Pollo al carbon ($19.50) is a much better use of a boneless chicken breast, with real grill marks and a topping of pickled onions, peppers, and fresh cilantro. Rice came with black beans, in about the proportion of Cuban moro, and plantains, which were stewed and less delightful than Caribbean fried plantains, but plantains are always a treat.
Our best entrée was tacos a la parrilla ($14.95), which is here a piece of grilled ahi tuna, a pale fish not much heavier than swordfish, on a bed of guacamole and red cabbage, with nicely folded white-corn tortillas. Several people could split it as an appetizer as long as the tortillas held out. We had a side of slightly underdone black beans with this one.
The best things to drink at the old place were bottled Mexican beer ($5.95) — the selection of which turns over rapidly — and sangria. I didn't like the old margaritas ($8.95) and I didn't like the new one I tried: no salt, metallic mixer taste, no real tequila bite. I was happier with a glass of a Chilean merlot/carmenère blend ($8/glass; $30/bottle). Both grapes make a relatively soft red wine, but the carmenère adds the barnyard, vegetative complexity of classic Bordeaux to the softer fruit of the merlot. Chilean carmenère is also a little peppery, so it wanders onto Mexican-restaurant wine lists, makes friends, and sticks around. Coffee and decaf ($3) are good, and espresso ($3) was especially good our night, bitter as it is in Italy. But ordering tea produced one of the most remarkable server prevarications of all time: "We can't serve tea because the machine we use to make the hot water is broke." At this point, some people might argue, "You have a kitchen. It has a stove, pots, and running water. Do you suppose you could make a cup of tea that way?" But an anonymous restaurant critic never nags, never cajoles, never guesses, and never complains. I just take notes.
Desserts were a shorter list than I remember in Brighton, but they still can't get the flan ($5.95) to come out as smooth as it ought to be. A seasonal pumpkin flan ($5.95) was terrific, however. Tres leches cake ($6.95) was small, round, sweet, not so creamy as some, and unremarkable. Again, the espresso-flavored variant ($6.95) was better. Service early in the evening was excellent. This location, just off Clarendon Street where the Back Bay meets the South End, isn't far from theaters and downtown, but it doesn't have a lot of foot traffic, so they will have to promote it, even though they serve some of the only Mexican food downtown. Of course, if more of that food was up to the standard of the guacamole, the salsa, the elote, and the soups, they wouldn't have to promote it quite so much.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.
Zocalo Cocina Mexicana | 35 Stanhope Street, Boston (Back Bay) | 617.456.7849 | Open Monday–Wednesday, 5–10 pM, Thursday–Saturday, 5 pm–Midnight | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Sidewalk level access