WINNING CATCH While much of the menu takes aim at middle-of-the-road Mexican, some items, like the fish tacos, rise to the level of outstanding.
Papagãyo is the last of a group of tequila bars that has opened in Boston in the past couple of years, and I would not be overly sad to close the book. Coming from the owners of Max & Dylans and Scollay Square, it follows their pattern of doing a number of popular, middle-of-the-road things decently well, and follows the company line of excellent side-dish potatoes. That it is an unashamedly fake Mexican restaurant is evident in the odd spelling of the name — there is no tilde over a vowel in Spanish, and no tilde at all in the word "papagayo," which is a term for parrot, with the connotation of copycat. Still, Papagãyo does a capable job with the cuisine, and sometimes — as with fish tacos — an outstanding job.
As for the tequila-bar part, Papagãyo's pride is a vast selection, with many of the more fun bottles displayed in a room of lit cases. Off a list of specials, I ordered an 1800 Milenio Single Barrel, but it was not in stock, so I moved up to a Cuervo de la Familia Platino ($14 on list, $15.50 on bill) on the rocks. It came straight in a snifter (as the maker recommends), but anyone with a glass of ice water can fix that. This is a silver style with much of the smoke distilled out, leaving the fruitier notes of the agave over a smoother palate. It's quite sippable from the snifter, but I still prefer to taste tequila like scotch, with a splash of water, which here brings out some balancing smoke. The house margarita ($8) is reasonably close to classic, despite the use of agave nectar as a slight sweetener. The red sangria ($9) is for people who like a lot of fruit in their sangria. The liquid part is nicely balanced between red wine and predominantly orange fruit flavors, but you will need to drink with a straw. My favorite beverage with Mexican food is still beer, and draft Negro Modelo ($4.50) turns out to be a revelation, much livelier with more evident wet hopping than the bottled version.
For appetizers, it's hard to pass on the tableside guacamole ($9.95) and ceviche ($9.95). The former is impeccably fresh, since it is on the table within minutes of opening the Hass avocados, but not huge, and the tostados are not fresh-fried (already evident with the salsa and chips). There is a slight jalapeño kick in some bites. The latter is very successful with tuna sashimi (although not really ceviched in lime juice) and shrimp in a tomato salsa with winter cilantro, plus superb fried ribbons of plantain.
Tacos de atun ($9.95) is a similar mixture, minus shrimp, plus hot mayonnaise, in three small taco shells. If fake Mexican leans to Japanese, I'm all right with that. "Alotes" a la parilla ($6.95) are the popular grilled corn and cheese tapa, here done with char but lots of mayonnaise-cheese coating. This is the value appetizer, with four chunks.