Restaurants & Bars 13

Chow-heaven in East Boston

galleygirl | May 18, 2002 08:01 PM

There is more to East Boston than Santarpio's and random Italian. We found chow-heaven in East Boston...yeah, I've known that there are Central American taquerias there that I've needed to check out for years, but that just doesn't do the other world, that exists just down the blue-line, justice.

The day began inauspiciously with 3 hounds (9lives, Micheal B, and galleygirl) gathered under the eaves at Maverick Station, comparing raingear...(FWIW, I won, by virtue of my Maine-lobsterman gear, but I was warm AND dry...) Fortified by coffee, we went to meet our next two, Rubee and Ernesto at Topacio Restuarant, 3 blocks away...En route, 9lives played tour-guide, pointing out Rosteria Cancun, where he had seen a huge crowd and luscious roasting chickens several weeks ago...We glanced inside. Whoops!!!! A sign that said "papusas" sucked us in, totally against our will.. Once inside, a friendly woman answered my querulous, "What's a papusa?" with "It's very good!"

Well, that was enough for us.."Three papusas, one queso, two queso and pork".....$1.25 a piece, and we each had a plate containing a hand-formed(we watched), cormeal pancake, tender, but crisp on the outside, with a filling of melting queso-fresca, with or without shredded pork, inside...And a heap of spicy, marinated cabbage and salsa...Squeeze bottle on the counter held hotter sauce....Whoa, papusas; breakfast of champions...We had never HAD papusas, so we don't know if these were exemplary, but if they weren't, we'd like to know what good ones are like!

We quickly caught up with R and E, who were ensconced with chips, (hearty) and salsa, (fresh and tomatoey) at Topacio Restuarant, 120 Meridian St...Also, glasses of mango drinks..(the other hounds will have to chime in here...) We ordered the much-heralded Sopa de Mariscos. At $14, a huge bowl of tomatoey, buttery broth, thickened with peppers, onion, lime, the essence and entrails of various fish, and, we are quessing here, an unidentified potato or yucca meal...The calamari and scallops were perfectly cooked; the scallops had just touched the heat. Shrimp and clams, as well as half a lobster, and half a huge crab. And a pile of Salvadoran-style corn tortillas....Yep, lobster and crab in broth are a pain to eat, but 9L and I made the sacrifice, to slow down the eating....Luckily, we were with friends, so we could, ahem, "Be ourselves!" (some innocent bystander doesn't know how close he came to one of my crab shells hitting him on the head...) E had the "Tortas de Milanesa", with marinated beef, which sounds like a sandwich of chiccarones, if they mutated into cow, with lots of fries and salad...(Hounds chime in) We also had cilantro shrimp, sauteed with a sauce of peppers and jalapenos, and TOTALLY infused with fresh cilantro, with a plate of rice.

Our next stop was about a mile away(maybe less, we took a detour), closest to Wood Island Station. We went to Rincon Limono, at 490 Chelsea St, to partake of the ceviche that had been so prominently mentioned in the Globe...They didn't get the half of it..Before I had even removed my layers of raingear, 9L had ordered the ceviche, and a plate of marinated octopus(C.Simon, go there now!).. The octopus arrived on a platter, mixed with the limey marinde, tomatoes, slices of cucumber, and slivered red onion, and surrounded by 6 pickle-spear sized chunks of hot,fried yucca. Heaven! The octopus was sliced into bite-sized coins, and cooked til soft and tender..It was the unheralded winner!

Not to say the ceviche was shabby. It was great!!! Really! Served with lettuce, and the marinated tomatoes and red onions, there was all kinds of white-fish and shrimp in big chunks, totally sufused with the acid bite of the lime. And boiled potato and sweet potato, and corn....Any of these plates would make a healthy dinner.. But the food we saw go by!!!! Heaping platters of mixed fried seafood, chunks of calamari obvious, topped with a scoop of the marinated vegetables! To me, the sopa de mariscos here looked as inviting as the one we had just eaten; less large crustacean, but a lighter broth (and minus $3...) A plate of pork strips and yuca fritas...The Plato Montanero,(or Mountain Man Plate), which, to be honest, every place served, a huge platter of rice, beans, fried plantain, fried beef, fried pork, eggs, and in some places, papusa con queso...We are all nursing sore necks, pursuant to our vigilant sightseeing. er, scientific research...Rubee had the Chicha Morada, Peruvian Purple Corn Drink, a non-alchoholic beverage reminiscent of sangria, but with a bitter earthiness, and an aftertaste of clove..(They also have beer and wine, and Inca Cola!) We love this place!

We wanted to eat more. We wanted to stop at more places. But the rain was conducive to sitting in the warm, and the places we ate were conducive to real meals. Yeah, you could get snacks,(9L got a taco lengua and a half-chicken for "later") but we basically ate in scrupulously clean holes-in-the-wall..I thought we were going to be grabbing stuff at taco stands,(and there were some, often right next to the larger places we hit) and Rosticeria Cancun was the size of my bathroom...But these were just little, wonderful restuarants; you could bring your mother. In fact, earning his chowhound stripes, his eyes glazed, his stomach full, standing on the T, Micheal B mused, "Rincon Limono would be a really good place for the next chowhound dinner"....

Addendum--- There were more taquerias. There were more panaderias..And truly, as we looked at the menu of the Asian-influenced Pete's Barbeque, the fact that they had grilled catfish, in an Asian marinade, made me swoon....I am truly embarrassed, that as a life-long Bostonian, I have not explored this treasure trove..If you have, don't snicker at me, and if you haven't, there's a whole unexplored chunk-o-town awaiting you!

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