If you haven't made your Cinco de Mayo plans yet, you may want to take a look at Dorado Tacos & Cemitas, a little place in JFK Crossing serving up the best fish tacos this side of the Charles River. It’s a real Mexican-style diner—not a place for lingering, just an unpretentious taco stand like one you'd find in a back alley of Puebla or Monterrey.
There are, of course, plenty of tacos on the menu. You might select a tender chicken taco with a roasted tomato-habañero salsa that will set your mouth aflame ($2.59), or maybe a taco with meaty portabello mushrooms, avocado, and snowflakes of cotija cheese ($2.89). But the real stars here are the Baja-style fish tacos. You can taste the beer in the batter of the Ensenada taco's white fish filet, served with a touch of pickled onion for a vinegary contrast ($2.59). You can prickle your tongue with heat from the Dorado taco’s chipotle crema, hidden under paper-thin slices of radish ($2.59). Or you can savor the current seasonal special, a grilled yellowfin tuna taco ($2.99), enthroned with a bit of pineapple salsa upon its chewy corn tortilla.
So, what's the cemita mentioned in the restaurant's name? A Mexican street food sandwich; a schmear of black beans, a sprig of cilantro, a few slices of Oaxaca cheese, with chipotle adobo and your choice of meat on a sesame seed bun (And here you thought the sesame-seed bun was an all-American obsession.) Our chorizo cemita ($6.25), with house-made chorizo sausage, reminded me of a spicier, tidier sloppy joe. One that won’t stain your tie.
Now, the hard part: if you had asked me two weeks ago what I thought of the quesadillas, melty cheese and flavorful meat sandwiched between two crispy tortillas, I’d have unquestionably proclaimed the steak quesadilla ($5.25) my favorite item on the menu. Such a simple guilty pleasure, but done amazingly well: the tortilla crackles beneath your teeth as you bite in, and the tenderness and depth of flavor in the steak made me think it had marinated for days.
Flash forward to several days ago, when we ordered another steak quesadilla and its brother, one filled with marinated chicken. My companion and I stared incredulously at each other, unable to believe that these piles of greasy cheese masqueraded as the same quesadillas we had so relished. A poor shrimp taco wallowed alongside, its soggy breading making it a target for ridicule. I’ve since been back for another quesadilla and found it up to previous standards, but had that ill-fated visit been my first to Dorado, I wouldn’t have been back. I'll chalk it up to a fluke (had the chef gone home sick?), but if your quesadilla doesn’t meet with a standing ovation, know that Dorado can do better.
Accompany your meal with a subtly sweet pineapple ginger lemon agua fresca, or a glass bottle of Mexican coca-cola (made with real sugar instead of corn syrup, which I think creates a lighter, more graceful soda). Potential Cinco de Mayo revelers will also want to note that Dorado serves a selection of imported Mexican beers and a red wine sangria.
Dorado serves brunch, too—breakfast tacos and quesadillas, patatas bravas, huevos rancheros—Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 3, alongside the regular menu. Keep that in mind in case your Cinco de Mayo celebration keeps on rolling.
Dorado Tacos & Cemitas is open Monday-Saturday 11am-10pm, and Sunday 11am-9pm. Cash and credit accepted. 401 Harvard Street, Brookline. MBTA: Green line (C) to Coolidge Corner.