This doesn't take place in Dorchester, but it is a Boston experience all the same.
JAMAICA PLAIN. Here is a nice date to experience with someone special. Take the Orange Line to Stony Brook Station. When you exit the station doors, take a right and head towards the well-lit and attractive package store that is located at one of the sweetest spots to sell liquor in Boston. This date doesn’t involve narrow brown bags though. Keep walking up the street which is lined with a variety of large houses that provide plenty of conversational fodder for you and your escort.
You’ll walk a few blocks through a residential neighborhood. The other people who disembarked from the train will be headed the same way, some branching off along well-lit, tidy side streets while others tack straight ahead. The variety of homes allows two people to judge each other’s tastes in living situations and style. Even in the cold, people sit on their front porches and the stained glass around front doors and in stairwells glows with ambient light. The quarter mile to Center Street flies by under meandering footsteps.
The vista that greets a couple on Center Street can be disconcerting. A brightly-lit, rounded beige façade sporting a neon CVS logo glows in the dark. You step out into a proper square where streets converge. A restaurant/lounge called Alchemist glows ambiently with an air of mystery, but this isn’t a date meant to impress. It is a rendezvous to get to know each other better and spend time where the company isn’t overwhelmed by the surroundings. Rather than turn right down toward Jackson Square or cross the intersection to Alchemist, turn left past the pizzeria and try out Acapulco.
This is a Mexican restaurant in the best low-rent, high-class tradition, proud of its ethnicity. Sparkly, embroidered sombreros are mounted on the white stuccoed walls over draped colorful, wool scarves. A faux, red tile, cantina roof is mounted over the bar. The double-wide dining room is separated by arches that both open and partition the space. The arches are accented with glued on fake, quarter-inch thick bricks. Music plays low and almost every song contains the refrain, “Ai-yi-yi-yi,” over gently caressed guitar strings and accordion notes.
The menu runs the gamut of price ranges, but none are too far out of reach. A page dedicated to Tex-Mex staples, tacos, enchiladas, and such, goes no higher than $12.oo for a combination plate and the portions are generous. The other five pages of menu are reserved for more specialized Mexican fare, what they don’t serve to tourists and what they don’t serve in at Taco Bell. The top price is $16.00 should one want to stray to authentic fare. The mood is relaxed, grounded South of the Border ambience punctuated by the natural boisterousness regular clientele bring to a well-liked dining hall.
One wall is dominated by an oil painting of a bull fight approximately ten feet long by six feet high. This will never land in the Museum of Fine Arts, but it is art nonetheless. The view of the Spanish ladies, copied from Goya reproductions, that frame the left edge of the picture are worth the price of the meal. My companion commented, “The ladies look so pretty.” I was struck by the crowd depicted in the background of the ring. Numerous personalities are painted with a masterful brevity of brushstrokes producing a swirl of individual expressions captured at the height of excitement. The matador and the bull are somewhat less expertly rendered. They are a little stiff and out of proportion, but the artist’s shortcomings in technical skill in no way diminish the impact of what he tried to portray.
Some recommendations: We started with the cactus salad, which was a nice mixture of fresh and pickled ingredients. The cactus slices over thinly shredded iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges were flavored with the lightest brine. There was no need to open the two packets of Kraft Creamy Italian Dressing that were provided on the side of the salad bowl. I had a Burro Grande with spicy green sauce. My companion had a Chicken Quesadilla. Neither of us had any cause for complaint.
What sets Acapulco apart from the run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant was the pitcher of sangria we drank. It arrived in a liter carafe and was served in an ice-filled wine glass with a squeezed slice of lime. The carafe is called a full pitcher on the menu and costs $20.00. They are twenty dollars well spent. The first sip is ambrosia and every following sip is a perfect accompaniment to the food and the atmosphere. We didn’t finish the carafe, but we left Acapulco with full, satisfied stomachs and in a good mood.
The sangria recipe is a secret but you can ask anyway. All you will learn is that the ingredient that makes this red wine and fruit concoction special is also a product of the venerated cactus family. As the staff will tell you, “People like it.” We tasted orange and saw evidence of muddled grapes, but never learned what definitively made this sangria something so special. The sangria alone is worth a return visit.
After leaving the restaurant, retrace your steps back to Stony Brook Station. The walk passes by even more quickly than before. On feet full of the fruit of Acapulco’s kitchen and bar, the neighborhood is a blur of sights familiar from an hour ago seen in new light. Luckily, the Orange Line is rarely crowded, so there is always a seat. Not that it matters. A trip to the Acapulco restaurant is worth twenty minutes of strap-hanging, especially in good company.