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!)
I'll second you on Chacarero, Blumie. It's always consistent, cheap, and amazing.
Tremont 647 is another good spot. Been many times. Never disappointed.
On the other end of the spectrum for me is Sorellina. I've never gone wrong there and have always felt good about the quality, portions, service, and price. It's a top-notch dining experience.
ALWAYS excited to go, be there, and don't ever want to leave: Central Kitchen! (moules frites and creme brulee EVERY time)
Consistently varied, interesting, and fresh salads/pizzas (skip dessert): Za
Sushi: Oishii, Too (basic, specials, etc. -- always amazing)
Italian Pastries: Maria's (oh, that lobster tail!!)
Cookies: Lakota (the Florentine!)
Bread: Iggy's (the bakery store at Fresh Pond)
BBQ: Blue Ribbon (Arlington only -- very large sample size for this one!)
Island-influenced: Something Savory (mussels, soups, salads, BBQ shrimp -- but not the fish mains with tropical fruit salsa concoctions)
Seafood, upscale: Catch (wow)
Seafood, eclectic: East Coast Grill (though it does required informed ordering -- no matter what else, must always get the wet bone(s)!)
Italian: surprisingly -- no favorite here that's good and consistent enough -- go figure..
Mexican: see Italian (though continuing to defend Ixtapa as serviceable Tex-Mex)
Thai: see Italian (honorable mention to Thai Moon)
Chinese: King Fung, Mary Chung, Jade Garden
Reliable casual standbys -- locale-driven, not destinations for me:
Miracle of Science/Audobon
Boca Grande (basic burritos)
Il Panino (Cambridge - for simple, 1-2 topping pizza only)
and yes, I'll say it... - Border Cafe, Harvard Sq (consistently tasty, cheap, and satisfying at the right time/place for YEARS, though not even remotely Mexican or amazing -- I keep going back and it never disapppoints)
Never disapointed in Shabu Zen, it's fun, casual, relaxing and the food is good. Silvertones is another place that is always consistent, great wine list, wonderful meatloaf and crostini topped with goat cheese. For some reason though, I have a soft place in my heart for LaGalleria 33 in the North End. Maybe it's because the owner makes you feel like family. I always leave feeling happy, and yet for some reason LaGalleria remains undiscovered. Now that their open for lunch I need to get back for one of their specials, maybe the veal & spinach ravioli in a tomato cream sauce.
The only place I can think of right off that is ALWAYS awesome and never lets me down, EVER, is humble India Quality in Kenmore Square. terrific Indian meal after terrific Indian meal, no matter what I order. Ask for the lamb vindaloo extra extra spicy and prepare for chili-head nirvana.
Good call Blumie. I'll throw in EVOO (I guess it could fall into the "hyped" category by some CH'ers). Peter McCarthy et al have always delivered the goods so to speak. In all the years we've been going, I can't recall getting something sub-par regardless of which menu staple (tenderlion) or special we selected.
I have maybe had a middling meal from Tacos Lupita once. I used to frequent it so much that my roommate and I started calling it "Mom's".
Same goes for Qing Dao - rarely disappoints.
Second Blumie's nominations.
Re: Infomaniac's comment - I think I moderate my expectation level slightly based on price - if I pay $30 an entree, I expect to be blown away - which is why I have never been to places like Radius and No. 9 Park, because frankly, for that price, I am pretty sure I will feel disappointed. perhaps I am not a true chowhound for letting money affect my palate....or perhaps I am just being Yankee-frugal.
re: Bob Dobalina
I feel the same way. If I'm paying $30+ for and entree I have no expectation, in fact I set myself up for a let down, that way I can only be surprised and impressed.
I know for $30.00 to $60.00 I can prepare a blow away meal in my own home for myself and friend(s).
The only time I hit places on the level of Radius or No. 9 Park is for clients that I'm entertaining or very special occasions with family & friends, and most of the time we still opt for a house gathering that going out.
Cheap eats: Southeast Asian, Lowell. I've been a regular for over 7 years, love the food and the people. This is the only restaurant I've found that makes spicy dishes even remotely similar to the way they're eaten in Asia.
High end: Lumiere, Newton. Just ate there last week and again was impressed with the excellent food and outstanding service. This is probably my husband's favorite restaurant anywhere.
Other favorites: Penang, especially if you get a good server who can recommend some of the more authentic dishes.
Icarus, again consistently good food and professional service.
Hing Shing bakery, Chinatown. I can't resist their egg custard tarts. I haven't had a bad purchase here yet.
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.
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
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.