Friday, May 24, 2024

A combo plate at Rudy’s Cafe in Somerville’s Teele Square. (Photo: Sarah O. via Yelp)

There feels like a dearth of Mexican cantinas in Camberville since the loss of Jose’s on Sherman Street and the Border Cafe in Harvard Square (the founding locale of what has become an East Coast chain). I still miss the Forest Cafe, which had a great coriander soup and amazing verde sauce. While there’s good Mexican in Union, Davis and Inman squares, it’s the inviting, relaxed ambiance and affordability of a cantina I’m looking for – and in that vein, we still have Rudy’s Cafe in Teele Square. It predates the Border (1982 vs. 1987), a spacious spot with a neighborhood-bar vibe that checks many boxes: family dining, hangout, and dates and meetups. 

My introduction to Rudy’s came years ago, when my vegetarian cousin suggested it for dinner because of non-meat options such as spinach or grilled-veggie quesadilla and burrito. But the fun place to go meatless is on the combo plates with a guacamole taco, mini bean and cheese burrito and enchilada with Mexican rice and a choice of refried or black beans. When I think about freshly made guac, Olé and Gustazo pop into mind, but Rudy’s is there too with a smooth and fresh version in a crisp-shell taco that makes for a fun nosh. Rudy’s also has a very friendly kid’s listing (SpaghettiOs, cheese quesadilla and chicken fingers) as well as a crab quesadilla that I’ve always wanted to try. On the basics side, there’s a burger, a solid chicken sandwich on grilled sourdough (light and juicy, but I think the win next time would to be to ask for some of that creamy guac on it) and fajitas – good ones, though they don’t come out on a sizzling skillet the way they did at the Border and Christopher’s (another staple that recently announced what looks like a permanent closing), which to me undercuts the festivity of a fajita feast. The complimentary housemade salsa and chips are pretty good too: The chips aren’t drenched in oil, and the salsa is chunky and sweet, with a nice spicy after-kick.

True to its Tex-Mex roots, Rudy’s has a righteous tequila bar with a vast collection of brands and blends (blanco, reposado and añejo). I steer clear of house margaritas in general because the out-of-the-bottle or foil-pouch versions are sticky and cloying; at Rudy’s, ask and they’ll make a marg clean and light, with lime juice and Cointreau – no powder, no sticky fingers, just smooth, citrus-infused freedom. The last time I ordered one, the gentleman to my right, who was nursing a mix-and-all house margarita in a pint glass, inquired as to my sleek-looking beverage in a classic highball glass. I explained the elegance of stripped-down simplicity, but deferred to a bartender who said I’d pretty much nailed it. For his second beverage, my neighbor ordered what I was having, and after two sips said he wanted it sweeter and smoother and the bartender added some of that green mix to his highball. The service is efficient and friendly, and while I don’t think the tag of “authentic Mexican” fits Rudy’s, good comfort Tex-Mex does.  

Rudy’s Cafe (248 Holland St., Teele Square, Somerville)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.