Cambridge and Somerville have their share of great Mexican restaurants — Tacos Lupita, Olécito, and Tu y Yo come to mind. For Salvadorian cuisine, my go-to spots were always in East Boston. But sometimes digging a little deeper will reveal nice surprises. Take El Potro, a small, self-proclaimed Mexican grill in Union Square, at first seems like your standard taco stand, serving up reasonably priced, large portioned, and competent but wholly unremarkable burritos, enchiladas, tacos, and tortas. Most of the pseudo-Mexican fare comes topped with neon orange shreds (the kind that fast-food restaurants refer to as “queso cheese”) and flanked by a dollop of refried beans, red rice, and a squiggle of sour cream. They’re served by an amicable minor (to his parents: thanks for raising one of the hardest working and friendliest little kids I’ve ever met). So why, you may ask, would I be inclined to write about a place that serves only run-of-the-mill Mexican? Because like a Mexican wrestling luchador, El Potro hides its true identity under a mask.
Between the quesadillas and the chimichangas, you’ll find classic Salvadorian fare like Yucca Frita con Chicharrones ($5.99) — ultra-crispy, creamy-in-the-center, more-flavorful-than-potato, large chunks of fried yucca served with equally large and equally fried pieces of pork belly. A pile of tart pickled cabbage and a side of vinegary tomato sauce cut through the fat (which is significant). Pupusas ($2) are the Salvadorian version of a grilled-cheese sandwich: a soft corn masa is rolled into a ball, stuffed with shredded chicharron and cheese, then flattened and grilled on a comal until charred and crisp. Once you add a dash of salt at the table (underseasoning seems to be a theme here), El Potro’s pupusas are easily the best I’ve had in Boston: crisp on the outside, with a gooey, flavorful center and not a hint of greasiness.
Moving on to entrées, the thing to go for is the Plato Montañero ($11.95) — a celebration of all things fried. Beefy, marinated skirt steak forms the foundation of the massive plate, and is topped with half a pig’s worth of fried pork belly. Beans and rice (the Mexican variety — the only pan–Central American fusion dish in the city) fill out the rest of the plate and are topped with sweet and savory fried ripe plantains. As if it were necessary, a single fried egg sits atop the glistening pile, its yolk just waiting for the prod of your fork to release its molten center. It’s enough to make you forget (or at least forgive) the Mexican masquerade.
El Potro, located at 61 Union Square, in Somerville, is open Mon–Fri, 10 am to 10 pm, and Sat & Sun, 11 am to 9 pm. Call 617.666.4200.