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El Mariachi (CLOSED)

358 Waverly Street, Framingham, MA 01702
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Photo of El Mariachi, Framingham, MA While not all that far from Boston, the city of Framingham is often overlooked when it comes to dining out, which is a shame because countless restaurants and bars can be found there, with many of them far away from the endless shopping centers on Route 9. And among the many choices in this western suburb are some real gems, including more than a few Mexican and Central American eateries both in the downtown area and just outside of it. One such spot on the edge of downtown is El Mariachi, a family-friendly restaurant that feels a bit like some of he Mexican restaurants of old, out-chaining the chains in some ways with its festive atmosphere, huge portions, and decent prices overall.

El Mariachi sits on a rather dusty, industrial-feeling stretch of Route 135 just east of where it meets 126, and while the setting isn't overly attractive, the fact that the restaurant resides in what looks more like a residential than commercial structure gives it a lot of character inside. An attractive little bar area greets customers upon entering the place, with some seating in the bar area. More tables are toward the back in a homey little dining area with views of the railroad tracks outside giving it the feel of a roadside spot that you might find in a more rural area. The interior of El Mariachi is colorful and busy overall without being distractedly so, and it has the type of vibe that brings to memory some of the classic Mexican restaurants found in some of the communities along historic Highway 101 in Southern California.

Upscale Mexican dining spots and inexpensive street-food places both seem to be all the rage today, with the old-school mid-level Mexican options often being left to the chains now, but El Mariachi's retro feeling extends to its food offerings as well; here you will find the large, familiar combo plates and mix of Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex, and authentic Mexican fare that includes some not-so-common options. Big, hearty portions of burritos, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, flautas, tamales, chile relleno, and taquitos can be found here, with a number of combo plates giving diners some varied samplings if they can't choose just one item. A few highlights include a chunky guacamole with a good balance of onions, tomatoes, and peppers and crispy tortilla chips on the side; tomatillos enchiladas which are tart and have just a hint of heat; California tacos with lightly-charred soft and chewy tortillas and a nice mix of cilantro, onion, and meats (pork, chicken, or steak); a substantial California carnitas chimichanga with the deep-fried burrito overflowing with pork, rice, beans, and cheese and topped with more cheese and red sauce; and for dessert, churros that you need to save room for, as these deep-fried treats will fill you up in a hurry. Drinks at El Mariachi include a few beer and wine options along with a variety of margaritas.

In some ways, Framingham is not unlike such restaurant-rich communities closer to Boston as Waltham, Quincy, and Malden where all kinds of cuisines can be found, and among Mexican and Central American dining options, El Mariachi is certainly one to take note of, especially if you're looking for a family-friendly restaurant and/or a place that has big portions at reasonable prices. If this friendly little eatery were inside Route 128, it would probably get more notice, but as it stands, the place is indeed a hidden gem in a city full of such places.