Lunch, Anyone? Habanero Mexican Grill
Fresh Mexican food for any budget
Allston is a hotbed of small ethnic restaurants, but few combine the affordability and taste of Habanero Mexican Grill. On the same two-block stretch as restaurants specializing in Indian food, Thai food, pasta, pizza, and more, Habanero stands out for its combination of unique and classic Mexican dishes.
On a recent visit, we kicked off our meal with four tacos ($1.75 each), which are made fresh and served on soft corn or flour tortilla.
The chicken taco was very tasty, and even though the chicken was a bit fatty and contained some dark meat, it was moist and well-seasoned. The adobada (pork) taco was good as well, with a much sweeter taste than the others.
Feeling adventurous, we also tried Habanero’s beef tongue taco. We weren’t overly impressed. The meat was tender, but had a barbecue-sauce-like aftertaste that lingered unpleasantly.
Our favorite, hands down, was the steak taco. There was nothing special about the way the steak was cooked, but the seasoning—led by lime and cilantro—fit perfectly with the toppings, which include lettuce, salsa, a spicy house sauce, and cheese, all free.
The tacos aren’t huge—you can finish them in three or four bites—but considering the price, you can order several without emptying your wallet.
The second dish we tried was the chicken quesadilla ($6.99), a basic meat-and-cheese combination served on a 10-inch tortilla. Habanero makes no attempt to fancy this dish up, but its simplicity makes it work. The chicken was, again, moist and well-seasoned, and the half-melted cheese created a deliciously stringy, gooey dish. The cheese made the quesadilla a little soft and soupy at the ends, but didn’t stop us from scooping up every bit. Some verde habanero hot sauce packed enough punch to satisfy most heat lovers, but shouldn’t cause the average diner pain. The quesadilla was served with a small side of tortilla chips and a watery house salsa that, unfortunately, arrived without any chunks of vegetables.
For our main course, we ordered two of Habanero’s specialty plates—the Plato Habanero ($10.99) and the Mojarra Frita ($9.99). While most of Habanero’s dishes are served on styrofoam plates, these came on giant plastic dishes to accommodate the ample servings.
The Plato Habanero consists of fried steak topped with a fried egg, served with rice, pinto beans, salsa, a small side salad, and French fries, all on one plate. The salad and fries weren’t especially noteworthy, but the rest provided interesting notes of flavor.
The thin-sliced steak, cooked medium to well-done, was still juicy and tender. It was especially delicious with the egg and salsa. This is an entree any meat-lover would enjoy.
The well-seasoned rice had a pleasing consistency, and the salsa, happily an improvement over the one served with the quesadilla, was peppered with tomato bits and onion and had hints of cilantro.
Centered by fried tilapia, the Mojarra Frita came with the same rice, beans, salsa, salad, and fries that accompanied the steak. The fish batter was delicious, at once crispy and flaky, and although the fish was a bit dry and overcooked, it didn’t detract from the overall flavor.
Habanero’s décor suggests a place meant for casual dining. The restaurant has five two-person tables, and there is no wait service: customers grab their own plastic silverware and napkins from a shelf in the front and pick up their food at the counter. The tables weren’t clean when we arrived, and once a line formed to order, we were somewhat cramped.
But while Habanero may not be the best place to impress a date, it provides a fun atmosphere for friends looking for an unpretentious meal. The staff was friendly and our food was prepared quickly and efficiently (our tacos arrived about six minutes after we ordered).
Overall, Habanero’s combination of great prices, fresh food, solid flavor, and a relaxed atmosphere should appeal to any college student on a budget. Where else can you get a freshly prepared, fully loaded burrito ($6.99) and a taco for under $10? The next time you’re contemplating a stop at Chipotle or Qdoba, do yourself a favor and aim for the cheaper, better food at Habanero instead.
Habanero Mexican Grill, 166 Brighton Ave., Allston, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; phone: 617-254-0299. All major credit cards are accepted. To reach Habanero, take the Green Line B trolley outbound to the Harvard Avenue stop, or take the #57 bus to Harvard Avenue.
This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the comments section below. Check out our list of lunchtime tips on Foursquare.
Ben Carsley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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