Let’s taco'bout tacos. Coming from California, where Mexican food, more than a cuisine, is a form of therapy (Sad? Have a burrito. Happy? Tacos. Drunk? Hungover? — you get the idea), I was skeptical New England could deliver. But I’ll tell you what, Boston, you gave San Francisco’s Mission district a run for its money. Here are five spots that satisfied my craving for (mostly) authentic tacos.
Felipe’s - Harvard Square
Get the tacos as they appear on the menu. The staff at Felipe's will put anything you ask for on your taco, but in the end, their tacos are best with only the ingredients listed right there on the overhead chalkboard — meat or seafood, cilantro, onion, and Felipe’s sharp guacamolillo. The shrimp (bought fresh several times a week) is the best they have to offer — served baja style — breaded fried shrimp, crispy, never soggy or cakey, with a creamy baja sauce and shredded cabbage.
21 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-354-9944,harvardsq.felipestaqueria.com
The beauty of this spot is in its simplicity. Jalisco (pronounced “Halisco”) is a friendly mom and pop shop that has been in business for 12 years. Quaintly decorated and immaculately clean, it’s just a short walk from the Blue line. Their tacos don’t try too hard, but leave nothing to be desired, especially considering the tri-colored salsa caddy accompanying each order. As far as tacos go, this is the healthiest option on my list, since they don’t add crema, guac, cheese, or any other extraneous accoutrement to their deliciously tender, not-so-greasy, meat.
291 Bennington St, Boston, 617-567-6367, Facebook
An unbeatable taco experience in Jamaica Plain. Fresh ingredients — resulting in bold salsas and condiments — justify a pricier fast food at this small, but stylish taco spot. At Chilacates everyone knows each other. It’s clear that the dinner rush crowd is full of neighborhood regulars, diverse and loyal, all convening in reverence of the taco experience. El Pastor is the taco of choice — a kick in the pants, and just what the doctor ordered for any homesick California transplant.
244 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6000, chilacates.mx
While I can’t get behind El Pelon’s assertion of “Authentic Mexican,” I will say that the Caramelos “tacos” (they aren’t actually tacos in the true sense, but more of an open face burrito experience) are great — tender, well seasoned carne asada, and a generous serving of fresh, chunky guacamole. Unfortunately, the other tacos aren’t quite as dazzling — they've made some questionable choices with taco toppings (cucumber slices?) — but stick with the Caramelos and you’ll be golden. Just be sure to grab some extra napkins.
2197 Comm Ave., Brighton, 617-779-9090 & 92 Peterborough St, Boston, 617-262-9090, elpelon.com
Sure, you can get tacos here, they are on this list, aren't they? But I think Tenoch's tortas actually outshine them. These Mexican sandwiches are stuffed with boldly flavored shredded pork, served in a toasted fluffy bun and topped with colorful condiments. The sammies are both filling and affordable. Tenoch can be found in several locations in the Boston area — Somerville, Medford, the North End, and as a part of a food truck formation near South Station downtown.