In restaurants, as in life, timing is everything. The South End's swank Circle Plates and Lounge opened in October with $20 small plates of precious French food. It didn't last two months. T-Rex Taqueria, a cheery Brookline storefront serving homey, mostly takeout Tex-Mex and Mexican food (price ceiling: $8), opened in September and is doing just fine. There's a distinctly gringo flavor here: the pro-wrestler photos on the walls feature Killer Kowalski, not masked luchadores; that's Stevie Ray Vaughn by the register, not Sergio Vallín. You won't find a drop of lard in the all-vegetarian sauces. But there's an earnest, handmade quality and undeniable freshness to the food that makes it easy to overlook any lack of authenticity — especially at these prices.
Take a taco ($2.75) so overstuffed that its single soft corn tortilla can't possibly hold together (two layers would be sturdier). This knife-and-fork version is quite delicious, with a choice of the fillings offered on most dishes here: chopped dark-meat chicken, shredded beef, finely minced pork, or mixed sautûed vegetables. These are dressed simply with shredded lettuce and red cabbage, house-made salsa, and a bit of cotija cheese. It won't remind you of Eastie, let alone East LA, but it's both light and satisfying. Handmade enchiladas ($6) layer a corn tortilla, a filling, another tortilla, then one of three sauces, finished with squiggles of sour cream and a dusting of cotija. Vegan black beans and annatto-tinted rice round out the plate. The sauces — roja (red chili), verde (tomatillo), and mole (spiced chocolate and chilies) — lack the complexity of real Poblana cooking, but in Brookline no one's carping.
Burritos ($5.50) are tightly wrapped and generously filled: black beans, rice, fresh salsa, filling, and more sauce options, including pipian (with crushed pumpkin seeds), tinga (smoked tomato and chilies), chili verde (roasted green chili), and adobado (chilies and citrus). These make for mess-free portable eating, but the sauces don't shine in them. Try a comida ($8) instead, basically the burrito deconstructed, with corn tortillas and some sweet corn in place of that big flour wrapper: a more Mexican style of eating, and you can taste the sauce. Duck the high-fructose corn syrup of Yanqui sodas for a bottle of cane-sweetened Jarritos ($1.50), and savor a superb complimentary house-pickled jalapeño. Above all, be glad T-Rex's owners resisted the urge to do a pricey bistro and opened this friendly, value-priced neighborhood spot instead.
T-Rex Taqueria, located at 6 Cypress Street, in Brookline, is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 am to 9 pm, and on Sunday, from noon to 7 pm. Call 617.487.4360.