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best tacquerias

This is a branch off from the earlier topic on upscale Mexican (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...). As several have pointed out, there is no truly great upscale Mexican food in the Boston area. For my money, the best Mexican food to be had in Boston is at tacqueias, most of which are a good sight cheaper than Tacos el Charro in JP (see 'upscale Mex' posts on that topic). This is the usual response when someone posts asking for Mexican recommendations, so it makes sense to start a dedicated thread on the matter.

Tacos Lupita (which is actually Salvadorean, but the cuisine is similar) is far and away the winner here, and there are several other posts to this effect on the boards.

Boca Grande is cheap and solid if not excellent. I recommend pozole, black bean soup and the pollo al carbon. Their enchiladas are weak.

Tacqueria la Mexicana in Union Square is inconsistent. Several times I have had what my former roommate dubbed 'tuna salad style chicken' tacos, which is disturbing. Other times I have had great food there. The Aguas Frescas are consistently good.

These are generally the places I frequent. I have heard good things about El Pelon's fish tacos (what about their other stuff) and mean to try them. Other than that, any other contenders worthy of mention?

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  1. Try Rosticera Cancun in Maverick Sq.

    Also like the tacos (and their very nice salsas) at El Rancho Grande, also in East Boston, closer to the Wood Island stop.

    2 Replies
    1. re: limster

      Second El Rancho Grande's tacos and salsas - nice family too that runs it. We like the carnitas, birria, and carne asada.

      1. re: limster

        Yes yes yes. Their carnitas is up there with the best I have ever had in Southern California. I really like the joint too, it is about the size of a walk in closet with stools and a small counter ledge on each side. There is no counter just an opening to the tiny tiny kitchen and the smells from that kitchen are orgasmic, I promise you this.

        Tacos Lupita is also seriously good.

        There is another place in Maverick Sq. I forget the name but is is around the corner from the Store 24. It looked like a sit down place and was full of mexicans, which is a good sign in my opinion. Has anyone been there?

      2. Solid thread idea.

        Most familiar with tacos al pastor at Boca Grande. Among the best cheap eats orders in Boston.

        Please no one mention so-and-so has huge, cheap burritos on this thread. Why obscure the delicacies of guac, pico, and salsa with rice and beans? (keep those on the side) It's not terribly difficult to roll up rice and beans in a tortilla.

        Beginning to check out Maria Bonita at Mass Ave and rt 16. Not enough info here at this point.

        3 Replies
        1. re: adams_jo

          I found Maria Bonita to be a bit on the boring/bland side but admit I have only been once.

          1. re: adams_jo

            I tried the tacos al pastor at Boca Grande after reading this board, and found it very greasy (not crispy pork as someone mentioned below, more like dripping all over the plate). Could be a bad day, batch, or serving I guess. I'll try again as there was a good variety of choices. What meal was it that I saw them chopping grilled meat for someone's order?

            1. re: steinpilz

              As far as I can tell, I'm the only person who has used the word "crispy" in relation to tacos al pastor, but I was talking about the ones at Anna's, not Boca. I don't like Boca's nearly as much.

              Be warned that no matter what, tacos al pastor ARE greasy. It's simply the nature of the beast. (Think of the doner at a kebab shop: the meat in tacos al pastor is formed and cooked under the same basic principle, and this kind of spit-roasted pork is both extremely juicy and, yeah, kinda greasy.) But at their best, the ones at Anna's are just as I described: the shards of meat are so smoky and crispy and flavorful that they taste slightly of bacon. The key seems to be when and off what part of the slab the pork is sliced, but since the Anna's I favor is always crazy busy, I never bother to make a special request for the crispy bits.

          2. El Pelon does an excellent job and my 2nd favorite is Anna's.

            1. My far-and-away favorite is Taqueria El Amigo (formerly El Mariachi) in Waltham. Their starring players are the carnitas (rich and porky, and sizzled on the griddle so it has fabulous crispy bits) and the corn tortillas (not homemade, but better than whatever Boca Grande uses). They also excel with small touches like really well soaked onions (to kill the sulfur-y bite and let the sweetness come through), nice fresh salsa, and very friendly service. The chicken is very good too, although I've only had it once or twice (hard to keep me away from the carnitas). It's worth springing for the tacos especiales (four to an order), as they include a wedge of avocado. I don't particularly recommend the lengua, unless you REALLY like getting a slab o' tongue in your taco. Lupita's lengua is much better.

              They also have an excellent torta -- roll is a little doughier (and smaller) than Lupita's, but a close second to the champ.

              Also in Waltham is Taqueria Mexico (very good, but I haven't been since I discovered El Amigo) and Hungry Coyote, which opened more recently and was very good in my one visit there.

              3 Replies
              1. re: MichaelB

                I went to El Amigo Friday based on your and MC's past raves. Excellent carnitas tacos and carnitas torta. I doubt the folks at Lupita are shaking in their boots, but the food was well-prepared and tasted good. The service was very cordial considering I do not think the person at the counter spoke much English. The free chips and homemade salsa are a nice touch. Delicious, somewhat spicy salsa but I think the chips were straight from a bag. Whatever, they're free.

                The giant tank of white stuff appeared to be horchata. Has anyone tried it yet?

                1. re: MichaelB

                  We tried El Amigo on your review and loved it. Really friendly waitress and home cooked authentic food. We had chips from a bag though - not fresh - so that was the only negative...and it would be great if they served beer. Great food though - totally. Loved the mexican "family feud" on the television. I felt like I was in Mexico. We were the only English speaking people there. We'll go back - and soon!

                  1. re: MichaelB

                    I'm a fan of lengua tacos, and find Taqueria La Mexicana's lengua consistently and clearly preferable to Lupita's. TLM's has a richer flavor and is softer; lupita's is more bland and sometimes a little rubbery.

                  2. Taqueria Mexico in Watertown is excellent.

                    I wish I had kept a list of the places I used to visit in East Boston. When I worked out that way, I always got such a charge out of poking around shoddy storefronts looking for lunch. May great meals there...

                    1. My favorite is also Taqueria El Amigo in Waltham, notably for its tacos de cabeza (beef cheek), a sometime special. Anything "especial" (with fresh avocado chunks and lime juice) is also wonderful. I'll echo that rave about the carnitas and the friendly service. They also carry Mexican Coca-Cola, sidra (apple soda), and that other line of candy-colored Mexican sodas that are so good.

                      I'll also second the mention of Taqueria El Rancho Grande in Eastie, a dumpy little storefront with excellent, very fresh-tasting food for short money. The El Rancho platter has three great tacos for $7.50: goat, pork with green chilis, and cabeza. Guacamole is made to order, finely pureed and really, really good.

                      In town, El Pelon does a very nice version of fish tacos, with excellent light frying, about as close as we get to the San Diego ideal in my experience around here.

                      Burrito Express on Bedford St near Downtown Crossing also does very fresh-tasting tacos -- heaping plates at nice prices.

                      Amen to that "tacos trump burritos" notion.

                      1. If you've never ever ever had a fish taco in your life before and therefore you have nothing to stack them up against, the fish taco at El Pelon might be relatively edible. Otherwise, forget it.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                          I can't say I have any kind of authoritative opinion on fish tacos; I've only had a few here and there, mostly in deep Southern California. But your qualifier-free slam of El Pelon makes me curious: What, in your opinion, makes a great fish taco? What makes El Pelon's fall down? Who do you think makes really great ones (not necessarily locally, but anywhere)? Where are the acceptable fish tacos in the Boston area, if anywhere? From someone who sounds like like they know something about fish tacos, I'd welcome some helpful input.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            El Pelon is certainly good for the area and I wouldn't mind eating it once in a while, but to be honest, it's not a destination. To put things in a greater perspective, I wouldn't compare it with an excellent one that I had in SD/La Jolla a few years ago at a stripmail tacqueria a few miles away from UCSD.

                            From my last experience at El Pelon the cabbage slaw was on the limp side, and thus missing that crisp and sharp acidity that's great against something fried. The fish is fine, even if it could use a shade more flavour. Also it's somehow lacking a greasy goodness that I can't put my finger on, maybe it's lard, who knows. And I wouldn't mind a more serious kick to the sauce.

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              So, I want nothing to do with the brewing storm above, but I thought I would put in my two cents. I really shouldn't jump in here, because I don't possess any kind of special knowledge, but here goes:

                              When I had the fish tacos a year ago (never had it again), they were as described, lightly breaded and fried chunks of dense white fish (cod?) in a soft corn tortilla with shredded lettuce. Lime and some pickles were served on the side.

                              Why was I disappointed? Well, the tortillas were kind of soggy (despite the dish having just come out), and were neither warmed, fried, nor toasted. The fish was fried to a nice texture, but there wasn't much flavor to it, and it was actually kind of dry. Lettuce was just lettuce.

                              I think (can't be sure now) there were only two of these, and I even bought a side of black beans. I was still hungry afterwards.

                              So I have never had a fish taco before (I grew up in Arizona), but I was really disappointed. I could sense that something was missing - something creamy/fatty, maybe sour cream or avocado, and something saucy, tangy, and spicy - maybe a salsa?

                              I didn't go back to El Pelon (even though I lived in Fenway) for 6 months because I was so disappointed. When I was dragged back, I had the pork burrito and loved it!

                              So, my criticism of the fish taco is not a general criticism of the place, it's probably generally very good, I was just disappointed by the fish taco.

                              1. re: neointima

                                Yeah, this pretty much nails my feeling too. You're exactly right in thinking that something was missing, because proper fish tacos are served with a sauce that's basically a spicy, citrus-spiked mayo. Cabbage is also preferred over lettuce, for both crunch and flavor.

                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                  I had the fish tacos at El Pelon a few weeks ago and they were served with a creamy, spicy sauce and the cabbage slaw.

                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                    Chris VR: Good to know. Perhaps there have been complaints since the ones I tried. That was some time ago.

                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                      As Chris VR said, for at least the last 5-6 years (since I first tried them), the fish tacos at El Pelon have included the arbol chile mayo, limed onions, and pickled cabbage and cucumbers. I think they're awesome but I've only tried fish tacos in LA (not San Diego) so I don't have tons of experience with them. I do wish they would run the tortillas over a burner for a second to crisp them a little. They also must be eaten fast as they do get soggy.

                                    2. re: neointima

                                      If you ask for spicy at El Pelon, it'll be incredibly spicy. They do an annual pepper-eating contest.

                                      My friends from Mexico say that El Pelon is the best Mexican in Boston, and that it's as good as the place they go in Mexico City when they don't feel like walking all the way to the one they really like.

                                2. oops - edited, and changed to reply above.

                                  1. No love for Ana's Tacqueria? Greasier than most, but i like it. Chile verde quesadilla and tacos al pastor are my favorites.

                                    My other favorite is Tacqueria la Mexicana in Union Sq. I've never been disappointed there, though i'm sorry to hear about the tuna salad experience mentioned above.

                                    Anyone been to Taco Loco on Broadway in east Somerville lately? I used to like them a lot years ago, haven't been since.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: jajjguy

                                      I went to Taco Loco about a year ago and ordered some type of tacos. They were apparently not too memorable as I cannot even recall what I had that day, aside from it being a taco.

                                      1. re: jajjguy

                                        I like Tacqueria la Mexicana's nachos. You wouldn't think that's a destination dish, but they load their fresh chips with carnitas, warmed on the grill, lots of cheese, beans too. Topped with diced white onions that are extremely pungent, in a good way. I have taken these home in the winter to graze on while watching a movie or a game, and they are just great.

                                        If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, but Tacos lupita gets my vote for torta. The Waltham place is best for tacos. And Anna's brings the heat with the chile verde plate. It's seriously good. Now, if you could get it all at one place, THAT would be the perfect joint. For now, you just need to know what's good where you're planning to go.

                                      2. I would have to say that for Boston my rank would be:

                                        El Pelon-(for a carnitas burrito) and I really love the tortilla chips there-something about them when they are warm and salted.

                                        Anna's- overhyped in my opinion but recently discovered that the quesadila there is just a burrito put between a press-that was kind of surprising and good. Don't like the chips there.

                                        I think the rest are sub par-I pass by Qdobo and will occasionally get the shredded beef burrito-I like their shredded beef since its saucy and it seems a lot of the beef options at other places are too dry. I think Picante is gross. I don't know Boca Grande-where is it?-I'd love to try it!

                                        I went to a Baja Fresh for the first time I guess mainly because there aren't any around here and I had always thought of them as taco bellish for some reason-but I was pleasantly surprised with their three taco combo thing-I had a fish taco and thought it was good-I've never had one before so probably don't know what I am talking about but I really liked it.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: kica915

                                          I broke my own rule but after only two visits to Qdoba, I will never try one of their burrito's again. The two I tried are worse than the burrito's at Fresh City and that's saying something.

                                          1. re: Dax

                                            Qdoba makes the worst burrito I've had outside of you-know-they're-awful places like the Walmart snack bar. I'm not against big chains or anything--Chipotle is more than decent imo. Even Taco Bell is tasty.

                                          2. re: kica915

                                            There's a Boca Grande on Beacon Street just east of Coolidge Corner, and another at 1728 Mass Ave, just outside of Porter Square. There may be others, but those are the two I know.

                                            Boca Grande is fundamentally identical to Anna's (I've read that there's a family connection, but I don't recall the particulars), but with a somewhat more extensive menu that incorporates enchiladas and the like.

                                            Personally, my vote goes for the tacos al pastor at Anna's, for the almost bacony smoky crispness of the pork. Trio of those and a horchata makes an outstanding cheap lunch.

                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                              There's one right across from the Cambridgside Galleria. I can tell you this much ... I prefer Boca's burritos to Anna's. I think their beans are better, they make them with more care. But Anna's got the quesadilla award by a mile -- the chicken quesadilla I'm currently munching is a pale comparison to its cousin at Anna's. Not warmed on the griddle, soggy from the salsa they didn't ask me if I wanted (I didn't) and virtually impossible to eat without the whole thing dripping out the other end. Luckily my office has a door. BUT Boca has tamales on the menu and they look good. Anyone tried them?

                                              1. re: yumyum

                                                I have. They're very good and make a great meal, but I think I prefer the tamales at Taqueria Mexicana and Lupita. Like you, I prefer Boca's burritos--especially the lemon chicken and chicken colorado--to Anna's.

                                          3. Fan of both Anna's and Boca Grande (and there is some kind of family rivalry/connection that's been detailed on this board previously -- unrelated to the food).

                                            Prefer Anna's for a lighter burrito experience and Boca for more flavor (and grease, presumably). The Colorado chicken at Boca is much tastier than the grilled chicken at Anna's.

                                            Not a fan of rice-stuffed burritos, so usually order the small and the guac is weak in both places.

                                            Also, one more plug for the fish taco interpretation at Ixtapa in Lexington based on another good experience this week -- it's huge platter of deliciously-GRILLED whitefish with the accoutrements noted for fish tacos above -- filling and delicious and enough to satisfy two ($13.50).

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: rlh

                                              While the original fish tacos were fried, it's not uncommon to find them grilled in the Baja, Mexico region.. (usually mahi mahi; but any white fish will do)..as well as fried.

                                              Rubios, A So Cal chain which is generally credited with popularizing them in the US now offers a grilled version too...link to history and menu available...http://www.rubios.com/about.html

                                            2. I've never understood Boston's utter hatred of Picante. I went to high school in the West and it is the most authentic food I've had in Boston along with Felipe's, (among the cheap eats, anyway). I've found el Pelon to be bland and Anna's to be just a step up from Taco Hell.

                                              I'm rarely a burrito eater, so perhaps that's what the critical difference is, but I've always been very happy with the enchiladas and flautas at Picante's and the tacos at Felipe's.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: sailormouth

                                                I used to go to Picantes when they were downtown..always enjoyed it.

                                                1. re: sailormouth

                                                  I used to frequent the Central Square Picante an awful lot -- I loved their mole enchiladas. Nowadays I work in Harvard Square so I get my fix with Felipe's, whose carnitas are first-rate. (their chorizo isn't bad, either).

                                                  1. re: sailormouth

                                                    Picante tastes like Sysco food to me. I guess the mole enchiladas are "OK," but I find the mole enchiladas at Forest Cafe are clearly way better. The salsa bar is a cool idea but everything tastes watery and not fresh in my opinion.

                                                    I'm a fairly big fan of Boca Grande. My burrito of choice is the grilled lemon chicken with pinto beans, guac, sour cream, and lots of hot sauce. Experience has taught me to go for the dry grilled chicken over the chicken colorado, which has good flavor but becomes too runny and saucy. I really enjoy the tamales. They're not the best I've had, but they seem healthy and fresh--California style.

                                                  2. By far the best tacos al pastor I've found in Boston are at Ana's. I used to live in Mexico and was pleasantly surprised to find a place that makes them just like the street food there. They put just enough cilantro, onions, double tortilla, delicious pork with a touch of pineapple. Delicious!!! Yes they are greasy, but why eat tacos al pastor if you want something healthy?

                                                    Also lived in East Boston before it boomed with a million taco joints. I used to frequent Taqueria Cancun and found it to be really good, but a little pricey for what they offer. Last time I was there a licuado was almost $4.00 - and that's just for a couple of bananas and milk.

                                                    1. I like the roast pork burrito and the roast pork taco plate at Tacos Lupita. The roast pork tacos are topped with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. I squeeze a little lime juice on the tacos. Tacos Lupita's rice and beans are also very fresh and tasty.

                                                      1. I've transitioned from Anna's to Boca's because I find that they are slightly cheaper for slightly more food and their close proximity to where I live makes it a no brainer. I have yet to hunt down the many other altars of Mexican eating, but on a daily basis, Boca is close and cheap.

                                                        1. I don't even know if it exists anymore but when I lived in Eastie, my favorite spot for tacos was Tacomania (horrible name but tacos so good that I felt little need to try other spots). It's a small storefront (similar in size to those in Maverick Sq), easy to miss walking by, on Meridian (I believe?) just outside of Eastie's Central Sq. Depending upon who was working, I'd often have to employ my extremely limited Spanish to negotiate an order for tacos which were far from healthy but so darn good I can't believe I haven't gone back since moving. Anyone else even hear of this place?