The best Mexican food in Boston is in a gas station. I kid you not.
On Cambridge street, across from the cluster of buildings that make up Massachusetts General Hospital, there’s a small filling station called “Grampy’s,” and it’s home to the kitchen of Villa Mexico, run by Ms. Julie King. Ms. Julie is a native of Mexico City, always greets her customers with a sincere question of “How are you, my friend?” before taking their order. She’s brought her authentic recipes to our fair city in order to educate us in the proper way Mexican “street food” should taste.
The cornerstone of her cooking is her salsa. Made fresh daily, it’s unlike anything else being sold anywhere else in town. It’s dark green, almost black, and as close as I can tell it’s made purely of fresh roasted peppers that have been ground into a paste with a number of other spices, and something else I can’t quite place. Is it eggplant? I don’t know, but above all else it is delicious. It’s not immediately “hot,” but the spice builds slowly on the palate, and lingers only a few moments after finishing a bite. A diner can effectively control how “hot” their food is by eating faster or slower.
Don’t even think about asking for the recipe. It’s secret.
The burritos are amazing. I’m not being trite when I say that the secret ingredient in them is love. Ms. Julie loves her job, and it shows in the quality of the wrapped bundles of happiness that come packed with pork, chicken, beef, veggies, or her signature chicken mole. All the meat is marinated and cooked to perfection before she adds it to Mexican rice, spiced black beans, fresh vegetables, that amazing salsa, and home-made guacamole. They’re professionally wrapped, then toasted on a grill to give them a unique crisp outer shell around the chewy interior.
Tacos and quesadillas are also available, both using the same delicious ingredients as the burritos, but it’s the tamales that really shine. Wrapped in authentic cornhusks, Ms. Julie hand makes every single one of her tamales before steaming them to serve to hungry patrons. Seasoned cornmeal encases a core of meat or corn filling, and it’s served with a side of her signature salsa for dipping, for the modest fee of three dollars.
One note: be on your best behavior. Getting food from Ms. Julie is a privilege, not a right, and I have witnessed several occasions where rowdy drunks have been asked to take their business down the street to Anna’s. The respectful are rewarded, and barbarians are banished. She might not be operating the Holy Grail of Mexican food in Boston, but it may well be the Ark of the Covenant. Treat Villa Mexico and Ms. Julie King like the treasures they are.
Villa Mexico can be found at 296 Cambridge Street, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. They are open from 9am to 9pm, Monday through Wednesday, and 9am to 11pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They are closed on Sundays. Cash only.
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