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July 30, 2009

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas

Asiatico Fish Taco Dominic Armato

Today, I'm going to do something I try very, very, very hard not to do. I'm going to jump all over a place that just opened. There's nothing even remotely fair about it. But here's the full disclosure: this afternoon, a couple of (new) pals and I hit Dorado Tacos & Cemitas less than 24 hours after it first opened its doors for business. In my defense, I couldn't help myself. I've been desperately seeking a place for great cemitas since leaving Chicago two years ago, and I've been craving a good fish taco since bailing on Los Angeles back in 2001. So when a new spot opens just ten minutes away from home featuring both of those items, how am I expected to stay away while they iron out the kinks?

For such a small place, Dorado has been met with an awful lot of fanfare. Chef Douglas Organ seems to have earned a devoted little following during his time at Cafe D, and tales of his excellent fish tacos abound online. So with a grand opening announcement from Daily Candy and Chowhound and Twitter all... um... atwitter, last night was reportedly a mob scene, with long waits and customers turned away. We arrived today at 12:30, expecting a snaking line out the door, and were pleasantly surprised to discover that it was busy, but by no means overtaxed. It's a little corner taco joint -- significantly brighter, cleaner and more modern than where I'm accustomed to acquiring my tacos -- with counters along two windows and a couple of large tables that can seat six or so. Though the menu features a number of non-fish tacos, as well as rotisserie chicken and the obligatory upscale taqueria salad, our order was never in question. Fish tacos. All of them. And a couple of cemitas. The tacos are currently taking about 15 minutes to come up, which will irritate some, but all this says to me is that the fish isn't hitting the fryer until after you order. This is a good thing, guys. Don't rush them. So after a short wait I was all too happy to endure, we dug in.

Dorado Fish TacoDominic Armato

The fish tacos come in three varieties, Ensenada, Dorado and Asiatico. They're all minor variations on a theme -- battered and crisply fried whitefish, creamy sauce and some manner of green vegetable -- and though their differences aren't quite as distinct as I'd like, they're all quite good. The Ensenada is what I've always thought of as "traditional" (only due to the fact that I was introduced to them in Southern California), with shredded cabbage, a bit of pico de gallo, a few slivers of lightly pickled onion and a rich, cool crema on top. Our first was a little wanting. Thankfully, the second helping we went back for included the slice of lime missing on the first, which made all the difference. Beautifully fried fish, hot and crisp, with cool and fresh accompaniments. The Dorado added some radish and cilantro to the mix, as well as a healthy shot of chipotle in the crema, and the Asiatico sported another manner of spicy crema with slices of daikon radish and made more of a ginger-infused slaw out of the cabbage. I didn't get as much ginger out of the Asiatico's cabbage as I would have liked, but this is a minor complaint. Though I've had better, these were pretty darn good fish tacos. Or they would have been, if not for one glaring flaw I had a really hard time getting past.

Ensenada Fish TacoDominic Armato

The tortillas are a problem. If you've ever questioned the importance of those unassuming little discs of pressed masa, these tacos could serve as Exhibit A. For starters, they're too thick. I know two tortillas is how one eats tacos, and that's certainly my usual MO, but after my first two bites, I pitched the second tortilla. The filling was just getting lost. Secondly, and more importantly, they're dry and a little rubbery. They need to be something -- fresher, moister, more oily, lightly griddled -- there are a lot of ways it could go. The menu touts them as organic white corn, and I'd trade them for light and moist and cooked up in a test tube in a heartbeat. The fish is great. The toppings are very nice. The tortillas are dragging them down. And here's where I need to point out that, hey, they've only been open for 24 hours. Maybe the previous night's rush killed their supply and these were acquired from some alternate source. I don't know. But if this is how they're intended to be served, it's a problem. I'm told that this isn't a tortilla town, and that the abundance of beautiful, fresh tortillas to which I've become accustomed simply might not be an option around these parts. Possible. And sad, if true. But I find it hard to believe that somebody, somewhere in the city isn't cranking out some good fresh ones. At least I hope somebody is.

Cemita MilanesaDominic Armato

Simultaneously buoyed by lovely fillings and frustrated by mediocre tortillas, we moved onto the cemitas. And here, to be fair, I'm kind of begging for disappointment. The first cemita I ever tasted was at Cemitas Puebla in Chicago. I really enjoyed their cemita milanesa the first time I tried it, and my love and appreciation for it only grew with each subsequent visit. Really, it's an impossible standard. So with that in mind, let me say that I was greatly disappointed by Dorado's cemita milanesa. Between a toasted sesame roll there was avocado, a bit of Oaxaca cheese (could've used more, actually), fresh cilantro and a very thin layer of beans that accompanied the main attraction, a fried pork cutlet that, while nicely seasoned, probably needed to be thinner and definitely needed to be crisper. The glaring omission, however, were the chipotles en adobo, common on cemitas and referred to on the menu but not present in any form I could discern. The sandwich desperately needed precisely what they would provide: smoky heat and a little vinegar. I even asked one of the fellows about it, to see if I could acquire a little more (or any, really), and was told in puzzling fashion that the adobo was "kind of an all-together thing" before being directed to a bottle of Cholula... no substitute. Again, perhaps they were tapped out after the previous night's madness. But surely that would have been a better reply than the sort-of-no I received. Without, it was an okay sandwich, if somewhat flat, but a mere shadow of what I knew it could be. With the chorizo cemita, we fared a little better, given that the chorizo had some heat and sourness built in. Still, though, nothing I could get excited about.

Perhaps these are all issues that will be ironed out. They could certainly all be attributed to opening jitters. And even if they aren't, I'll be back. The fish tacos are craveworthy even on a substandard platform and far better than anything I've tasted in a long time. To be clear, this is the kind of criticism borne of frustration that they're juuuust missing. With some good chipotles, either pickled or in adobo, the cemitas could be very good. The fish tacos are already good, and with some better tortillas, they could be great. I'm hoping they get there, and I'll be back to find out. Expect an update.

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas
401 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA 02446
Mon - Sun11:00 AM - 10:00 PM


Thanks for the comprehensive review. I understand your apprehension to review a place so new, but it's exactly what I wanted to read. I'm thinking about heading over to Coolidge Corner later tonight for some tacos but maybe I should wait out the crowd!

FWIW, sk, the crowd even at the peak of the lunch rush today wasn't bad at all. And I can't speak about last night firsthand. Just heard through the grapevine.

Anyway, definitely stop by... and if you have a cemita, let me know if you got any chipotles!

Fun read :-) My first ever fish tacos were in Ensenada and I've been chicken to try them anywhere else for fear they'd never live up to the original.

What an insightful review, I learned so much more about tacos and cemitas! I relate to your “begging” or rather, setting yourself up for disappointment with particular dishes. My first crème brulee was from Boulevard’s in San Francisco, probably one of the best in the nation. Once you bond with a favorite, you have to force yourself back to objectivity to give a newcomer a chance for a good impression.

As a native San Diegan in East Coast exile, I always long for a good fish taco in the classic baja/surf food incarnation. I think I may have eaten more fish tacos than anyone east of Las Vegas. You are correct, bad tortillas, especially corn ones kill any Mexican food. But, as you've noted before in your analytical review of Chicago-style Italian Beef, its the bread (or in this case bread-like) that never travels well. Tortillas are certainly easier to make in mass quantities than bread, but I wonder if this is a sourcing problem in Boston.

If there's no local outfit making fresh tortillas, absolutely, it's a huge sourcing problem bordering on insurmountable. I just find it hard to believe that in a city this size -- even one with a reputation for a weak Mexican scene -- there isn't SOMEbody making fresh tortillas. And that's who anybody who cares about what they're doing should be talking to.

Hmmm...I took a second look at your photos of the fish tacos, and the bread looks like pita bread or something, is that how it should look? I admit to being a complete philistine in this area of food (ok, I'm probably a philistine in all areas of food) but I like Anna's Tacqueria, and the tortillas they use may be closer to what you're looking for? I bring this up to suggest there is perhaps a better source for tortillas in the Boston area. But if you're interested in Anna's, there's one near Coolidge Corner, and I'm guessing from your first few forays into the Boston area you live in Brookline around there. Also, in that area, I like this Jewish deli, Zaftigs ( http://www.zaftigs.com/ ) for something casual.

That I can say what I'm about to say after having been here for such a short period of time is shocking even to me, Kit, but I've actually been to both Anna's AND Zaftig's :-)

I actually stopped at Anna's right after this lunch. I decided to take a few minutes to walk that stretch of Harvard street and check out Doc Bua, and when I saw the al pastor cone through the window of Anna's, I couldn't resist. I had dessert. And you're right, the tortillas there were much better (nothing special, but perfectly good), though I can't say the same for the rest of the taco. Why they felt the need to completely smother the meat in gobs of guacamole and hot sauce is beyond me. But yes, while Anna's tortillas aren't anything to write home about, they're proof that tortillas in Boston -- at the very least -- needn't be a liability. Whether that was a function of product or preparation, however, I can't say.

Zaftig's was... okay. Great because we can take the little ones there. Good borscht, pretty decent chicken soup, lackluster reuben. But we'll be back (Deli is probably my wife's favorite weekend restaurant stop), so I'm holding off on that one for a while.

Thanks for the heads-up on both, though :-)

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