What places consistently live up to the hype?
Ok, just to balance out the other thread in which we're all having fun (myself included) trashing all of the hyped and popular restaurants, let's talk about the places that rarely disappoint.
I've come around to a point in my dining life in which it's hard to include any of the high end places on this list. While the high end places often are great, they should be consistently extraordinary to justify their prices, and few of them are. I enjoy dining out at places like L'Espalier, Mistral, Clio, No. 9 Park -- these all are places I really like -- but to me they don't go on this list. It's too easy to be disappointed by these places on those occasions on which their food does not match their high prices. East Coast Grill may be my favorite place in the Boston area, but I understand that many consider it too pricey, and that it can be difficult for newbies to navigate their menu to find the truly extraordinary items. Sometimes I'll try one of their specials and will not be blown away.
Instead of the high end places, I'll start out this list with two "cheap eats" places that I'm always excited to go to. Sure, some meals are better than others at these places too, but at the prices they charge, I'm willing to give them a lot more leeway.
Rachel's Kitchen in Bay Village: Order an egg sandwich on brioche: it's the best I've ever had. And if you get there early enough on a Saturday morning, they might have lobster left over from Friday's lunch (when their lobster roll is on the menu), and Alon will make you a lobster scramble on brioche, which is life-changing. Everything on their menu is made with care. It's remarkable watching Alon make something as simple as a bagle-and-lox sandwich: while most places will slap one of these together in about 20 seconds, Alon takes his time to make sure the proportions of cream cheese, lox and vegetables are just right, and turns it into a work of art. Can you tell I like this place?
Chacarero: To me, this place defines what chowhound is all about. It's unique, it's relatively cheap, and it's delicious. There are people who have reported on this board that they don't get it, which is understandable anytime you've got such a unique product. But for those of us in the overwhelming majority who love this sandwich, it's a real treasure. I've had a chacarero in Chile, and it didn't compare. Why? Because in Chile, a chacarero is simple bar food. You can find them in lots of places, and like the bagle-and-lox sandwich I mention above, most places are just gonna slap one together for you. A chacarero from Chacarero, however, is made with balance and care. Sure they assemble it quickly; they have to in order to avoid the lines getting even longer. But they've figured out a system that results in an incredibly fresh and well balanced sandwich. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
So those are my two nominations. What are yours?
(BTW, I really wanted to add Bartley's to my list of never-disappoint places, but we have far too many threads already debating the merits of the various hamburger options!)
o cantinho in inman, which has a good rep here. they always consistently deliver on the food and service front for me. i just love this little place, it's really one of my favorite places to eat in the whole area.
My two inputs would be Pho #1 in North Woburn and Tres Amigos on Rte 28 (Main St.) in Stoneham. I would also throw in Petit Robert on Comm Ave and Eastern Standard. Pho#1 always delivers on very good Vietnamese and Thai food at very reasonable prices. I love their Larb Salad, their Pho and the Thit Lui (satay like) appetiser. At Tres Amigos I love there Chili Verde. You can get a plate of it with refried beans and toritillas or you can get in a burrito. If you go for the burrito get the "Delux" version.
I have never been disappointed at Petit Robert. Their food is consistently good and very reasonably priced for a Boston reataurant. I usually opt for one on the daily specials but am also a big fan of their roast chicken too. Eastern Statndard is always good. I think they have some of the most professional bartenders in Boston. I always enjoy having dinner at the bar where I can get good food and an education in mixology too.
Here are a few popular places that have never let me down:
--Regina's, North End (about the best pizza I've had anywhere)
--Mr. Bartley's, Cambridge (sorry, I just have to bring this one up!)
--New Bridge Cafe, Chelsea (never had a bad steak tip there)
--Chacarero, Downtown Crossing
I'm not sure how much hype some of these places get, and I can't restrain myself just to low end places, but the big virtue I attribute to them is consistency. I never wonder whether they might under-deliver on me (I'm sure I'm missing some key ones):
Audubon Circle, Mary Chung, Carlo's Cucina Italiana, Union Bar & Grill, Rendezvous in Central Square, Don Ricardo, Silvertone, Trattoria Toscana, India Quality, Xinh Xinh, Khao Sarn Cuisine, Rod Dee, Peach Farm, R.F. O'Sullivan, Taberna de Haro, Les Zygomates, Franklin Cafe, Metropolis Cafe, Deluxe Town Diner, Zon's, Taqueira El Amigo, Billy's Coffee Shop, Neptune Oyster, Rami's (for shwarma), Mei Sum Bakery (for banh mi), Speed's Famous Hot Dog Wagon, Atasca, Dok Bua, New Bridge Cafe, Addis Red Sea, Brookline Family Restaurant, Chili Duck, Vinny's at Night, Grotto, Pops (early yet, but demonstrating admirable consistency), Ten Tables (current chef), Ariadne, Pigalle, and Rialto.
re: MC Slim JB
Sadly, I've had a string of subpar meals at O'Sullivan's of late, which is why I didn't have it on my list. Not sure what's going on there...
You brought up a few others that I had forgotten about: Family Restaurant in Brookline, Khao Sarn, and Dok Bua. All excellent choices, IMO.
I gotta get to Don Ricardo's. I've been wanting to go there for awhile now.
What amazes me about these kind of topics of which places, Live Up To or Don't Live Up To. You'll see the same places on each list.