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Apr 24, 2013 03:42 AM

Where have you had beef cheek recently?

I'm looking to introduce my friend to the wonders of beef cheek, but the only place that I know has it on its regular menu as opposed to a daily special is Taqueria El amigo, which is delicious but I was looking for a place with a bit more ambience.

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  1. Wouldn't say I've had them recently at either, but both Taqueria Jalisco in Eastie and Romano's Pizzeria and Taqueria in Rozzie feature tacos de cabeza. The latter is an old-school Italian-American pizzeria that now has Mexican owners; the Mexican in general is very good, most of the Italian not so, but it does good Sicilian slices.

    Now that I think about it, those two and Amigo are the only Mexican-owned taquerias I know of in Greater Boston. (Amigo and Jalisco happen to be my two favorite taquerias, too.) Wonder if cabeza is a marker there. Anyone know of a Salvadoran or Guatemalan owned place that serves it?

    9 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      I think Romano's stopped serving some of their more offbeat items including cabeza (not enough demand). Estragon in South End serves pringas, a tapas that has beef cheek, which is delicious.

      1. re: MC Slim JB

        MC Slim JB I wouldn't expect beef cheek or really any braised meats outside tongue in Salvadoran or Guatemalan taquerias locally. In fact, I think sopas with long-cooking cuts are more common than guisados overall. But sopa de res would be more likely to use ribs, chuck, or shin meat than cheek (beef neck meat in home cooking). There are restaurants and taquerias in Chelsea which serve Salvadoran + Mexican + other Central American dishes on one menu(even one with Caribbean + Peruvian)... and I am sure some that are now Mexican owned, but I haven't seen anything recently in a small sample that offers cheek meat.

        BTW, although "cabeza" almost exclusively means cheek meat in the US, I wouldn't say that is traditionally the case. Even today from a traditional butcher you would tend to buy a whole head (perhaps sawn in half or quarters) or other offal (viscera) would be bought as a group. So I think individual taqueria specialties as far as meats developed over time and now in Mexico where you have suppliers who cater to taquerias who offer much more cuts now* its probably more standardized, but at some point (and still in regional dishes) it included more of the head. And of course you see tongue and sessos as specific specialties too. I think papada would be a better term overall, but as far as I know that is used just for pork cheek meat.

        * One thing we forget is that preparing offal used to be much more labor intensive, as far as cleaning, blanching, cutting, even cooking some cuts took longer w/o pressure cookers. So the taqueria which offers 15 types of meat fresh daily, all neatly separated, seems like a more modern construct to me.

        1. re: itaunas

          Informative as always, itaunas: thanks! I've always assumed that "cheek" was a euphemistic translation designed to spare the delicate sensibilities of Anglos.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            In the US its much easier to buy a box of cheek meat, than a whole head, thanks to National Beef and Cargill who happily label it 'cabeza' so they can sell it to Mexicans at Walmart. So little chance of lips or eyeballs ending up in most cabeza tacos. (Offline a hound reminded me that cachete is the right term for beef cheeks.) I have seen a taqueria with a whole bowl of random viscera (internal)from a local farmer out west which they were cleaning, but offal is generally sold packaged, boxed, often frozen, and cleaned. Klunko had some interesting questions on another thread about whether a good taqueria had to offer offal which would be interesting to debate sometime. I don't think a taqueria here could make it go on one single well-done meat specialty, even with special sauces. And offal is popular in ethnic restaurants because it may remind people of home, but there also still is that stigma of it taking all day to clean and prepare the meats so its worth paying someone to do it for you. In a sense there is a similar value equation for Anglos too -- a whole beef tongue is a lot to cook, but at one taqueria you can try several variety meats.

            BTW, Tacos Mexico served cabeza tacos in Framingham as well as discada, but I think it went Salvadoran and dropped those.

            1. re: itaunas

              Last time I was in they no longer ha it.

            2. re: MC Slim JB

              I will never forget the time as a youngster growing up in Lubbock when I turned a corner in an unfamiliar supermarket and came upon, for the first time in my life, a coffin freezer filled with plastic-wrapped hog heads, ice crystals forming delicately in their nostrils, all of them carefully pointed in exactly the same direction as if they were waiting patiently for their leader to begin speaking.

              1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                Mmmm pozole.... mmmm pozole....mmmm pozole.

                1. re: itaunas

                  Actually, in that part of Texas, the hog heads were mostly for tamales. At least back then, you really only ever saw posole around Christmas.

          2. re: MC Slim JB

            "Now that I think about it, those two [Taqueria Jalisco in Eastie and Romano's Pizzeria and Taqueria in Rozzie] and Amigo are the only Mexican-owned taquerias I know of in Greater Boston."

            Don't forget Taqueria Mexico, also in Waltham. They don't seem to offer cabeza on the regular menu - don't know about specials - but they are definitely Mexican-owned.

          3. I think Eastern Standard has a beef cheek appetizer always on their menu.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lipoff

              I had it about a month ago and it was still very good.

            2. Boston Chops has a stupendously delicious beef cheek appetizer, a sort of cabeza/machaca inspired rendition, spicy (not hot) slick and served with totopos, a coupla mini flour tortillas and some chunky pickled veggies to assemble the perfect bite. $9.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Nab

                That's perfect! Thanks so much. I knew chowhound would have the answer!

                1. re: Nab

                  I had it tonight. It's a great addition to our cheek repertoire but after that and the complementary popover they give you I was stuffed!

                2. recently had a beef cheek noodle dish at East by North East in Cambridge. Noodles were short rice noodles and were fried and crispy. Dish also had yams, and poached egg. Very rich and delicious.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jsaraeats

                    just checked, was actually beef shank. sorry for confusion. delicious nonetheless.

                  2. Can't say I've had beef cheeks recently, but the braised beef cheeks I had a year ago at Erbaluce were transcendent, rich and utterly satisfying. Check there for specials.