Jamaica Plain's Chilacates, so named for a Mexican pepper, isn't a divey taco stand. It's not a place to linger over a $15 agave margarita. And, thank heavens, it's not an Americanized abomination serving greasy chimichangas. Chilacates is a space built for takeout, but with enough sunny charm that you'll want to take your turn at the gleaming copper counter that faces Amory Street. The handful of stools are prime real estate, but happily, the tiny restaurant — which opened in July — serves fresh Mexican food that gets inhaled so quickly you won't be waiting long.
Pick a Mexican Coke or Jarritos soda ($2.25), a fruity agua fresca ($1.99), or a creamy horchata ($1.99) from the cooler, and step up to the counter where you'll be graciously guided through the fillings on offer and the various ways to enjoy them.
We start with a sampling of tacos ($2.99) served on substantial single-ply house-made corn tortillas and topped with a bright blend of finely diced white onion, radish, and cilantro. Heat seekers will want to ask for some freshly made hot sauce, too. Papas con chorizo might be the most flavorful filling, with caramelized bits of the spiced sausage mixed with creamy flecks of potato to soak up the salty pork fat. Don't shy away from lengua (beef tongue), which is just another cut of meat that happens to be extra tender and savory.
Of course, you could always stick with the standbys, like perfectly tasty (though underseasoned on one visit) grilled carne asada or spicy, slightly smoky, red-tinged shredded chicken tinga. Just don't miss sweet and savory al pastor, with thin slices of pork imbued with the tropical tang of pineapple. The one real disappointment is the shrimp (which cost an additional 99 cents), which are bland and a bit rubbery.
Any of the fillings can be wrapped up in a satisfying burrito, from the pint-size, you'll-want-a-taco-for-dessert chavito ($3.99) to the more substantial guey ($5.99) to the hefty patron ($7.50). Each comes with rice, beans, cheese, and crunchy pico de gallo — which saves it from the singular-texture trap you'll find at many burrito joints — all folded into a soft flour tortilla.
Tortas ($8.50), Mexican sandwiches on soft telera bread, are toasty and comforting, served with any filling plus beans, cheese, avocado, and jalapeno mayo. At some places the sandwiches can be belly busters, but here they are manageable enough that you'll have room for sweet, creamy tres leches cake ($2.50) for the finale. You can't go wrong with a classic pressed quesadilla (also three sizes, $3.99, $8.50, and $9.50), and those looking for more of a snack should try the tostadas — crisp corn tortillas topped with a filling, a smear of refried beans, lettuce, queso fresco, crema de avocado, and tomatillos ($4.99).
We'll be back to try enchiladas ($9.99), tamales ($2.99), and breakfast — which owner Socrates Abreu tells us they'll start serving mid-January.
This is the first restaurant for unlikely proprietor Abreu, who is Dominican-American. He fell in love with Mexican street food at the 2010 wedding of his brother in Sonora and started dreaming of owning a spot of his own. Though it took years to make it a reality, picking the neighborhood was easy; he still lives in the Jamaica Plain house in which he grew up.
The recipes come from Abreu's sister-in-law Kaurys Ramirez, who spent time working at the now-shuttered Market in the W Hotel and then a Mexican restaurant before Abreu says he "tricked her into coming with me to open Chilacates."
We didn't press for the deceptive details, but we're grateful she ended up in the kitchen.
224 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6000, www.chilacates.mx
All major credit cards accepted. Not wheelchair accessible.
Prices Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas, enchiladas, and tostadas $2.99-$9.99
Hours Sun-Wed 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thu-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
What to order Lengua taco, papas con chorizo taco, carne asada burrito, torta al pastor