Don't let the simplicity of La Victoria Taqueria's menu fool you. At this Beverly spot, all Mexican street food favorites are here, including tacos, burritos, and tortas, to eat in a cheery 18-seat space, or take to go.
Bright, fresh flavors let you know that these cooks are experts at little details, including how they prepare pork al pastor. Taqueria owner Alex Barrientos, who also owns Cielito Lindo Cocina Mexicana a few blocks away, explains that the kitchen begins with shoulder meat, which is thinly sliced and marinated for a day in a sweet-smoky slurry of orange juice and the dried poblano pepper, chile ancho. The pork is loaded onto a rotating vertical spit where it cooks low and slow, basting in its own fat, mingling with juices of a roasting pineapple, skewered on top of that same spit. "The pineapple helps tenderize the meat, giving it a sweet and sour flavor," Barrientos says, explaining that some of that golden fruit is shredded into the finished dish.
The pork, like other fillings, can be rolled into a burrito, scooped onto soft corn tortillas as a taco (see related story, Page 18), or presented on a platter with sides. Torta al pastor ($6.50), a hot pressed sandwich featuring telera bread with the flavorful meat, smoothly mashed black beans, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and rounds of pickled jalapeno is a meaty bundle with smoky, assertive flavors punctuated by the cool crunch of sweet onions. It's a winner.
Taco lengua ($2.85) features beef tongue, a cut of meat that fell flat with Cielito Lindo customers, but is getting a good response as a special on the taqueria menu. "The first day we sold out," Barrientos says, marveling at its popularity. "People come in, asking especially for it, saying 'I used to have this when I was visiting Mexico,' or 'This reminds me of my favorite taco cart in California.' " The meat is tender and lean, with a touch of tantalizing earthiness. Sprinkled with cilantro, onion, and a dollop of guacamole, it's easy to see why this dish inspires loyalty, as well as nostalgia.
Barrientos was also missing the casual, street-cart snacks so popular in Mexico (he is originally from Veracruz, and grew up in a restaurant family). So when he opened the taqueria a year ago, having brought chef Martin Guzman over from Cielito Lindo, Barrientos loved to sample everything. "Believe me, I gained a few pounds in the beginning," he says.
One busy lunch hour, we see that young professionals, college students, and a few moms with kids in tow have filled every seat. You order and pay at the counter, then wait for your order to be called. Regulars munch on chips and salsa in the meantime. A slim young woman, in with office mates, orders the salad ($3.95), a fresh-looking plate of lettuce, tomato, and sliced avocado with crumbles of the mild white cheese queso fresco. She forgoes guacamole and sour cream, but adds a topping of lean pork carnitas ($1). Nearby, a youngster, dressed for rugby, sips horchata ($2), a creamy cinnamon-rice drink, from a bendy straw. He and his mother look very content.
We tuck into a burrito surtido ($5.50), an enormous flour tortilla stuffed generously with a filling described as pork skin and meat (it's delicious with a bit of fat) along with seasoned rice, beans, and a very fresh pico de gallo of cilantro, tomato, and onion.
Plato Mexicano ($5.95), like a deconstructed burrito on a plate, features a choice of meat (we opt for chicken, sporting a perky orange hue from an achiote marinade). The poultry is very good, even though we prefer dark meat over the breast meat used. Whole black beans are hearty, well-seasoned, and a welcome part of the plate. These beans are perfectly cooked — creamy inside and glossy outside — just one more reminder that simple, at this taqueria, means simply delicious.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.