The one amazing thing I found on this menu was fish tacos ($11.95). Fried fish in soft wrappers as tacos was developed in Baja California under tourist influence, but baked tilapia with avocado and garlicky green sauce turns out to be a combination made in heaven. On the side, you have oddly red slaw, so you may want to order black beans ($2.95) or tostones ($2.95). The tostones, more Caribbean than Mexican, are thicker and somewhat sweeter than the original twice-fried plantains, but fabulous. The black beans are also well-cooked and seasoned to make a rich bowl.
Roasted salmon fillet ($15.95) is another big winner, as the "chipotle-miso glaze" does great things for a pedestrian plate, and scalloped potatoes and buttery leaves of baby spinach complete a fine, if not completely Mexican, platter. Short ribs ($17.95) is another straight bistro platter, with the ribs off the bone, spinach leaves, and outstanding mashed potatoes, as one might have at Scollay Square.
Verde enchiladas ($9.95) pull in more traditional Mexican flavors with corn tortillas wrapped around chicken, a green tomatillo sauce, a fresh salsa, yellow rice, and refried beans.
Decaf coffee ($2.50) was quite good, but desserts lag the other courses. The best we had was flan ($7), a big square, probably enriched with some cream cheese, and surrounded with surprisingly tasty non-seasonal fruit. The kitchen staff may or may not be Mexican, but they know how to buy fruit. Banana taquitos ($7) were wrapped and fried, leaving too starchy an impression. Again, this seemed more Asian than Mexican. Churros ($7) are a take on Mexican breakfast crullers, but much smaller, dense and underdone (and likely under-leavened), and not ideal vehicles for sugar, raspberry sauce, and chocolate sauce. Sopapillas ($7) were a real travesty of the traditional squares of fried dough. In New Mexico, you tear off a corner and put some honey inside. Here, you have to cut them with a knife and fork and focus on the sauce. The house favorite dessert is tequila-spiked snow cones ($12 for four), but we weren't having that kind of evening.
The space, which was formerly a clothing store and the excellent Persephone restaurant, is quite large. Despite this, service was good on an uncrowded weeknight. The walls are bare brick, hung with large paintings of Mexican fortune-telling cards, and the music runs to Caribbean salsa and meringue. Despite various inauthenticities, general competence and capacity make this a very useful restaurant. Many of us came up on fake Mexican food, and Papagãyo has some skills behind theirs.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.
Papagãyo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar | 617.423.1000 | Open Monday–Thursday, 11:30 Am–10 Pm; Friday And Saturday, 11:30 Am–11 Pm; And Sunday, 10 Am–9 Pm | $$ | AE, DC, MC, Vi | Full Bar | Up Four Steps From Sidewalk Level, Sidewalk-Level Entrance At 281 Summer Street | Validated Parking Nights And Weekends, Channelside Parking Lot, 284 A Street