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Best Ethnic Restaurant Cambridge/Somerville?

I am taking my boyfriend out for his birthday tonight, and would love some recommendations for good ethnic food around cambridge or somerville. We love Indian and Thai and Japanese but are pretty open to everything and would love to try anything new!! We have a somewhat limited budgets, but would like a place with a decent wine/beer list.

Thanks so much!

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  1. How about the Elephant Walk, on Mass. Ave a few blocks up from Porter? Cambodian with French influences - not sure of the wine list...

    And a larger question - Is Italian still "ethnic?"

    1 Reply
    1. The Wu Chon House in Union Square Somerville has great Korean food!

      1 Reply
      1. re: bonber

        Last time I went to Wu Chon the experience was... well, slightly disappointing. The service was kind of terrible: they had some huge party in the back and pretty much didn't pay any attention to us because were were only a four-top. And I think the prices have gone up, too.

        Food was still great though.

      2. Well, The Helmand has really good food, and it's still one of the most reasonably priced restaurants in the area.

        Tapas at Dali can be a fair bargain, depending on which ones you choose.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bostonbob3

          Seconding the Helmand - BFP and I went last Friday night for our anniversary dinner and had a lovely dinner as usual. The total, including apps x2, top-end entrees x2, an extra side dish, desserts and tea x2, and a moderate bottle of wine, came to about $105 plus tip, and totally worth it. The room's a wee bit crowded, the service is businesslike but tends to lack warmth, but it's a pretty place and one of our favorite special-occasion dinners that doesn't have to break the bank.

          (Our waiter fell all over me with gratitude because I gently pointed out to him that he had somehow only charged us $3 for that bottle of wine instead of $33...I just didn't have the stomach to take a 30% discount on our dinner.)

        2. An underrated Indian restaurant is Passage to India in Porter Square. The people there are very friendly, the food is excellent, and the prices are about average for Indian cuisine.

          Also, if you don't mind heading a few minutes west, Sweet Chili in Arlington Center is a terrific place for Thai food. It's small, but the atmosphere is pleasant.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hiddenboston

            Passage to India is indeed a respectable option, but for Indian in Cambridge/Somerville I'd opt for Tamarind Bay, Cafe of India, or Tanjore (all Harvard Square), Namaskar (Davis Square), and Kebab Factory (Somerville, between Inman and Porter Square) over it. Though I'd take Passage to India over the Central Square and Inman Square choices every time, and flip a coin between this and Bombay Club (Harvard Square).

          2. Definitely second the Helmand. A few other ideas:

            Tu y Yo outside of Davis is a real treat for Veracruz-style Mexican, with lots of interesting complex sauces, and three types of good sangria.

            Atasca near Kendall for Portuguese would be great for patio dining tonight. I love sitting out there and sharing a bottle of vinho verde.

            Namaskar in Davis for Indian. The southern items, in particular, are among the best on that side of the river. Although I vastly prefer Namaskar to Diva down the street, Diva is a bit more festive in terms of decor, with a much longer drink list.

            Sugar and Spice in Porter isn't particularly authentic Thai, but the food is fun and well-prepared, and the wine and beer list is reasonable for mid-grade ethnic.

            1. I like Toraya as the closest really good Japanese - good sake list too, beers, not sure about wine.

              Sweet Chili would be my pick for Thai too, but I've also liked Tamarind House in Porter Square for the nearest "decent" Thai. I'd prefer Khao Sarn in Brookline for an occasion like this though.

              Second Namaskar for the Indian pick in the area.

              Like the idea for Atasca and would add that the food at O Cantinho is better, but the patio at Atasca probably wins here.

              2 Replies
              1. re: gini

                What are the prices like at Atasca? I looked at their online menu, but prices weren't listed. What does a typical entree cost there?

                1. re: hiddenboston

                  The small plates are $5 - $12 and the entrees all seemed to be under or hovering at $20.

              2. Chinese is the strength. Wang's or Qingdao. Alternatively, Anise or MuLan.

                Cafe Mami in Porter Exchange.

                I haven't been to Fasika since it moved, but it was great before.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Luther

                  NB Wang's, Qingdao, and Cafe Mami serve no alcohol. Haven't been to Fasika or MuLan so I can't comment.

                  1. re: finlero

                    Both Fasika and MuLan serve beer and wine and Fasika has a full bar. The selections are not extensive or great, but they're certainly alcoholic.

                2. I'll go with what a couple of others have said--The Helmand, especially if you haven't tried Afghani (sp?) food.

                  1. Too bad you require wine/beer because Baraka in Cambridge would be perfect. Tunisian food - went recently for the first time - their food is fabulous and embarrassingly inexpensive for what you get. No BYOB either :-(

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: smpinbrk

                      Mmm, Baraka is fab. They serve a ridiculously cheap and good lunch too, although plan to be there more than your allotted lunch "hour" as they take forever.

                      Tu y Yo is great too...

                    2. Have you tried House of Tibet? Ethnic, really good food, small place (can be romantic when it's not crowded), and affordable. Combo momo platter + salty chai...mmmm.
                      Rangzen is also pretty good, try the lunch buffet sometime.

                      Also, I was just talking to another poster in the NE forum - I like Machu Picchu in Union Square - has great Pervuian food.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: TanQ10

                        I'll second Machu Picchu, but for Tibetan I greatly prefer Martsa's on Elm (in Davis Square) over House of Tibet. Haven't tried Rangzen yet.

                        1. re: bachslunch

                          You know, i never make it to Martsa's. I come off Alewife Brook Pkwy from work and head down Holland, so I always just stop off at Tibet. I will have to break the habit (combo momo, tea and spicy chicken) and try something new on Elm.

                          1. re: bachslunch

                            Could someone make some suggestions on stuff to get at Martsa's? I tried it the other night, got the distinct impression that I was in a place that was half Indian, half Chinese, but couldn't get out of my Indian or Chinese mindsets when ordering. What are some Tibetan specialties (as opposed to imitations of Indian or Chinese dishes)?

                            1. re: Dr.Jimbob

                              Martsa actually focuses most of their cooking on "Tibet in exile" foods, which is why you're feeling the Indian/Chinese influence. Their curries are fine, but for straight up Tibetan, I prefer House of Tibet. By the way, Bojo (sister coffee shop of Martsa) seems to be papered over.

                              1. re: gini

                                Does anyone know if Martsa is BYOB?

                        2. i love machu pichu in union square. the helmand is also a nice suggestion as is toraya (arlington...wa-a-ay up mass ave).. oh, just noticed that tonight was your deadline... oh well... for future reference :)

                          1. For Indian food, some places I like:

                            Tamarind Bay - pan-Indian with slightly modern touches
                            Namaskar - love their Gujarati Thali
                            Royal Bengal - very good Bengali food, enjoyed their banana blossoms
                            Kebab Factory - very good punjabi

                            Others that I like:
                            Cafe Baraka for squab bastilla (order 36hrs ahead) - no alcohol but the rose lemonade is great
                            Muqueca for moqueca and other Brazilian dishes
                            O Cantinho for Portuguese
                            Mulan for Taiwanese
                            Maria Bonita for Mexican, esp. the machaca

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: limster

                              i think kebab factory is sort of underrated. the name is terrible, but the food there is actually quite good.

                            2. I'll throw in something non-Asian, but a personal favorite: Forest Cafe on Mass Av. in Cambridge - affordable non-combo plate Mex with emphasis on fish/seafood.

                              And a couple of espressos at Simon's.