Located in the heart of Brookline’s culinary mecca, Washington Square, Burro Bar is already rising to the top of the food chain. Drawn in by the vibrant purple sign, customers will stay for the astounding array of Mexican-inspired small plates, endless list of drink options, and stunning décor.
Burro Bar is the newest edition to the Alpine Restaurant Group, a family of Boston-area restaurants founded in 2009 by chef and owner, Joe Cassinelli. After working in the restaurant business for years, Cassinelli took his Italian roots and created the “wood-fired Italian restaurant” Posto, located in Davis Square. The restaurant was an instant success, inspiring Cassinelli to expand his horizons throughout the city. Soon after, Cassinelli opened up Painted Burro, an upscale-casual Mexican restaurant and tequila bar in Davis Square. After its success, Cassinelli wanted to continue refining and advancing the Mexican-inspired cuisine that Boston has come to love. With this in mind, Cassinelli opened Burro Bar this past January.
Helen Israel, general manager of Burro Bar, explained that Cassinelli hoped Burro Bar would serve as a smaller, slightly elevated version of the successful Painted Burro. The two restaurants would have a similar cuisine, but the ingredients, menu items, and beverages served at Burro Bar would be “a little more upscale.”
Taking inspiration from the Painted Burro’s menu, Cassinelli has created an adventurous selection of items for Burro Bar coupled with an upbeat atmosphere that keeps customers coming back for more. In order to distinguish themselves from the array of Mexican restaurants that have continued to pop up around the Boston area, Israel explained that they do not label their food “authentic Mexican cuisine.”
Given the numerous regions and different cuisines in Mexico, Israel said that “authentic Mexican” food is hard to define. Instead of walking down this narrow path, Burro Bar encompasses cuisines from across the country. The menu takes tastes from areas such as Guadalajara and Oaxaca, ranging from the coast to the mountains, and even some elements of city life.
“[Cassinelli] is gathering all these different recipes from friends that are chefs, and creating his own menu using local fare,” Israel said.
Burro Bar takes pride in its menu, and encourages customers to branch out and try foods that they may not have previously encountered. The small-plate meals enable diners to taste many different dishes to gain a more genuine idea of what Mexican cuisine really is. In order to get the full Burro Bar experience, Israel encourages guests to order three small-bite options off the menu in addition to one or two of the tacos.
The menu includes old favorites from Painted Burro, such as nachos con chorizo de la casa, topped with homemade chorizo and guacamole. These go along with some delicious additions, like their crispy Baja-style fish tacos topped with jalapeño slaw and Baja mayo. Customers can also take an adventurous route with their beef tongue tacos and the charred octopus.
Apart from its food, Burro Bar also offers an astonishing list of drinks. With over 100 tequilas and 60 mezcals, customers have seemingly endless options to choose from.The quantity is matched by the quality, as Burro Bar uses only the finest tequilas and mezcals for its acclaimed drinks.
Israel notes that all of the tequilas used in the Burro Bar kitchen are 100-percent agave—none of those 50-percent-agave-50-percent-added-sugar ‘mixtos.’
“In the village of Tequila, they have very strict regulations on what can be called tequila, and so we follow that,” Israel said.
Customers will soon be able to receive prizes for ordering these beverages. Burro Bar has an app in the works called “Agave Club” that allows customers to keep track of their drink orders. When the customer reaches a certain number of drinks, they are awarded prizes. At 100 drinks, customers have the opportunity to win a round trip flight to Cancun.
With these high-quality ingredients, Burro Bar needed to create a striking atmosphere to match. From its colorful visual décor to the R&B music played in the background, Burro Bar creates an entertaining environment for its customers.
For Israel, this atmosphere is part of what sets Burro Bar apart from stereotypical Mexican restaurants. Instead of playing salsa music and hanging sombreros on the wall in the typical Americanized hacienda style, Cassinelli and his staff wanted the restaurant to feel as if a customer was walking around Mexico City and just happened upon a cool place to eat. Patrons will notice this the second they walk into the restaurant as they hear old-school hip hop and modern R&B from the speakers.
“Joe Cassinelli is kind of redefining how restaurateurs design their restaurants around their cuisine,” Israel said. “The design doesn’t have to match the cuisine in any way shape or form.”
Even with Cassinelli’s penchant for innovative design, Burro Bar does have some connections between the design and the cuisine. Murals painted by local artist Raul Gonzalez III, a Texas native, are the focal point of the restaurant’s back wall. Israel said that Gonzalez’s fame as an artist is quickly growing, and that he was eager to take on the task when Cassinelli gave him free range of the open space.
This distinctive dynamic has been received incredibly well by Brookline customers, and by Bostonians as a whole. Burro Bar is a success, and shows gratitude toward its customers for making it so. The staff embodies a loving, caring atmosphere that seeps into the food and the customers.
Israel explains that her favorite aspect of working at Burro Bar is the family-like group created by the Alpine Group, and by the Brookline community. Burro Bar has provided true passion in its menu, as well as its focus on the customers.
“I think bringing something like [this to Boston] was needed,” Israel said. “I can’t wait to see even more people coming back.”
Featured Image by Michael Brue