Were I a marketing consultant, I'd tell restaurateurs not to describe any item they serve as "best in the city" or "cooked to perfection." Similarly, grandiose restaurant names just invite skepticism. "Promote," I'd urge, "but don't oversell." Great Taste Diner will raise some eyebrows with its name, especially as a lot of its humble predecessor, Danny's Diner, is still hanging around: the decrepit sidewalk sign, the same short-order cook, the standard-issue American hash-house menu. There's the familiar plate of eggs, home fries, and toast ($4.25, plus $2 for sausage, ham, or bacon); the same good French toast or pancakes ($5, plus $2.50 for above-average fresh-fruit toppings); old-timey lunch and dinner standbys like BLTs ($5.75), tuna melts ($6.25), chicken noodle soup ($3.50/cup, $4.75/bowl), and Italian-American pastas ($8.75). These will satisfy, but not wow.
But the sunny, modest 30-seat room has fresh paint in tones of paprika, pumpkin, and avocado, plus some Peruvian décor elements. That new accent extends to the menu, where you can now get a breakfast sandwich of butifarra ($6.25), fried sliced chicharrón topped with onion salad on a good roll with sweet-potato fries. Dinner options include lomo saltado ($9.75), a hefty stir-fry of strips of steak or chicken with tomato, red onion, fresh cilantro, and outstanding fried potatoes, plus a big side of good rice. Shrimp in ají (10.75) tops a pile of medium sautéed shrimp with an intense, sunshine-yellow sauce of ají peppers and garlic, with starchy, potato-like boiled yucca on the side. Presumably for gringos baffled by Peruvian fare, there are Mexican items like phenomenal huevos rancheros ($6.75), two eggs atop crisp flour tortillas layered with well-seasoned pinto beans, tomato crudo, melted queso blanco, a beautiful hunk of fresh avocado, and a drizzle of crema.
Fresh-squeezed juices provide additional Latin American flair, like an extracto de fruta ($3.25) that combines apple, orange, carrot, and beet into a gorgeous magenta beverage that tastes first of fruits and then of roots: healthy and restorative. Similarly bright-tasting fresh-fruit smoothies ($3.25) include less exotic combinations like strawberry/milk, papaya, and strawberry/banana. Ultimately, I expect Great Taste to draw two audiences. One will be longtime customers still grabbing their morning muffin ($1.25) and good filter coffee ($1.50) to go, or a quick greasy-spoon meal at the counter. The rest will be folks like me, coming back for Peruvian fare we might not call great, but certainly really, really good, and a good value. And frankly, that's plenty: no bragging necessary.
Great Taste Diner, located at 300 Beacon Street in Somerville, is open Monday–Saturday, 7 am–10 pm, and Sunday, 8 am–3 pm. Call 617.714.3969.