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WHAT SHE'S HAVING

A taquería heritage, imported from Mexico

Pátzcuaro chef Avelina Saavedra learned to cook at her father’s side. Now her family runs a restaurant here.

Chips with guacamole and a house classic margarita at Pátzcuaro in Newton.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The interior glows red as a pomegranate aril. Papel picado is strung across the ceiling, the streamers of paper flags cut into intricate patterns. A tiny bar is tiled with Loteria cards. There’s a soundtrack of festive music, with an overlay of happy conversation in Spanish and English.

Pátzcuaro Taqueria & Bar doesn’t feel like it’s in Newton. It feels — and tastes — like it’s in Pátzcuaro, chef-owner Avelina Saavedra’s hometown in Michoacán, Mexico. She grew up in her father’s taqueria there, making salsas by his side. “All of my uncles, pretty much every man in the family has a taqueria in Mexico,” says host and server Paula Saavedra. “That’s where it all stems from.”

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The restaurant is decorated with ceramics and other art brought back from the region. But the real tell is on the plate: the caramelized onions and potatoes that are served with the tacos. “We do it strictly that way on the streets of Pátzcuaro,” Paula says. “It always meant a lot to us. Being really cold and having that plate of warm tacos — we usually go in December as a family. That’s everything to us.”

The dining area at Pátzcuaro in Newton.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

And the restaurant is a family business, in the truest sense. Avelina Saavedra and husband Joel Alvarado came to the US in 1995 with their infant sons, Joel Jr. and Brandon. Paula soon followed. The parents, now in their 50s, alternated shifts: Joel worked mornings as a cook, Avelina nights as a bartender, nanny, “anything she could squeeze in,” Paula says. But always she dreamed of having a place of her own. “Anything that was hers. To give us somewhere to be, an opportunity, to be our own bosses. For a good 25 years she worked for this, until one day it was the right place at the right time.”

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Tacos with chorizo, onions, and cilantro at Pátzcuaro in Newton.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The whole family signed on. Avelina is the chef: “She’s the one with the taste and the flavor,” Paula says. Joel retired from his previous job and works prepping and plating food. Joel Jr. is the manager and also does prep work. Brandon and younger sister Sofia share host and server duties with Paula; Sofia’s husband, Dylan, joins in on the weekends. Another sister, Amy, is a full-time mom. Growing up, the kids rarely got to be with both parents together, Paula says. “It’s a blessing. Now we’re all together every single day.”

Pátzcuaro opened in September of 2019. COVID was an early challenge, but they made it through with takeout, outdoor dining, and the word of mouth that spread through the community. The restaurant, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary, has now been around long enough to change the way its regulars look at tacos. “They look forward to caramelized onion and potatoes,” Paula says.

From left, family members Dylan Gonzalez, Brandon Alvarado, Paula Saavedra, Joel Alvarado, Joel Alvarado Jr., Avelina Saavedra, and Sofia Alvarado, who run Pátzcuaro in Newton.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The family makes everything from scratch, from the zesty chorizo that fills tacos and tortas to the salsas. There are three: salsa verde, salsa avocado, and a smoky red salsa made from chipotle and arbol chiles. “We don’t do Tex-Mex. This is very specific to what my mom did growing up,” Paula says. (Burritos are the exception, and they have a devoted following.)

The birria — tender, flavorful braised beef — is a highlight of the menu. It’s tucked into tortillas crisped with cheese, served alongside the traditional beef consomme for dipping. (In the unlikely event that you bring home leftovers, when you excitedly go to heat them up the next day, you will find this consomme to be so rich that it wobbles like Jell-O when cold.)

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Birria tacos at Pátzcuaro in Newton. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

I will order the birria tacos every time I come here. I will also always get chips with salsa and guacamole. The chips are great, thin and crisp. I might order elote, too, the corn kernels clinging to each other where they were cut from the cob, topped with crema, cotija cheese, and Valentina, the queen of hot sauce. I’ll try to talk the table into sharing tostadas, which are topped with refried beans, among other things. I always crave refried beans. I will definitely get a classic margarita, served in a blue-rimmed glass crusted in salt. Everything here tastes homemade, fresh and simple in the right way.

Pátzcuaro is the kind of place to bring kids, friends, dates — I’ve eaten here alone, content, watching women’s futsal on the TV. It’s impossible not to feel happy. There’s that music. There’s also that feeling of family: busy, welcoming, glad to be together even if busy progresses to frenzied, even if it’s not always easy. “It’s our home and you’re coming to our house to eat,” Paula says. “Being a family, being united, makes anything possible.”

398 Watertown St., Newton, 857-297-2079, www.patzcuaronewton.com. Snacks $5.75-$14.75. Tacos, burritos, tortas, etc. $5-$18.75. Cocktails $11-$14.


Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her @devrafirst.