ALL THAT’S NEW IS OLD AGAIN: Zocalo hasn’t changed much from its previous incarnation, which will please fans. Now open near Back Bay Station, it offers standbys like elote, grilled sections of corn on the cob.
I wasn't crazy about Zocalo when it was in Brighton, but others were. Now it has reopened near Back Bay Station, and the food and drinks are much the same. So my opinion remains unchanged, while fans will be delighted to find their old friend just as it was.
It does look different, having moved into the former space of Stix, replete with wood panels angled like one of those carnival fun-houses, parallelogram tabletops, and the same old incongruous pile-up of Filipino chef, Caribbean salsa music, Spanish sangria, and Mexican food.
Sort all that out, and the initial bowl of salsa remains excellent, running now to more of a green tomatillo sauce with fresh cilantro, and fresh-tasting tostada chips for dipping. The tableside guacamole ($9.50) still works for me, no matter how silly the waiter looks laboring over the bowl, as if it were a Caesar salad in a big hotel. Freshness is important in guacamole, and this avocado spread is made about five seconds and three feet from your tabletop. It's still served in a footed, lava-rock bowl that looks like they bought it from a roadside merchant in the middle of nowhere.
Sopa de tortillas ($8.25) is quite good, and vegan besides. (The menu helpfully labels vegetarian and gluten-free.) It's another green-tomato base with crisped tortilla strips, mild cheese, and a garnish of crème fraiche. Pozole oaxaqueno ($8.25) could be supper for some people, with some shredded pork and hominy in a thin broth. What it lacks is the earthiness and complexity of the slow food it used to be. We asked for hot sauce, to which the server replied they had only a chipotle sauce. (A Mexican restaurant without hot sauce? Really?) Chipotle, however, was just what it needed, the smoke-and-chile overtones to make it more primitive and satisfying.
Elote ($5.95) is a best-buy appetizer, sections of corn on the cob grilled and coated with cheese, lime, and chile for richness. These aren't quite as good as the ones at Toro, but they aren't out of that ballpark, and lots cheaper.
Tamales ($6.75) come with chicken or vegetable stuffings, topped with mole or green-chile salsa. Either way, they are in the flatter, stodgier style of Yucatan, wrapped in banana leaves rather than cornhusks. We had vegetarian (a little sweet, perhaps like taro?) with mole (a mistake, since there is better mole sold in supermarkets).
Let's clear up this mole thing with more of it on pollo con mole ($21.95). It's a whole chicken breast covered with "mild chocolate chile sauce and sesame seeds," but I scraped off almost all of it. I did like the completely inauthentic sesame seeds. But the black mole sauce is supposed to be some bitter chocolate complementing layered chilies enriched with ground sunflower seeds. This sauce lacks almost all character. My sides were red rice and refried beans, neither remarkable.