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Mar 19, 2012 07:06 AM

The Painted Burro

The Painted Burro
219 Elm Street
Davis Square
Somerville, MA

Friends and I ate at the Painted Burro on Saturday night. We enjoyed the margaritas, tacos, and other nibbles, and the atmosphere was very lively for a Mexican restaurant on St. Patrick's Day.

Major points from me for serving these in tumblers rather than unwieldy, wide-mouthed stemware. I rarely want just one margarita, and after the first the bathtub-on-a-perch presents problems. They have a few varieties that I tried; I preferred their house version that had the most appealing balance of sweet, sour and tequila bite. You have the option of rocks and/or salt.

Bar Snacks and Appetizers
Chingon Cucumbers-
A nice presentation of pickled cucumbers, radishes and grapes. Nicely presented in a round jar. These weren’t the hit of the evening, but they did offer an appreciated vinegary balance to cut through the…

Pork Chicharrones-
Wow. Tamarind glazed pork belly. This went really fast and was the talk of the table throughout the meal. Bite-size chunks of fatty pork belly in a just-sweet-enough glaze.

Guacomole w/ optional roasted poblano-
The guacamole was creamy, fresh and colorful. The poblanos were savory but didn’t add a whole lot to guac. If you really like poblanos then it’s a nice addition, but you won’t miss them otherwise.

Ceviche del mar-
This was very nice with a variety of delicate flavors and textures. The fish was firm enough to fork.

Each order has two tacos. We were given two corn tortillas per taco, which for these you need as the filling amount is generous.

Lamb Neck w/ Apricot Barbacoa-
These were nice but a bit one-note compared to the others. The apricot sweetened but didn’t brighten the lamb enough. The lamb itself was rich and savory. A generous squeeze of lemon or lime will finish these.

Shrimp Diablo-
These were the table’s favorite. Compared to the other tacos these had stand-out variety of textures and flavors. The creaminess of the avocado played well against the plump shrimp, and while there was considerable heat it brought flavor, not just burn.

Skirt Steak Asada-
These had rich and smoky steak and poblano flavors right out front, with a pleasantly lingering sweet garlic note.

Crispy Maine Redfish-
I made it around to these right after the spicy shrimp taco and my palette was a bit blown out. My wife sang their praises, though.

Chupacabra Tacos-
This is a hot mess. I don’t think they intend for you to pick this taco up, but rather to eat it with a fork. It’s four corn tortillas laid overlapping one another, with what seemed like two cups of a variety of their taco fillings (chorizo, lamb, beef and pork). It was delicious but I wouldn’t call it a taco.

The four of us were too stuffed to explore the entrée menu.

The staff was very friendly and attentive, though there were some new-restaurant jitters on display.

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  1. I think this is great corrective to the overblown hot spots parading around as Mexi-Teq. I had some thoughts on the restaurant myself.


    2 Replies
    1. re: tatsu

      That was a very nice review, Tatsu!

      1. re: tatsu

        excellent review, tats. And the link also has me impressed by your Rox Diner rave; both are on the list now.

      2. PLEASE, people, give a street address or at least a clue what city or neighborhood you are talking about!!!

        4 Replies
        1. re: peregrine

          Fwiw, it's the former Gargoyle's space in Davis Square (219 Elm).

          1. re: peregrine

            Davis Square, former Gargoyles spot, same owners as the nearby Posto.


            1. re: peregrine

              Update with address.

              219 Elm Street
              Davis Square
              Somerville, MA

            2. i have to say that i am pretty disappointed by the vegetarian options on the menu. while i see that there are several vegetarian snacks and appetizers, there is only one veggie taco (out of 10 available tacos) and 1 veggie entree (out of 7 total entrees). if you don't like nopales (i don't) or enchiladas (i don't), then you are SOL (i am).

              8 Replies
              1. re: granolagurl

                What sort of stuff would you be looking for from a place of this genre? As a carnivore, the only ones I usually notice are of the rice/bean/cheese combo, which usually look boring and perfunctory, so I'm curious if you had something in mind, especially for tacos.

                1. re: granolagurl

                  Where do you go for good Mexican vegetarian chow in the Boston area?

                  1. re: granolagurl

                    granolagurl, it looks like the menu is still a work in progress judging from the facebook page. I bet they would appreciate your input as they try and figure out their demographic. You might want to send them an email.

                    1. re: granolagurl

                      Not liking enchiladas is hard for me to wrap my mind around...

                      1. re: Trumpetguy

                        My daughter loves tacos and burritos, says she hates enchiladas. Like you say, can't wrap my mind around that (there's a wrap pun to be made in there somewhere).

                      2. re: granolagurl

                        Huh, I was thinking it did pretty well on that front (as a lifetime vegetarian). Then again, I like nopales and enchiladas. I'm excited for Lent to be over (I went vegan, which really isn't compatible with their menu, for Lent).

                        1. re: granolagurl

                          Granolagurl, in another (2008) thread you mention looking for a good fish sandwich. I'm not sure if that request was for you, is outdated, or was for someone else, but Painted Burro does have a variety of seafood items on their menu.

                          1. re: Area Man

                            Area Man-how very observant of you. Yep, I used to be a pescatarian but ~6 months ago returned to being a lacto-ovo vegetarian.

                            Bob Dobalina-unfortunately I have yet to discover any mind-blowing veggie Mexican food in the Boston area. Thankfully, Granolaguy is a motivated and creative cook and together we have perfected a few amazing Mexican veggie staples (delicious and full-bodied beans, Mexican rice, and grilled veggie tacos w/homemade corn tortillas). Granolaguy also recently returned from a trip to Tucson with a suitcase full of flour tortillas!

                            Emannths-I guess it would be nice to have at least one more veggie taco choice. Perhaps simply grilled veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, etc.), served with some sort of creative vegan sauce or with the option for cheese. I will certainly try their current veggie taco, but my concern (for them, not me) is that if their veggie options are limited, they may fail to draw in a veggie/vegan crowd. Or, if a veggie/vegan dislikes their meal, they will fail to return (since there will not be alternatives to try).

                        2. We went last night - encouraged by Area Man's review. We had the Pork Chicharones, the Shrimp Diablo tacos, the skirt steak asada and the pickles. Our experience mirros AM's to the letter. The margaritas were excellent - and the complimentary chips and salsa (refilled without asking!) were a really nice start. Excellent salsa - light as a feather chips. The price for 5 margs and the food was $80 before tip (the margaritas, at $8, representing a full half of the bill - it was Monday, what can I say?!?!) I look forward to coming back - this is a good go-to when you have friends coming in for a Davis Square event (thinking the Irish Film Festival, which we are at all this weekend) or for the off Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.... it was crackin' for a Monday night! We liked the vibe a lot. And you know when you see Joe McGuirk hanging out at the bar, the drinks are probably up to snuff as well!

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Small Plates

                            So glad you liked it! And thank you for reminding me about the chips and salsa. I agree, they were excellent. The chips just salty and oily enough to feel indulgent without the guilt, and the salsa 'safe' but fresh and flavorful. I really liked the consistency of the salsa, too; it seemed like all of the chunks were about the same size and it was not runny.

                            1. re: Area Man

                              Yes, it was very good. Agree about those chips - sooo good! Also, we requested some hot sauce (love heat) and they brought out a bottle of nice habanero sauce - not sure of the name - but it was very flavorful - a bit smoky and good heat. My recommendation on the survey card presented at meal's end was for a sauce with a little more heat. This one was nice, but I could have stood a bit more burn!

                              1. re: Small Plates

                                Did you sit at a table or at the bar?
                                I was there Friday at 5:30pm and no one at the bar got any comp chips and salsa.

                                Service stunk, wish I got a survey card.

                                1. re: rknrll

                                  We received chips and salsa at one of the tables in the bar area. This was Saturday at 6ish. I'm pretty sure we got more at table once we were seated, too.

                                  I'm sorry to hear you had bad service. I'm not sure if this relates to your experience or not, but we did hear on Saturday that the bar staff had been a bit overwhelmed with some of the cocktails previously. Apparently they tweaked a few recipes prior to Saturday night to alleviate this.

                                  1. re: rknrll

                                    We were at a table, and service was outstanding. Much better than you might expect for a place that hasn't even been open a week yet.

                            2. AM, so excited about this! Your detailed review was very helpful and we'll be heading there soon. Now that Gargoyles is gone, it's so great to have one excellent Davis Sq go-to again.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                We ended up having a late dinner there 10pm. Bar was packed; din rm 1/2-3/4 full. LOUD. No wall separating the bar and DR anymore, and gone are all those heavy sound-absorbent curtains. Service was poor every step of the way., from seating to timely delivery of requests. Pleasant but poor. Bar>>sold out of sangria, mediocre red wines, crummy cosmo.

                                Romaine salad with pignon and avocado dressing was just a caesar with some avocado in it. $12 seems steep to me but it was a good portion and it tasted fine.

                                Fish tacos were very good. $14 for two; fresh red fish lightly battered and fried, marinated cabbage (too much, overwhemed the fish) crema, double layer of handmade tortillas. Once i pulled off a bunch of the slaw, i really enjoyed them.

                                Sliced, not chopped up (whew) carne asada had good aromatic char but something wicked hot was hiding in there, and the sauteed onions with oregano were detrimental, masking the beef flavor like the cabbage masked the fish flavor. These are big 'small tacos', generously filled, listed as apps but really 3/4 entree size plates. I wish they would offer a sampler of tacos, as i wanted to try the shrimp and the pork.

                                My Love liked his beef shortrib with 'red wine mole' but i didn't care for it.

                                Table salsa was o.k.; fried 1/2 tortillas were fresh but way oversalted.

                                Judging from the crowd, this place might just succeed here; it will be interesting to see how the kitchen and service develop after they have some months under their belts.

                                p.s. I miss Gargoyle's( the opposite of Painted Burro- quiet, comfy, elegant, good for conversation, fine bar, top notch inventive food.)

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  I miss the pre-Hell's Kitchen Gargoyle's, before Jason Santos decided he was a celebrity. Their food was inventive, experimental, and worth trying. In the last year or two, their food and service went markedly downhill while their bar remained the best in Davis Square. After some ridiculous experiences there, I frankly welcome the change.

                                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                                    otter, i know we shared that fandom; i didn't see the food go drastically down, but i did see it not continue to rise and i'm sorry you saw it drop so badly. I will say that we were not impressed w/ out Blueinc meal last month. I really hope jason will both succeed there and get back on his former ascending star. While many Chs are far more callous than I, it does bother me to see any chef who works their tail off for so many yrs- not ultimately succeed and reach a comfortable niche of recognized excellence. Of course people could say. "lighten up; fogedd aboud it" but i can't tell you how pained I am to think of Stan Frankenthaller and Jim Becker not active in Boston's current restaurant scene.There's never been anyone to take their place.

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      Stan Frankenthaller's food is currently widely available at multiple locations in greater Boston.

                                      1. re: PaulB

                                        I can only guess that you think this is funny, as DD has nothing to do with the tam of Stan; of what made his great talent.
                                        ...Or, you're not trying to be funny, in which case you must not have been lucky enough to dine at Salamander. Either way, DD is irrelevant.

                                      2. re: opinionatedchef

                                        Well, to be fair, I only saw it go from "continually interesting and surprising" to the same half-dozen 'greatest hits' served all the time, mixed with some bizarrely poor service, and that seemed to begin just as Jason started doing the celebrity-chef circuit, and it was clear something had changed. I wish him all the best and I'd love to see Blue Inc be a knockout hit if he can focus on the food and not his personality being the star.