The fragrant, mild sweetness of a steamed tortilla. A crisp, rich diadem of chicharrón. Ceviche’s bright citrus tang. The eggy luxury of a mouthful of flan. And, always, the uniting factor of that most perfect couple: rice and beans.
Few things illustrate the richness and diversity of Latinx culture as clearly as cuisine. The Boston area captures that in its restaurants, with multiple ways in to the flavors of different countries: Experience Peru with a visit to the bustling, family-friendly Rincón Limeño in East Boston, or to the arty, dinner party-esque Celeste in Somerville. Visit Mexico with a pop-in to Revere’s casual Esquite for takeout birria tacos with consomme and the namesake cups of spicy, creamy, cheesy corn, or to Somerville’s groovy Barra for more composed versions of similar dishes and cocktails garnished with grasshoppers. End the night at La Fábrica Central in Cambridge for live music, dancing, a rum Old Fashioned, and a last snack from the country-spanning menu: Maduros and maki, anyone?
As we mark Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15-Oct. 15, here are 10 more local restaurants to visit.
Mexican restaurateur Angela Atenco López passed away in 2020, but her namesake restaurants in East Boston — in Eagle Hill and Orient Heights — keep her memory and her cooking alive. Atenco López was best known for her mole, the dark brown, silky sauce of chiles, sesame seeds, chocolate, and more. She, in turn, learned the recipe from her mother, Dolores, as a girl growing up in a village in Puebla. When Atenco López and her family immigrated to East Boston in the early ’90s, she brought it to us — along with her tacos árabes, pipián verde, chiles en nogada (in season only), and other specialties from Puebla and other regions of Mexico. “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” is painted on the wall at both bright, welcoming restaurants, and it’s more than just lip service.
131 Lexington St. (617-567-4972) and 1012 Bennington St. (617-874-8251), East Boston, www.angelascafeboston.com
Its name is Catrachos, a term for people from Honduras. But this Honduran restaurant in Chelsea might also be called La Casa de la Baleada, the words that span its blue awning. A visit here isn’t complete without a cafecito con leche and a baleada, a tortilla filled with beans, scrambled eggs, crema, a sprinkle of cheese, and pretty much any meat your heart desires. But that Honduran specialty is just the beginning. Catrachos’ generous platters — ribs with chorizo, chicharrón, fried egg, and tajadas, plantains sliced lengthwise and fried; whole fried fish with rice, beans, and more plantains — will keep you full all day.
140 Broadway, Chelsea, 617-884-1141, www.catrachosrestaurantchelsea.com
On a Friday night, this East Boston institution is crowded with people of all ages, getting their weekend on while enjoying the Colombian restaurant’s specialties. Don’t miss the bandeja paisa, with tender, flavorful grilled steak, crisp and unctuous chicharrón, beans, rice, fried egg, and maduros, sweet plantains. (Order the bandeja Peñol and you’ll also get chorizo with that.) This year El Peñol, operated by the Medina Balbín family, celebrates its 25th anniversary. Matriarch Marina Balbín opened the inaugural restaurant in 1998; El Peñol 2 in Revere and El Peñol 3 in Brookline followed.
54 Bennington St., East Boston, 617-569-0100, www.elpenolrestaurante.com
At this Cuban restaurant with branches in Cambridge and Waltham, dancer-turned-chef Patricia Estorino serves modern, stylish dishes that build on tradition. Alongside excellent renditions of arroz con pollo and ropa vieja, Gustazo features snappy, bright ceviches; confit pork belly with citrusy mojo sauce over quinoa, black beans, and avocado; and seafood stew in lobster-coconut milk sauce. The restaurants are beautiful, romantic, and loud, and the rum program is top-notch.
2067 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge; 240 Moody St., Waltham; 855-487-8296; www.gustazo-cubancafe.com
In a retooled train car in Watertown, husband-wife team Gabriel Bremer and Analia Verolo serve food influenced by Basque cooking and Verolo’s native Uruguay. To accompany dishes such as empanadas, the chickpea flatbread fainá, and an Uruguayan mixed grill of ribeye, sausage, and chicken, sip wine from a list stocked with bottles from Uruguay. The couple previously ran Salts in Cambridge, and devotees of that restaurant’s whole roast boneless duck can order it at La Bodega with 48 hours’ notice. For dessert: shortbread alfajores sandwiched with dulce de leche, flan, or Basque cheesecake.
21 Nichols Ave., Watertown, 617-876-8444, www.labodegabysalts.com
La Metapaneca Grill
Bring your sunblock and an appetite when you visit this Salvadoran restaurant on Revere Beach. La Metapaneca Grill sells delightful eats out of a window by the water: shrimp ceviche; elotes locos, corn on a stick slathered in mayo, ketchup, and cheese; minutas, shaved ice in tropical fruit flavors with sweetened condensed milk. There are tacos and Salvadoran pupusas, chubby blistered tortillas stuffed with beans and cheese, alongside the pickled slaw curtido and hot sauce. Owner Conny Pimentel named the restaurant, and nearby sister business La Metapaneca Market, for Metapán, the city in El Salvador where her parents and grandparents are from.
63 Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere, 781-629-6155
Showcasing the flavors of the Dominican Republic, this Roslindale restaurant serves empanadas, burger-esque chimis, traditional breakfasts, and build-your-own bowls with ingredients such as yellow rice with pigeon peas, stewed chicken, roast pork, and beans. (Bonus suggestion: Also try Alex’s Chimis in neighboring JP.) Seila Green bought the business in 2016 and brought a second Las Palmas to Cambridge, opening this year in Harvard Square. During the peak of the pandemic, Las Palmas worked with nonprofit World Central Kitchen providing meals to front-line responders.
4337 Washington St., Roslindale; 83 Mt. Auburn St., Harvard Square, Cambridge; www.laspalmaskitchen.com
At longtime North End restaurant Taranta, chef Jose Duarte introduced Boston to the ingredients of his native Peru, creating Italian-Andean dishes. Chelsea restaurant Tambo 22 is his next chapter. The menu homes in on Peruvian cuisine: causas, potato and seafood terrines; beef anticuchos, skewers of grilled meat; creamy, golden ají de gallina, the comforting chicken dish; the Tamburguesa, a burger made with short rib and alpaca. Sip chicha morada and Pisco sours, experience the flavors of native beans, herbs, and chiles, and feel yourself momentarily transported.
22 Adams St., Chelsea, 617-466-9422, www.tambo22chelsea.com
Restaurateurs Nivia and Hector Piña have done much to showcase Latinx cultures via food, with restaurants such as Dominican institution Merengue, Cuban spot Doña Habana, and Puerto Rican restaurant Vejigantes. The last is located in the heart of the Villa Victoria community, born out of the efforts of Puerto Rican activists. Across the street, a sign celebrates Puerto Rican pride; on the plates, so do dishes like alcapurrias, fritters filled with beef or crab; mofongo, mashed plantains complemented by various meats and stews; shrimp in piquant salsa criolla; and grilled steak with chimichurri sauce.
57 W. Dedham St., South End, Boston, 617-247-9249, www.vejigantesrestaurant.com
Viva Mi Arepa
Long live the Venezuelan arepa, a corncake filled with savory goodness then grilled or fried. It is the centerpiece at Viva Mi Arepa in West Roxbury, a cozy and casual restaurant with glowing pumpkin walls, posters of Caracas, and an open kitchen where you can watch the cooks at work while listening to the Spanish-language soundtrack. It can take a while to get your food, but it’s worth it for arepas filled with black beans and cheese (the Dominó) or chicken salad and avocado (Reina Pepiada); cachapas, enormous corn pancakes folded together with cheese and roast pork; and platters like the pabellón criollo, rice with shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains, fried egg, and arepitas, little cornmeal fritters. You’ll also find tropical juices, smoothies, and a warm welcome.
5197 Washington St., West Roxbury, 617-323-7844, www.vivamiareparestaurant.com