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best of Boston (high & low) for a week-long trip

Hello Boston hounds.

I'm going to be in the area for a week this month for work/vacation. I'm interested in chow, both high and low, and especially things that are uniquely Boston/can't get elsewhere, but I'm up for anything good. I like out of the way gems. I will be with my SO and we can splurge on a coupla meals but mid-range and cheap options are important. I eat anything (she doesn't but she's usually game).

For three days I will be attending a conference in Kendall Square, so lunch options in that area are much appreciated. Apart from that I'd like to stay within range of the T, although I'll probably be able to access a car and I'm more than willing to travel a bit if it's worth it. Location-wise, we'll be based in Kendall Square and then the Back Bay for a weekend.

So that I'm not coming to you hat in hand without having put forth any effort of my own, I perused the board for a bit and jotted down some places that sounded intriguing. They are in no particular order. Please feel free to expand, rave, or diss this list of choices. Thanks!

-Daily Catch
-Pizzeria Regina
-Butcher Shop
-Charlie's Sandwich shop
-Jasper White's Summer Shack
-Cha Fahn
-L.A. Burdick's

Kendall Square area:
-Blue Room
-Royal India
-Emma's Pizza

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  1. A great list, indeed! There aren't too many duds on this list, though I'm not a big fan of the Summer Shack.

    One other place to consider is Helmand, which is an Afghan restaurant within walking distance of Kendall Square (across from the Cambridgeside Galleria near the Charles River). Both the food and atmosphere are top notch, and the prices are pretty decent. Helmand is on a lot of "best of" lists for food, and has been featured in national newspapers and magazines in the past.

    1. It's a fine looking list you've put together.

      -Butcher Shop I think the Butcher Shop is highly overrated, but the room can be nice. A quick snack and glass of wine sure, but eat at B&G Oyster across the street.

      -Neptune I love this place, but would be mindful of ordering things with too many ingredients, some dishes have been way overcomplicated for my tastes (especially the crudo).

      -Pizzeria Regina Eat!

      -L'Espalier It's been a couple of years since my last visit, but it's still quite memorable. Very different than others on your list.

      -Jasper White's Summer Shack: I haven't been to Summer Shack in over a year, maybe two, though used to think it was fine for the basics, albeit a bit pricey. More recent reports sound like er, not so much.

      -L.A. Burdick's - I think this one's overrated, too, but if you're a super chocolate fan you might enjoy it very much.

      Kendall Square area:
      -Blue Room - they are doing a BBQ lunch now, but I haven't tried it. Every time I have dinner there I think wow, I should come here more often than I do. They mix a fine margarita, too.

      -Royal India- I've only had the inexpensive lunch buffet which I suspect does not showcase their true talents. FWIW, an Indian friend orders a lot of catering from them for parties at home.

      --> Next door to Royal India, the Middlesex and further down, the Miracle of Science, are solid for lunch (not destinations, but if you're looking to save $$ so you can spend on a splurge dinner, these are good options). Middlesex does great pressed sandwiches and a couple of nice salads, Miracle has a fantastic grilled chicken salad, their skewers with black bean salad are nice. People love their burgers but I think they're overrated, IMHO.

      -Emma's Pizza- gets crowded at lunch, just sayin.
      Atasca - Love ordering a bunch of small plates so you can try everything.
      -Bytes --> never been

      Recently I had to have a work lunch at the Legal Sea Food at Kendall and it was horrible. A fine destination for snacking at the bar on oysters or chowder and that's about it. I used to think they were okay for plain grilled/fried dishes, but no more, at least not this location.

      From Kendall it's not a far walk to Cambridge Street if other Portuguese dining - or Brazilian - were of interest. A lovely inexpensive dinner with your SO could be had at O Cantinho.

      5 Replies
      1. re: MB fka MB

        Portuguese and Brazilian are definitely of interest. Any recs?

        I don't have a good sense of what ethnic foods tend to be well-represented in Boston. In DC metro the strengths are Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Korean (the first in DC proper, other two in the burbs). Are Portuguese and Brazilian things I should be looking at in Boston? Tell me more!

        Other places that look interesting based on a once-over this morning: Hei La Moon, Rincon Limeno.

        1. re: alopez

          Yes. Boston (and particularly East Cambridge and East Somerville) has huge Brazilian and Portuguese communities, often in the same neighborhoods. I was really hoping for a Brazil-Portugal matchup in the world cup to see what would happen in Inman Square :). There is an active thread looking at the lusophone (love that word!) options in East Cambridge (on Cambridge Street).

          Other important ethnic communities in Boston are Cape Verdean and Haitian. I see far fewer recommendations for those cuisines around here but would love to see more!

          1. re: alopez

            You can still view this recent thread on the main page, but in case it moves down, here's some talk of Cambridge Street and the Brazilian/Portuguese options:


            1. re: alopez

              If you want some good latin/south american athentic cuisine all along broadway in somerville down aways towards he mall area nad 93 are great little stores. Just pop in them and check out the food and grab some to go or eat in the limited seating. Definately not hte prettiest places to eat but definatley will taste good.

            2. re: MB fka MB

              Royal India: You want the *weekend* lunch buffet. Worthwhile.

            3. IMHO, drop Skipjacks, you already have NO,DC and B&G. Old Union Oyster House's original stone-aproned oyster bar for a real Boston experience-only go here if you can get a seat at the bar & order only from the raw bar & maybe a cup of clam chowder. For Cambridge near Kendall,Oleana for a Turkish twist http://www.oleanarestaurant.com/, O'Cantinho for casual Portuguese(see recent Port-Resto thread); in Central Sq., Camb, Rendezvous http://www.rendezvouscentralsquare.com/, Baraka Cafe for Algerian/Tunsian food(no alcohol, but signature rose petal lemonade)http://www.barakacafe.com/).

              1 Reply
              1. re: Taralli


                The list above isn't The List of Places That I Will Eat At. I will probably try to make reservations at a couple of places (e.g. Clio) and leave the rest to chance. Everything gets written down in a pocket Moleskine that travels with us as we're touring the city by foot. I organize the list roughly by neighborhood. That way, whenever we get hungry, we figure out where we are and then we can decide where to eat on the fly. Yes, I am a geek (However, this method has served me *extremely* well on recent trips).

                Anyway, the more, the better. Keep em coming!

              2. If you are going to be in the city for most of the week and would like to get out of it for a change of scenery I would reccomend the Catch Restaurant in Winchester, MA as a great choice. Winchester is approximately 8 miles out of the city and easy to get to off Rte 93 North. Catch, as the name implies, is mainly a seafood restaurant although they always have a few non-seafood entrees too. Catch always gets very good reviews and having eaten there many times I can confirm them. It is a small place with casual atmosphere so make a reservation if you plan to go on a weekend night.

                1. Already listed:

                  -B&G - I'm not crazy about their lobster roll, but the bar is excellent and they have a nice selection of oysters & bubbly.
                  -Butcher Shop - Eh - I could take it or leave it - mostly leave it.
                  -Neptune - Wonderful lobster roll. MB has it right with the overcomplicated dishes though, stay away.
                  -Sage - Their appetizers shine, their entrees flop. Overpriced, but it has its fans.
                  -Daily Catch - The North End location only - squid ink pasta is a signature dish.
                  -Pizzeria Regina - Ask for the pie well done. Don't load on the topping.
                  -Clio - Or maybe Uni, the sushi bar within Clio?
                  -Uni - Oh, you already covered that:)
                  -Santarpio's - Sausage and peppers, ask for the crust well done - floppy crust makes me sad.
                  -Skipjack's - Skip - you'll already have had better seafood elsewhere
                  -Cha Fahn - excellent cheap(er) sake cocktails
                  -Troquet - Yes, oh god, yes.
                  -L.A. Burdick's - I don't really like chocolate, but it's a very cute shop. The hot chocolate might not work this time of year.

                  Other possibly not commonly found cuisines in DC:

                  Rincon Limeno - If you like Peruvian, you'll like this place. Ceviche is particularly piquant.

                  O Cantinho - Closer to Kendall, does great things with seafood in the Portuguese persuasian. There are several already linked to Brazillian and Portugese restos in this area of Cambridge/Somerville.

                  Highland Creole - Haitian in Somerville

                  Dorchester for Cape Verdean:

                  1. Lunches in Kendall Square...Besides the food courts at the Marriott and the Cambridgeside Galleria, there's not a huge selection of lunch spots. The Similans on First Street is really good thai, and service at lunch time is fast. On same stretch of First Street is Boca Grande, taqueria/burritos. You can eat in (dining space upstairs) or take your food to the river 2 blocks over and eat outside if it is a nice day. I don't know how long your lunch break is, but if you can hop the T to Downtown Crossing (3 stops) you should definitely get a Chacarero (unique chilean sandwich). Chacarero is a Chowhound Favorite - lots of mentions on this board.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: JudyHP

                      Ah! I've not heard of chacero before. This is *exactly* the kind of info I'm looking for, I'll make sure to seek one out.

                      What other local foods should I be looking for?

                      1. re: alopez


                        I'll make a comment and add a restaurant. First, I've eaten at the Ethiopian places in Adams-Morgan in DC and they are excellent. However, Addis Red Sea stands up to any of those, and has much more atmosphere than the ones in DC.

                        Second, if you want local flavor, eat one meal at Durgin Park in Quincy Market. They have great renditions of traditional New England food, which you really won't find any place else. These include New England Boiled Dinner, and Indian Pudding (which is a cornmeal mush pudding sweetened with Molasses and served with vanilla ice cream...yummy).

                        They also have excellent renditions of New England favorites that you can find elsewhere, but they do an excellent job. Things like Clam or Fish chowder, baked stuffed schrod, fried whole belly clam platter, roast turkey dinner with all the fixings. They also have great Prime Rib (the best in town, in my opinion).

                        1. re: mwk

                          Here's a tip if you get down to DC again -- the best Ethiopian restaurants aren't in Adams Morgan. Those tend to be a bit staid. The best ones are in a group that has proliferated near the intersection of U and 9th Streets, in an area that is sometimes called Little Ethiopia. More info on the DC boards.

                          Thanks for the tips, everyone!

                          1. re: alopez

                            Thanks for this; I've only been to the ones in Adams Morgan. Will check out Little Ethiopia next time I'm in the district.

                    2. I'd add Grotto in Beacon Hill to your list, in the even that you are nearby. It's easy walking distance from Faneuil Hall and right down the street from the State House. It's subterranean and small, with an excellent menu and definitely feels like a "find."

                      Also, there are a couple of good Ethiopian restaurants around. These are generally affordable are fun, as you eat with your hands. It feels adventurous, but your SO should be fine... I got my very picky boyfriend to fall in love with it. Addis Red Sea is one in the South End.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Melmybelle

                        I'm very familiar with Ethiopian, coming from DC.

                        What's Grotto?

                        1. re: alopez

                          Skip Ethiopian -- nothing's gonna compare to what you can get in DC. But Grotto is a great suggestion -- a small, dark subterranian place on Beacon Hill with a very nice menu and a reasonable price tag. Search the board for some recent posts on Grotto -- I've not been since the weather turned nuclear (their AC wasn't so good last time I was there in the heat).

                      2. East Coast Grill in cambridge - dim sum at Grand Chau Chow - definitely not SkipJack and I can't much see the point of Summer Shack myself - Rendezvous in Cambridge - Craigie Street Bistro in Cambridge - L'Espalier for their Monday? night wine tasting specials - you can go on line and see what they have for the week you are here. Lots of good small hispanic restaurants in East Boston (much better than Santarpio which is overrated and I wouldn't go to East Boston for just its pizza)from peruvian to guatamalan -

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: teezeetoo

                          I find myself going to Eastie just for Santarpio's about once every two months. It's a different experience than the Regina and a totally different pie.

                          1. re: teezeetoo

                            Any particular Peruvian or Guatemalan recs? This is really helpful.

                            1. re: alopez

                              Rincon Limeno for peruvian -- gini mentioned it above. You get extra stripes on your chowhound merit badge if you go. It's a real find. Order the ceviche mixto and/or the humongous mountain man plate (forgetting the real name, but bejeezus it's great).

                          2. I had a wonderful experience at Meritage this year at Restaurant Week. There was absolutely no skimping in terms of service or food - Meritage definitely went above and beyond my expectations. The chef even served a tasting starter (a small thimble of soup) and dessert. I would highly recommend going there.

                            1. I'd add Salts for dinner. Exquisite, refined cooking. Near Kendall Sq.

                              Be sure to order off the Bengali menu at Royal India; I believe they serve hilsa (a very Bengali freshwater fish with lots of bones). I really like the banana blossoms.

                              Definitely eat at Cafe Baraka in Central Sq., be sure to get the 36hr order in advance squab bastilla; it's hard to find -- most places make it with chicken.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: limster

                                P.S. if you're a serious tea drinker, I'd look into arranging a tea tasting at the Swan Cafe at the Park Plaza hotel. You could have their tea sommelier select a range of teas or pick out teas that you like. The basics will be fine, but I go there for the hard to find stuff; for example, if you're prepared for the expense (depending on the age, they can rival vintage first growth Bordeaux pricewise), I suspect they'll be able to arrange a vertical tasting of pu-erhs tea or other rare teas.

                              2. You might hit up the lunch buffet at Desi Dhaba. Can't go wrong there for 6.95. The menu changes daily, but the quality is consistantly high.

                                Right at the intersection of Mass Ave. and Main St.

                                1. I'll add Eastern Standard, Jacob Wirt's, Lock Ober, Peach Farm, Cuchi Cuchi, Miracles of Science, Bukowski Tavern, the Publick House, Chez Henri, and maybe Redbones.

                                  1. Definitely chez henri-- but sit in the bar and have a cuban. best gd cuban i've had outside of miami. really good conch fritters, too. Troquet has delivered me one of the top three meals of my life, winning over any other rest. in boston, as well as daniel and citronelle. Parish Cafe is a lot of fun for lunch--they, too, make a great margarita. Central Kitchen in Central Square is one I haven't seen mentioned on this thread. Excellent food, cool room, very good, eclectic wine list. Gotta go negative on both b&g and butcher shop... haven't been impressed the handful of times i've been to either. Franklin Cafe, on the other hand, is my fave South End restaurant. Pizzeria Regina is like the Platonic ideal of pizza--period. Awesome, awesome, and then awesome some more. Only eaten at Prezza once, and it was excellent, but pricey. Have fun!

                                    1. Eastern Standard is fantastic - it's on Mass Ave- you won't be disappointed.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Derek

                                        Eastern Standard is at 528 Commonwealth Ave. in Kenmore Square. Central Kitchen on the other hand is on Mass. Ave.

                                      2. Depending upon your budget, I'd strongly suggest No. 9 Park and Locke-Ober, both are quite New Englandy in that the food is good, local and quite expensive.

                                        If you're going for Cape Verdean or Haitian and are not already farmilliar with Caribbean food I strongly suggest having a back-up ready: it is not to everyone's taste. (Think that first time you had Indian food and multiply by ten).

                                        If you can take rather long lunches it might be worth the trek into Harvard Sq. for lunch, Harvest can, (but doesn't always) have a great lunch and Upstairs on the Square is usually pretty good.

                                        Your list looks pretty good!

                                        1. In Kendall Square I would also recomend the black sheep. The blue room does a really nice sunday lunch/brunch if your up for that kind of thing. I would definately add east coast grill to your list. It's a great local restaurant that serves some of the best food (great fish) in the area. For a great burger (and I would argue the best in boston) I would recomend O'sullivans pub on beacon st in Somerville. They're huge, juicy, and really well made. I think the summer shack is better for lunch as they have some decent priced lunches and at night it tends to be uncomfortably loud.

                                          1. Got to take a look at

                                            Dali for tapas. This is a place you will remember and have fun at.
                                            Oleana -- was there a few nights ago for first time and the flavors are great.
                                            Pinnochio's pizza -- Harvard Sq
                                            Chacarero --- Chilean take-away sandwich in Downtown Crossing

                                            1. Thanks very much to the Boston hounds for all of your suggestions! There were so many places I was interested in that we just couldn't get to all of them in a week. Overall, we ate really well. A quick tally:

                                              -Toscanini: I'm not a huge ice cream fan, but my SO loved it.

                                              -Chez Henri: Didn't make it for lunch, so I missed the famed Cuban sandwich, but dinner was quite tasty.

                                              -Chacarero: Biggest disappointment. I loved the habanero sauce, but that was about it. This sandwich was all heat and no light: the bread, beans, avocado, meat, and other fixings (I got the works) were completely bland in flavor and texture. Sorry hounds! I am often puzzled when other people report terrible experiences at some of my favorite places, but there it is. Thanks for the rec, though, it just wasn't my thing. Chacun à son goût.

                                              -Baraka Cafe: a great find. Absolutely transporting.

                                              -Atasca: We ordered several small plates (one too many, actually), and they were all delicious.

                                              -Emma's Pizza: perfectly good pizza, nice place. I don't care much for this style of crust, though.

                                              -Grotto: we had some good pasta here.

                                              -Muqueca: this is the type of place I would go to all the time if I lived around the corner from it. The fish stew was excellent.

                                              -Troquet: Wow. Really good.

                                              -Miracle of Science: ok.

                                              -Clio: Unbelievable. We had the tasting menu with wine pairings. Warning: this is a LOT of wine. I had no idea it would be 14 courses. This meal broke several personal records, such as time spent at a meal, number of courses, amount of wine consumed. This was one night after a fabulous meal at Troquet, but it made Troquet seem like a picnic lunch. We won't forget this meal for a long, loooooong time. Absolutely mind-blowing, and totally worth it.

                                              -Pizzeria Regina: If it hadn't been a mere two months since my first trip to (the transcendant) DiFara's in Brooklyn, this might be the best pizza I've had all year. I just can't stop thinking about DiFara's! Anyway, really good pizza.

                                              -B&G: I know there are mixed reveiws about the lobster roll here, but I didn't want to leave Boston without one. Pretty good.

                                              -Rincon Limeno: Yes, we dragged our luggage here on the way to Logan. Yum. I got the ceviche, with a side of some very spicy red sauce. This is how spicy food should be: backed up with some other really strong flavors, like the lime in this dish.

                                              O Cantinho and the Snack Bar were closed when I walked by, although I was interested in trying them; and I never got the chance to head down to Dorchester for Cape Verdean. Next time, though!

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: alopez

                                                Thanks for the follow-up post. I'm glad you had mostly good to great experiences.

                                                1. re: alopez

                                                  Yes -- thanks for reporting back. I think you hit some real highlights.

                                                  However, DiFara and Regina's are such different pies (Dom's is all about the super toppings, to me, Ragina's is all crust and cheese with *maybe* some pepperoni), don't hold it against us!

                                                  So glad you went to Rincon Limeno -- that's a merit badge many Boston hounds haven't gotten yet.

                                                  1. re: alopez

                                                    You're right, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with your view of chacarero! But thanks for the update.