Yellow Door Taqueria in Dorchester, which opened in late July, is jamming on a Wednesday night. Patrons crowd around the leather-finish granite bar sipping mezcal cocktails. Suburbanite parents mingle with a girls-night-out, all perched on teal retro bar stools. People are huddled around the host station, practically spilling out the door. It feels like all of nearby Milton has come out for fancy tacos and frozen margaritas made with fresh squeezed juice.
Yellow Door packs a lot of chic charm into the narrow 60-seat space in Lower Mills that was most recently an antiques market, but still bears the mosaic-tile floor of its days as an apothecary in the early 1900s. There is plenty for design-lovers to geek out about, including distressed cabinetry and sultry low lighting, thanks to an interior done by co-owner Taniya Nayak, a neighborhood resident known for her work on Food Network and HGTV. On a Saturday night, we spot Nayak with friends at the bar, keeping a low profile in a baseball hat. The ownership team includes Nayak’s husband, Brian O’Donnell, and Ken Casey, the frontman of Dropkick Murphys, who together own Boston spots
Lion’s Tail, Abby Lane, and Central Bistro. There’s plenty of local star-power here, but the biggest draw is, happily, the inventive tacos by 27-year-old executive chef and part owner, Colton Coburn-Wood.
The ambience got us in the door, but we were admittedly a bit skeptical. We are wary of fussy, over-dressed tacos, and the spicy chorizo taco ($4) comes not only with fried potatoes, charred salsa roja, crema, cotija, and pickled red onion — it’s topped with a tiny quail egg from a New Hampshire farm. And it’s delicious. The salty sausage is tempered by the creamy potato and oozing egg yolk. The sweet-tart onions and cilantro balance it all out. Not to mention it arrives on a house-made corn tortilla, available in half-dozen packs to take home for $5. The Colorado taco ($4) — one of several options marked as gluten-free — is filled with tender stewed pork, a radish and carrot escabeche, queso fresco, jicama, crema, and cilantro. It’s another well-seasoned and flavorful little tortilla-topper. The deeply satisfying, sweet and salty Azteca taco ($5) is filled with tequila-habanero braised beef, salsa ranchero, onion-bacon jam, and pickled onion, topped with crispy tortilla strings.
Coburn-Wood, who also serves as executive chef at Lower Mills Tavern a few doors down, isn’t afraid to break some rules with his “Cali-Mex” style tacos. Cangrejo ($5) has local crab, a blue corn puree, chipotle beans, and a mango-serrano slaw. The shellfish tastes fresh and, surprisingly, the beans don’t drown out the delicate white meat. One disappointment is the daily fish taco ($5). Deep fried with grilled pineapple salsa, crema, and a calabaza squash puree, it begs for acid and salt. Another quibble, the made-fresh-daily corn tortillas would benefit from a little char, or at least a longer stay on the flat-top.
One note here: obviously $4-$5 can hardly be considered cheap for a single taco, but we found three tacos per person, plus an order of housemade chips and fresh salsa ($6), or ($10 if you want guacamole) makes for quite a filling meal. Now, if you start sampling the well-crafted cocktail menu, sipping, say, the refreshing Rosita ($12) with jalapeno-infused blanco tequila, aperol, grapefruit, and lime, or the smoky-sweet El Matador ($12) with Vago mezcal and amaro, that’s another story. To stay on budget, stick with the $4 Tecate.
While it may be dolled-up, this is truly a taqueria in the sense that the menu squarely focuses on the tacos. There are a few fresh, bright ceviches on offer like yellowtail ($14) with papaya and mint salsa, an aji amarillo-lemon marmalade, plus cucumber and cilantro. We also try the tuna ($13) with watermelon mojo, yellow mole, pineapple salsa, and a jalapeno-red onion salad. The portions are generous, served with crunchy corn chips. They are tasty enough, but do skew a bit sweet. Paring back the ingredient list could really let the fish shine. We also notice a couple salads — a “Tijuana Caesar” ($8) with cotija and homemade croutons, and a Mexicali salad ($11) with jicama, chayote, and papaya over mixed greens — but why bother? We’ve barely made it through half the tacos.
We’ll once again happily ride the Red Line all the way from Porter to Ashmont. Then wait for the Mattapan Line (which is actually a charming trolley) to try the chicken tinga, duck confit, and chipotle veggie version with beets, please.
Will travel for tacos, especially these ones, with a housemade margarita, on the rocks.
Yellow Door Taqueria
2297 Dorchester Ave., Boston, 857-267-4201, www.yellowdoortaqueria.com
All major credit cards, wheelchair accessible.
Prices Tacos $4-$5, Ceviche $13-$14, Salads $8-$11, Chips and salsa/guacamole $6-$10
Hours Mon.-Wed., 4 p.m.-1 a.m., Thurs.-Fri., 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Liquor Full bar
What to order Colorado taco, spicy chorizo taco, Azteca taco, Cangrejo taco, Rosita cocktail, El Matador cocktail.Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @catherinesmart.