It is no secret that the city of Cambridge is filled with countless dining options, but its neighbor to the north is no slouch, either. Over the past several years especially, Somerville has been increasingly seen as a destination spot for restaurants, and much like Cambridge, you can find a variety of places including trendy upscale dining and drinking spots, old-school neighborhood joints (though these continue to disappear at a steady pace, unfortunately), and countless cheap eats places featuring nearly every cuisine you can imagine. And it is this last category that makes Somerville's Union Square so interesting, as the square itself and the area immediately surrounding it have a number of eateries where you can basically dine around the world without breaking the bank, including a marvelous little spot called Machu Chicken that isn't well known, but is a fave among locals as well as folks with roots in Peru and other parts of South America.
Like so many other casual inexpensive spots, Machu Chicken has a rather anonymous look to it from its storefront in the heart of Union Square, seeming more like a plain-looking takeout spot than anything from the outside. And while it is a popular place for takeout and/or delivery, this is also a full-service restaurant with a number of tables, and the interior is relatively pleasant and laid back with lots of earthy colors giving it a warm and inviting feel, traditional art on the walls, a mix of seating options including long tables for bigger groups, and a counter area toward that back that has an attractive Peruvian-style "roof" with an almost Mediterranean look to it. The sound level within the dining room tends to be low, making it a good place for quiet conversation which is rarely the case when it comes to cheap eats places.
You might have guessed by now that Machu Chicken focuses on, well, chicken, but that's not all that they have on the menu. Some of the offerings include choclo con queso, or Peruvian corn on the cob with farmer's cheese (the corn kernels are huge, by the way); tamal criollo, which is a hearty pork-filled tamale that is cooked in a banana leaf wrapping and served with a Peruvian onion-based relish; sleep-inducing empanadas that are filled with seasoned beef; a nicely-presented quinoa salad with farmer's cheese, avocado, moderately-hot Aji Amarillo peppers, lettuce, spinach, and cucumbers; El Peruanisimo, which is just a bit like a Cubano but with a mix of roasted pork, onion relish, hot peppers, cilantro, and sweet potatoes on toasted bread; and a lo pobre, or a grilled steak sandwich made particularly sinful by the addition of fried eggs on top. The chicken dishes are front and center here, however, with the quarter chicken and half chicken being as good as you'll find anywhere in the Boston area, with the rotisserie chicken being marinated in spices and charcoal-roasted with tons of flavor coming from the charred skin and the juicy meat inside. Some of the options that come with the chicken dishes include rice, beans, fries, and a salad, and you can also order a chicken sandwich as well, which includes the same coal-blackened chicken with spicy sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and dressing. Drinks at Machu Chicken include beer and wine along with a few Peruvian-style non-alcoholic beverages, while desserts include a sweet and rich tres leches (a type of milk cake).
Machu Chicken is one of those places that is very easy to overlook, but it is definitely one of the better dining options in all of Somerville--especially if you're looking for a relatively quick meal that is both inexpensive and delicious. By the way, the people behind the eatery also run the nearby Machu Picchu, which is more of a true dine-in full-service restaurant, so you actually have two choices for Peruvian food in Union Square, but for cheap eats specifically, Machu Chicken is really about as good as it gets.
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