El Pelon rises from the ashes

El Pelon rises from the ashes

By Sarah Moomaw, News correspondent

The screams of refried beans hitting sizzling hot pans is rock solid proof that the kitchen is up and running at El Pelon’s new Brighton location, 2197 Commonwealth Ave.

“They had the best plantains,” Frank Marino, sophomore human services, international affairs double major, said excitedly. “I was so sad when [the Fenway location] burned down. I wanted to go back.”

El Pelon’s Fenway location was one of seven restaurants destroyed in a fire on the Fenway’s Peterborough street in January 2009. While most would consider the fire a tragedy, it gave owner, Jim Hoben, a chance to refocus and a new opportunity.

Since opening the Fenway location 10 years prior, he said he had always planned a second location but had not had the chance to focus on it.
“This was a good wake up call to get us to look at really putting in another location,” Hoben said. “We don’t [want] to be a huge burrito factory or corporation, or a big thing like that. The food we do is all handmade and from scratch, so that’s not something we can mass produce and open 100 and keep the quality the same.”

Hoben said he opened the original Fenway restaurant after taking a trip in Cabo San Lucas with his wife and was won over by the food. Hoben, a resident of the Fenway area, said he knew that the restaurant scene didn’t offer authentic, fresh or quality Mexican, so he took it upon himself and his restaurant business background to change that.

He also wanted to give guys he had known in restaurants for years a chance to cook from their heritage by preparing truly ethnic Mexican food. “I’d known a lot of Spanish guys working in restaurants,” he said. “And they were cooking Italian food and French food, but the food they know and they care about is Mexican food. They just kind of have an innate knowledge of it.”

Finding a new location was difficult, Hoben said. It took nearly seven months to find it as they scoured neighborhoods all around Boston to find the perfect place. Hoben did not want to take away from the orginial location in the Fenway, which will eventually reopen in addition to the Commonwealth location.

“We were looking for a vibrant neighborhood with schools, institutions and hospitals near by,” Hoben said. “I think we found a pretty nice spot. And we have parking, so all our friends from the Fenway can drive down and park.”

Brighton offers an identical menu to the one from the Fenway restaurant. It offers authentic Mexican cuisine at college student prices – nothing is over $6.50 on the menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner. The menu includes tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas and tortas. The pork torta is Hoben’s favorite dish, he said. Pork, refried beans, avocado, lettuce and salsa fresco is piled high on a freshly baked bun from Quinzani’s in the South End, to which he adds hot sauce for some heat.

Hoben said he is excited to have the Brighton location and loves that it’s practically on top of the Boston College T stop, allowing people to come out for a burrito and get back to work or school conveniently.

Even with the T stop and knowing the quality of the burritos, sophomore economic major Jessie Lee said she will wait for the Fenway to reopen. “A burrito isn’t worth a 45-minute T ride,” she said.

As for the Fenway location, it’s currently just four walls – no floors or ceilings, making running a restaurant out of there incredibly hard. Hoben said they’ve got their deposit in and picked out their space in the new building. The landlord of the building is just waiting for city approval on plans so he can begin the rebuild. Hoben expects it to be more than a year before being able to reopen in Fenway.

“It’s been very busy,” Hoben said of the new location. “We’ve had a line out the door since we’ve opened.”

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