El Jefe’s: A New Contender

by Adam Wong ’17

Cue Mariachi music.
Cue Mariachi music.

There’s a new contender in the late night food game. El Jefe’s, the new restaurant on Mt. Auburn Street, seeks to get in on the market of the late night drunchies game, taking up the same hours as Tasty Burger, the hegemon of 3AM post party sustenance. We were hungry, so we went to check it out.

When we went in late one Wednesday night (Thursday morning for you damn literalists) we were greeted by a warm atmosphere, a busy kitchen, and decor that suggested Havana or Tijuana. Painted exposed concrete, old finished tables and decorative flor Cholula tiles relaxed us, and got us in the mood for some casual Mexican food.

We ordered ourselves the 3 taco package and a burrito, ringing in at $6.50 and $7.00, respectively. In the tacos we got Carne Molida Picante (a kind of spicy ground beef), Chorizo, and shrimp. In the burrito, you know we had to load it up with our old standby, Carnitas. We did get served out of Pyrex glass dishes that your mom uses to make meatloaf, but we were told it was interim stuff until their new equipment arrives. Regardless, the stuff waiting for us in the Pyrex was quality. The options are quickly refreshed from the stove and grill just behind the line, which is impressive, considering the amount of goodies you could slam down on your tortilla. Perfectly (and we do mean perfectly) cooked Mexican or lime rice, pork pinto beans, roasted veggies, plantains, and some bangin’ guac can be added to any one of your creations at no extra cost. Forever the arbiters of thrift, we could never consider getting every extra possible, until we found this place. You’d have to be crazy to put plantains AND guac in your burrito, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. You do you, man.

Its as big as our heads, and we have fat heads.
Its as big as our heads, and we have fat heads.
Some taco action for our views back home.
Some taco action for our views back home.

We sat down and got eating. The carnitas was fatty and sweet, reminiscent of some of the Mexican food closer to the border back home in California. The shrimp taco, with simple lettuce, cheese, and pico de gallo toppings, was awesome. The shrimp was al dente, and was deliciously shrimpy. The chorizo, instead of being served as ground spiced meat, was fried, slightly crispy slices. I could get more of the spicy fatty pork into my mouth and really taste the red chiles that gives the sausage its distinctive red color. We were surprised when we found the spicy ground beef taco to be our favorite. Though visually reminiscent of elementary school lunch, the taste is on a whole other tier, and strong enough to hit your taste buds through the deepest inebriation.

Diamonds in the rough.
Diamonds in the rough.

One of our top discoveries was the salsa verde. A common sight in Mexican restaurants across the country, the thinnish, forest green sauce found here is anything but common. It is peppery, hot, flavorful, and so good, we would name our kid after it. Looking for an excuse to eat more of it, we ordered a steak quesadilla (only 5 buccaroonies) where another pleasant surprise jumped out at us. The steak… was GOOOOD. Peppery and tender, the steak was right at home in the extra cheesy quesadilla, and just peachy in the salsa verde.

We can't count that high.
We can’t count that high.

Being a new and small establishment, El Jefe’s seriously takes in community input. In fact, community input is built into the organization of the restaurant in the Picante bar. A huge wall of dozens of different sauces to spice up your night, the Picante bar can be expanded with hot sauces of your own choosing. With this kind of responsibility, El Jefe’s gives us at Harvard the opportunity to make it a real home of ours.

El Jefe’s in the square is a huge move. Though its grub was not as good as Felipe’s, it is a different genre of Mexican food, and brings with it different benefits to the table. El Jefe’s has got yummy food, lots of it, and late. While fools be standing in line at Tasty Burger for an hour while waiting for 2 small burgers costing them an exorbitant ten dollars, I at least will be skipping round the corner and getting my money’s worth at el Jefe’s, the new boss of “why am I awake” dining.

Hot Tamales at the Farmers Market

by Audrey Thorne ’19
1

I love the Farmers Market. More specifically, I love to wander around the Farmers Market to kill time between morning and afternoon classes, before Annenberg opens for lunch but after they have closed for breakfast. I tend to stroll and admire the booths, but practice restraint. If I let myself have free reign I would end up taking home half of the food from the fair. Still, the red and white chalk declaring TAMALES $4 caught my eye – glaring from the “Tex Mex Eats” booth. I had never had tamales.

3

What exactly are tamales? Mexican, I knew. Handmade, the sign explained. Also gluten free. Hmm. Were they spicy? I do not always do well with spicy. I used to think Chipotle was too spicy, although I have of course learned the error of my ways.
I stood uncertain long enough for two customers to go before me. One looked hard at the sign before asking for two bean and cheese. The woman running the booth spoke quickly, asking if she wanted it wrapped up, asking if she wanted to pay with cash or card. “Wrapped up,” the first customer said. “Cash.”
6
The woman running the booth pulled out two cylinder shapes with spring roll textured wrappings. The next customer orders a traditional pork to walk with and a corn wrapped up without a single glance at the sign. The woman running the booth quickly pulled out another cylinder, peeled of the wrapping, and handed it to the woman. She then retrieved an unsealed cob of corn, a tub of butter, powdered cheese, and red powder. She peeled the corn, painted it all the way around with butter, lies it on tin foil, and coated it evenly with both powders. She looked down at it again. Added more red powder. Then she sealed it all in, wrapping the tin foil tightly around the yellow and white kerneled corn.
5
2
I decided to be adventurous. “A traditional pork tamale, a bean and cheese tamale, and a corn on the cob. And can I have it wrapped up?”
Because I have always loved Mexican corn and I was still tentative to try something new, I started with the corn. The surface was thick with butter and the red powder, the corn itself juicy, hot, and fresh. The red powder made me nervous. It reminded me of hot curry powder. And it burned my lips, set my mouth aflame, but in the best way. I devoured all but the patch of burned kernels. Then, after turning and turning the cob as if more yellow corn would magically appear and deciding that such a method would not be successful, I ate a few of the blackened ones in the absence of more yellow and white kernels. I rewrapped my empty cob in its buttery foil and returned it to the brown bag the woman at the booth had given me. I retrieve my next trial, the tamales.
7
I peel off the outside wrapper, uncertain of what to expect. Inside of the more solid wrappings, the tamales are sweet potato orange and soft. I opt for bean And cheese first, thinking it safer. It burns sweet and spicy on my tongue, stronger than the corn. The traditional pork is more savory, dissociating in my mouth. I slice a few pieces of both, eat them together so the flavors can play off each other. The traditional pork balances the spice of the bean and cheese, but I find I like each better individually. Even though the bean and cheese hurts me, I cannot stop. I alternate between the two so as not to be overwhelmed by the spice of the bean and cheese or finish the traditional pork too quickly.
Next time I see the booth I am likely to order a few traditional pork tamales to go. It was nice to try some new foods, but the spicy life still isn’t for me.

Rooftop Bar, Agave & Tequila: Felipe’s Reopening

By Adam Wong ’17 and Dana Ferrante ’17

 

It was dark times in the Kingdom of Harvard Square. Last spring, Felipe’s, our one true savior for the midnight munchies, had vanished, hiding from the world in a little cramped corner of Flat Patties. We looked longingly at the promising new location, then still boarded up with brown paper wrapping as if it were one of their stacked steak burritos, hoping for the day when we could once again eat our nachos and quesadillas in the comfort of Mexican decor. We waited (some of us more patiently than others) for Felipe’s to once again ascend the throne.

Then, the day came. It was a Tuesday night, the middle of finals week, and as we lethargically ‘studied’ in the dining hall, we heard the news: Felipe’s just reopened. (It was a finals week miracle!) Dropping everything, first and foremost our jaws, we ran over through the mist to Brattle Street. We hardly even recognized it. As we peered in through the huge front windows and into the ginormous new space, we could already taste the dreamy burritos to come.The little “dump on Mt. Auburn street,” as owner Tom described it candidly, was now a two-floor (three, if you count the rooftop bar that is still undergoing construction), half rustic brick, half artful stucco, restaurant with a new attitude. Repurposing wood from the demolition and incorporating hand-made metalwork from Mexico, Tom has created a space that bursts with energy and style.

 20141217_002139

Arriving just after midnight, the staff had just begun cleaning up, yet kindly let us in to have a look at Felipe’s 2.0. Before we could even ask him about how business was during their soft-opening that night, Felipe’s manager Francisco explained how excited his staff were about the change. Having run two restaurants out of the Flat Patties location during the spring and the summer, the staff now have the much deserved space to make everything from carnitas to queso fondido for the hoards of customers to come. But the line, fully equipped with shiny, spotless stainless steel, is only half the show; in the basement lies fully decked-out kitchen space for all of the prep work (and more prep space means more guacamole). 

And good thing they have all that new space, because the food is going to be flying off the line once word gets out about their new menu items. Felipe’s Mexican spread now includes fish tacos, shrimp tacos, and by popular demand, a salad option. Additionally, for just two dollars more, every burrito has the option of getting deep fried and smothered in a delicious queso sauce. But, it wouldn’t be our beloved Felipe’s without a deal. Perfect for the loyal college student fanbase budget, Felipe’s maintains the lowest costing and best tasting Mexican food in the area.

20141217_002359

As if we could ever want more, Felipe’s has outdone itself yet again. Now sporting a full bar, soon to be stocked with classic Mexican liquors (read: tequila), the restaurant aims to claim first-prize for the best, most authentic margaritas in town.

20141217_002256
First floor bar.

 

2014-12-17 00.21.47
The view from the second floor.

But what could be better than splurging on top-quality Mexican food with an ice-cold bottle of Pacifico? Doing all of that, on a roof. Up another staircase (or an elevator, if you prefer) lies a sweet rooftop lounge with a bar of its own for easy access. Though there’s still some work to be done, the owner told us the roof will be open as soon as the weather permits. The open sky above the patio, he explained, will ensure both constant sunlight and an unmatched view of the Cambridge skyline. With the roof included, Felipe’s has a restaurant capacity pushing just about 200 party people.

The implications are enormous. Just think: no longer must we suffer while indecisive roommates weigh the merits of getting either their drink or grub on. Now a veritable wonderland of both gastronomy and beauty, Felipe’s is the nighttime destination.

The crown jewel of our Harvard Square kingdom has finally returned.

20141217_002316