A modest taqueria expands to go a little bit uptown
I've long been a patron of the eccentrically capitalized TaQueria La Mexicana in Somerville's Union Square, relying on it for tasty, cheap tacos from actual Mexican owners. So I was intrigued to hear they'd expanded into the adjacent bar to open Cantina La Mexicana, a fancier, sit-down establishment with table service. It's a cute room in cheery Southwestern hues (turquoise, magenta, pumpkin, brick), with carved-wood columns, twinkling icicle lights, and kitschy wall hangings. It also boasts a feature lamentably absent from many Boston taquerias: the ability to get a drink with your enchiladas or torta.
Here the full bar offers a selection of beers (including $3 Tecate, nice) and respectable sangrias ($6/glass; $18/liter). Better yet, the memory of innumerable lame roadhouse margaritas is banished by an excellent, hefty silver margarita ($9), pure-agave blanco tequila well-balanced with fresh citrus flavors. Complimentary tortilla chips come with a salsa of pureed fresh tomato. A starter of gordita rellena ($4) fills a thick, chewy, tart-shaped shell of baked masa dough with superb carnitas (marinated pork shoulder), confit-like in its fatty richness and sprinkled with diced tomato and shredded lettuce. The effect is rather like a Venezuelan arepa, richer and heartier than thin-tortilla appetizers. Beyond carnitas, filling options (likewise available on many dishes) include stewed chicken, shredded beef, chopped chorizo with diced potatoes, and rajas con crema (strips of roasted poblano pepper mixed with a creamy mild cheese). Guacamole ($5.95) is a rough dice of citrus-dressed avocado served with warm corn tortillas, a novel preparation that yields both clear flavors and textural interest.
Entrûes reflect rustic simplicity more than the complex spicing of urban Mexican cooking. Chiles rellenos ($8.75) boast three roasted poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and long-stewed shredded chicken and topped with enchilada sauce. It's a gorgeous and substantial plate. The taco plate ($6.50) features two tacos, each properly built on a double layer of corn tortillas, very generously stuffed and simply topped with a bit of cheese and more of that lettuce/tomato dice. The potato-and-chorizo version is especially homey and satisfying, though sides of boiled mashed pinto beans and rice are on the bland side. With super-friendly service, an attractive but unfancy setting, and generous portions, Cantina La Mexicana offers a bit more comfort than the humble taqueria next door, at barely higher prices. That's a worthy combination for dining out in fraught economic times.
Cantina La Mexicana, located at 247 Washington Street, in Somerville, is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 am to 10 pm, and on Sunday, from 11 am to 9 pm. Call 617.776.5232.
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