Enter any burrito shop, and you’d expect to find an assembly-line style bar where you’d build your lunch, complete with seemingly bottomless trays of carnitas, pico de gallo, guacamole, rice, beans, and a myriad of other staples. However, fast-casual Mexican restaurant Chilacates—which just opened its ninth location at 69 L Street—doesn’t sport the same setup. Visitors will find a standard cashier and, instead, a much wider variety of Mexican staples.

For founder Socrates Abreu, this difference is central to the family business’s philosophy. Part of his inspiration for Chilacates—which was founded in 2015—was based on previous observations of contemporary burrito shops. “I used to hate those burrito places when you feel like you’re in an assembly line. When you’re in an assembly line, they just try to push you out.” Abreu believes such a design robs the business of its human element. “I wanted to have that contact with the customers by [having them talk] to the person at the register,” he says.

On Chilacates’ first Friday after opening in Southie, a balmy and sunny April day, the store’s garage door was open to the bustle of L Street at rush hour, and a line of both young professionals and old Southie folk jetted out the door. Abreu was there, and he greeted each person in the line—whether a veteran from other locations, newcomer, or returner from the day before—and gave them a firm handshake. When their burritos (or tortas or enchiladas or quesadillas or tostadas or bowls) were finished after an extra-long first week wait, he retrieved their orders from the kitchen and personally delivered them.

Abreu also brings a personal focus to the design of each location. Walk into 69 L Street, and an artistic atmosphere will greet you: a portrait of Frida Kahlo on one wall, colorful graffiti on another, and a patterned wallpaper with a repeating sketch of Abreu’s face on the third. It’s a stark contrast to the red garage-door exterior of the L Street unit and comes with treating each location like a unique entity. “I look at it as if each [location] is my child. Every child is not the same. My son is a loudmouth and likes to scream. Other kids are quiet,” Abreu says. Something setting the Southie location apart is its bar, a first for Chilacates. According to Abreu, it’s set to open in the next month.

Before Chilacates, Abreu worked at American Airlines for twenty years, both in customer service and as a ramp agent. He enjoys his new job much more. “Now, I can get up and change my mind and do something different,” he says. Still, he exercises caution in leading the franchise: “If there’s a fridge that I know is not going to make it another month, why am I going to wait for it to break down? I’m going to fix that before the problem comes.” Chilacates is a family business—one family member manages each location. For Abreu, this setup is a blessing for the extra time it gives him with his family and a curse “because you always bring work home.”

Bringing Chilacates to Southie has been a long time coming. Since the business’s founding, Abreu has sought to open a location in the neighborhood, seeing Southie as a compelling spot for its walkable, tight-knit atmosphere, where people support local businesses. It proved incredibly difficult to find a place, but Abreu kept at it. One day about two years ago, the owner of the spot where the old Tasty Burger had burned down showed up at Chilacates’ South End location. Though it was contractually rented out to another restaurant at the time, Abreu kept in contact with the owner in case the deal fell through, texting him every two weeks. About a year later, the original renters didn’t want to finish their restaurant, so the owner of the spot offered Chilacates to move in. From there, it took about a year and a half of planning and building to open the Southie spot.

Though Chilacates continues to expand, Abreu believes that a shared feeling, where “you know that you’re at Chilacates,” ties each location together. That feeling rests on a central idea: “People eat with their heart—and their eyes.”


  1. heather June 29, 2023 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Love this place! Black beans and plantains on my shrimp burrito is my go to!

  2. Karen Morris June 29, 2023 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    I ate there once and really liked the food

  3. Craig June 29, 2023 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    I am a die hard Anna’s Taqueria fan. Tried this place last week and really really like what they are doing.

    I got their version of the Super Chicken Burrito (my usual order at Anna’s ). Fantastic!

    I also got their chips and salsa. Wasn’t a big fan of the salsa. I prefer Anna’s there but the chips were very comparable .

    I’ll be going back for sure! Maybe even tonight 🤔

  4. Jeannie June 29, 2023 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this article, Shane. I keep forgetting I might now have some kind of Mexican option in my hometown.
    Bye-bye, trips to Brookline for Anna’s?????

  5. Anthony June 30, 2023 at 11:35 am - Reply

    A wonderfully written article. Well done Shane! I thought I was reading the Globe.

  6. Joe Cappuccio June 30, 2023 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    I thought I was at the table with you, good writing, good family.

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