One of the joys of exploring Boston's cheap-eats universe is the occasional serendipitous encounter with an unlikely treasure. A few weeks ago, I followed a colleague's lead to a delicious cheap burger in a Cambridge mini-mall; this week, my sister steered me to the food court of the Arsenal Mall, where amid the grim chain outlets I found Trini's, which serves fresh, really tasty, bona fide Mexican delights. Two worthy shopping-mall food finds in one month! What are the odds?
With her outstanding tacos, Trini sets the right authentic note by using a double layer of soft corn tortillas — take note, you wannabe taqueros at upscale restaurants — and her fillings are sublime. Carnitas (braised-then-roasted pork shoulder) has a pulled-pork texture, the ideal yet rarely achieved combination of tenderness and crispness, and a subtle orange flavor. Al pastor (juicy rotisserie-grilled pork butt) has a garlicky adobo marinade. Chorizo (a bland, crumbly Mexican pork sausage) is a good platform to sample the half-dozen optional condiments: fresh sliced jalapeños, a passable thin guacamole, good pico de gallo, green-chili/tomatillo salsa verde, a smoky-hot chipotle salsa, and a milder red salsa. All tacos are $2.75 and feature diced onion, plenty of fresh cilantro, and lime wedges. These would be better enjoyed standing over the hood of one's car, but in a town infamously devoid of taco trucks, the food court's communal seating will have to suffice.
Burritos ($5.46) are Yanqui-friendly behemoths stuffed with rice, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and black or refried pinto beans. Meat options are as for tacos, and thus also include grilled chicken and carne asada (chewy grilled beefsteak). Despite generous portions, the meat flavors are muted by fillers; better to get them on a torta ($4.85), a sub-like sandwich with a good roll. Hard-shell tacos with ground beef ($5.35), nachos ($6.25), hefty quesadillas ($5.36), and taco salad ($5.75/steak; $5.25/chicken) are superior versions of chain-Mex dishes favored by teens. Drinks include the familiar Mexican cane-sweetened Jarritos sodas ($2), American fountain sodas ($1.70), and refrescos (uncarbonated soft drinks) of tamarind, mango, lemonade, and horchata ($2.50). "I wasn't expecting such fabulous food at the mall," I said to chef/owner Trini, a native of Mexico City. To which she replied with a smile: "Everybody says that." That's my favorite kind of bargain-dining surprise.
Trini's Mexican Grill, located in the food court on the upper level of the Arsenal Mall, at 485 Arsenal Street in Watertown, is open Monday–Saturday, 10 am–8:30pm, and Sunday, noon–5:30 pm. Call 617.924.3026.