With a name like Beantown Taqueria, and a location in the heart of Central Square, you'd be forgiven for assuming this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is run by a frat brother alum catering to the MIT crowd. But while there is no shortage of students, professors, employees, and neighbors patronizing the place, the slogan "Mexican Soul Food" lives up to its name.
Managers and cousins Hugo Mendez and Lucky Nunez, who grew up in Mexico City, thought the authentic flavors of their childhood would translate to a fast-casual concept. They approached Fawaz Abu-Rubyah, owner of the former Olive Tree Cafe and Bab Al-Amoud Cafe, about a partnership. Just over a year ago, the trio reopened the Olive Tree location as Beantown Taqueria. At the beginning of this month, they opened a second location of the Taqueria, in the former Bab Al-Amoud Cafe on Western Avenue in Cambridge. They also have a food truck on Carleton Street on the MIT campus, and plans for another.
Clearly, they were on to something. Customer Ben Wiech works just down the street at the MIT Museum. "I try not to eat here more than four times a week," he says.
The Beantown Taqueria menu has two sections. One is "authentic Mexican," with dishes like flautas ($8), those deep-fried Mexican roll-ups, and tortas ($7), the popular Mexican sandwich of meat, veggies, and refried beans. The other section is Tex-Mex, which includes favorites like gooey nachos ($8), and chimichangas ($8), the deep-fried burritos you'll find at every "Mexican" chain restaurant. "It's not about Tex-Mex or authentic being better," says Mendez. "It's about giving the customer an array of options, giving them something they are used to eating, and showing them something new."
Still, we found ourselves drawn to the authentic menu. On that side, tacos ($8) are served with freshly pressed house-made corn tortillas, lime, and cilantro. The Tex-Mex version ($7) is topped with Jack cheese, diced tomatoes, shredded iceberg, and a choice of commercially made corn or flour tortillas.
Whichever side you order from, you aren't getting the taco-kit version wrapped up in that tortilla. Fillings include tinga chicken, shredded white meat in a smoky chipotle sauce; Al Pastor, crisp cubes of pork shoulder in a spicy sauce finished with fresh pineapple that cuts through the richness; or carnitas, succulent pulled pork, with all the heat we asked for (any dish can be made mild, medium, or hot). You can also choose fillings of chorizo, ground or shredded beef, steak, shrimp, or fish, and order them in a huarache ($7), a dense masa base, topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and queso fresco. It's a food-coma-inducing dish, but the flavor is equally rich and bright.
Really hungry? For $1 more, order the huarache (or any entree) as a plate, with fluffy red rice, fresh corn chips, and black or refried beans. For something lighter, try chicken pozole soup ($3.50), a homey combination of broth, starchy white Mexican corn, and chicken, brightened with tomatillo, raw onion, cilantro, and Mexican oregano.
Chili relleno ($7), the battered-and-fried poblano pepper, is stuffed with cheese and topped with red salsa, sour cream, and cilantro. It's like a deluxe jalapeno popper, but milder. Enchiladas ($8) in tender rolls of corn tortilla (we like tinga chicken filling) are topped with a tangy, slightly sweet tomatillo sauce I'd like to keep in my fridge for everything from turkey burgers to morning eggs.
We appear bright and early one morning for breakfast, and to get our tomatillo fix in chilaquiles ($6), that wonderfully resourceful dish of stale tortilla chips cooked with tomatillo sauce, topped with crisp salad veggies, queso fresco, and sour cream. Add an egg ($1).
The huge breakfast burrito ($7) is a large flour tortilla stuffed with fluffy scrambled eggs, rice, beans, cheese, and a zippy pico de gallo. The spot has every meal of the day covered. And that assumption about the place catering to the college crowd isn't entirely inaccurate.
On weekends, Beantown delivers till 4 a.m. When a late-night craving for authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex hits, you know whom to call.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.