of cold weather, which inhibits the growing season for peppers and tomatoes, the two most integral crops in great Mexican food. But more so, it’s “just because of a lack of Mexican immigrants, really,” Bojorquez says. “We fall short compared to Chicago or L.A. or New York, because of the difference in demographics. Even when you go into Rick Bayless’ place in Chicago, which is obviously famous, it’s mostly because he has Mexicans working in the kitchen.”
The good news is that Bojorquez, as well as El Centro chef-owner Allen Rodriguez, have perceived some positive change. With growing interest in Mexican culture and cuisine, the two Sonora, Mexico natives are seeing more incoming talent and better quality at area restaurants.
We asked the two young chefs where they dine when they’re feeling homesick. Here are the cocktails, carne asada, and tortas they seek out when they’re off the clock.
El Centro South End
Bojorquez: “I’ve never actually met the owner Allan [Rodriguez], but at some point I found out that he’s from the same area where I grew up and that he was making real carne asada. Hermosillo is the world capital of carne asada. Visiting El Centro is like going home for me because it’s what I grew up eating. It’s something I can relate to. You really want to use a cut of beef called diesmillo, which has the proper fat versus meat ratio. Allan not only does that, but he has great flour tortillas and accompaniments like cabbage, radishes, pickled red onions, and fresh roasted tomato salsa.”
472 Shawmut Ave., Boston;617-262-5708
Tu Y Yo
Rodriguez: “This Somerville spot has been there for at least 10 years. It’s a tiny place, but food is very, very good. My favorite dish is the Camaron Con Pulpo [shrimp with octopus] with a delicious garlic mojillo sauce. It’s so well done because they don’t let the garlic overpower the dish and it comes with slices of dry pasilla chilies, which gives it a nice smoky flavor.”
858 Broadway, Somerville; 617-623-5411
Jose’s Mexican Restaurant
Bojorquez: “My wife Emily and I used to go here a lot. That’s probably not what you were expecting me to say, but I love that it’s a family-driven business that has embraced its Mexican heritage. It’s one of those places in Boston that’s been there forever and everyone in the Porter Square neighborhood frequents it. The margaritas, pastor tacos, and particularly their mole enchiladas, are all really good. Moles are tough because you have to balance the heat, smokiness, and sweetness. Most moles are way too sweet. With mole you should be able to taste the layers of cinnamon, clove, anise, cocoa, and the heat from all the peppers. Jose’s does a great job of that.”
131 Sherman St., Cambridge; 617-354-0335 or josesmex.com.
Rodriguez: “I really love the decor and design of Temazcal. Of course, if it were up to me I’d put a big mural inside. But seriously, I love the big open area where the dining and bar are connected, the high ceilings, the beautiful chandeliers, and the multi-colored barn board along the walls. Then there’s that awesome patio with a stunning view of the waterfront. It’s definitely a great choice for a summer evening.”
250 Northern Ave., Boston; 617-439-3502 or temazcalcantina.com.
Olé Mexican Grill
Bojorquez: “What’s interesting about this place is that the owner is from the Philippines. I asked him where he learned to cook Mexican food so well, and I think he told me he worked in a hotel in Mexico City before he moved here. I like how they do the table-side guacamole, which is always showy and kind of funny, but it’s also very good. I’ve known the chef for a long time and I think he has to sort of play to the Cambridge market, but he’s very conscious of making great food. The pork belly tacos I had recently were phenomenal.”
11 Springfield St., Cambridge; 617-492-4495 or olerestaurantgroup.com.
Tenoch North End
Bojorquez: “In Mexico, if you go to a taqueria, they typically only do one sort of taco. They make carnitas or fish tacos, and that’s it. That’s what street food is. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see someone operating like Tenoch, which is specializing in tortas. A lot of people who open Mexican restaurants feel like they have to include chimichangas and tamales, or whatever. Most people don’t have the balls to say, ‘fuck that, I’m going to do something riskier.” All their tortas are killer, but especially the choriqueso, which is kind of like a grilled cheese, but with chorizo. They serve there’s with chipotle mayo and refried beans, and it’s so good.”
3 Lewis St., Boston; 617-248-9537 or tenochmexican.com.
Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar
Rodriguez: “The drinks at Lolita are amazing! In addition to the bar, it always has great selection of music playing. It’s kind of like a more casual nightclub, with a few lounges and low tables. The perfect way to start the night is with a spicy cucumber margarita with Don Julio tequila, cucumbers, combier liqueur, and Serrano peppers. After dinner I always order the “Red Lulu” with Cava, peach liqueur, and hibiscus flower nectar.”
271 Dartmouth St., Boston; 617-369-5609 or lolitatequilabars.com.
Bojorquez: “We ate here a lot when we were opening La Brasa. They’re not far up Broadway and their tacos sort of fueled us through the build-out. The lengua tacos are what usually I go for. Because they’re always so busy, you’re almost guaranteed that the food is fresh. That’s really the key to great Mexican food: freshness. They also do a good job with their pupusas, which aren’t Mexican. But that’s the thing about a lot of Mexican food places in Boston, they’re usually run by El Salvadorans or Guatemalans. Most El Salvadorans don’t use enough heat in their food for my taste, but Taco Loco does a great job of incorporating a lot of peppers.”
44 Broadway, Somerville; 617-625-3830 or tacolocomexicangrill.com.
Rodriguez: “Taqueria Jalisco in East Boston is run by the Gonzales family from Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s probably one of the few places left in Boston still run by the owners. When I moved to Boston this was actually the first Mexican place that I went to and I still feel like there’s nothing else quite like it. I love the pozole rojo, a pork and hominy stew made with red chiles. It’s one of the most common dishes in the Jalisco culture. And definitely order the carnitas tacos; the marinated pork they use has such an amazing texture.”
293 Bennington St., East Boston; 617-567-6367.