Spicing up the Square

The owner of Felipe's Taqueria spills all about his plans to dominate the Square's late-night eating scene

by Rebecca M. Myerson

Anna’s Taqueria has long been a student favorite for cheap, filling burritos. Now, one of Anna’s own has branched out and opened his own version of the Mexican eatery. Felipe’s Taqueria took over the spot recently vacanted by Real Taco, to the delight of guacamole and rice lovers in the Square. Owner Felipe Herrera moved to Boston from Oaxaca, Mexico 14 years ago but still knows his salsa. This past weekend, Herrera and his business partner, Tom Brush, unveiled their new joint venture. Felipe’s Taqueria has already won the hearts of many Harvard students, including FM photographer C. Alex Guth ’05, who upon meeting Herrera told him, “It’s over between me and the Wrap.”

FM chatted with Felipe about the meaning of life, restaurant competition in the Square and the best quesadilla for a broken heart.

1. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

It’s a lot of work. But just do it. Don’t wait like me for 12 years. I was working at and managing another taco place. I always wanted to open my own place but I did not have enough money and I had to find the right person to be my partner.

2. How did you two amigos (co-owners Hererra and Brush) first meet?

One of my friends used to work with him at his gallery. I don’t know how we got into art, but he went to Mexico to find art. I met him here in Boston because one of my Mexican friends knew him—a lot of my friends came to America too.

3. Is this your first restaurant?

This is my first restaurant. In Mexico I did not work with food. I worked as a driver for my father and he paid me. It was for his construction business. I left because it is a hard life over there and I did not get paid enough.

4. Did opening day live up to your expectations?

The opening day, I did not believe it. It was like a bomb—we just opened the door and people came inside. Our food is cheap and good, and we make the salsa from tomatoes and onions and cilantro every morning. It looks like [the students] are pretty happy since we came here.

5. Do you aim to make Felipe’s a late-night spot a la Noch’s or more of a quick dinner grab like The Wrap?

We are going to be open till two a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Right now we are not open that late because we are still opening. But I want to make it a late night hangout.

6. Real Taco had its grand opening on November 4, 2002 and bailed a year later. Are you nervous?

No, not at all. I know what I am doing. I worked at another Taqueria a long time so I have experience. I get ingredients from a Mexican Famoso, a deli with products from Mexico. The salsas are good and like the ones in Mexico. We have the red salsa, spicy, green salsa, the onions with chipotle sauce. Even the music is like in Mexico.

7. How much redecorating have you done since Real Taco left? What did you think of their design?

We have done pretty much. The seats, the floor. We took out the mirrors and changed the windows [which were partly opaque and plastic]. About their design, I thought, Wow. That is like East Coast Chucky Cheese.

8. What do you recommend from the menu?  

I like the tacos al pastor. They are pork and they come with guajillo peppers from Mexico. That is the sort of thing that I would eat at home in Mexico every week or every two weeks. Americans may have different tastes, but they love the tacos. And my favorite soda is the lime.

9. What makes or breaks a good taco?

It has to be made fresh. You can’t use any cans. We go to the market four times a week. And I like everything on my taco, all the toppings.

10. Which items are most potent for a hangover, an energy boost, or to comfort a broken heart?

Taco al pastor (pork with orange and pineapple) with spicy salsa or super chicken vegetable burrito. For the broken heart, any quesadilla, but I like chicken.

11. Do you like your life mild, medium or spicy?

(Smiling) Spicy. [Editor’s note: When pressed further, he declines to comment]

12. How are the tacos and burritos different from the ones they serve at

Anna’s Taqueria?

There are no beans in the meat tacos. I think [ours] are better than Anna’s because they are more authentic. In Mexico you would never find a taco with beans and then meat too.

13. Where do you like to go out to eat in the Square on your break?

I go a lot out to Pinocchio’s. I get the soup—that is really good—with steak, cheese and onions. I have also been to Charlie’s too—it’s pretty good and low price. I don’t know if I would ever order a burrito at the Wrap; the

rice and the beans that they use have no flavor to me. But some things I like there.

14. Have owners of other shops in the area been welcoming or antagonistic?

They have been nice. The Crazy Dough people came here—they were really happy we’re here. Starbucks too. Looks like we have a lot of good neighbors.

15. Make up a catchy slogan for your new Taqueria.

(Smiles again) I can’t think of it. Um. We are not the only ones but we are the authentic ones.