Snobs from Los Angeles or Austin may disagree, but Boston’s Mexican food scene is on fire–thanks to classic and adventurous spots serving everything from grilled ox-tongue quesadilla, to achiote-roasted salmon. You just have to know where to look. Here are our favorites—perfect for Cinco de Mayo, or any night of the week.
Though it’s been around for 45-plus years, this Back Bay spot—accessed through an alley entrance—still feels like a hidden gem. You’re here for hearty entrees, like smoky chipotle and orange-marinated pork tenderloin, broiled stuffed shrimp with funky huitlacoche sauce—and a margarita, of course.
30 Gloucester St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-536-4341, casaromero.com.
It’s a testament to the quality of this Mexican street-food spot that it has grown to five locations (and counting) just four years after it debuted in Jamaica Plain. Try the soft and savory beef lengua tacos, or picante chicken tinga; enchiladas drenched in fresh salsa verde; and a refreshing, house-made agua fresca.
224 Amory St., 617-522-6000; 658 Centre St., 617-522-6000, Jamaica Plain; 1482A Tremont St., Mission Hill, Roxbury, 617-238-5437; 275 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, 857-350-3292; The Street, 33 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill, 617-608-3356, chilacates.mx.
The Sonoran chef behind this South End-born favorite knows real carne asada. The tender beef is served a varieties of ways, always with fresh accompaniments, like roasted tomato salsa. Chef-owner Allen Rodriguez has since expanded his homestyle fare with locations in Brookline, Belmont, and most recently, Dedham Square.
472 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-262-5708; 236 Washington St., Brookline Village, 617-232 4200; 66 Leonard St., Belmont, 617-484-1515; 338 Washington St., Dedham, 781-461-6177; elcentroinboston.com.
El Pelon Taquería
There’s a reason that crowds still line up at this pair of Mexican spots in Fenway and Brighton: Loaded Caramelos tacos (tender skirt steak with an ample dollop of guacamole) are a must-order, though Momofuku chef David Chang is partial to a burrito.
92 Peterborough St., Boston, 617-262-9090, 2197 Comm Ave., Brighton, 617-779-9090, elpelon.com.
Jose’s Mexican Restaurant
The Central Mexican cuisine at this vibrantly old-school spot truly satisfies, especially the balanced and spicy enmoladas (chicken mole). But we keep coming back for the huge and tasty margaritas.
131 Sherman St., Cambridge, 617-354-0335, josesmex.com.
Lone Star Taco Bar
Deep Ellum owners Max Toste and Aaron Sanders created the Southern California-Texas-Mexican street food spot they wished to see in Boston. With Dallas spicy beef, smoky brisket barbacoa, jalapeño corn cakes, and house-made Mexican-style sausages, Allston and Cambridge are better for it.
479 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-782-TACO, 635 Cambridge St., East Cambridge, 857-285-6179, lonestar-boston.com.
The Painted Burro
Chef Joe Cassinelli’s take on Mexican food is a little out of the ordinary: You might spot garlic mojo- and avocado-doused street corn, or charred octopus tacos with toasted almond mole. In Brookline and the South End, the sibling Burro Bar has laid-back bocadillas (small bites), more queso fundido options, and new ceviches.
Chef-owner Lorenzo Reyes toiled in kitchens across the city for more than 20 years before opening his own restaurant in 2014. The family-run spot is cheap, friendly, fresh, and authentic. Try the pozole, the house molcajete, a mix of roasted beef, chicken, and shrimp with Oaxacan cactus; or just stick with a hefty taco trio in delicious house-made tortillas.
99 Broadway, , 617-776-1200, rinconmexicanosomerville.com.
Giant burritos are the reason the line is always so long at this Financial District lunch spot. We’re partial to the fresh shrimp. Guacamole comes standard, but pro tip: Ask for a drizzle of jalapeño ranch, too. The food truck company recently opened a second brick-and-mortar at Assembly Row, which also offers beer and wine.
2 Oliver St., Boston, 475 Revolution Dr., Somerville, sabrosotaqueria.com.
Taco Loco Mexican Grill
It’s been a counter-service go-to for more than two decades, thanks to right-priced delights like over-stuffed burritos, cheesy and fried flautas, perfectly chewy papusas, and chicken that is tender and juicy, no matter how it’s served.
44 Broadway, East Somerville, 617-625-3830, Facebook.
Taqueria El Amigo
This tiny spot is way off the beaten path, even for Waltham. But fruity al pastor pork tacos with arbol chili salsa—four come per order!—are worth the trek. There’s a surprisingly deeply-flavored cheese quesadilla, less-seen proteins like rich beef cheek, and chunky, fresh guacamole, too. Road trip incentive: This (previously cash-only) hidden gem now accepts plastic payment.
196 Willow St., Waltham, 781-642-7410.
Marinated carnitas tacos are a must at this low-frills Eastie mainstay, but don’t overlook traditional comforts, like the pozole rojo, a porky stew with hominy and vibrant red chilis.
293 Bennington St., East Boston, 617-567-6367, Facebook.
There are mouth-watering tacos, tostadas, tamales, and other antojitos on the menu at this growing food truck and takeout empire, but the specialty is loaded tortas. Choriqueso, with Mexican sausage and gooey Oaxacan cheese; pescado; and pollo empanizado (fried chicken) are all unique delights. The sandwiches come on fresh telera bread with beans, avocado, and a slick of chipotle mayo. Looking for a more formal dining experience? Tenoch owners Alvaro and Andres Sandoval are opening a sit-down restaurant and tequila bar in Medford, called El Tacuba.
24 Riverside Ave., Medford, 781-395-2221, 382 Highland Ave., Davis Square, Somerville 617-764-1906, 3 Lewis St., North End, Boston, 617-248-9537, tenochmexican.com.
Tu y Yo
This longstanding Somerville spot is not your average taco joint—though they do offer an authentic grasshopper version. Try the camaron con pulpo (shrimp with octopus) with a smoky, garlicky mojillo sauce.
858 Broadway, Somerville, 617-623-5411, Facebook.
Villa Mexico Cafe
Mexico City-style grilled burritos, unique black salsa, and house-made sweets (including free cookies on Fridays!) are great. But proprietor Julie King, aka Momma King, who first opened her homestyle takeout spot nearly 20 years ago in Woburn—and once operated it out of a Beacon Hill gas station—is a friendly professional who makes dining here a true joy.
121 Water St., Boston, 617-957-0725, villamexicocafe.us.
This post has been updated in May 2019.
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