Photos by Liam O'Brien and Chloe Chow , Words by Liam O'Brien and Chloe Chow
Despite the fact that Boston is a 2,000-mile journey away from Mexico, a certain enclave on Peterborough St. in the Fenway neighborhood will provide your taste buds with a vacation south of the border. Adorned with artistry reminiscent of a Mexican museum and blasting “Mira Oye” by Los Tigrillos on the speaker system, El Pelon Taqueria brings a surefire escape from the frigid Boston weather.
A favorite for fans heading to Fenway Park due to its proximity to Yawkey Way, the burrito joint is notorious for its long lines. However, head over to El Pelon Taqueria on a Sunday night when the Red Sox are away and you will be ushered to the ordering counter without a wait. Lining the walls to the right of the menu board are photos of faithful El Pelon customers sporting the restaurant’s memorabilia throughout the world. Halloween-themed busts of skulls and Mexican baseball jerseys hang to the left of the board, keeping up with the aesthetic of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.
While the menu may seem vast and overwhelming with a plethora of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and other Mexican treats, do not fret, for there is one order that should become your go-to upon visiting the eatery. Upon walking in, I ordered the Pescado Burrito, which featured fresh Atlantic cod fried perfectly with a cornmeal breading mixed into a delectable tortilla with Mexican rice, black beans, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, hot sauce, and the secret ingredient, a spicy mayo (Pro tip: Order extra rice and beans!).
My mouth watered while witnessing the staff prepare the masterpiece, and I was not disappointed when the food was delivered to my table. The enormous burrito was as big as my head, yet served perfectly-wrapped without the vulnerability to breaking that you often see from a flimsily-constructed Chipotle burrito. While burritos at Chipotle and Qdoba are typically made to resemble a bulging lump of ingredients in a tortilla struggling to keep its shape, the standard El Pelon tortilla is clearly resilient, holding my extra rice and beans like a champion.
Upon the first bite, I could instantly understand why El Pelon had been proclaimed to be one of the premier burrito eateries in the nation. The fish was smooth and seasoned with pepper but it maintained that classic New England cod taste. To my delight, the burrito sported a plentiful amount of fish instead of containing an unbearable amount of rice.
The hot sauce and the spicy mayo created a juicy kick of flavor. This duo struck a perfect balance; it was hot enough to satisfy my craving of spice, but not calamitous to the point where I could not taste the other features of the burrito.
A burrito at El Pelon, would be incomplete without spending the extra $0.99 to toss on the aforementioned guacamole. Mashed together with a mixture of spicy peppers and refreshing tomatoes, the guacamole is an instrumental portion of completing the ultimate burrito. It balanced itself perfectly with the spicy mayo, making me drool at the thought of a bag of tortilla chips served with a combination of guacamole and the spicy mayo.
The most impressive aspect of the burrito, however, was the manner in which the rice and the tortilla absorbed the other flavors of the mixture. A bite of the yellow rice would also bring sensations of spice from the mayonnaise and hints of avocado from the guacamole, similar to what occurs when you mix the ingredients of a burrito bowl. This went a long way in displaying the composition of the burrito. At El Pelon, the ingredients are not just separate from each other. Rather, they rally together to create an unparalleled taste.
El Pelon Taqueria has been in the spotlight ever since it made the top five best burritos in the entire United States, beating out its similarly-loved competitor Anna’s Taqueria. The restaurant proudly boasts “Authentic Mexican” outside of its storefront so I, an American-born Chinese girl from Jersey, went in to see if it really lived up to its claim. The restaurant is a part of the strip of charming restaurants in Fenway on Petersborough Street, a fifteen-minute walk from Boston University. Indoor seating is sparse, which leads most of their devoted following to sit at the outdoor tables when the weather gods permit, or simply take their treasured meals to go.
Immediately upon walking in, my eye was drawn to the wall of colorful photos of people in El Pelon t-shirts. This much was clear: their customers 1) loved El Pelon enough to have a t-shirt with the restaurant’s name on it, and 2) traveled extensively, according to these photos. The menu overhead listed the many options that El Pelon had to offer, starting with the Holy Trinity of Mexican food: burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. You honestly can’t go wrong. The Mexican restaurant also offers authentic Horchata, a sweet beverage made of rice milk and cinnamon. I ultimately opted to try the chicken burrito, because I’m vanilla like that. But because I’m weird, I asked for plantains on the side. Oh yeah- I held the beans because my friends complain about my flatulence. My piping-hot new baby popped out less than ten minutes later in shiny silver foil.
The first thing that drew my eyes to this silver nugget of happiness was its size. Oh god, its size. Chipotle burritos only pale in comparison. Only one bite in, I understood. I finally understood the look of reverence that entered a person’s eyes when they uttered the words, “El Pelon”. The burrito skin was soft, the rice flavored with a hint of lemon, the chicken grilled to perfection. The plantain, a good call on my part, added a mildly sweet plot twist. And the cheese, oh my god. There was so. Much. Cheese. Each bite of chicken burrito was an even ratio of ingredients and I didn’t even realize my eyes were rolling to the back of my head. So I consider myself a person with a healthy appetite, and try as I might, I could only finish half of my burrito baby. That just meant a delicious sequel for later. So the bottom line is that you get good bang for your buck. What’s not to love? Trust me, El Pelon is worth the hype. I couldn’t believe I doubted its ranking in the fourth place.
El Pelon Taqueria is located at 92 Peterborough St., Boston, and is open daily from 11-11