When I first saw the restaurant that replaced the West Campus UBurger, I laughed. It wasn’t anything about the name “Taqueria El Barrio” itself that was funny— it was the idea of ever wanting to eat Mexican food in Boston. Having spent the past nine years living in a city where Taco Cabana is considered a last-resort, where even the whitest of residents know what al pastor is, I’ve learned to steer clear of Mexican food that claims to be authentic. When you’re used to food cooked by people who live two hours from the border, it’s hard to trust the idea of food 2,000 miles from it.
One night though, I was with my “big” eating dinner and we started talking about Mexican food and whether there was anything even remotely worthwhile that wasn’t ridiculously overpriced. 90% jokingly, I said I was willing to give the new place in Allston a shot, but only after I checked that no one had gotten food poisoning on Yelp. Then came the moment of surprise. The reviews were…positive? Saying it was authentic and cheap? They even had good corn tortillas?
It was then that I decided I had to see it for myself. Maybe the reviews had been some marketing scheme, or just by people who don’t have experienced taste buds. So, Friday night, after classes, I walked across Comm. Ave with my roommate and proceeded to decide if I thought the reviews were correct.
First, a word of advice when choosing a place to eat Mexican food. Always make sure the people behind the counter are speaking Spanish. My mother told me that once, it has always held true, and it was the first thing that I noticed when I walked into “Taqueria El Barrio.” When the girl at the cash register spoke with a Spanish accent, I became optimistic. Then I looked at the menu.
Photo Credit: Boston Magazine
Tacos made with al pastor, lengua, fish, chicken, and beef were all options, with their names written in Spanish. Customers could choose between corn and flour tortillas, an array of quesadillas, plates of rice and beans, and tostadas. Under drinks, they had multiple flavors of Aguas Frescas (my sister would be thrilled), as well as a drink made of rice and milk known as “Horchata.” I don’t eat dairy anymore, but I 10/10 recommend it for anyone who does.
For my order, I went with a classic grilled chicken taco on corn, and my roommate had a chicken quesadilla with chips and salsa. The restaurant had also set out a self-serve salsa bar with spice level ranging from “light” to “hot.” I went with “Hot Spicy,” fancying myself a spiciness expert, put a massive dollop onto a chip, and promptly set my mouth on fire. My level of respect for the establishment went up immediately.
The salsa that turned my mouth into Hades. Photo by Maya Fajardo.
Then came the actual food, which, against all odds and skepticism, I really liked. The chicken was grilled well, with a little bit of charring but still juicy (and they put a good amount of it). The pico de gallo was a good ratio of cilantro to onion, and the corn tortillas weren’t dry or too easy to break. I had some guac too, which is always important, and while I wouldn’t rave about it, the other food was so good that it was perfect as simply a topping. Again, I don’t eat dairy but I tasted a bite of my roommate’s quesadilla that had light cheese and it was just as good, if not better than the taco I had.
You can never go wrong with a good grilled chicken taco. Photo by Maya Fajardo.
All in all, to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Here is a place that I can go for good tacos at a reasonable price whenever I feel a little homesick (which, shocker, yes, you get homesick even during your sophomore year), and it’s literally across the street from my dorm so weather is no barrier.