You’d be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu when walking into Amelia’s Taqueria in Allston. The name alone recalls the local micro-chain Anna’s Taqueria, which has six locations around Greater Boston, including one on Harvard Street in Brookline, barely more than a half-mile from Amelia’s. Add to that the fact that both restaurants serve food lunch line-style, with meals prepared as customers work their way down the counter, and you might suspect a copycat.
But a closer look reveals subtle contrasts, says Amelia’s owner Amir Shiranian. “I’ve had some people ask, is this the same as Anna’s Taqueria? But when we explain it and they look at the menu with the extra items that we have, they see we do things different,” says Shiranian, who opened Amelia’s in late May under the female form of his first name.
One item he points to as being unique to Amelia’s is also one of its best. Torta ($6.85) is a grilled flatbread sandwich with choice of meat, marinated onions, black beans, stringy Oaxaca cheese, sliced avocado, tomato, honey ham, and chipotle sauce. It’s delicious, with the sauce offering a pleasing kick.
Everything at Amelia’s is build-your-own, as its menu plainly lays out the steps for ordering. All entrees and salads come with options of grilled chicken, steak, chili verde, carnitas, al pastor, or grilled vegetables. (Only the torta excludes chili verde and grilled vegetables, and the nachos leave out the veggies.) After selecting a menu item, size, and meat, the chef literally walks customers through a buffet of other fillings which can be added to the dish at no additional charge (also different than Anna’s).
Amelia’s staff brings in fresh meats and other ingredients daily and prepares guacamole and salsas by hand each morning. The guac is pale green but with excellent flavor; the salsa offers four levels of spiciness to please anyone from timid to adventurous.
In the site of the former Grill Station, Amelia’s is a seemingly perfect option for Allston. It’s quick and cheap (nothing exceeds $6.85), primarily takeout, but with four high-top tables and counter seating. Perhaps most appealing to the droves of students and young people who flood the hip neighborhood on weekends, Amelia’s stays open until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Though it serves Mexican sodas in glass bottles and fountain drinks instead of alcohol, it’s just down the street from Brighton Music Hall and steps from the infamous watering hole Silhouette Lounge.
The most popular item, Amelia’s signature burrito ($6.85, also available as a quesadilla) is filling without going overboard. A choice of flour, spinach, or whole-wheat tortilla is steamed with a slice of Monterey Jack cheese before additions of white or brown rice, black or pinto beans, peppers, onions, pico de gallo, and salsa. It doesn’t look like the overstuffed football you find at Chipotle. It has the right balance of fixings, though it is messy. The stewed meats and black beans make the burrito soggy, so it’s imperative to keep it wrapped in the tinfoil while you eat it. Unfortunately, the torta doesn’t have the same protection. The bread quickly sags from the meat, which is too bad, because taste-wise it’s one of the best options.
The quesadilla ($5.95 small, $6.85 large) is prepared much the same way as the burrito, but griddled instead of steamed. The chicken option is tasty, though the meat has some gristle and can be jarring to bite into.
Essentially a burrito bowl, Mexican plate ($6.85) is a mix-and-match of meats and veggies. The grilled vegetable option nets inconsistent results, since you only get what the cook’s tongs pick up. So while you may see an entire ear of grilled corn in the veggie mix, you might end up with only broccoli, carrots, and onions.
Nachos ($6.85) are prepared like the entrees, allowing customers to add what they wish from the line of ingredients. They’re too light on cheese (it is sprinkled on top and the chips are baked before adding toppings). These chips are stadium-quality and brought out in grease-stained paper bags. They’re one of the few menu disappointments.
This is the first restaurant venture for Shiranian, an Iran native who has lived in Boston since 1985 and studied finance and anthropology at the University of Massachusetts. He owns Medallion Gallery on Boylston Street, where he sells and designs hand-woven Oriental rugs. But his business frequently takes him all over the world and he says he longed to open a taqueria in his adopted hometown like the ones he’s encountered in Mexico.
“I wanted it to be something people can afford,” he says. “I wanted to serve the students, people that do not want to spent over $8, and also wanted to be in an area where the Hispanics also appreciate the quality of the food.”
The quality at Amelia’s could help it make a name for itself, though it may be confused for Anna’s on occasion. Not that the bargain-seeking students in Allston would mind.