By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
As any foodie will likely tell you, Boston isn’t known for its Mexican food. Aside from the Boston University mainstay, Sunset Cantina, which seems more beloved for its margaritas than anything else, the city isn’t exactly celebrated for its take on south-of-the-border cuisine.
Add in another factor—a vegetarian diet—and it becomes even more difficult to find decent Mexican food in Boston. Nix eggs and dairy if you’re a vegan, and it seems it might just be impossible to find any Mexican place in the city, let alone one you’d like to come back to.
That is, until you try Fenway’s El Pelón Taqueria at 92 Peterborough St., just a quick walk from Kenmore Square. El Pelón is very much a grab-and-go restaurant: a glimpse behind the counter reveals a bustling kitchen, which continuously sends out tacos, burritos and quesadillas five to ten minutes after an order is placed.
Despite the casual setting, though, El Pelón has an eclectic, welcoming atmosphere, with one wall decorated with the requisite Mexican props and the other covered with photos from fans of the taqueria sporting El Pelón shirts all across the world, everywhere from the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall of China. If that’s not enough to convince you this place’s worth a try, it was also the recipient of a “Best of Boston” award in 2011.
When you taste the food, you’ll see why. Forget Chipotle or Qdoba because El Pelón serves up authentic Mexican fare. The restaurant also fills a much-needed niche, offering vegan and vegetarian choices. There are plenty of vegetable-based options, and you can even select to substitute regular cheese with vegan cheese, a rare opportunity at any restaurant, let alone a hole-in-the-wall taqueria right by Fenway Park.
I started my vegan meal off with the plantains, which were lightly fried to achieve the perfect balance between crispy and soft. The plantains’ poignant sweetness was balanced nicely by a dash of salt, while the fire roasted salsa added zest without overshadowing the distinct flavor of the plantains. While this antojito—or Mexican street snack, which literally translates into “little whim”—was only $3.95, it was easily filling enough (and certainly appetizing) to serve as your main meal.
For my entree, I selected the black bean quesadilla with vegan cheese. For only $3.25, it’s cheaper than what you can find at Chipotle or Qdoba, but there’s just no comparison in terms of the quality. While I’m not a huge fan of vegan cheese in general, El Pelón’s take on it was pretty convincing, though perhaps the odd aftertaste that generally accompanies vegan cheese was simply camouflaged by the generous helping of black beans.
Either way, for a vegan quesadilla, it was pretty good. And with a side of El Pelón’s delicious guacamole, it was even better. No matter what you order at El Pelón, a side of 75-cent guacamole is a must. It was fresh and tangy, with a whole range of flavors that complemented the avocado base, including onion, garlic, tomato and lime. Plus, it was clearly homemade, unlike the pasty, pallid attempts at guacamole that you might find at other establishments.
Next time you’re by Kenmore Square, take a short walk and try this place. As a fan of southwestern fare, I’ve tried Mexican cuisine in as far north as Montreal (big mistake) and as far south as Tijuana (best ever), and have found the folk knowledge that Mexican food gets worse as you get farther from the border to be true. Geographically speaking, then, El Pelón should be somewhere in the middle—but, as it would turn out, it actually comes out on top.
El Pelón is also located at 2197 Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton.