Opening a restaurant tests the resilience of the most optimistic entrepreneurs. Alvaro and Andres Sandoval, brothers and co-owners of Tenoch Mexican, a popular Medford eatery, found this out when they proposed a second location in the North End.
When one of the neighborhood councils, serving in an advisory capacity to the city zoning board, voted against the brothers’ plan to move into a tiny space on Lewis Street and offer takeout, it was a low moment. “They thought we were fast food, and that was disappointing,” says Alvaro Sandoval. But the brothers, who come from Veracruz, Mexico, and cook their family recipes, were determined to win over the naysayers.
On a chilly Monday in February, Tenoch opened its doors in the North End. Young professionals and families from the neighborhood poured in throughout the day, filling the 19 seats several times over, and ordering food to go. North End business owners continue to stop by to welcome them. “It’s such an amazing outcome,” says Alvaro Sandoval, sounding pleased and stunned. “It’s better than we were expecting.”
It’s not surprising that the second location is as popular as the first. The proof is on the plate. Everyone seems to be ordering a torta, a toasty sandwich made with telera bread generously stuffed with well-seasoned meats, cheese, and avocado. Torta campechana ($6.50) is filled with carnitas (roasted shredded pork) and spicy chorizo sausage. Like all the tortas, the bread is slathered with bright red chipotle mayo, which lends a smoky kick of heat, along with red onion, pickled a blushing pink.
Torta choriqueso ($6.50), stuffed with more spicy sausage and plenty of melted Oaxaca-style cheese, offers all the comfort of a grilled cheese sandwich with the added delight of savory ingredients tucked inside. Torta pescado ($7.50) features crunchy breaded tilapia, topped with cool ribbons of cucumber and chopped fresh cilantro. We couldn’t put it down.
A fish taco ($3.50) features the same style of breaded fish, with cucumber and cilantro, nestled in a soft corn tortilla, topped with a creamy green salsa. A dining companion digs into a burrito ($5.90) that he requested with pork (chicken, beef, or roasted vegetables are also available) plus guacamole, cheese, and sour cream (50 cents each). Fully loaded, this substantial bundle — which comes with rice, black beans, lettuce, and tomato — is a value at $7.40. The 10-year-old at our table loves the quesadilla, a simple griddled flour tortilla with white cheddar ($4.95).
You must get the garnachas ($5), two chubby corn tortillas, layered with mashed black beans, pork surtido (three styles of marinated pork grilled together), soft cooked potatoes, green tomatillo salsa, and a favorite comfort ingredient, crumbles of queso fresco.
At the North End location, like Medford, you order at a counter. The line can move quickly, so it helps to do a quick study of the menu boards posted above. You pay and wait for your order to be called. Medford (which offers a breakfast menu in addition to lunch and dinner) works more like a cafeteria line. Place your order at one end of the counter, hang around to tell the assembler what toppings you would like, and pay at the end of your meal.
You might not find everything on the menu. One night in the North End, the tamales with house-made chile-chocolate mole sauce are long gone. They’ve also run out of horchata (a cinnamon-rice drink) and flan custard. While beer ($4 a bottle) and sangria ($5 a glass) are available in Medford, the North End location is dry. We’ll do what we suspect many customers are doing: order takeout, go home, and pop open cold Mexican beer.
We’d like to think that the original group of North End naysayers are at the counter now ordering Tenoch’s appealing, home-style fare. If they’re not, they should be.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.