Friday, April 19, 2024

A quesadilla at Chivo Taqueria in Cambridge’s Neighborhood 9. (Photo: Marc Levy)

What was, is again … or something like that. Chivo Taqueria has moved into a storefront at 1728 Massachusetts Ave. between Harvard and Porter squares that in the early 2000s used to be the second outpost of the Boca Grande taqueria. (The first opened back in the 1990s just as the CambridgeSide mall was being erected, and is still a Kendall Square area lunchtime go-to.) Between Boca Grande and Chivo, the space was the longtime home of Baraka Cafe, which specialized in fine Mediterranean fare.

The story of Boca Grande is the stuff of local legend. After a brother and sister opened it, they became incompatible and split. The brother, Mike Kamio, who died in 2019, went on to launch Anna’s Taqueria and ignited a burrito war of sorts – not much of a war, as I believe Boca Grande has just the one storefront and Anna’s has seven. Chivo Taqueria also has a family connection, though one that is not steeped in acrimony: The Salvadoran-Mexican eatery is run by the son of the owner of Taco Loco in Somerville.

Chivo means ”goat” in Spanish, and the location’s manager said goat is a likely addition to a changeable menu; but the word is also slang for “cool,” as in ¡Que chivo! This eatery is a spare, walk-through-the-cafeteria-line experience not unlike Anna’s or Felipe’s in Harvard Square, a spare, nosh-and-dash spot without alcohol that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You order your quesadilla, pupusa, taco or burrito and customize it to your liking (meats including carnitas, chicken, beef, fried fish and shrimp are just the start of the options) with the help of friendly staff who put a lot of care into their work. One magic trick they do is the light toasting of tortillas that avoids crusty, crisp edges – usually such a detractor.

Chivo cooks offer a variety of proteins, toppings and condiments. (Photo: Marc Levy)

My breakfast burrito came up doughy and moist, and the family order of chicken quesadillas were right at that perfect middle: golden brown and firm, yet with everything inside juicy, fresh and flavorful. The add-on of guacamole – which was silky and fresh – went right into the quesadillas as they cooked, not on the side, as I expected. But it was good that way, and perhaps even better.

Another surprise was the pupusa (the national dish of Salvador) stuffed with cheese and spinach: You could taste the corn in the pancake’s base corn meal flour distinctly without being overwhelmed by it. The spinach was perfectly tender, not overcooked to a flavorless dark green, and commingled well with the melted queso. 

Chivo Taqueria (1728 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9, Cambridge) 

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.