weekend eats: Kantin, Taqueria el Barrio, Cambridge 1, Alden & Harlow [greater Boston area]

This weekend was all about HONK! Fest, so no cooking.

Saturday lunch 1: Kantin in the Super 88 food court.

Got the 3 Jewel rice plate with (l to r) soy sauce chicken, roast duck and bbq pork, all on a bed of steamed cabbage and rice. It’s probably been a decade since I last had a rice plate here but I know it used to have baby bok choy, not cabbage. Still, very tasty, the soy sauce chicken being the dark horse winner among the meats. (Notice the A rating proudly displayed top left on Kantin’s storefront. Wandering around the food court I saw that stands either showed an A rating or showed no rating at all. Interesting.) I went to the openings and closings thread to remind myself what I had just read was opening here – Tonkatsu King, still not opened.

But that thread led me to…

Saturday lunch 2: Taqueria el Barrio, a very short walk away. Nice-looking place, lovely staff, tiny: 5 2-tops, 2 4-tops and 5 stools at a counter facing the wall. Even though I had just eaten lunch, I felt compelled to get a carnitas taco on the recommended flour tortilla which was clearly handmade. Research, ya know. At $4 a pop a bit on the expensive side for tacos but look at how loaded that thing is. Delicious too although the pork was not the slightest bit crispy. I do not find myself in that part of town often but would happily return for more tacos.

After 6 hours dancing at HONK! Fest I just wanted a light snack and picked up this locally-made onigiri at a market in Davis Square. Not a fan, weird texture and way too salty. I might give a different flavor a shot sometime - or not.

Sunday lunch: Cambridge 1. Just wanted to grab a quick bite before watching the HONK! parade come into Harvard Square. Sat at the bar. I remember liking this pizza quite a bit years ago – not sure if I have changed or it has changed but it was pretty meh. Nothing horrible, just nothing worth giving tummy space to.

Sunday dinner (after more hours of dancing): Alden & Harlow. My friend wanted to try A&H and although I have had very mixed results here I said sure. Glad I did, this was probably my best meal ever at A&H. We had roasted baby rainbow carrots on torched Reggiano custard with burnt onion jam – there was a sneaky hit of spice in there somewhere too – absolutely stunning dish; patatas bravas, featuring super-crispy bites of potato standing on intensely garlicky toum with pickled pepper rings; roasted porcini mushrooms on Roman chickpea gnocci with soft egg – rich, tender and amazing; fried (not deep-fried) zucchini with toasted garlic chips, almond butter and roe (red, a little smaller than salmon roe) – somehow the zucchini actually had flavor and was not watery and this zucchini-hater actually enjoyed it; and bluefish with celery root remoulade and house pickles. The bluefish itself was the single best thing I put in my mouth - incredibly fresh and with perfect crispy skin. The celery root remoulade was the single item of the evening that lacked punch – some frizzled capers would have given it needed acidity – but that is a quibble and at that point (it was our last dish) perhaps I just had palate fatigue. A memorable meal indeed! Lovely service too.

An amazing weekend all around. If you like music and have not experienced HONK! Fest I urge you to put it on your calendar right now for next year (Columbus Day weekend). It is days of incredible music and good cheer, highly family-friendly, and all free (they do pass a bucket).


What a wonderful weekend of food and music you had! Thank you for sharing it with all of us.


Terrific post. Great photos.


Really fun post, Gretchen. Thanks for that. And, it makes me want to go to Honk! Fest next year!

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Thanks for the post, the pictures are great, I had read about HONK! Will definitely look into it next year.


I tried Tacqueria el Barrio today and was pretty impressed. It has lots going for it–house made tortillas and salsas (thus negating my initial general complaint against 95% of Boston area taco joints), the fresh licuados, Savenor’s meats, a nice clean space, and friendly people. I got the tacos el birria on a corn tortilla and the tacos de lengua on flour. The birria seemed like beef and not goat, but it was really tender and flavored well, and a good pair of tortillas. The lengua was delicious, cooked perfectly and with a good level of salt and the house flour tortilla was awesome.

The salsas are uniformly excellent, the chiles secos one especially smoky and deep. The place is not cheap and the tacos are not huge, but that’s OK–the quality of ingredients and the extra labor that goes into the tortillas and salsas is worth paying for.

I’m pretty hard on area Mexican places, but I’d go back to this one without hesitation. Would love to try the al pastor and the carnitas, and I’m betting the tortas here are better than at La Victoria (where I think they’re kind of middling).

Final side notes: I didn’t realize Xiang’s Hunan Kitchen was right in the same block (and YES I did think about eating two lunches but talked myself out of it, thank you very much) and I also walked thru the 88 food court on my way and saw that Tonkatsu King is open. I sort of like the idea that at this place they only make chicken and pork katsu. Might have to try that.


Thanks for all the additional intel on Taqueria el Barrio!! You must have actually talked to the nice folks, unlike me. I definitely need to get back there, especially with the college kids out of town.


This weekend was a perfect time to hit Taqueria el Barrio: loads of parking, nearly empty restaurant with colleges still on break. Got the pollo, carnitas and chicharones (L to R), all on corn tortillas at the recommendation of the nice woman who took my order. Too much food but research, people!! Chicharones hands-down my favorite but all very good. Contrary to the signage, my palate found the salsa verde hotter than the salsa asada and I preferred the verde.


Very nice. While on weekdays I wish to steal @uni’s life, on weekends I have my eye on yours (except for the frighteningly energetic dancing).


What type of carnitas is it ? And how crisp was it ?

Pork and not crisp at all.

I was expecting pork but when you order carnitas in many places in California you can order the specific parts, e.g. costilla, buche, mazica etc. - we are still looking for at least some decent Mexican food in Boston and was hoping this place has something reasonable but no crispiness doesn’t sound promising. I saw on their webpage that they have al pastor - do you know if they have a trompo for it ?

As many people have observed on this site on many threads, we don’t have Mexican food in Boston of the range and quality you get in California. It’s best to temper expectations and enjoy what we have, not anguish over what we don’t.

Having said that, even in California, where I have spent time, it’s not commonplace to find the body-part-specific tacos you mention. Tongue is common (although they do not always reveal which animal it’s from), and belly, but stomach, etc., are found only in some places. And you have to really look for eyes. Even in Mexico City the typical street-corner taco stand has only 4 or 5 standard offerings. There may have been a golden age when every body part was gloriously available on every corner, but that does not seem to be the case any more.


There is also plenty of bad Mexican food in California and I don’t expect Boston to meet the quality of the good stuff you can find on the west coast (which is even improving over the last 10 years) but at the same time I am surprised by the low quality I have experienced so far in Boston - I tried two places so far - Amuleto and a second place I forgot and both were very, very disappointing and simply badly made food (and I am not looking for anything fancy as I loved a lot of Mexican food in California from some (illegal) taco stands or trucks). Boston has so many great restaurants covering so many different cultures/countries that I am surprised that it feels Mexican food is such a weak spot (and I can’t believe that there wouldn’t a large enough market on good Mexican food)


The lack of good Mexican food in Boston has been debated endlessly. It seems to come down to the fact that the Boston area has few immigrants from Mexico. I live in East Somerville and here immigrants from El Salvador have several restaurants. They serve pupusas and curtido and also dishes they call tacos. The one at the end of my street is Taco Loco, Mexican Grill. Outside the restaurant is one of the signs put up by the city in East Somerville, explaining the moving history of the family who came here to escape persecution and opened Taco Loco.

I remember the first pupuseria I went to somewhere south of Palo Alto in California decades ago. I was enchanted with the food, distinct from Mexican with its own charms for sure, but not much like Mexican. I am glad I live near a place where I can get pupusas. I am still somewhat sad about the Mexican situation, but I cook at home with dried peppers from Christina’s, where you can buy everything you need for a complex mole. I also feel sad when I try barbecue in Boston area that purports to be Eastern NC style. Mostly, it’s not, and the sauces taste like chemicals. A few places get it OK and all said and done, I am very glad I don’t live in Eastern NC.

But I do agree, let’s be glad for what we do have, let’s keep the food places we like in business, let’s be glad for the new Southeast Asian and Peruvian “trends”. Maybe I’ll go to Sarma tonight.