Lunch, Anyone? El Pelon Taqueria

Eatery’s burritos ranked among the best in the country

By Paula Sokolska (COM’15), BU Today

 Although indoor seating is limited, patrons can dine al fresco at El Pelon’s picnic tables in the warmer months. Photos by Jackie Ricciardi

Although indoor seating is limited, patrons can dine al fresco at El Pelon’s picnic tables in the warmer months. Photos by Jackie Ricciardi

Favorite Fenway eatery El Pelon Taqueria made the top five when statistician, data journalist, and Mexican-American cuisine fan Nate Silver embarked on a quest to find the nation’s best burrito. Silver mined Yelp scores, then did extensive taste tests with a selection committee that visited restaurants and voted on the burritos. Finalists were chosen from four sections of the country, and El Pelon beat out 67,390 other burrito restaurants to take fourth place nationwide and first in the Northeast. Longtime fans of the restaurant weren’t surprised. Diners have been lining up for 16 years for its authentic fish tacos, burritos, and fried plantains.

With a ranking like that, we wanted to see whether El Pelon’s burritos really measured up.

When you walk into El Pelon, you find a cozy restaurant big on personality. Vibrant sugar skulls and Latin iconography adorn the white walls on the left, and photos of fans in El Pelon gear in places as remote as the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower are on the right. Limited seating (about 10 customers can sit at the few tables and one booth) makes El Pelon much better suited for a grab-and-go lunch than a sit-down meal. We arrived just after the lunch hour rush, so were able to snag a table before ordering.

 El Palon’s horchata, a traditional Mexican drink, is a cool antidote to soothe habanero-seared tongues.

El Palon’s horchata, a traditional Mexican drink, is a cool antidote to soothe habanero-seared tongues.

We chose chips and salsa ($3.75) as an appetizer. The tortilla chips were crisply golden and generously sprinkled with salt, with the homemade salsa a fiery blend of tomatoes, cilantro, and onion. Studded with habanero seeds, this was a salsa with bite. We washed it down with the traditional Mexican drink horchata ($2.50), a rice milk lightly sweetened with cinnamon and nutmeg, which is not advertised on the menu, but that we’d heard good things about. Served cold, it balanced the heat from the salsa and was a welcome reminder of summer days.

Our main course decision was easy. We selected the El Guapo (“handsome man”) burrito ($7.95), proclaimed “the best [burrito] in the Bean, and some of the best food in walking distance of Fenway Park” by a FiveThirtyEight judge. When it arrived just minutes after we’d placed our order, we knew what to expect: a combination of classic burrito fillers like Mexican rice, salsa, black beans, and Romaine lettuce. But what makes this burrito a standout is the addition of golden fried sweet plantains, whose subtle sweetness melded well with the savory grilled steak. The marriage of fire-roasted salsa, Jack cheese, cool crema, and smooth guacamole created an excellent balance of flavors. This was, dare we say, the best burrito we’ve ever had.

 El Pelon’s popular El Guapo burrito was ranked fourth in the nation by the website FiveThirtyEight.com.

El Pelon’s popular El Guapo burrito was ranked fourth in the nation by the website FiveThirtyEight.com.

Also delicious were our tacos. One of the few vegetarian options on the menu, the Rajas con Queso ($6.25) consists of roasted poblano chiles, jack cheese with salsa fresca, and protein-rich black beans nestled in two soft tortillas. Although the dish proved a yummy mess, it wasn’t out of the ordinary. After glimpsing our neighbor’s lunch, we decided the Pescado Tacos ($7.95), crispy cornmeal-encrusted cod topped with a purple pickled cabbage, cucumbers, limed onions, and chile mayo, would have been a better choice. It looked delectable and that’s what we plan to order on our next visit.

We wanted to sample one of the sweet options at meal’s end. A small blackboard near the register announced a special offering that day, coconut flan ($2). This tropical twist on the traditional Mexican dessert proved to be an intriguing delight. The coconut flakes contributed more to texture than taste, resulting in a crumbly version of the typical silky custard one expects in a flan. Served in a three-inch-diameter aluminum pan, the dessert was just the right size for one, and its delicate sweetness was a pleasant ending to our meal.

El Pelon Taqueria, 92 Peterborough St., Boston, is open every day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; phone: 617-262-9090. El Pelon accepts all major credit cards. Indoor seating is limited. Take any inbound Green Line trolley or the 57 bus to Kenmore Square and transfer to an outbound D trolley to Fenway. There is also an El Pelon Taqueria at 2197 Comm Ave in Chestnut Hill. Take a Green Line B trolley to Boston College.

This is part of a regular 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 Comment section below. Check out our list of lunchtime tips on Foursquare.

Paula Sokolska can be reached at ps5642@bu.edu.