El Taqueria CarrizalAllston, MARestaurant
2.5 Star Restaurant (our ratings)
An authentic Central American restaurant, but one that’s really meant for the locals.
Review by Johnny Monsarrat
Let’s make it clear from the start: they’re not married! Co-owners Gloria carpio and Tito Nieves also bring different perspectives to the business. She loves to cook and ran a cleaning business before founding El Taqueria Carrizal in 2007, partly as an excuse to stay close to her daughter and son as they grew up. Tito came in to help six months ago as the business grew and works with computers during the day for a charity.
Born in Guatemala, Gloria brings the foods of Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador to the restaurant, with an edge that’s authentic, not dumbed down for Bostonians — but it’s not as hard core at Tu Y Yo in Somerville. Gloria loves to cook, but it’s Tito who loves to talk.
“Don’t spread this around,” he says, “but I’m actually Puerto Rican.” But he clearly knows the food and has a knack for business. They serve liquor and have just installed wireless Internet for their customers. Locals come and stay all day, buying drinks, enjoying the air conditioning, and watching soccer on their television. So it’s a bit of a sports bar as well. “People want to come not just to eat but to socialize,” Tito tells me. Soups are popular on Sundays, and you can get a “pupusas”, appetizer tortillas with pork & cheese, for just $2 each.
Local is the word for this place. This sit-down restaurant is solid in all areas, but really meant for the local central americans who are already comfortable with the food. They serve free chips and salsa, and you can get shrimp, beef, chicken fajita, american style. But most of the dishes will not be familiar to the average customer.
The Montanero is their most popular dish, and it’s their only one from Colombian cuisine. To me, the pork rind was too tough and fatty to get through, and the steak was not bad but not exciting either. It was a little too tough, which probably makes it more authentic, I suppose. I loved the plaintains — who doesn’t dream of adding monster bananas to their food — and my favorite dish was the Camarones a la Diabla: Shrimp of the Devil.
First off, who wouldn’t like a meal called Shrimp of the Devil. It’s a shrimp soup served with rice and beans and salad. It was spicy and unusual. They also have some ethnic imported drinks, and I tried La Cascada, a cream soda from El Salvador, which was great, natural tasting and refreshing with no aftertaste. I also tried a Jarritos: a lime flavored soda, that was not too sweet and an interesting citrus tang that was not chemical.
Of course their most popular take-out food, in the student universe that is allston, is burritos. And they provide catering services to local groups as well. You can get a variety of vegetarian foods as well.
The atmosphere, though generic, is a clean attractive environment. Notably their aquarium was empty when I visited. “Our cleaner, the guy who came to clean the tank out, put the fish in a temporary bag and then, they were gone.” Tito tells me. They stole your fish? I’m sure they’ll have some new fish there soon. I would guess that it easily seats 50 people.
Like the atmosphere, my take on the food is that it’s solid, attractive — look at the great presentation in the photos! — but generic. The pupusa is not gresy but it’s also uninteresting, the sauce was so mild that it made no difference. That being said, El Taqueria Carrizal serve huge portions. Every meal that I saw would feed two people.
Tito sat with me while I ate, and like always when owners do this to me, there’s always an uncomfortable moment at the end where, even though he doesn’t say anything, I feel like I’m supposed to give him some verbal clues as to what I’m going to write. “Have you noticed that the food is a little bland?” I venture.
“I get that all the time”, says Tito. Apparently, spicy food is a Mexican concept, not a Central American concept. “We make it bland for everybody, but then you make it as spicy as you want by adding sauces.” That sounds reasonable, but at the same time, somehow I feel a little alienated by this. Isn’t mixing and matching the spices in a unique way important to ethnic cooking?
Ultimately, I don’t doubt that El Taqueria Carrizal is a big hit with those who know the cuisine or are daring enough to accept something new that doesn’t pander to Norte Americano tastes. But to me it’s a little like art films made for artists. Although I’ll give the restaurant a solid mid-level review, what’s more accurate is that if you’re looking for something comfortable from the old country, this is the restaurant for you! If you’re looking for an exotic cuisine to sample foreign lands, this is probably not your restaurant. In other words, just what the owners and their loyal locals are aiming for.
254 Brighton Ave, Allston MA