El Mondonguito

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.

Related: 2009: The year in cheap eats, Ginger Park Kitchen & Bar, House of Chang, More more >
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