Reviewing restaurants is a pretty sweet gig for me, but it can be a trial for my less food-obsessed family and friends, whom I regularly dragoon into helping me sample the length and breadth of cheap-eats menus. Hearing of this week’s destination, my beloved could only respond with a pained expression. “A Mexican joint in a convenience store? At a gas station? On Beacon Hill!?” While this notion thrills me, I can grasp my dining companion’s skepticism and even dread: some restaurants are indeed as awful as they sound.
To our delight, Villa México turns out to be a solid and occasionally inspired purveyor of made-to-order, authentic Mexican fare, defying expectations of a place sited in Grampy’s gas station on Beacon Hill’s backside. Options for fillings/toppings are largely the same for nicely browned burritos ($6.50), wonderful soft corn tortilla tacos ($4.50/two), crisp tostadas ($6.50), and generous-size quesadillas ($6.50). The standouts are the marinated chicken, marinated beef, and carnitas (roast pork that I actually wish was a little greasier). Less successful are the Mexican chorizo, with an odd, slightly sour note, and the use of lettuce in the burritos, but both are easily avoided. Excellent tamales of beef, chicken, or corn ($7.50/two) include rice and beans and either of two fine house-made salsas, green and red. It’s worth splurging on both for an extra 99 cents.
At these prices, some shortcuts are inevitable: a single corn tortilla on the tacos instead of the sturdier two; a bland, underseasoned side of black beans; guacamole that tastes store-bought; a mole poblano of shredded chicken breast whose mild chocolate-based sauce won’t make you forget Angela’s Café. But there’s no denying the freshness and care that go into this mostly delicious street food. (It’s also conveniently portable; the store only has a few cramped counter seats.) And it’s fun to see your friends’ expressions change from the time they walk in to the time they dig in. Villa México amply fulfills every chowhound’s dream of uncovering great, value-priced food in unpromising locations.
Villa México Café, situated at 296 Cambridge Street, in Boston, is open Monday through Wednesday, from 9 am to 9 pm, and Thursday through Saturday, from 9 am to 11 pm. Call 617.227.2919.