Mining the culinary treasures of our Dominican community
I'm often asked how I think Boston's restaurant scene compares to other US cities. Surely we're no New York (13 times our population) or San Francisco (with its year-round seasonal harvest). But Boston has a strength shared by few American cities our size: many small, independent restaurants helmed by immigrant chef/owners cooking traditional cuisines for other ex-pats, which means they don't dumb down the food for Americans. To mine this treasure, you'll have to get off your own block, but the rewards include finding fine little places like El Embajador, a veteran Dominican restaurant in JP's Parkside neighborhood.
House-made pastelitos ($1.50 each), bubbly-crusted deep-fried turnovers of beef or chicken, are a good start here; raisins and sweet spicing distinguish them from their fiery Jamaican brethren. A flat-faced press turns out sandwiches like the Cubano ($6.50) of ham, onions, mild white cheese, and fantastic slow-roasted pork shoulder on a baguette-like bun. (If you prefer the style of the Cuban-American original, ask them to hold the Dominican-standard lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise and add mustard.) The kitchen serves a handful of dishes from the long menu each day, mostly stews intended for two diners. These offer whopping value: a mound of white rice, a dish of soupy pinto beans, and a big plateful of bone-in animal protein long-cooked in sauce. Frequent offerings here include pollo guisado ($11.99), flavorful chicken thighs and juicy breast chunks, and rabo guisado ($11.99), fatty, tender slices of oxtail, both served in rich, tomato-based gravy. Andrew Zimmern types will want to try cocido ($10.99), served on Fridays and Saturdays: a stew of beef foot and other hard-to-identify parts, wonderful if you can get past some rubbery offal textures and unfamiliar-looking bones.
Despite a large sign that proclaims "Mariscos" out front, most seafood options must be ordered ahead. Paella a la marinera ($29.99) generously serves four with a tasty, localized version of the Valencian casserole, subbing long-grain rice for bomba and achiote for saffron, with plenty of shrimp plus a few chunks of octopus and Maine lobster. Drink options include a variety of fresh tropical juices ($2.99) and morir soñando ($2.99), fresh-squeezed OJ mixed with sweetened condensed milk, like a gourmet Orange Julius. A few words of Spanish go a long way here, but even without, service is friendly and helpful to the rare Anglo customer. If you're not taking the trouble to experience places serving homey, high-value, delicious fare like El Embajador, you're missing out on a big part of what makes Boston a great dining town.
EL EMBAJADOR, located at 3371 Washington Street in Jamaica Plain, is open Monday–Saturday, 7 am–11 pm, and Sunday, 9 am–10 pm. Call 617.524.6812.
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