A place to dance, drink, and maybe get a little Puerto Rican nosh
By MC SLIM JB | July 29, 2009
I keep finding good, inexpensive food in Boston in unlikely places: a commercial shipyard (Scup's), a construction-company lot (M+M Ribs), a mall food court (Trini's), and what looks like someone's house in a residential neighborhood (Pupuseria Mama Blanca). Add El Mondonguito to this list — a tiny, quirky Dudley Square juke joint that serves modest Puerto Rican fare. One wall has a TV and a jukebox full of salsa, bachata, merengue, and cumbia. Another has a dozen counter seats and a video game. Across a small dance floor are a few four-tops. On the far wall is a display of prepared food, the annual domino-tournament results, and a counter where patrons order food and drinks, buy penny candy, and read the wall of goofy Spanish bumper stickers (sample: "Work is sacred; don't touch it!").
The best dishes tend to be the day's specials (ask the owner what's on), like the sopa de mondongo ($5.50/small; $8.50/large), described as "beef stew" in English, but actually a clear-broth soup loaded with big chunks of beef tripe, mandioca, and carrots, seasoned with bay leaf and a subtle, insistent chili fire. Another standout is the rice and beans ($5), pintos in beautifully seasoned gravy with a giant side of good white rice. The display items vary from very good to fair, as not everything improves under heat lamps. Fried chicken ($2) is a hefty leg/breast quarter hacked into bony pieces. Chicarrones ($3) are a big, delicious portion, but the crackling gets a little tough sitting around. Pork ribs ($1) appear roasted: they're fatty and delicious, with a mild barbecue sauce. Empanadillas ($1.25), little fried turnovers of chicken, beef, or ham and cheese, are ungreasy but meagerly filled.
Rellenos ($1.25) are a classic home-style snack, fried cylinders of dark-brown mashed mandioca or golden mashed plantain, both stuffed with a spicy ground-beef filling. Morcilla ($2) looks a little tired prior to slicing, but turns out to be a fine rendition of pig's-blood sausage. Many of these dishes perk up with a bite from the jar of complimentary, fiercely fiery pickled vegetables or a squirt of hot sauce. As this is primarily a bar, most patrons enjoy their meals with a cold beer ($3.50), mostly watery North American lagers. While serving food may be ancillary to its primary function as a neighborhood watering hole, dance hall, and convenience store, El Mondonguito proves the maxim that, if you keep your eyes peeled, cheap and tasty dishes have a way of popping up.
EL MONDONGUITO, located at 221A Dudley Street, in Roxbury, is open seven days a week, 10 am–2 am. Call 617.522.3672.
2009: The year in cheap eats, Ginger Park Kitchen & Bar, House of Chang, More
- 2009: The year in cheap eats
In the wake of the Bush Recession, it's been gratifying to spend 2009 noting how many good budget-priced restaurants Boston has.
- Ginger Park Kitchen & Bar
One of my frustrations with restaurant criticism is that restaurants do not usually respond to it.
- House of Chang
For more than 30 years, this location housed Lucky Garden, one of the first neighborhood Mandarin-Szechuan restaurants in Greater Boston, and one of the best in stretches.
- Skara Grill
Having longed for an all-out Greek dining room in metro Boston since, well, almost since the Phoenix was reviewing plays by Euripides and protesting the Peloponnesian War, I finally hit Dionysos in Cambridge about a year before it closed in 2007.
- The Spot Café
Your typical cheap-eats reviewer spends a lot of time in diners: they're America's original inexpensive quick-service restaurants, and most are a step up from modern fast-food franchises.
The first clue to a fake restaurant is a phony name. Conga's isn't owned by an Afro-Cuban dance rhythm, and doesn't serve drums. Instead, it has a Spanish and South American menu cooked by Central Americans for Thai owners whose previous Japanese restaurant in this space didn't catch on.
- Sonny Noto's Restaurant
How does a restaurant fly under the radar for nearly 60 years?
- The Daily Grill
You can tell that the Daily Grill isn't from around here, because it describes itself as "modeled after the great big city grills of the '30s and '40s."
A local daily recently reviewed several national fast-food chains, including McDonald's and KFC, even praising sub shop Quizno's.
- Arbri Cafe
I loved the Café Apollonia when it opened in this space in 2004 as what was then Boston's sole denominated Albanian restaurant.
- Symphony 8 Restaurant & Bar
Everyone wants to have a gastro-pub with comfort food, but you have to be able to cook a little bit to sustain one. It also helps to draw a clean draught beer, maintain a quality wine list, and sweep the floor.
: On The Cheap
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