Mexican cuisine seems to be all the rage these days, with countless spots opening in the Boston area over the past few years, including everything from casual Mexican-American places to authentic taquerias to higher-end eateries. As a result, some of the older Mexican restaurants seem to get a bit overlooked these days in favor of the hotspots in and around the city, with such places as Taqueria El Amigo in Waltham and Angela's Cafe in East Boston not getting a ton of press these days. Then there are those places that almost seem taken for granted, as they aren't part of the latest wave of Mexican dining spots, but they aren't completely unknown, either. One such spot is Tu Y Yo, a little restaurant just north of Somerville's Davis Square that seems popular with Tufts students (and Davis Square residents), but remains a bit of a hidden gem even after all these years of being in business--and is not your typical Mexican dining spot by any means, as many of the dishes here are made using traditional recipes from long ago.
Tu Y Yo is located in Powderhouse Square, which is often called Powderhouse Circle by the locals, some of whom simply prefer to call it part of adjacent Ball Square. Whatever name you might call it, this busy Somerville intersection is typically a place that folks drive through on their way to "destination" spots such as Davis Square, Cambridge's Porter Square, and to the west, Arlington Center. The Powderhouse area does have a handful of eateries, mainly within a strip of businesses where Broadway and College Avenue meet, with Tu Y Yo being right in the middle of the strip. The restaurant is quite cozy and attractive inside, with traditional Mexican artwork, colorful walls, and attractive hanging lights all giving it an almost romantic ambiance, while relatively comfortable booths line the walls, with tables and chairs in the middle allowing for large groups to dine here. A counter at the back of the room is used for supplies as well as takeout orders.
If you are looking for nachos, fajitas, or burritos, don't bother coming to Tu Y Yo; this is not even close to being an Americanized spot, though their menu does include tacos and quesadillas--but again, these items are different from what you might get at a Mexican chain restaurant. So what else is on the menu at Tu Y Yo? Well, appetizers include a wonderful plate of steamed tamales that are wrapped in both corn husks and banana leaves, and come with such fillings as coconut, chicken, corn, whitefish, and pork. Other starters include sope (hand-stretched corn flour dough stuffed with beef, sausage or veggies and topped with beans and cheese), Mexican sausage, and breaded jalapeno peppers stuffed with shredded chicken and served in tomato sauce. This last dish comes from a 1950 recipe, with other dishes here (as mentioned earlier) being made using recipes that date all the way back to before the Spanish came to Mexico (Tu Y Yo's tacos filled with grasshoppers fall into this category).
Several of the main dishes at Tu Y Yo also come from recipes that date back from long ago, including the bisteces mama evelia (1930), which features chopped angus sirloin that is so tender that you can cut it with a fork, and has the beef cooked in a bright-tasting and smokey tomatillo-chipotle sauce. One of the highlights of the menu is the mole colorado tlaxcalteca, which comes from a 1914 recipe and includes chicken in a rich red mole sauce that is made with too many ingredients to mention here. Pork lovers might want to opt for a chopped pork tenderloin with a savory and slightly hot peanut sauce (a 1966 recipe), while folks who like seafood may want to look at the sauteed shrimp in a sauce made with poblano and morron chiles (1928 recipe). Tu Y Yo also has vegetarian options as well, with the indio vestido featuring a breaded cactus paddle stuffed with a mild cheese and served with two beautifully-colored sauces--a red pasilla sauce and a green tomatillo sauce, each of which has a wonderfully complex flavor. Desserts include an avocado cheesecake and a cactus cake (cactus is used in a number of dishes here), while drinks include a traditional red sangria which has a rich, fruity flavor and isn't overly strong in the alcohol department
While not a completely under-the-radar spot, Tu Y Yo is not a exactly a household name outside of the Somerville area, either. But those who frequent the place know all about the sheer goodness of its traditional Mexican dishes made using old recipes, and its warm and inviting atmosphere. If you ever find yourself facing long lines at restaurants in Davis Square, do yourself a favor and take a short walk up College Avenue to this unusual eatery across from Tufts University.
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