Opening a restaurant is always risky. But opening between a skating rink and gardening center, off the beaten path in Boxborough, is a bold move. Chef and owner Oscar Garcia, 49, was prepared to lay it all on the line for Oscar's Burritos Mexican Grill after 20 years working in the Boston fine dining scene. After kitchen work in places like The Four Seasons Hotel Boston and Mistral, Garcia became very ill and had brain surgery. He recovered after a year and a half and then had no job to return to. The Guatamalan-born chef used his life savings to secure the suburban location, and build a professional kitchen where none existed. The barnlike structure with high ceilings and a casual concept shares spaces with an ice cream shop.
On a hot summer day, a crisp Mexican chopped salad ($5.50) is just the thing: fresh corn, grilled peppers, black beans, shredded Jack cheese, a zippy fresh salsa, and an iceberg-romaine mix, topped with a bright citrus vinaigrette. Add chicken or beef, guacamole, and sour cream, and you've got the "supreme" ($8.75).
Taco salad ($8.95) is another refreshing option, with marinated strips of chicken or beef in a spinach tortilla bowl with tomato, lettuce, corn, beans, and olives. A simple chicken and cheese quesadilla with guacamole and sour cream ($7.95) has a crisp, golden shell and gooey center. Garcia brings out complimentary cups of the soup of the day (usually $2.95). Today it's tortilla, with small bits of carrot, celery, and onion floating in a hearty chicken broth barely kissed with dried guajillo chile. The 10-month-old we have in tow keeps reaching, wide-eyed, for another sip.
The big draw here are the burritos, which nearly everyone is eating. Spicy chipotle steak burrito is rich, savory, and filling, and a steal at $6.95 (for the truly ravenous, a large is $8.95). Creamy pinto beans with yellow rice, and tender but toothsome bites of steak, cloaked in a delicious mess of guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and chipotle aioli, are all wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.
It's unlikely that this is the most authentic Mexican food you've eaten (the menu offers a truffled portobello quesadilla for $7.95), but everything is fresh and homemade by Garcia, who is in the kitchen daily. He's serving something the Boxborough/Acton suburbs were sorely missing — family-friendly, fast-casual Mexican, for a great value. Garcia is talking with the town about securing a liquor license, so margaritas are hopefully on the way.
The month-old spot is already seeing a steady lunch crowd. Men on their lunch break, moms with toddlers, who can wobble freely around the large dining area between bites of cheesy quesadillas, and Lululemon-clad teenage girls whiling away summer break. "I like this location because of the ice rink," says Garcia, who believes hungry skaters will stop in for a meal. So will the rest of the townspeople, once they find it.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.