above: Quatro Tacos
Man cannot live on chips and salsa alone, but for just a moment it feels that you could when you dive into a basket of hand-cut tortilla chips and excellent salsa at Boxcar Cantina. Not to mention the addictive guacamole. These first bites here plus some sips of a margarita are just a taste of what keeps people coming back for fresh Tex-Mex at this family-friendly restaurant owned by the Farrell family. A blend of terrific food, hospitality and consistency have earned the restaurant bragging rights, as it celebrates a quarter century in business. Though we’ve eaten here dozens of times over the years, we recently went for dinner to catch up on this longtime favorite.
On a recent Saturday night, the entire restaurant was full at 7 p.m., and though we had a reservation, we wound up opting for a table in the bar area, which was hopping, too. Besides the much-better-than-average crispy chips and salsa opener, the menu includes some less expected starters. Some so substantial they could work as a full meal—like the Mexican pizza, a tortilla topped with nacho ingredients plus chicken or beef, or the Indian Posole Soup, which gets its richness and texture from the hominy (hulled corn kernels) and is topped with sliced avocado and paired with tortillas. Red chile onion rings with chipotle ketchup for dipping are also a go-to.
On the menu you’ll find a list of all of the farms and local purveyors that provide the ingredients, which has been a point of pride for the restaurant from its beginning, long before restaurants were touting what goes into their dishes.
Certain specials are always available because they’re in high demand, such as the kale salad, a blend that includes microgreens (sourced from Abilis), a mix of veggies and avocado in a cilantro-lime dressing. Topped with shrimp, salmon or chicken it becomes a main. Another frequent special, the fish tacos, have become a popular food-truck item, too—we like the chile-crusted salmon with corn-avo salsa. But for variety and a hearty portion, our go-to is the quatro tacos—well-seasoned chicken and pork in crispy corn tacos, or sub in beef or wild-caught shrimp to build your plate of four—served with brown rice and pinto beans. Regulars love any dish with the signature chicken tinga (the meat is mixed with tomatoes and has a smoky chipotle flavor), and the chicken tinga quesadilla is especially delicious. Also watch for seasonal dishes, such as the open-faced shrimp enchilada with veggies.
For a treat, be sure to try the fried ice cream, a version that’s lighter than some and so worth it, or the traditional sopapillas, puffy bread “pillows” made for dipping into honey.
When John Farrell first opened Boxcar Cantina in 1994, “there were really no good Mexican restaurants in town,” says his son James, who grew up in Greenwich and went to Brunswick. John’s work in investment banking took him on frequent trips to Texas where he fell in love with Tex-Mex flavors. He wanted to bring authentic Northern New Mexican cuisine to his hometown, opening a restaurant that would serve food prepared with the highest quality ingredients. He partnered with local chefs and restaurant pros—including Nancy Roper who has since moved on to open Truck in Bedford—to make it a reality. At a time when farm-to-table wasn’t on most people’s radars, John and his team reached out to local farms to source produce and pastured meats. Besides the very tasty food and excellent margaritas, these are a few ingredients that help the restaurant continue to thrive.
The first certified Green Restaurant in the state, Boxcar has always been ahead of the curve, serving dishes made with organic produce, wild-caught seafood, pasture-raised meats long before it was popular to do so. It maintains a close relationship with many area farmers.
ON A ROLL
One of James’ first initiatives when he began working for the restaurant full-time was to start a food truck. “Regulars got very excited,” he says. “It’s been great to get to know customers in their homes. Neighbors see the truck and we get inquiries that way too.” Since the truck rolled out two and a half years ago, they’ve done about 220 events, mostly private parties, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings. And they can accommodate a wide range of requests, having pulled off everything from a vegan bar mitzvah to a wedding reception at Tod’s Point.
Many of the staff have been with the restaurant for ten years, and a few have worked for Boxcar from the beginning. “I wanted to make sure we rewarded the staff and kept them,” says James. “People come in all the time and hug the wait staff. I look at this place as family.”
44 Old Field Point Road
Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Monday to Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 pm
Sunday, 4:30 to 9 pm