Sabina, Boston’s First Mezcaleria, Opens on Newbury Street

Get to know rare varieties of the agave-based liquor mezcal while enjoying grasshopper guacamole, huitlacoche empanadas, and more Mexican cuisine.

A tamale is smothered in a yellow cream sauce and accompanied by a pink cocktail.

Sabina’s corn tamale with black truffle cream. / Courtesy photo

Boston has no shortage of self-described tequila bars, but far fewer local spots showcase the broader category of mezcal—and none, really, to the extent that they’d be dubbed a “mezcaleria.” Until now. From Allan Rodriguez, the restaurateur behind La Neta and El Centro, comes Newbury Street newcomer Sabina Mezcaleria, which debuted in late November. Rodriguez’ goal? To elevate how Bostonians tend to think about Mexican food and drink. He’s doing that by highlighting mezcal, a traditional distilled Mexican liquor made from agave—any agave, of which there are many varieties. (Tequila, on the other hand, can only be made from blue agave. In short, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.)

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Rodriguez’s new spot feels like a swanky, moody cocktail bar, but there’s more to it, with its emphasis on mezcal bringing customers on a path to a wider understanding of Mexican distilling traditions. The sprawling drink list offers classics like the mass-produced Espadin as well as rarer picks made from wild agave plants found across the Oaxacan desert.

A glass holding an orange cocktail has a black salt rim.

Sabina’s Bacanorazo cocktail, featuring bacanora (a Sonoran agave spirit), Ancho Reyes, pamplemousse, tamarind pure, and a splash of grape juice. / Courtesy photo

“I fell in love with mezcal in 2009 because behind the agave plant is a lot of history,” says Rodriguez. “Tequila comes in a lot of different flavors based on whoever makes it and from the barrels it’s held in. The mezcal’s flavors come from the agave plant itself. It’s ancestral.” Opening Sabina is a culmination of Rodriguez making many visits back to his home country and exploring the complex world of agave and mezcal production in Oaxaca, quite the journey from the northern region of Sonora, where he grew up.

A green-yellow cocktail is garnished with sprigs of baby's breath. and reflected in a brass-framed mirror.

Sabina’s Nights in Oaxaca cocktail (reposado mezcal with muddled ginger and basil and lime juice). / Courtesy photo

For beginner mezcal drinkers, Rodriguez recommends first getting to know the flavors of the smokier Espadin variety, which is the only type of agave that allows for the mass-production of mezcal. Then, venturing into Sabina’s rare and silvestre varieties—the latter means wild-grown and foraged rather than cultivated—will show you the plethora of flavors that different types of agave plants create, based on their regionality and traditional distillation methods.

Try the Montelobos Ensamble, which is made with a combination of agave plant varieties rather than just one, for shocking notes of pink pepper and nutmeg. Or the lighter Fidencio Pechuga, whose distillation method includes infusions of Oaxacan tropical fruit and a raw chicken breast being placed on the cap of the still during the distillation process, which is done to soften the intense flavor.

A hand squeezes juice from an orange slice into a pink cocktail.

Sabina’s blood orange martini (vodka, blood orange puree, Grand Marnier, and lime juice). / Courtesy photo

The small-plate food menu is also meant to help customers dig deeper into the meaning of Mexican cuisine, stacked with intricate plates made with oft-overlooked ingredients. Rodriguez and chef Santiago Romo’s goal is to challenge what local diners think of as “traditional,” combining aspects of southern and northern Mexican sauces and dishes.

A hand picks up a shrimp from a plate of three, each dipped in a creamy orange sauce. A bottle of mezcal sits in the background.

Sabina’s camarones roca en chile morita (rock shrimp in a creamy pepper sauce) with mezcal. / Courtesy photo

One less familiar ingredient on the menu is huitlacoche, Mexican corn truffle, says Rodriguez, noting that it’s a rarity in Boston. Here, it can be found inside empanadas with chicharron, beans, and Oaxaca cheese. By serving ingredients like this, “we have literally broken the pattern of Mexican food in Boston,” he says. “We’re starting to change the palates of Bostonians.”

Seafood is central to the menu, a reflection of Rodriguez’ Sonoran culinary background. There’s a blue corn quesadilla stuffed with smoked fish, for instance; grilled octopus served atop an earthy chili pasilla sauce; crispy soft-shell crab tacos; and more.

A square of pork sits on a greenish cream sauce with red onions, sliced radishes, and other garnishes.

Sabina’s cuadrito de lechon, slow-cooked and roasted pork with salsa verde cream and pickled onions. / Courtesy photo

Other options include a guacamole with roasted chipotle grasshoppers that is hard to pass up, as well as standout vegetarian dishes such as crispy, delicate golden squash blossoms with roasted seeds or corn tamal topped with black truffle cream. Both of these meatless options highlight traditional cultural staples without compromising flavor. Finally, don’t leave without trying the showstopping amor canela dessert, a ring-shaped, house-made churro with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche.

Three small crispy tortillas are covered with corn in a creamy sauce, with cotija cheese and avocado.

Sabina’s esquite tostadas with chipotle mayo, cotija cheese, and avocado. / Courtesy photo

As you explore the menu and try your fill of mezcal, the velvety booths and dim lighting may entice you to stay a while longer and sip on other drinks, too. There are fruity cocktails aplenty, like the blood orange martini or a peachy rum and lime libation. The bar is run by Rodriguez’ son, also named Allan Rodriguez, and the team makes all syrups and infusions in-house every day, from a peppery hoja santa syrup to a panocha (pure sugar cane) syrup. The team collaborated on the drinks with a mixologist from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, who specializes in incorporating Mexican herbs into cocktails, matching certain flavors with a mezcal, rum, or gin base.

If you make it to Sabina on a Thursday or Sunday, be prepared to be serenaded by live salsa. And Sabina is just getting started: Rodriguez and Romo have more in mind for their mezcaleria, with specials like pink mole made with beets, a potential jazz brunch menu, and mezcal tasting nights.

A churro twisted into a spiral sits on a white plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, surrounded by a swirl of caramel.

Sabina’s amor canela, a spiral churro with ice cream and dulce de leche. / Courtesy photo

“My job is that when you walk into any of my restaurants, you feel like you’re eating in Mexico,” Rodriguez adds, “and that’s what we’re doing here.”

253 Newbury St., Back Bay, Boston, 857-449-6023,