South Boston’s dining scene keeps evolving at a breathtaking pace. I’m not talking about the touristy Seaport, but the historically residential neighborhoods that run from City Point to the Lower End along the Broadways. A strip that once offered few options beyond dull pub fare, middling pizza and bad American-Chinese food now boasts everything from bagels to sushi, plus a growing number of outposts with siblings in shinier neighborhoods. Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar, which recently debuted near Perkins Square, is clearly catering to Southie’s newer arrivals with more contemporary food and drink than old-timers are used to seeing.
As the name suggests, Loco has one foot planted firmly in the raw bar world, offering a daily selection of fresh, properly shucked raw oysters ($2.50-$3 each). If you’re new to raw oysters, oyster escabeche ($8) offers a clever, gentle introduction, topping three Wellfleets with a pretty carmine crown of tuna crudo. Tuna crudo tostada ($14) dresses up its raw fish a bit more with leche de tigre (the classic Peruvian ceviche marinade, mainly lime juice and onions), avocado, lime crema and pickled peppers, with similarly delectable results. Sushi fluke ceviche ($12) is a milder, larger-cut crudo, more subtly flavored with coconut leche de tigre, bits of pickled onion and charred sweet potato, its puffs of savory coconut curd and teensy edible flowers completing a gorgeous, sophisticated plate.
Tacos plates feature two big, overstuffed double layers of corn tortillas, many filled with ingredient combinations little-seen south of the border. Baja-style fried fish tacos ($12) barely recall their traditional forebears, but their big, crunchy batter-fried white-fish filets stand up well to charred jalapeño/pineapple salsa, pear/ginger slaw and avocado. Lobster tacos ($16) are nicely stuffed with chunks of lobster meat, with chorizo aioli and pickled corn-butter relish providing aptly complementary flavors, but the whole is overwhelmed by overly strong, sweet griddled onions. A special of quail tacos ($10) with white bean hummus, radish and spiced honey jus is the kookiest yet most successful fusion attempt, an effective flavor combination centered on boneless, perfectly cooked, crisp-skinned game bird. Brazilian seafood stew ($24) offers a promising gloss on moqueca: an attractive assortment of lobster, scallops, clams, shrimp, white fish and hearts of palm served dry in a bowl with a pitcher of coconut lobster broth to pour over. That broth has the lovely deep flavor of proper lobster stock but overall is oddly sweet, lacking the acid balance of more traditional versions.Loco’s other dimension is a fusion-y take on Mexican cuisine, with somewhat uneven results. Guacamole ($9) with crispy chili-dusted tortilla chips is admirably fresh and chunky; a version with smoked fish ($12) is a novel, welcome upgrade. On paper, charcoal-grilled street corn ($8) boasts garlic/chili mojo, cotida and espellette pepper; on the plate, it’s curiously mild. Papas bravas ($9), fried potato rounds amply dressed in ancho ketchup and garlicky mojo sauce, exhibit what I call the Poutine Problem: a crisp fry job made soggy by sauce. Crispy fried masa ($10) suffers a similar fate. It may have started as a crunchy-edged Mexican take on cubed fried polenta, but heavy toppings of manchego, chimichurri, grilled pineapple and pickled cilantro result in a soft, starchy mish-mash. Spicy duck taquitos ($12) are much better—crunchy, loaded with flavorful duck and punched up with the droll accent of American-Chinese plum sauce.
For dessert, churros ($6) boast a silky, expensive-tasting chocolate sauce, but the crullers have the dryness of overfrying or previous cooking and reheating. A concrete ($6) fares better; the chunky frappe features more good chocolate sauce half-stirred in with bits of banana.
Once the older patrons that dine early depart, Loco turns into a lively, singles-centric saloon for Southie’s 20- and early-30-something professionals. Cocktail options include El Jefe ($9), the house margarita of El Jimador blanco (a quality budget pure-agave tequila), an unspecified orange liqueur, lime juice and agave syrup. It’s fresh-tasting, but the tequila flavor is muted. Specialty cocktails like El Tonto ($10), a mix of mezcal, lime juice, grenadine and ginger beer, are similarly less-than-strong: It’s a wan mezcal cocktail in which smoke flavor barely registers. Drinkers looking for more potent potables should consider the admirable 30-strong list of tequilas and nine single-village mezcals (most $8-$12). Back that shot with similarly nice-priced beers (all $5-$6) from a list with eight drafts, four macro domestics, 10 mostly Mexican imports and two ciders. Wines run cheap and cheerful, with by-the-glass options at $8-$11.
Recalling sibling Lincoln Tavern across the street, the large, high-ceilinged room is stripped down to its bare-brick bones, and most of the action is centered on a big central bar, here U-shaped and festively decorated with many tiny globe lights. As at Lincoln, those hard surfaces become unforgiving as the room gets full: The steady, 90-decibel roar requires you to shout to your companions and server to be heard. Those servers are unfailingly, casually friendly and attentive; you can blame the room, not them, for the occasional misheard order. That currently fashionable cacophony may turn off patrons accustomed to conversing without screaming. But for its younger, carefully targeted New Old Southie demographic, Loco’s formula—thunderous atmosphere, a novel yet unchallenging menu and, above all, affordable good drinks—is already panning out as a can’t-miss combination.
-Tuna crudo tostada
-Sushi fluke ceviche
-Spicy duck taquitos
-Baja-style fried fish tacos
Hours: Daily, 5 pm-12:30 am (bar till 1 am); Sat.-Sun., 10 am-3 pm
Liquor: Full bar
Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar 412 W. Broadway, Boston (617-917-5626) locosouthboston.com