A 2009 fire in the Fenway destroyed an entire block of beloved independent restaurants, including the very popular El Pelón Taquería. It was the second fire in two years to hit this Baja-style joint, prompting my comment, “If there is a God, he’s an angry God, one who probably dines at Applebee’s.” Taking the hint, El Pelón opted for a new home near the western terminus of the Green Line B train. Most restaurants never recover from one fire; could El Pelón rise from the ashes twice?
The food appears not to have lost a step. Tacos are still the most compelling reason to visit: soft corn tortillas (a single layer that somehow holds together) piled with limed onions, lightly pickled red cabbage, house-made cooked tomato salsa, and thin slices of cucumbers. Meat fillings are excellent and generously laid on. Chicken ($2) is well-charred yet moist; lean grilled steak ($2.75) boasts a fine smoky flavor; carnitas, i.e., braised pork shoulder ($2), is superb: tender, rich, and fatty. The famed fish tacos ($6.50/two) don’t disappoint, either: cubes of cod are fried in a spiced cornmeal batter and lightly dressed with chile-scented mayo instead of salsa. El Pelón nails the essential crisp, unoily fry job. Burritos ($4.50–$6.25) — same filling options as tacos, plus two vegetarian choices — are big and well-constructed, but need a jolt of hot sauce or guacamole (75 cents). Enchiladas ($4.25–$4.75) wrap their naked fillings loosely in corn tortillas covered with salsa verde, shredded Jack, and crema. They’re decent, but taste assembled rather than baked en casserole. Tortas ($5.50) work better, recalling the cemitas of Puebla, filling a toasted roll with chicken, carnitas, or steak and adding refried beans, guacamole, chile mayo, salsa, limed onions, and lettuce.
Sides range from the excellent calabacitas ($2.75), an oily, oregano-scented stew of butternut squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, to good pinto beans ($2), fair annatto-tinged Mexican rice ($2), and underseasoned black beans ($2). Drink options ($1.75) are limited to Jarritos sodas, cane-sweetened Mexican Coca-Cola, and a self-serve fountain selection of Real City sodas. The spare, airy counter-service space has walls bedecked with customer photos, tourist art, and posters from chili-eating contests past, plus table and counter seating for 14 customers. Long-time fans can breathe easy: El Pelón appears destined to flourish in its new home, its wholesome take on Cal-Mex border food already a smash with BC students. One can only hope its old Fenway neighbors recover so swimmingly.
El Pelón Taquería, located at 2197 Comm Ave, in Brighton, is open daily, 11 am–11 pm. Call 617.779.9090.