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May 18, 2002 08:01 PM

Chow-heaven in East Boston

  • g

There is more to East Boston than Santarpio's and random Italian. We found chow-heaven in East Boston...yeah, I've known that there are Central American taquerias there that I've needed to check out for years, but that just doesn't do the other world, that exists just down the blue-line, justice.

The day began inauspiciously with 3 hounds (9lives, Micheal B, and galleygirl) gathered under the eaves at Maverick Station, comparing raingear...(FWIW, I won, by virtue of my Maine-lobsterman gear, but I was warm AND dry...) Fortified by coffee, we went to meet our next two, Rubee and Ernesto at Topacio Restuarant, 3 blocks away...En route, 9lives played tour-guide, pointing out Rosteria Cancun, where he had seen a huge crowd and luscious roasting chickens several weeks ago...We glanced inside. Whoops!!!! A sign that said "papusas" sucked us in, totally against our will.. Once inside, a friendly woman answered my querulous, "What's a papusa?" with "It's very good!"

Well, that was enough for us.."Three papusas, one queso, two queso and pork".....$1.25 a piece, and we each had a plate containing a hand-formed(we watched), cormeal pancake, tender, but crisp on the outside, with a filling of melting queso-fresca, with or without shredded pork, inside...And a heap of spicy, marinated cabbage and salsa...Squeeze bottle on the counter held hotter sauce....Whoa, papusas; breakfast of champions...We had never HAD papusas, so we don't know if these were exemplary, but if they weren't, we'd like to know what good ones are like!

We quickly caught up with R and E, who were ensconced with chips, (hearty) and salsa, (fresh and tomatoey) at Topacio Restuarant, 120 Meridian St...Also, glasses of mango drinks..(the other hounds will have to chime in here...) We ordered the much-heralded Sopa de Mariscos. At $14, a huge bowl of tomatoey, buttery broth, thickened with peppers, onion, lime, the essence and entrails of various fish, and, we are quessing here, an unidentified potato or yucca meal...The calamari and scallops were perfectly cooked; the scallops had just touched the heat. Shrimp and clams, as well as half a lobster, and half a huge crab. And a pile of Salvadoran-style corn tortillas....Yep, lobster and crab in broth are a pain to eat, but 9L and I made the sacrifice, to slow down the eating....Luckily, we were with friends, so we could, ahem, "Be ourselves!" (some innocent bystander doesn't know how close he came to one of my crab shells hitting him on the head...) E had the "Tortas de Milanesa", with marinated beef, which sounds like a sandwich of chiccarones, if they mutated into cow, with lots of fries and salad...(Hounds chime in) We also had cilantro shrimp, sauteed with a sauce of peppers and jalapenos, and TOTALLY infused with fresh cilantro, with a plate of rice.

Our next stop was about a mile away(maybe less, we took a detour), closest to Wood Island Station. We went to Rincon Limono, at 490 Chelsea St, to partake of the ceviche that had been so prominently mentioned in the Globe...They didn't get the half of it..Before I had even removed my layers of raingear, 9L had ordered the ceviche, and a plate of marinated octopus(C.Simon, go there now!).. The octopus arrived on a platter, mixed with the limey marinde, tomatoes, slices of cucumber, and slivered red onion, and surrounded by 6 pickle-spear sized chunks of hot,fried yucca. Heaven! The octopus was sliced into bite-sized coins, and cooked til soft and tender..It was the unheralded winner!

Not to say the ceviche was shabby. It was great!!! Really! Served with lettuce, and the marinated tomatoes and red onions, there was all kinds of white-fish and shrimp in big chunks, totally sufused with the acid bite of the lime. And boiled potato and sweet potato, and corn....Any of these plates would make a healthy dinner.. But the food we saw go by!!!! Heaping platters of mixed fried seafood, chunks of calamari obvious, topped with a scoop of the marinated vegetables! To me, the sopa de mariscos here looked as inviting as the one we had just eaten; less large crustacean, but a lighter broth (and minus $3...) A plate of pork strips and yuca fritas...The Plato Montanero,(or Mountain Man Plate), which, to be honest, every place served, a huge platter of rice, beans, fried plantain, fried beef, fried pork, eggs, and in some places, papusa con queso...We are all nursing sore necks, pursuant to our vigilant sightseeing. er, scientific research...Rubee had the Chicha Morada, Peruvian Purple Corn Drink, a non-alchoholic beverage reminiscent of sangria, but with a bitter earthiness, and an aftertaste of clove..(They also have beer and wine, and Inca Cola!) We love this place!

We wanted to eat more. We wanted to stop at more places. But the rain was conducive to sitting in the warm, and the places we ate were conducive to real meals. Yeah, you could get snacks,(9L got a taco lengua and a half-chicken for "later") but we basically ate in scrupulously clean holes-in-the-wall..I thought we were going to be grabbing stuff at taco stands,(and there were some, often right next to the larger places we hit) and Rosticeria Cancun was the size of my bathroom...But these were just little, wonderful restuarants; you could bring your mother. In fact, earning his chowhound stripes, his eyes glazed, his stomach full, standing on the T, Micheal B mused, "Rincon Limono would be a really good place for the next chowhound dinner"....

Addendum--- There were more taquerias. There were more panaderias..And truly, as we looked at the menu of the Asian-influenced Pete's Barbeque, the fact that they had grilled catfish, in an Asian marinade, made me swoon....I am truly embarrassed, that as a life-long Bostonian, I have not explored this treasure trove..If you have, don't snicker at me, and if you haven't, there's a whole unexplored chunk-o-town awaiting you!

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  1. Thanks for the great review. Just to add, the 1/2 rostisserie chicken from Rosticceria Cancun made a great dinner..the lengua (beef tongue) taco was ok..I won't run back for it. It was a fun afternoon with a lot of different cuisines available in a small area..bbq, Italian, Mexican, Peruvian, and Salvadorean. I'll be going back to Eastie soon.

    1. Well said GG! And thanks for such a great idea Ninelives. It was a lot of fun, even in the rain. The Sopa de Mariscos was a huge bowl (easily feeds four people) of buttery, rich, sofrito-based broth with color from (we were guessing) saffron or pimento? The variety of seafood for $15.00 was suprising - shrimp, crab, lobster, calamari, scallops, and clams. This is a dish I know I'm going to spend some time in the kitchen trying to recreate. The Milanese Torta (sandwich) would make a great lunch any day - the breading was crisp and the marinated beef pounded thin and tender. The Cilantro Shrimp lived up to its name - the essence of cilantro permeated the sauteed peppers, onions, and shrimp. I also enjoyed the horchata, and the papaya drink.

      And who knew the seafood in East Boston was so great? The seafood ceviche (they have three versions) at Rincon Limeno had all the bright flavors to make us keep eating more, the citrus, red onions, garlic, and cilantro - I, for one, was already stuffed after the first stop, but had to keep eating. The Globe article mentions that this Peruvian ceviche is made with lemon juice and a spicy chili pepper called rocoto. The hands-down favorite of the day, though, was the octopus salad. Tender octopus with all the sunny flavors that make Latin ceviche so addicting. The fried plantains were good, and the chicha morada was very interesting - a sweet, purple corn-based drink with hints of fruit. GG tasted cloves, but I tasted cinnamon. I'll be back to try the papa rellena we saw and that HUGE plate of what can only be described as a "Peruvian fried seafood platter", that everyone seemed to be ordering.

      I have to add how nice everyone was at these mainly Spanish-speaking restaurants. At Topacio, the owner/manager? asked us if we enjoyed everything and how we had heard about the restaurant. GG tried to get away with "Internet" but Ernesto gamely tried to explain the idea of Chowhound in Spanish (thus the quizzical expression on the man's face). At the end of our meal at Rincon, we were asked the same questions and were eagerly handed business cards with a genuine smile. I agree and also nominate this place as a future Chowhound Dinner destination!

      And now that I missed all the taquerias and pupuserias due to the rain, when's the next trip? ;)

      3 Replies
      1. re: Rubee

        Weren't the words "food" and "crazy" involved in Ernesto's explanation of chowhound? (g)

        1. re: galleygirl

          I SWEAR I heard them both say "loco". ;)

        2. re: Rubee

          Just wanted to belatedly thank the other hounds for the excellent Eastie tour. I'm starting to have more cravings for pupusas and ceviche. And as a note to all the hounds who haven't been yet: Eastie is CLOSE! Just a few minutes by T from downtown -- the Rosticeria Cancun where we had the pupusas is literally in view of the Maverick T stop, and the truly fabulous Rincon Limeno, home to the ceviche and octopus (and the as-yet-untried) fried seafood plates, is quite close to the Wood Island stop.