Grampy#039;s gas station holds hidden taqueria

by Beacon Staff • October 10, 2007

The restaurant is a welcome addition to the burrito-starved neighborhood of Beacon Hill, and the expanded menu of traditional Tex-Mex taqueria fare, including the delightfully smoky dark salsa, is made fresh on the premises.,Across from Mass. General Hospital and crammed inside Grampy's gas station on Cambridge Street is the ten-month old Villa Meacute;xico Cafeacute;.

The restaurant is a welcome addition to the burrito-starved neighborhood of Beacon Hill, and the expanded menu of traditional Tex-Mex taqueria fare, including the delightfully smoky dark salsa, is made fresh on the premises. You can't eat better for cheaper anywhere else on the Hill.

It all starts with the burrito ($6.50), of course, and unless you've been starving yourself deliberately for days on end, it'll probably end with that burrito too. The burritos, like most in Boston, are served San Francisco-style, stuffed to the limit and wrapped in foil to preserve warmth. The burritos here are also finished on the grill, which does wonders for the burrito's stability and adds texture to an otherwise ordinary tortilla.

Starting off with a spicy or mild crema fresca base, the burrito is piled high with the traditional rice, beans and cheese, along with lettuce, tomato and onions. Villa Meacute;xico piles on that fantastic dark salsa, and a dollop of guacamole that is tasty, if a bit unspectacular. The standard chicken, beef and vegetarian options are available to round out the burrito, but the homemade chorizo (Mexican sausage) is a welcome and tempting change of pace.

Standing out from the rest is the mole poblano. Chicken marinated in mole (MOH-leh) sauce, made from dried ancho chiles with a hint of dark chocolate and cinnamon, complements the rest of the ingredients perfectly and brings a complexity of flavors not found in the other varieties. The homemade mole chicken is so good that it is even offered as a separate entreacute;e, with a side of rice and topped with melted cheese ($10.50).

The only let-down among the meat options was a bland, disappointing carnitas (shredded pork) offering. It was dry and lacked in flavor, allowing everything else in the burrito to overwhelm it, highlighting the rough, unpleasant texture of overcooked pork.

Of course, it wouldn't be a taqueria without tacos, and at $4.50 for two, they offer a better value than the burrito.

However, the corn tortillas are drier and less satisfying than the burrito's flour ones. A better option might be to shell out a little more for the flautas, which are basically pan-fried chicken tacos, served with a side of rice, beans and salsa ($7.99 for three).

Tostadas and quesadillas are also offered with meat and veggie options for the same price as the burrito.

The salsa is the real star of the menu, and unlike anything else you can find in Boston. Dark, despite its tomato base, and chunky, the smoked flavor of the salsa contains an impressive kick that, unlike many hot sauces, enhances the flavor instead of masking it. Be sure to take some home to try with your favorite tortilla chips ($0.99 for 4 oz.).

Rounding out the menu are the drinks, starting with unimpressive, reasonably priced smoothies ($3.85) containing the usual blends of fruits and yogurt that seem old hat to anyone who has been to a smoothie bar. But the aguas frescas (fruit waters) are a different story. Priced at $2.75 for a 22 oz. cup, flavors such as cucumber-lime, strawberry and watermelon are an appealing addition to the menu. That said, you'll do just as well picking up a more conventional drink from the gas station while you wait for your order.

Speaking of waiting, Villa Meacute;xico's biggest drawback is definitely the service time. Since everything is hand-made to order, often by only one woman (Julie, the proprietor), who is there from morning to night, expect a wait time of at least ten minutes. This is a stark contrast from burrito joints like Anna's and Herrera's where your burrito is rolled and packaged before you can even get your money ready.

However, the friendliness and outgoing nature of the staff is second-to-none, and between that and the magazine rack in the gas station, you're never at a loss for a way to kill time while you wait.

But since this is Emerson, it's important to ask you not to go outside for a cigarette, because, after all, you're standing in a gas station. And this place is too good for you to blow up.

Villa Meacute;xico is located at Grampy's at 296 Cambridge St. on Beacon Hill. Hours are 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. Mon.-Wed. and 9 a.m. -11 p.m. Th.-Sat. Closed Sundays. Major credit cards accepted.