Amid the hustle and bustle of South Station is Tavitas, a sit-down restaurant that stands apart from the nearby food court. It comes with a disclaimer.
“We’re trying to do something different here,” your server will likely tell you as you’re handed menus. “We’re not your typical Mexican restaurant. Our goal is to be edgy and bold.”
That explains the Walking Tacos, the star dish here that inevitably prompts diners to whip out their phones to take a picture. The tacos arrive in a cut-up bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, with the tangy tortilla chips mingling with spicy slaw, cheese, crema (a condiment similar to sour cream), and your choice of filling and salsa. A playful sendup of the junk food so many of us inhaled as kids, it is sinfully tasty.
“Our concept itself is based on the sounds and culture of East LA. We want to be outside the box,” says Doug Burke, Tavitas’s affable general manager, who might bring your table a round of tequila shots because, “Hey, it’s Saturday night!”
Tavitas is a colorful spot and further proof that South Station is reimagining its dining options. The place has its own rhythm and ambience, from the marquee sign that spells out “Odelay” (Mexican slang for “right on” or “cool”) to the tricked-out bicycle mounted overhead.
But it’s also mindful of its surroundings: Train departure times are projected on a wall, and if you’re in a hurry, you can place your order online and specify the pick-up time. From the “patio,” you can watch South Station buzz like a hive.
Open since August, Tavitas took over the space vacated by Clarke’s at South Station, a no-frills bar that served pub fare for more than 20 years. In its place is a new concept from the team behind Tavern in the Square, which already has a location in the middle of South Station.
Tavitas is not intended for purists, alternately describing itself as “badass” and “a Mexican joint” on its website. Unfortunately, that attitude often stops short of the food. At the helm is Eric LeBlanc, the hotshot chef who appeared on (and won) the Food Network shows “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Rewrapped” and made his name around Boston at the Marliave, Kitchen, and Stir.
In multiple dishes, LeBlanc’s ambition gets lost in translation. The guacamole especial adds cubes of marinated jicama, chayote, and mango, all of it underseasoned and unremarkable. From the selection of tortas, the Xolo the Hairless Dog sandwich is as baffling as its name: A chicharrón-wrapped hot dog is nestled in toasted bread and buried under a layer of guacamole, pickled serrano chile, slaw, pinto beans, and cheese.
Burritos aren’t obscenely overstuffed, but they’re not exactly robust in flavor either. The tender carne asada will work in a pinch. And the full bar produces a variety of margaritas — the ones I tried were all way too sugary for my taste — and cocktails (also cloyingly sweet) rimmed with colored salt.
Tavitas works best when it drops the pretense. The chipotle agave chicken wings are irresistible, striking the right balance between heat and sweetness, with a buttermilk crema for dipping. The quesadilla is nicely grilled, with its cheese oozing when pulled apart. The grilled Caesar salad is imposing in its regal presentation: two chunks of romaine, drenched in a creamy cotija dressing flecked with roasted poblano, jicama, chayote, and pomegranate seeds.
It’s not as “badass” as it claims, but Tavitas is at least a welcome spot for a quick bite and a drink before your train boards. Odelay.
Inside South Station, 650 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 857-302-7001, www.tavitas.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $4.99-$11.99. Tacos $7.99-$8.99. Burritos $9.99. Tortas $7.99-$12.99. Margaritas $9-$13.
Hours Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m.), Sat-Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (kitchen closes at 9:30 p.m.)
Liquor Full bar
What to order Chipotle agave wings, grilled Caesar salad, Walking Tacos, quesadilla, carne asada burrito
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.