Some worthy restaurants get overlooked because of shinier neighbors. I rarely visited Buteco, a now-closed Brazilian place in the Fenway, because my then-favorite Thai place, Brown Sugar, was across the street. Now I often ignore Brown Sugar in favor of Trattoria Toscana, which took over Buteco’s spot. Similarly, I’ve been eyeballing Taco Loco, in Somerville, for years, but found it tough to resist its neighbor, Sicilian-American restaurant Vinny’s at Night. When Vinny’s was shuttered recently, I gave Taco Loco its chance. It did not drop the ball.
Like many Boston-area Mexican restaurants, Taco Loco is run by Salvadorans, here a friendly, hustling bunch serving cheap, very fresh-tasting tacos, burritos, and pupusas to local crowds. You can spot the Central American connection by the use of pupusa-thick masa tortillas. The brimming steak taco ($1.75) is a gorgeous mound of small steak chunks, fresh salsa, guacamole, queso fresco, and cilantro on that plump griddled tortilla. Maybe you’re not supposed to fold it as hard as I did, as the handmade tortilla tends to split, but that rustic foundation delivers great corn flavor and heft.
Two tacos are plenty for a meal, though delicious fillings like adobada — crispy pork chunks marinated in a red chili sauce and reminiscent of crunchy boneless spareribs — and beef tongue diced fine enough to conceal its offal-ish texture, tempted me toward overindulgence. Pupusas ($1.45) boast similarly delicious fillings, such as queso con loroco, with plenty of the oregano-like dried flower bud added to the gooey cheese, and revueltas, a hash-like mash of pinto beans, cheese, and chicharrón (chopped fried pork rind). The accompanying curtido, a spicy cabbage/carrot slaw, is unfortunately underdressed and lifeless.
A chicken burrito ($4.99) is especially fine: nicely charred and sealed on the griddle and bursting with thigh meat, pintos, fresh pico de gallo, rice with crunchy mixed vegetables, and hot sauce. A side of good guacamole ($1) and a Mexican soft drink like Jarritos fruit-flavored sodas ($1.50) are good additions. While most dinners get packed to go, you can sit at granite-counter seats upstairs, where Univision blares from the plasma, or downstairs, which is quieter and cooler. Either way, Taco Loco provides a useful reminder that it’s good not to get stuck on your old reliables, especially in a neighborhood with so many inexpensive options.
Taco Loco, located at 44 Broadway, in Somerville, is open daily, from 9 am to 11 pm. Call 617.625.3830.