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Apr 3, 2007 09:27 AM

South End Restaurant Round-up

A year and a half ago my fiance and I moved to Boston's South End. Since then we've done our best to hit as many restaurants in the area as possible. A friend of mine recently moved to the neighborhood and this was my lengthy review of the restaurants we'd been to (I've since added a couple more). I thought it would be of interest to those who frequent this site. I think I should give a couple of places another shot (Hammersley, Sibling Rivalry), but this is my unbridled opinion on the meals I've eaten. Restaurants are listed in order of value and overall excellence (price is heavily factored in the ranking). Here goes...

Stella - the best of the best. Amazing Italian food, ridiculously trendy, great decor. This is my favorite spot and based on merit of food and drinks alone, it's the best food for the price in Boston. I'm not saying it's cheap, entrees are still around $20 a pop and drinks are $8+, but the food is just excellent. If you get there early enough you won't have to wait, but the line gets exponentially longer every minute after 6:30

Franklin Cafe - Shawmut Ave - really, really good food. Good service, and the cost is comprable to Stella. This is a small, neighborhood restaurant with good American bistro type food. The only downside is that it's really small, and there aren't many tables at all. Other than that it's awesome. The bar is good too, but it gets packed on the weekends. Bonus points: They're open past 1am every night of the week.

Union – Washington Street - posh, old-school décor, attentive, friendly service and fantastic food. The menu is a bit heavy on the “meat and potatoes” but everything is just about perfect. They start off your meal by bringing your table a hot from the oven cast iron skillet of some of the best corn bread I’ve ever tasted and the meal just gets better from there. If the prices were a bit cheaper I’d probably rank it higher than Franklin or even Stella.

Toro - Corner of Mass Ave and Washington - awesome tapas, but on the pricey side, just a bit more expensive than Stella. The tapas are kind of hit or miss, some of them are amazing, other are just alright. It's got a big communal table in the middle of the restaurant which is pretty cool if you don't mind eating next to someone you don't know. The place is chaotic though, there isn't much space and it's always jammed. If you don't mind waiting it's worth the wait.

Aquitaine - 569 Tremont - kick-ass french food with a bit of sticker shock. The food is awesome, the space is cool, but it definitely expensive. You'll still probably have to wait for a table on the weekend, but it isn't nearly as crazy as Stella or Toro. They might have the best french onion soup on the planet. A savvy move would be to go there for lunch someday and just get the soup and a little appetizer. They have good brunch too.

Addis Red Sea - 544 Tremont - this is an Ethiopian place. Very cool spot, very chill (esp. considering the location) and best of all it's relatively cheap. You can eat a huge meal for under $20 and all the food will be good. Plus they have these cool little tables that almost look like a bongo with a dish on top. Everyone in your party eats from the same “bongo table” which is different and fun. We've been here a bunch of times because it's actually reasonable price-wise and you know you'll get a good meal. It's never crowded except on weekends where it turns into being insanely crowded. Good for vegetarians and meatarians. Also, wine is very cheap here and we’ve had a few good bottles.

Joe V's - Shawmut and Union - this place rules for pizza, it's reasonably priced and it has a pretty good brunch. It's small and has a neighborhood feel to it, most everyone in the place is a local and the wait staff seems to know everyone who walks in the door. The pizzas are the best in the S. End, but entrees are decent, especially for the price. Usually there isn't much of a wait in line and it has a full bar (though it’s so small there isn’t room for a bartender, your waiter will make your drinks for you).

Orinoco - 477 Shawmut - this is a small Venezuelan place on Shawmut not far from Mass Ave. They have pretty good empanadas and good salads that are surprisingly cheap. The one entree I had there was awesome, but a bit overpriced, I'd say it's smarter to stick to the small plates they have on the menu because it’s cheaper and you get more food. Oh, and practically everything comes with plantains, even the water. This place loses big points because the line is always ridiculous, even on weekdays, because it’s still relatively new and trendy. We had bad service there last time too.

Metropolis - 584 Tremont - this place only gets a good ranking because they have the best brunch in the S. End. The brunch is cheap and awesome, try the hash, trust me. The space is really small and it gets crowded really easy. If you get there before noon for brunch you'll probably be able to get a table though. We went here for dinner one night and the food wasn't that great and was too expensive for what you were getting. Go for brunch, not for dinner.

Hamersley Bistro - Tremont near East Berkeley- I had really high hopes for this place and it let me down. I think we might've just had a bad experience though, we even had bad service and this is a 4 star restaurant, that shouldn't happen. The food was good, but didn't blow me away and it is really expensive. I'm tempted to go back, they're supposed to have the best roast chicken dish in the world.

Anchovies - 433 Columbus Ave - this is a small dive-ish bar on Columbus that has decent cheap Italian food. We've eaten there a couple of times and usually had to wait 10 minutes for a table but we could get a drink at the bar while we waited. This place is cool because it is so laid back it doesn't feel like you're in the middle of the city and it's crammed with local grandma and grandpa types. Solid food for the price.

Pho Republique - 1415 Washington - don't be fooled by the name, this isn't your typical, authentic Vietnamese restaurant. It's got a pretty cool bar in it and a really young crowd, but it does not feel authentic in the least. We got the Pu Pu Platter which was pretty good, but didn't come cheap. Good drinks, again not cheap. The bar here is kind of detached from the restaurant, so if you're looking for a bar to go to this is one of your few choices. We should probably give this place another shot, but it seemed overpriced and the food was blah.

Seiyo – Washinton St. near Mass Ave - Good sushi, but too expensive. You won't be disappointed by anything but the bill, but you can find better sushi cheaper elsewhere in the city. Still, if you're really hung over and don't feel like venturing out but want sushi you'll be happy.

Picco (Pizza and Ice Cream Company) - 513 Tremont - I've only gotten pizza and ice cream here. Both are good, but not outstanding. I think Ben and Jerry's has better ice cream and Joe V's has better pizza.

Sibling Rivalry - 525 Tremont - I wanted to like this place so badly. It has the coolest concept ever: 2 brothers own the place, and each season they come up with a new menu where they both create a dish using the same ingredient. Down the center of the menu it says "Poultry, Pork, Mushrooms, Duck, Potatoes" etc. On the left side next to each kind of food they have the first brother and a description of what he came up with, on the right side the other brother with his dish. It sounds so sweet and dishes they come up with sound amazing, this should be like an Iron Chef take on a restaurant. But the food was so-so and it was very expensive. Most entrees will run you around $30, ouch. The interior is cool and we got amazing service, but if I'm spending $100 on dinner I’d better be blown away. I wasn't, I was just left with a sour taste after I got the bill.

The Dish - 253 Shawmut - another tiny restaurant on Shawmut. They do a lot of Italian food and have a pizza menu, but don't be fooled the place is expensive. They've got a ton of outdoor seating and a dark, cool looking interior, but the food doesn't deliver for the price. Joe V's does everything this place should do, just go to Joe V's instead.

Garden of Eden - 571 Tremont - this is a busy cafe but they've also got a full menu and waitresses. They have a lot of decent sandwiches, salads and food that can be made in big batches (like mac and cheese and lasagna). It's a good spot if you're looking for a laid back lunch but want to sit down at a nice place, but the food isn't worth the price in my opinion. The Mac and Cheese is over-hyped and at $10 a plate, it doesn't sell me.

Tremont 647/Sister Sorrell – In my opinion this is the most overrated restaurant in the city. The menu makes it look great, the crowd looks very cool, but look a bit closer and you're see they're often only eating there because they don't know any better and they think it makes them cool. First off, the owner makes it appear to be two separate restaurants, but they're both the exact same place, have the same menu and they're even attached, they just have different decors. The food I’ve had there was miserable! It's one of the only places I've been to in the S. End where I actully disliked the meal I got. And the service was even worse, we were ignored for 30 minutes one night. And to top it all off, it's expensive. STAY AWAY!

Breakfast Places (in no particular order)
Mike's Diner - corner of Mass Ave and Washington - really good old school type diner. The kind of place you probably went for breakfast while skipping first period your senior year of high school. Good omelets, eggs, pancakes and all that. It can be crowded, but it's cheap, the portions are huge and the food comes fast

Union - corner of Union and Washington – Much like the dinner menu, the brunch is great. Most items on the menu are less than $10, but the portions are pretty weak. I went there this past weekend and got a burger that was phenomenal.

Flour - Washington Ave near W. Newton - you can't beat this place for pastries. People are insane over this place, and while the pastries deserve the hype the lunch menu has small sandwiches for about $7. They also do take-out dinner which is mediocre at best and overpriced. It also gets insanely crowded around lunch time, definitely avoid getting lunch here, but it’s your best bet for a quick pastry for breakfast.

South End Buttery - Shawmut Ave. across from Union Park - hands down the best coffee and espresso in the South End. It's a tiny little coffee shop with decent pastries and overpriced (but good) sandwiches. If you want coffee, go here.

Horable Mention:
South End Formaggio - 268 Shawmut - this is worth a mention. It's the best cheese shop ever and they have awesome ready-made, cheap sandwiches. They always have at least 3 cheese out for free sampling and you can get all kinds of savvy cooking ingredients here. I love this place.

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  1. heWho, don't bother giving Hamersley's a second try. You're a bona fide Bostonian now. Leave Hamersley's to the out-of-towners who choose their food based on Zagat's and Frommer's. As you discovered, it's a waaaaaaay overrated resto. I also had the same experience as you at Sibling Rivalry; the food doesn't live up to the gimmick or the prices.

    Also, if your choice for best Soupe a l'Oignon is Aquitaine, I'd suggest you book the next flight out of Boston on Air France!

    2 Replies
    1. re: B. Savarin

      i disagree about hammersley's. i have eaten there many times and never been disappointed. the food doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but is always perfectly prepared and seasoned and the service is terrific. not cheap and the wine list is pricey, but hey, we're not in kansas.

      last summer i had a dish of lobster, chorizo and sweetbreads that made me swoon. their patio is lovely on a warm night.

      i'm very surprised the op disliked hammersley's and thinks aquitaine is "awesome". my impression is different and i've been to both many more times than once.

      i hardly think stella is "amazing", and the self-conscious trying so hard to be hip crowd isn't at all appealing. they also allow smoking on the patio which i find offensive.

      i do agree about tremont 647. i don't know why anybody eats there.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Like I said, I feel that Hammersley and Sibling Rivalry deserve another shot, but after reading B. Savarin's opinion I feel a bit vindicated. At Hammersley I had a piece of salmon severved over rissoto. The rissoto was very bland and the salmon (while cooked to a perfect medium) was boring.

        I've eaten at Stella at least half a dozen times and have had nothing but great meals. From Crudo Misto to Pizza to Fresh Pastas to their to-die-for Cioppino the place is a hit. And don't get me started on the Arrancini... by far the best I've had (I cringe when I read a glowing review of Ivy's Arrancini).

        I also refuse to bow to the "see and be seen" crowd though. At Stella I usually dine in a t-shirt and jeans. I can literally see my front door from the restaurant, I won't get dressed up for a place that I feel is local!

    2. Great report! This is very helpful.

      I would add under breakfast the pajama brunch at Tremont 647 - a bit pricey but fun. Haven't been for dinner so don't know how it compares to your observations.

      1. Nice report! Lots of good detail. It's a fun if often pricey neighborhood to explore. I'm in synch with many of these opinions (my strongest dissent: Joe V's, yeccch, and Stella, meh), but it's nice to hear a new voice chiming in.

        Add Billy's Coffee Shop in Berkeley between Tremont and Columbus to your list of breakfast spots. Little family-run, counter-service diner type of place (plastic cutlery, paper plates) that's good and friendly and cheap. Good gyro sandwich at lunch, too. You also missed the famous Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, which has great really-old-diner atmopshere and pretty good breakfasts, though I think it has slipped a little.

        The Berkeley Perk and Uptown Espresso are two fine neighborhood real-coffee places.

        A few budget-priced options you might want to look into, too: Morse Fish, Don Ricardo, and Miami Cafe.

        3 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Thanks for the tips on Billy's and Don Ricardo (where/what is Don Ricardo? I've never heard of it). I've been to Miami Cafe (the Cuban Sandwich is so good) and I love Morse Fish, though I try not to eat here too often because the fried food is just too tempting.

          I am really sad to say I still haven't been to Charlie's. I need to get there on a weekday, everytime I pass by on a weekend morning the line makes me cringe. Lines are a good thing, but I don't want to spend my Saturday morning waiting for eggs!

          Joanie, I just took a peak at The Dish's menu and for some reason I remember it being more expensive. Maybe we had a couple of bottles of wine?? Still, I'd take Franklin over The Dish in a heartbeat.

          And as for Joe V's... their entrees aren't the best, but you can't beat the thin crust pizza!

          1. re: heWho

            Don Ricardo, formerly known at Botucatu, is on W Dedham between Tremont and Shawmut. Peruvian, Brazilian, and Mexican food in a very modest storefont. It's all quite good, a very friendly place. Free parking out back, beer and wine.

            Morse Fish will broil your fish for you, for a $1 extra. I try to do that, though their excellent frying is indeed tempting. (I wish the fries were better.)

            The Dish's entrees are all $15-20, with the pizzas mostly $14-15, expensive for a fairly small pie, but quite tasty. This place has grown on me over the years. It definitely picks up tons of business from people unwilling to wait an hour or more at the Franklin across the street.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Sad to discover on a recent visit that Don Ricardo has nixed the xim xim (a saffron-rich stew of chicken, onions and tomatoes). Seems to have been replaced with frango paulista, a bland dish of chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce.

              Thankfully, the rest of the meal - maduros and tallarin en salsa verde - was as good as ever.

        2. Entrees at the Dish are pretty much <$20. You consider that expensive? I've only been twice but always thought it was pretty good value.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Joanie

            I find Dish fairly reasonable for what you get, too. Not cheap, but not expensive, either, and the food is excellent, IMO. Also, I love sitting outside at Dish on a warm summer night, as the neighborhood has a nice feel to it with the nice architecture, relatively little traffic along the street, folks going out for strolls, etc.

            1. re: hiddenboston

              I've only been to Dish in the winter, and cannot picture where this outdoor seating is! Do they have a patio? Do they just line up tables on the sidewalk? I remember generally liking Dish, and want to go back. I was somewhat disappointed in the sausage they used on the sausage pizza, though. Not greasy enough perhaps!?

              Also regarding Metropolis: heWho, based on your post, it sounds like you've only been there for dinner once. I think you should definitely give it another shot. I don't recall it being that expensive either (given its location)(and again, wine can kill that thought frequently!), and generally serves tasty and well-prepared stuff.

              1. re: Alcachofa

                The Dish lines up tables right out on the sidewalk, but there's more room than you'd think. They have a nice little corner there and I believe they set up a railing so it's kind of sectioned off from the rest of the sidewalk. It's on my running route during the summer so I usually can take a peak at what people are eating. It's actually a pretty nice set-up, and it really is perfect for a summer night. I'm sure I'll end up giving the place another chance this summer when lines at other restaurants are longer.

                Maybe I'll give Metropolis another shot too. Some of the specials they post on the sandwich board outside sound really good. I remember it was the first restaurant in the neighborhood we tried after moving it. We went for an anniversary dinner on a co-worker's recommendation it and we were very disappointed. Any place can have an off night though.