This has been a great week for tacos. First, I had a very positive experience at The Taco Truck, a new taco truck (what did you expect?) in Cambridge. Then, last night, I returned to the fairly new Davis Square Mexican hotspot, The Painted Burro, and I was pleased to find that it was much improved from my visit the day after they had opened, particularly in terms of portion size, flavor, and service.
When The Painted Burro first opened, I had just returned from Austin with a newfound love for tacos and mezcal. I knew it was risky to visit in the first few days, but I just couldn't wait. I'm a huge fan of Posto, which is under the same ownership, so I had high hopes. Not surprisingly, there were still a lot of kinks to work out on that first visit. I left disappointed but resolved to return after they'd had a couple months to settle in. I'm pleased to report that nearly all of the problems have now been resolved, and I really enjoyed my meal. (On both visits, however, the bar was almost unreasonably slow, even with the restaurant about halfway full. Fortunately the cocktails were worth the wait, but I wonder how long it'd take to get a drink when the restaurant is packed. I'm referring to sitting at a table for dinner and ordering drinks; I'm not sure if the experience sitting right at the bar and ordering from the bartender is faster.)
They did a fantastic job remodeling the old Gargoyles space; it's much brighter and feels more open now. (If I remember correctly, there was a wall or at least a heavy curtain between the dining room and the bar in the Gargoyles days, but now there is not.) The chairs appear to be made of old window shutters, and the tables are also made of reclaimed wood, or at least that's how they look and feel. The ambiance seems inspired by Dia de los Muertos with a variety of festive skeleton decorations, but it doesn't go overboard. One of my dining companions commented that it looked like a place that could be in Los Angeles, a little bit funky while still classy. On a wall near the bar, there's a gorgeous and large mural of a burro (a painted burro!) and a skeleton with a mini-me skeleton on its shoulder.
As a newly enthusiastic drinker of mezcal, I appreciate the large selection, as well as the tequila and mezcal cocktails. The spicy mango margarita was the biggest hit at my table, but we were all quite happy with our drinks. Mine, El Jefe, was similar to one I've enjoyed at Trina's Starlite Lounge in the past. Xoclotl Mole bitters would probably not please everyone, but they make for a smooth and subtly chocolatey flavor.
Food highlights include the pork loin "cochinita" tacos, the kale and plantain side dish, and the helados (ice cream), particularly the chipotle chocolate and the sweet corn. (Picture creamed corn, take away the actual pieces of corn, and make it into ice cream. That's what this was. It might sound weird, but I assure you that it is actually delicious.)
For a quick and cheap taco fix, I'd head back to a place like The Taco Truck, but for a nice night out with friends, I'd definitely return to The Painted Burro. It gets quite pricey, particularly if you delve into the drink menu, so don't go over there expecting tacos for a couple bucks each. It's closer in cost and feel to a place like Olé. Be sure to try the sweet corn ice cream!