Taco Tuesdays at Boston’s Tremont 647

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20090603tremont.jpgA confession: I have a real aversion to trendy restaurants. (A short stint in New York nightlife media can get you that way.) Any decent writer strives to be impartial, and I do try to iron out bias on the record. Still, you can’t fight gut reactions. When I walk into a place with attractive servers and a “fusion” menu, I raise a dubious eyebrow. When I walk into a mom-and-pop diner or an ethnic hole-in-the-wall, on the other hand, I find myself rooting for the owners—wanting to like whatever they serve me.

It’s wrong, I know. Because good food turns up in all sorts of places—and sometimes, so do good deals. Like at Tremont 647 in Boston’s South End, which holds Taco Tuesdays every week: $2 soft tacos, chips, and sides, plus drink specials, until 10 p.m. Soft taco varieties change every week, always at least four to choose from—maybe braised duck with spicy pineapple salsa, maybe a fish taco with pickled cabbage.

Don’t come in looking for taqueria cheap eats. This is American food, in the modern melting pot sense: Tibetan momos here, Vietnamese spring rolls there. Tacos are similarly liberal interpretations. And yes, it’s a bit of a South End scene, with groups of twenty-somethings pouring out the pitchers of after-work margaritas. But the flavors are strong, the service efficient, and the deal a real one, if you order wisely.

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This week’s meat taco was a braised brisket with ancho pepper, topped with a fresh papaya and charred red onion salsa. Fatty and tender, with appealing hints of cinnamon and pepper, the brisket made this taco the best of the bunch.

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Ymar’s Turkey Taco proves that ground turkey doesn’t have to be dry and mealy. Unfortunately, an apple salsa, while a good flavor balance, lacked crunch.

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The Fisherman’s Taco is hit-or-miss. On one visit, the fried catfish was hot and flaky inside its thin cornmeal crust. On another, each nugget tasted like a dense corn brick. A chipotle-pineapple salsa added juice and flavor, but fish shouldn’t have to be rescued.

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There’s always a vegetarian taco, and this week’s was a two bean version with cheddar cheese and cilantro puree. It doesn’t sound like much, but the tangy chimichurri-like sauce and sharp white cheddar brightened up the refried bean base. Well played, chef.

These are five-bite tacos, and you’ll need a few to fill up. But even a four-taco sampler plate only sets you back $8. And sides are worth nibbling, too.

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Fresh, puffy tortilla chips ($2) come in a hefty cone, with a smoky chipotle salsa and a tart tomatillo one. Worth ordering if just for the sauces.

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Fried plantains ($4), properly caramelized and buttery, come with a “banana guava ketchup” that’s more like a sweet curried fruit sauce. Plantains don’t need extra sweetness, but the ketchup is good enough to eat with a spoon.

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All but the truly condiment-dependent should skip the anemic sides plate ($2). The reason to order it is the fresh guacamole, but there’s only about a tablespoon.

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The rest of the menu, without any obvious steals, is pleasantly affordable: empanadas for $6.50, a tostada salad for $7, dulce de leche cake for $5. This chicken mole tamale ($6.50) was well-crafted, with tender meat and creamy masa. The dark "mole" sauce on top resembled real mole only in color—it was tangy and acidic, rather than earthy and complex. Still, the flavors worked.

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Drink specials also change with the seasons. Strawberry and mango-rhubarb margaritas ($7) matched much of the menu: fun, tasty, a little fresher than they had to be. Best was the house margarita, with a house sour mix that relied more on flavor than sugar.

Plenty of deals these days are strictly happy-hour affairs, disappearing at the stroke of 6 or 7 p.m.—a pain if you’re stuck in the office. Tremont’s Taco Tuesdays are a much better all-night option. A person can easily fill up for $10, and even with a drink, well under $20.

There are two kinds of food I recommend to others—good food, in the critical sense, and tasty food. Tremont 647 is a bit of the former and a lot of the latter. I might not send a gastronomically discerning colleague. But I’d definitely send a friend.

Tremont 647

647 Tremont Street, Boston MA 02118 (map)
617-266-4600; tremont647.com

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