The banner above Que Padre (Taqueria y Mas!!) features a cartoon man who looks a little like a cleanshaven Fred Flintstone. He is wearing a serape, with an arm outstretched holding a sombrero. He seems to be saying, “Come in!”
Listen to this guy. There is no shortage of Mexican food in East Boston, but Que Padre’s northern Mexico specialties and Bolvian pastries set it apart from the others. At the counter you order from owner and cook Victor Duran, a one-man show. He cooks, chats with customers, and runs food to tables, smiling all the while. He’s been doing this nearly every day since he opened six months ago. Duran is rightly proud of the fresh, flavorful, home-style food he is turning out in his new taqueria. After taking a trip to his fiancee’s hometown in Sonora Mexico, Duran decided to bring the food back. He also wanted to include specialties from his Bolivian heritage.
Our first bites are tacos, beef ($2) and chicken ($1.75), just the kind you get at a roadside shack in Los Angeles, both in flavor, and price. Crispy-edged bites of juicy meat topped with pico de gallo, a smooth guacamole, and house-made hot sauce. The exceptional tortillas, Duran tells me, are shipped in daily from Mexico.
Next we try the saltenas ($2.50), a Bolivian pastry that resembles an empanada, but the pastry is sweeter, a sunny hue, and lacquered with egg wash. Inside are bits of chicken or beef, and peas, eggs, potatoes, and olives, in a thin gravy that rushes into your mouth when you bite into it. We find these scrumptious little pockets are best eaten like Chinese soup dumplings: Nibble a corner to let some steam escape, and slurp up the gravy before munching your way through the rest of it. Don’t make the mistake, as we did, of trying to cut one in half to share, and sadly watch as the savory juices run all over the plate. We may, or may not, have licked it clean.
On weekends Duran explores other parts of traditional Bolivian cuisine, with specials that change biweekly. A chicharron plate ($10) with crispy fried chunks of pork shoulder and rib is well seasoned if somewhat tough, though you get the sense its supposed be that way — fatty and flavorful, this is primal food to eat with your hands. Accompaniments are fried potatoes and chuno, a starchy, gray Bolivian potato, and large grains of white corn. On the whole, a simple and filling meal, made better with a judicious use of the house-made hot sauce, a thick pink salsa of fresh tomato that tastes of ripe chilies.
Tortas ($6) feature house-made bread, topped with grilled chicken or beef, bathed in a house barbacoa (barbecue) sauce. On one side of the bread you’ll find cheese and refried beans, on the other, guacamole, pico de gallo, mayo, and hot sauce. It makes for one messy, delicious meal.
None of us had eaten a Sonora hot dog ($4). Now none of us would think twice about paying the toll to Eastie to get another. Nestled in a house-made torpedo roll of fluffy white bread, it comes topped with pinto beans, diced onion, and tomatoes. It is squeeze-bottle garnished, like a modern painting, with jalapeno sauce, mustard, mayo, and ketchup.
My E-Z Pass is going to take a hit this month. But considering you can get a burrito, the Sonora dog, and a couple of tacos for around $10, Que Padre is one habit I can afford.
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.