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Back Bay--is it hopeless?

I moved to teh Back Bay from brookline this year with my girlfriend. She had lived in Somerville and the Fenway previously. We were both excited about the new neighborhood, the architecture, the walkability, and also the restaurants. We, at the time, considered the Back Bay and downtown to be a dining mecca based merely on the NUMBER of options, the nice outdoor patios, the hip scenes, etc.

After living there for a year now, we've come to realize how the whole back bay dining scene is completely surface deep. Walking down Newbury St., it LOOKS like a carnival of great options, but once you start eating (and paying!) you realize just how limited and mediocre it is.

We actually find ourselves constant pining for old Brookline/ Somerville/Fenway favorites: Chef Chang's (better than Wisteria House), India Quality (better than Kashmir), Khao Sarn (better than Chili Duck, Jae's, Thai Basil, Bangkok Blue, etc.), Out of the Blue and East Coast Grill (better than Legal), Boca Grande (better than Boloco), Dali (better than Tapeo)etc.

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  1. This topic has been discussed a lot on the board, and most are in agreement with you. Your best bet is simply venturing out of your neighborhood a bit, by walking or taking the T, to some of the other more chow-worthy neighborhoods, the North End, the South End, and Chinatown.

    I think you are right, Back Bay is a virtual wasteland when it comes to good spots ---though I do enjoy a slice from Newbury Pizza and I personally think Tapeo is better than Dali (though I think they have the same owners.) Anyway...

    1. Hi,

      I guess you've come to realize what many of us Chowhounds already knew...the Back Bay is NOT the place to go for chow.

      In my opinion, it's in fact one of the worst neighborhoods in Boston to try and find good food at a reasonable price. Most of the restaurants in that area are going for flash and style, and not substance. It's a touristy, see-and-be-seen area that specializes in overpriced and underwhelming food.

      Having said that, here are my (few) favorites there:

      Cafe Jaffa and Casa Romero-both on Gloucester St. Jaffa is a decent Israeli place which has excellent Falafel and Shwarma. Casa Romero is decent Mexican in a very lovely atmosphere.

      I also like Laurel, on Berkeley St., Douzo (not my favorite Japanese in Boston, but if you are stuck in the Back Bay, the best of the lot there), the Other Side Cafe, in the block of Newbury St. which is across Mass Ave from the Virgin Megastore.

      Steve's Greek on Newbury St. makes decent shish-kebabs and if you stick with simple food, it's not bad.

      I have a subscription to Lyric Stage, and believe me, trying to eat before or after the show is usually an issue. Most of the time, we just drive to Brookline or into Chinatown (or we go to Bertuccis or Maggiano's) instead of eating in Back Bay.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mwk

        That's a very helpful post -- rather than lamenting the shallowness of the Back Bay (and I agree there), you've suggested some good alternatives. Thank you.

        1. re: yumyum

          Except for the Maggiano's mention...

      2. For a tad more glitz plus worthy eats, there's Domani and City Bar too...

        1. As a long-time Back Bay resident, I am afraid that you are right. The cost of space is such that style triumphs over substance or prices soar to cover the rent.

          I find that I rarely dine here. Exceptions are for dinners before concerts at Symphony/Jordan halls where the nearby options are even worse.

          Oh, and welcome to the 'hood.

          1. Yes, the Back Bay is one of my least favorite destinations for food. In fact, I can't remember the last time I ate at a restaurant in the Back Bay.

            I would much rather go to the North End, the South End (within walking distance of the Back Bay), Allston, Dorchester, Roslindale, or Jamaica Plain.

            As others have said here, there are a few good places, including Cafe Jaffa and Laurel (although that may be the South End). But you might be better off walking toward the South End, where you will find Orinoco, Addis Red Sea, Giacomo's, Cafe Amsterdam, Dish, and House of Siam, among others.

            5 Replies
            1. re: hiddenboston

              Nope, Laurel is still Back Bay. Doesn't officially become South End till you hit Columbus.

              1. re: twentyoystahs

                This is one of those silly discussions, but I believe that by some accounts, Laurel is considered part of the Bay Village neighborhood. It certainly isn't the South End, as aren't sometime South End wannabes Mistral, 33, and Bomboa.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  From what I understand (after 3+ years of living in the 'hood), Bay Village ends at Berkeley so while technically the Salvation Army across the street is Bay Village, Laurel is Back Bay.

                  1. re: Dax

                    It's not the Back Bay, not the South End -- it's the Back End.

                    1. re: Dax

                      Mistral has an 02116 zip code which is the Back Bay and their neighbor Club Cafe has the Back Bay zip code 02116.

              2. Yes! Come eat in the South End! There's a reason that two of Boston's most amazing chefs (Barbara Lynch & Ken Oringer) opened their cheaper, more laid-back spots in this 'hood (The Butcher Shop/B&G Oysters and Toro, respectively) plus all the great old faithfuls that have been here since the neighborhood was just shy of ghetto.

                Try Tremont 647, the new Petit Robert, Toro, Stella, and for late night, the Franklin Cafe! None of these are cheap exactly, but soooo much better for your buck. I second hiddenboston's endorsements, too, especially for Orinoco, which is just so darling, and if you want pastries or sanwiches, head over to flour. I get my coffee there every morning and just love it.

                Hell, maybe you should just move to the South End! :)

                1 Reply
                1. re: kitty

                  We do love the South End. The Chicken at Hammersley's is the greatest chicken I've ever eaten! Also, is Fromaggio great or what?

                  It's just that sometiems we pine for something closer to home :-(

                2. Wow! Missed by -that- much. I believe Laurel is about 15 feet from Columbus! :-D

                  One other suggestion for the original poster is to walk over to Beacon Hill, especially Charles Street, where there are many good restaurants (Pancifico, Paramount, 75 Chestnut, King and I, Artu, Beacon Hill Bistro, Upper Crust, etc.).

                  1. I moved from the Back Bay about a year ago, and I actually miss a couple of places. So, while the percentage of good restaurants is certainly not high...I wouldn't describe it as hopeless. The one's I miss:

                    - Casa Romero: Excellent refried beans, very good mole and fajitas
                    - Parish Cafe: always good for a sandwich
                    - Tapeo: I will always miss that pork tenderloin dish, and their sangria. I don't think there's enough difference between Dali to argue one way or the other. I actually like the ambiance of upstairs at Tapeo best
                    - Sonsie: I liked this place, particularly pizza and salads our by the window
                    - The coffe shop at gloucester and newbury (forget the name): great, greasy ham and cheese croisants when fresh.
                    - Emack & Bolio's: mmmm....ice cream
                    - Capital Grille: great when you can afford it

                    And does Clio count as back bay? If so, that's an obvious standout.

                    Also, I'd be interested to hear how that place on Comm Ave is that replaced Geoffrey's?

                    I was always dissapointed in the area...but sometimes I think the rep it gets on this board is too harsh.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: goose

                      I believe you're referring to Bar Lola. It's a tapas place in the vein of Tapeo or Dali, and almost as good, I think. I actually go there quite a bit because I live on the same block. I usually sit at the bar...I really like the conejo, to name one.

                    2. There are definitely places I've come to like. Upper Crust is a great addition to the neighborhood, and Newbury Pizza is always reliable when you want a regular ny style slice.

                      Tapeo and Bar Lola are both quite good, so I guess you could call the Back Bay the place to go for Tapas (I like them better than Taberna, even. I know most people don't.)

                      The Oak Room and L'Espalier are both fantastic, but who can afford to go more than once a year, at best.

                      DeLuca makes a really good italian sub, with lots of salami, capicola, and mortadella, for just $5.99. Mmmm.

                      Of course, paying so much in rent, the Wendy's .99 cent menu comes in handy every once in a while!!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tamerlanenj

                        The restaurant inside the BPL is wonderful-- tasty, gourmet buffet lunch in an elegant room. Unfortunately, they are only open on weekdays for lunch and afternoon tea, and it is pricey considering it's only lunch. The adjoining cafe is open on weekends too, but they only serve pastries and snacks, which are so-so, but the atmosphere is delightful.

                      2. Anyone tried the new place by Copley Place? Sorellina's I think it's called.

                        1. I've been to Sorellina. It's a nice space, good bar area, familiar faces from Mistral (same owner). The food is good but I think a bit overpriced (like many of our local spots).

                          1. Why are you going to wisteria house when you can take a 10min walk over to chinatown for more authentic chinese food? ;-)

                            That's the point of living in this area...good food is a 10-15min walk (though a better walk in the South End w/o all those tourists ;-)

                            1. I think we have had this debate before, about what is Back Bay, South End, or Bay Village. I just go by the parking stickers, and once you cross Columbus on Berkeley you are definitely in Back Bay parking sticker territory. However, it does get tricky as once you cross Columbus the other way and head just slightly toward Park Plaza/theatre district, (i think that's heading west? maybe? not quite sure) But either way, you do hit Bay Village, toward the South End, but again, not actually the South End. Anyway, they are all so close to each other and all in walking distance, regardless of what they are "officially" called.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: twentyoystahs

                                The reason the neighborhood boundaries are rather precise is that most of them were produced by landfills in specific developments over a century or more. Such as Bay Village, then the South End, then the Back Bay (older usage: it's "the" Back Bay), the Fens et cet. Other neighborhoods (Charlestown (older than Boston), East Boston, SOuth Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, et cet, long before being annexed by Boston. Many Bostonians care to get the distinctions correct because they reflect the layers here from the time of the Shawmut Peninsula when William Blackstone established the first permanent European home here in the 1620s...

                              2. In nearly any other large American city, the Back Bay, South End, and Bay Village would probably be considered one neighborhood, since most cities are so vast and spread out.
                                That's what makes Boston such a walkable place, and why even if you're in a neighborhood where you're not crazy about the food scene, you can walk 15 minutes in nearly any direction and find some good eats.

                                1. Is Match considered to be in the Back Bay? I really like their seared cookie dough dessert. In an obscene way. Their burgers are ok - a little expensive, but the lamb mini burger is good - and their atmosphere can be a bit stuffy, but I usually go there before taking in a show at BSO.

                                  1. How's Bhindi Bazaar these days?

                                    1. I always liked Bhindi Bazaar, as well as the more proletarian place up Mass ave towards the river. Don't forget that Kenmore is right there too with ES and Angora Cafe.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: sailormouth

                                        And Petit Bistro. Is Piattini any good?

                                        1. re: sailormouth

                                          I've stayed away from Bhindi following an experience with their Saturday lunch buffet. Maybe it was an off day, but it literally tasted like someone poured water in the chicken tikka masala sauce to stretch it, and other dishes in general were sub-par or not maintained well. Maybe you take chances if you show up during the final hour of the buffet.

                                          1. re: wontonton

                                            I have had similarly bad experiences at the buffet but never a bad supper. I love the rabri dessert.

                                        2. How about the other side of back bay? Trident has good breakfast, soups, and sandwhiches. A short walk to Kenmore also gets you to Clio / Uni and Eastern Standard. It's just too bad the Deli Haus isn't still around...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: wags

                                            Clio/Uni and Match are definitely Back Bay. A walk to Fenway/Kenmore adds some worthy options: ESK, Trattoria Toscana, El Pelon, India Quality, Audubon Circle, Petit Robert, Rod Dee.

                                            A new venue in the Deli Haus location is soon to open, called the Lower Depths, from the Bukowski gang.

                                          2. I live in the Back Bay, there are some passable, even good places, even if it is not a "go-to" neighborhood:

                                            Indian:
                                            Kashmir has a pretty good all-you-can-eat weekend brunch and Bhindi Bazaar does a pretty good saag.

                                            Chinese:
                                            Wisteria House has a passable weekend Chinese breakfast and their basil chicken is extremely tasty.

                                            Tapas:
                                            Tapeo has good, if expensive, tapas and sangria. Piatinni has some good small plates.

                                            Ice Cream:
                                            There is a J.P. Licks and Emack & Bolio's

                                            Thai:
                                            Chili Duck rocks. I love their mama noodles.

                                            Sushi:
                                            Jaes, Shino Express and Douzo are reliable. Uni is great especially if Chef Chris is still there.

                                            "Fine Dining":
                                            Clio, arm-and-a-leg expensive but good.

                                            Fast Food:
                                            Spikes has great dogs and chicken fingers. Flamers at the Prudential Mall also has great chicken fingers. Also, as much as it shames me to admit it, I love Applebee's riblets.

                                            Steak:
                                            I like Morton's because the service is always good and the steaks are tasty.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: esqdork

                                              Steak is about the only thing that the Back Bay excels at, with Mortons, Capital Grille, Abe and Louis, the Palm, and Oak Room...all places at which I've had steak ranging from mediocre to excellent. (Palm was surprisingly great!)

                                            2. How can anyone dismiss the Back Bay with L'Espalier and Clio, arguably the best in Boston, bar none. Budget busters, yes, but L'Espalier's special dinner nights mid week (Cheese or wine focussed) are $55 per person or something like that.

                                              1. I lived in Back Bay about 5 years ago. I now live in Miami, so my thoughts could be easily disregarded. I used to eat at a place right next door to the front entrance of the sports bar in the copley marriot. I dont remember the name, but the place was incredible. Does anyone know what I am talking about?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: jeremyg

                                                  Ambrosia? I think it closed 2003. If that's the one you remember, I agree, had some great meals there.

                                                  1. re: Rubee

                                                    Thats it...Ambrosia. I'm surprised they went out. When I was there in 2002 they were pretty busy. Food was great.

                                                    1. re: jeremyg

                                                      The chef, Tony Ambrose, wanted a change from Asian fusion and so opened a seafood and steak house in the same space that unfortunately did not do as well. It just recently closed, and he's now doing catering and events.

                                                2. I love the Thai place across from the Boylston entrance to the BPL. Fresh veggies, exotic teas and coffees and pleasant outdoor seating. I think it is Bangkok Cuisine. I think the place next door to the sportsw bar is no SAINT, the sports bar is now DOMANI.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: TedK

                                                    I believe the place you are thinking of is Bangkok Blue. It is pretty good Thai, albeit a bit pricey.

                                                  2. Lala Rokh, Deluxe (Clarendon, probably technically south end), Parish for lunch - lots of overpriced mediocre restaurants but with some shopping around, you can find good food even in the Back bay.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: teezeetoo

                                                      Lala Rokh is in Beacon Hill. It is excellent if you stick to the small plates. I do not care much for the entrees though.

                                                    2. Maybe something good can be made of the abandoned TGI Friday's space. It's right in the absolutely center of Newbury St., and its a shame that it's sitting there rotting. Bums have taken up residence behind there, which is disturbing since it's also behind my building on Comm.

                                                      Heck, I'd rather have TGI Friday's back than what it is right now!!

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                        I think I heard it's going to be a Houston's, a la Faneuil Hall. Not bad for a chain place.

                                                        1. re: MenuSpaz

                                                          ack. boston is so small. do we really need two? although nothing independent could afford the rent.

                                                          1. re: MenuSpaz

                                                            Awesome...I so don't mind having a Houston's around the corner from my house. It's not going to be anything but a chain anyway, but the leap from TGI to houston's is a good one.

                                                            1. re: MenuSpaz

                                                              BTW, any source for the houston's info?

                                                              1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                                I can't give it away, but another restaurant owner I know says they just signed the papers. Who knows how long the rehab will take.

                                                                I was afraid the storefront would become another ridiculous spa or interior design store. At least Houston's has that spicy steak salad.

                                                          2. have you tried Piattini on Newbury?
                                                            it's a few doors down from Armani Cafe...going away from NikeTown

                                                            my company to the back bay from Fanueil Hall and i've hard the hardest time finding good food as well. everything for the lunch crowd can be pretty expensive and tastefully disappointing.