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Any decent chains in Boston?

I love trying at least one low-brow regional fast food chain (like In-N-Out or Wahoos Fish Tacos in Cali) when I travel. I'm heading to Boston/New England area, but can't seem to find any info on good fast food chains there. Any thoughts? thanks!

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  1. The two big local chains that come to mind are Dunkin Donuts and Friendly's - Dunk's has a decent cuppa coffee but little else, they do a very nice job the ice coffee. Friendly's prime was years ago but they can still make a nice ice cream sundae, (get the reeses peanut butter cup, yum).

    Some smaller local chains that are kinda lowbrow are Bickfords, don't go!; Kelly's Roast Beef, I wouldn't make a special trip but if you go by stop in and get a sandwich; Papa Gino's, eh pizza; if you're going down to the Cape the Hearth and Kettle is okay and if you're going to Portsmouth, NH I am 99% sure they still have a Howard Johnson's.

    It kind of depends upon where you exactly it is you're going. In Boston we really don't do local chains much, there are a few places with two or three locations, but they tend not to be low-end.

    1. IF ur a steak lover and wanna try a good chain, try pub 99, or if ur in the mood for good home flavor try piccadilly pub, theres many locations one is in braintree, ma. They have great food, many comfort foods and great prices.

      1. Houston's: not the most ambitious menu in the world, but everything they have is executed well. (i.e., their side vegetables seem to be made a la minute, not steamed and sitting in a vat---one evening the sauteed broccolini with parmesan was so delicious I orderd a second side!). Also, at the bar (or, I suppose, at the table), any cocktail that includes OJ or grapefruit juice gets fresh-squeezed. Order a greyhound (vodka and grapefruit) and a California burger with one of the three veggies of the day (or fries, which I've been trying to avoid), and you can't go wrong.

        I'll have to admit that I like P.F. Chang's. The Kung Pao Shimp is salty, spicy, and good, as are the Northern Spare Ribs ...

        [Oops, just noticed you said "low-brow" fast food. My bad....]

        I do like Kelly's Roast Beef, (buttery garlicky toasted bun, great rare roast beef, and horsradish sauce).

        1. Yeah, stay away from Bickford's....

          1. Actually, Papa Gino's pizza is pretty good if you stick to cheese or pepperoni and the like; don't overload it with crap. It's a lean, East Boston pizza (the family started out in Eastie). The dough is thin, the sauce unsweetened, the balance of cheese and sauce and toppings just right (not overloaded with any). The pepperoni is higher quality than you get at many other places. I used to look down on Papa Gino's, but I don't any more. It's better than the pizza I find in neighborhood joints in the NY area these days. I wouldn't go out of my way to get Papa Gino's, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at it either.

            1. I'd suggest you grab a super burrito from Anna's Tacqueria. There are several locations in the area.

              Another place to hit is Pho Pasteur, which at one time had five locations in the Boston area, now down a couple I think.

              Not exactly "regional" fast food, but they are popular with the kids and a good value for what they do.

              I'd also second Friendly's as the best example of regional fast food (every kid who grew up in New England at one time or another hung out on a Friday night at a Friendly's. Their food is perfectly fine, although some locations may be "past their prime." Use a keen eye in choosing, or if you are driving down I-90, stop in Wilbraham, where they are headquartered.

              1. I would say Kelly's for a rost beef sandwich or a lobster roll ($17).

                1. I second Papa Gino's for pizza. I like the fact that it's hand tossed and baked on the oven floor, instead of that spongy "Greek-style" stuff that passes for pizza around here. Piccadilly Pub is also good for typical pub food, like burgers and fish and chips. Their clam chowder is also pretty good.

                  I know it's not so much a local chain anymore, but Bertuccis has some really good food, and their brick oven pizza is excellent as well. It's not so low-brow, either, but it's certainly inexpensive and casual.

                  1. Tennessee's isn't bad, depending on what you get. I'd stay away from the sandwiches, but the burritos are good, and the ribs aren't too bad (again, we are talking chains here, so it's tough to get overly excited about this place, or most of the other chains around here).

                    Anna's is definitely a good place to go, as is Kelly's. Tacos Lupita isn't what I'd think of as a chain, but they do have several in the Boston area. Their Salvadorean and Mexican food is outstanding.

                    1. I looked up Kelly's and it looks like they have 4 locations? That's the kind of place I'm looking for...can't wait to try the roast beef sandwich. Are there any other small chains with regional specialties that people would recommend? I'm not so into big chains like Houston's....

                      I'm going to try Papa Gino's too. Thanks for all the info!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: chow down

                        Oddly enough, the only thing I DON'T like at Kelly's is the roast beef, but probably just a quirk on my part. :-D

                        If you go to Kelly's, try to hit the one at Revere Beach. That's the original one, and it's right across from the beach. Good people-watching at that one!

                        1. re: chow down

                          Don't neglect the clam chowder at Kelly's. I cannot vouch for all locations, but at the original location in Revere, it's very classic, meaning milky (*not* thick, which is not classic but is practical) and a decent flavor of clam broth. It's not what many tourists would expect from a chowder -- most tourists tend to think that thick and creamy is traditional -- and I am all the more pleased that Kelly's has stuck with tradition over meeting tourist expectations.

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Emphatically agree! I rarely est chowder because it's so fattening, but when I do splurge, it's Kelly's (at the beach).

                        2. See my recs on the New England board.

                          1. I think Maggianos is pretty decent for a chain resturant.

                            1. If the point is to get a taste of regional cuisine from said chain (as opposed to Italian or tacos or what have you), our best-known franchise isn't really lowbrow (though it's casual enough), it's Legal Sea Foods. Kelly's would fit the bill too, I agree. Surprisingly, there really isn't a chowder chain that I can think of.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                What about the Boston Chowder Co? Addmittedly their chowder tastes like wall paper paste, but still. There's also the New England Soup Factory, which puts out slightly better soups.

                                I also think of Pho Pasteur (Le's) as a pseudo local chain.

                              2. The 99 and Kelly's jump out as well as Friendly's. Legal Seafood is a decent chain, but don't think it fits into your low brow goal.

                                1. If I think of local chains as those places from the past that you'd make a point of visiting if you had moved somewhere else, I get this list:

                                  Brigham's (there's still one on High Street)
                                  Kelly's
                                  Legal Sea Foods

                                  I'm surprised no one mentioned Brigham's yet. Definitely a local chain, and pretty good diner food.

                                  I don't put Friendly's on the list because it's too big a chain. Nothing special about it anymore.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: kbw18

                                    Besides the High Street location, there's still Brighamses in Belmont and in Arlington Heights (maybe some others as well, but those are the two that I frequent.) We go to one or the other in the summer for raspberry lime rickeys, and for the Great American sandwich.

                                    I'm quite fond of their ice cream, too, especially the slightly gritty (in a GOOD way!) chocolate chip. Other good ice cream flavors include the Curse Reversed (fudge & peanuts), the Just Jimmies (fibs - there's also chunks of sugar cone, surprisingly good), and the old-fashioned seasonal flavors such as frozen pudding and Irish coffee.

                                    1. re: Allstonian

                                      The New English/American translation of "jimmies" is "chocolate sprinkles." If you're an ice cream fan you could go to JP licks or Herrell's and have a frappe (New English for "milkshake, but better").

                                      1. re: sailormouth

                                        I believe Brighams invented the word "jimmies" I think if a frappe was in order, the op would want to get a fribble at friendlies as it is more new england chain like then JP licks or Herrells which are newcomers.

                                        I never realized those words were new england only till i went to college in upstate NY. Nobody knew what they were. Another one is "hoodsie". Every kid when i was growing up loved a hoodsie, it never occured to me that not everyone has "hood" products, so wouldnt know what i was talking about!

                                        1. re: hargau

                                          Yeah, but we still want him to be happy with the final product, so I'll stand by Herrell's and JP licks for frappes over Fribbles at Friendlys. Both of JP licks and Herrell's are over twenty-five years old and quintessentially Boston, if not New England, and they're much higher quality.

                                          I always liked the Hoodsie cups with the fudge in the middle.

                                          1. re: sailormouth

                                            Well then if he goes to Herrell's then he should get a mix-in AND a frappe!

                                            1. re: hargau

                                              Oh god, I may have to do that soon, a mix-in washed down with a frappe.

                                  2. With all of it's mall locations, I suppose that Pizzeria Regina qualifies as a chain.

                                    If you go to the original in the North End, you'll get 1 of Boston's best pizzas.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: 9lives

                                      Oh, of course! How did that escape us til now? OP, definitely choose the original Regina over Papa Gino's.

                                      1. re: tatamagouche

                                        It should be noted that, the name notwithstanding, the original Regina is not really a chain. It's unique. The couple of Polcari's branches have pizza closer to (but not as good as) the mother ship's.

                                        Papa Gino's is a genuine regional chain. If the goal is to experience a local chain, PG would be more "authentic" than the original Regina's, even if the latter has superlative pizza....

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          Not to hijack this thread but is it me or has papa ginos pizza really changed? I grew up on the stuff. When I was growing up, any kids birthday typically was a trip to either the Ground Round or Papa Ginos followed by a movie or bowling or something.

                                          I remember their pizza as being much thiner and messier. Pick it up by the crust and the whole thing is sagging over and your going to loose all the cheese and toppings. Now its more stiff and cardboard like.

                                          Dont get me started on the ground round, but as a kid that place used to be fun with peanut shells and popcorn all over the floors, video games everywhere,tokens, cartoons and 3 stooges on tvs everywhere, all sorts of prizes and games, etc.. Food was never great but we used to like the all you can eat fish and chips. Then they went and tried to make it all clean and for adults and that was the beggining of their end.

                                          1. re: hargau

                                            I don't know. Even though I've lived in this area for almost a quarter century, I had always turned up my nose at PG until about 3 years ago, when I discovered my assumptions were partly misplaced. Again, I only eat the cheese or pepperoni pizza, nothing heavy with ingredients. It's not very far from a classic Boston thin crust pie. The dough is not ripping with yeasty flavor, but it will often start to crack if folded, which is more indicative of Boston than NYC (in NYC, the dough is a bit thicker and softer so it can be folded and eaten standing up, preferably with cheese and meat fat dripping off the tip of the slice, but I digress).

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              I have only bought it perhaps 3-4 times as an adult, but as a kid it was basically the place to go before the movies or for parties. My main adult experience with the stuff is that i worked at a place for about 4 years that would bring PG pizza in every wed for us. We would eat it cause it was free, but it just never seemed to travel right or maybe we were just sick of it!

                                          2. re: Karl S

                                            Yeah, I suppose you're right. Guess I just can't get my head around that as a goal vs. the goal of getting superlative food! But to each his own, of course.

                                      2. how about red sauce or joe's american bar & grill? Would any of you consider these local chains?

                                        definitely stick with papa gino's, I actually love their mozarella sticks. They taste alot better than any others I have tried - a bit of a guilty pleasure

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: bitsubeats

                                          The OP isn't just looking for local chains, but rather GOOD local chains. IMHO, none of what has been discussed so far qualifies (save for the original Regina's, if that counts, but since only one of their locations is any good, I would argue that it does not).

                                          1. re: Blumie

                                            oh good local chains, yeah my suggestions suck (not being sarcastic at all).

                                            I don't think there is a such thing as a good local chain, but hey he/she wanted to know and they got answers (albeit cruddy)

                                            no offense to my fellow chowhounders

                                        2. Hey, how about Fresh City? Since I am now "from away" I consider that a Boston area only chain. We stop at the one in Newton on occasion for wraps and salads. There is even one on the Mass Pike too.

                                          I second/third the Regina/Brighams (icecream not food) combo as those are my must haves whenever I go home, even if it means heading to the South Shore Plaza....

                                          Now if family lived closer to Revere or Route One I'd totally be at Kelly's (or Kowloon or Prince Spag House, but they alas are not chains. Still good regional food for the homesick!)

                                          1. Most obvious regional chains to me are:
                                            D'Angelo's - sub sandwiches
                                            Finagle a Bagel - bagels, bagel sandwiches, pizza bagels
                                            Brueger's - more bagels

                                            These places are ok for a no-frills chain lunch, if that's what you're looking for, just don't expect much else.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: wontonton

                                              Finagle's does not offer bagels. They offer bread shaped like bagels. There is a big difference. At Brueggers, if you stick to very traditional flavors, you will have a bagel.

                                                1. re: wontonton

                                                  Precisely. Or anything with fruit or vegetables in it. Oy! Seeds, salt (Brueggers discontinued that years ago; bad move), onion, garlic, on the crust (caraway may also be in the dough, though that's relatively novel...). That's all that belongs on or in a bagel. Egg doughs are also OK.