Windham, NH - is there life beyond Applebees?
Ahoy, NE Chowhounds!
The short form: My husband and I very recently moved from Seattle to the "wild woods of Windham" (tee hee), NH and we're, well, at a loss as to where to go for a bite to eat around here. We were told that the Common Man here in Windham is quite good, though we've yet to go. Aside from that, I've scanned over the last several pages on this board (both in the NE and North of Boston categories) and found nothing relating to the part of southern NH that we're in.... please, PLEASE say it isn't so! Are all the decent establishments relegated to coastal or college towns at least a 45-minute drive from us (or, obviously, Boston)? Is there no casual-yet-decent culinary life in the Windham/Salem/Londonderry area beyond Applebees and the 99? Help!
More details than you may need: We're not what I would necessarily call "foodies" in the gourmet sense; we're not opposed to fancy-schmancy joints on occasion, though for regular dining we much prefer a generally casual/cozy vibe to white tablecloths, valet parking, and architecturally arranged entrees the size of a credit card. We also don't generally do steak or seafood (for the most part). So as far as what we're hoping to find..... local-flavor brewpubs tend to do us right, as they're the sorts of places with a little bit of everything on the menu (a variety of sandwiches, salads, pastas, etc.) in addition to the drinks. (We took a drive to Portsmouth last weekend and found one there that was lovely.) We love wine bars and tapas places as much as we do down-home Mexican joints and favorite Sunday-brunch creperies. We're also dying for some good Italian and Indian (re: the latter, we've happily discovered Kashmir in Salem, which is wonderful). Being of the 'alt' sort ourselves, funky decor and young hipster waitstaff are a bonus as long as they're of the unpretentious variety and the tattoos & piercings don't come at the expense of good service and food. The problem is, we quite literally haven't FOUND much of anything around here! I'm suddenly feeling like we were extremely spoiled in Seattle, where there was an endless plethora of places we loved to choose from at any given time: the McMenamins family of brewpubs, various Capitol Hill hangouts like the Broadway Grille and Bleu Bistro, the always-cheerful Icon Grill and Pink Door downtown, and a never-ending array of good authentic Indian and Thai.
Please help these expatriates adrift in a sea of chain-"American-casual" family restaurants! Your suggestions are most welcome. :)
I am researching the Windham, NH for a possible move there within the next year. I noticed your comments and you have me a bit worried. Now, that you have been there for 2 years, have you found more places to go out to eat and socialize. if you don't mind me asking, how do you like the windham area overall? do you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere? any input would be greatly appreciated. Ironically, my husband just met someone from Seattle who recently moved to Windham. You may have a Seattle neighbor close by !!!!!!
looking forward to your reply,
I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the revival of Washington St. in Haverhill,MA, You can find the Tap Brew pub, they have great food and only there own micro brewed beer, no Bud or Coors here, The Peddler's daughter, the Chit chat lounge and Krueger's Brick oven restaurant with Italian fair. (not to mention, only a 5% meal tax as opposed to the 8% NH meal tax)
If you haven't already, I would try Brookstone Grille in Derry (on rte 111) Really nice place with a great menu selection, including pastas, steaks, fresh seafood, raw bar and some killer flatbread pizza. The dining room is a little upscale, but the bar is huge and happening. Live music a couple nights a week. Same Management/Chef team from Loafers in Salem.
no one told you about the best Italian in Nashua - Cucina Toscana on Amherst Street in a very bland strip mall storefront but it's the best. My husband lived in Italy 7 years in several places and agrees it's the most authentic. Their marinara sauce is the greatest. I could drink a glass of it.
Also for Indian, just down Amherst Street is India Palace - compare it to the place you like in Salem next time you're over Nashua way. I've eaten Indian food all over the U.S. and it's the best I've ever had. Extremely high-quality ingredients. Forget about Pizzico - it stinks. Never had a good meal there. Villa Banca only slightly better - uneven. Cucina Toscana - we go there weekly and I've never had a bad meal.
I, like Marchviolet, am new to the area as well. Born and raised in the NYC area, lived last 15 years in DC. We just moved to Hudson, and we're actually pleasantly surprised with the food offerings here. Nashua is the place to go for the best food in the region. We've only been here three months, but here's what I can say:
ITALIAN / PIZZA:
I'm a first generation Italian-American (from the NYC area, see above), so I'm wicked picky when it comes to Pizza. The best we have found so far is Capri's in Hudson. There's also a Capri's in Windham on 111, but I'm not sure if the owners are the same. The pizza is NY style, thin crust, good quality cheese.
Runner-up would be Olive 'N Herb in Nashua. If you go, you MUST also try the Bruschetta....best I've had in a long time - very garlicky.
Pizzico in Nashua is also pretty tasty. I've heard the entrees are quite good, but I've only had the pizza. I'd probably put them in 3rd place for pizza.
The Italian entrees at Villa Banca in Nashua are very good. Fairly large menu, good specials, reasonable prices. I would definitely put it in a league with some of the better food I've had in Boston's North End.
SUSHI / ASIAN:
Dynamite Sushi on Lowell Rd in Hudson is fantastic. Very fresh, lovingly made. The Korean and Japanese hot food is terrific too (try the Bulgoki stone bowl).
San Francisco Kitchen in Nashua is delicious. Asian Fusion cooking and sushi.
T-Bones is actually not bad. It's a small chain, but I've been pleased with the entrees there. Lots of variety.
The Common Man has a fantastic Sunday Brunch. We haven't been for dinner, but went back for brunch a second time.
Suzie's Diner on Lowell Rd in Hudson is good, simple diner fare. Very friendly waitstaff.
I echo the popular sentiment here and would definitely recommend La Carretta. Everything on the menu is authentic and tasty, save for the salsa (too ketchupy for my taste...I prefer salsa fresca).
Margaritas in Nashua or Salem will do if you have a fajita hankering in a pinch, but I'll take La Carretta over them any day.
LEBANESE / MIDDLE EASTERN
Cedars Cafe in Nashua is the place to go. Mom & Pop type place with excellent kabobs and best Hummus around.
I'm not a big fan of chains, as I know many on this board will also tell you. But of all the large chains in the area, the following are decent in my opinion:
Bertucci's - good thin-crust brick oven pizza and entrees, though doesn't compare to Capri's for authentic NY-style pizza.
Joe's American Bar & Grill - nice place to eat when you're at the mall and the only other options are at the food court.
The 99 - The place to go when you just want plain, simple burgers, salads, etc.
Good luck, and keep us posted on your findings!
I'll second Cedar's--I had a good falafel there last week, though no sign of hot sauce. Mostly take-out; there are a few tables. FYI, there is a new Moroccan restaurant in Milford--on Elm Street in the old Blake's. It's on my list to try. As far as chains go, Ruby Tuesday's off exit 7 Everett Tpke makes a nice burger.
Hey aja, You're the one who sent me to Olive n Herb. Thank you. I couldn't remember which thread I had read about it. WEnt recently with a group and it was excellent, can't wait to go back and try the brushetta. I did a recent review on it, loved the calamari and the NY style pizza but everything was great. We did all three style pizzas.
I live in Derry and have experienced the same issues you have. But I've been here 15 years and things are slowly starting to come around. I have some recommendations, and seconds and diagreements with what's already been posted.
Recommendations: For a nice place to hang out, with some decent food (I'd give it a B+) is Brookstone Grille on 111 in Derry (right on the Hampstead line). We always sit at the bar because there you can order off any of the menus (dining room, bar, or flatbread pizza). I really enjoy their pizzas and my husband loves their burgers. Someone else mentioned the Lobster Shack in Derry - I think they mean Lobster Claw 2. It's nothing special to look at or eat in, but I think they have the BEST fried seafood and chicken fingers I've ever had. They are located at the traffic circle in Derry where 102 crosses with 28 By-Pass. Best breakfast around - The English Muffin in Hampstead on 121. Be prepared for a wait. In Nashua, for lunch, try the Seedling Cafe. It is an organic restaurant and they have fantastic soups, salads and sandwiches. I like Surf on Main Street, very good seafood. I went to the Peddler's Daughter (Irish Pub) the other day for lunch and was expecting so-so pub grub and I was pleasantly surprised. My favorites in Manchester for ethnic food are Golden Bowl for Vietnamese and Cafe Momo for Nepali. There's a nice wine bar in Manchester called Un-Wined. Nice wine selection, a little funky. The food is passable, but they try to pass it off as something better than it is.
Seconding what others have said: Piccola would be my choice for Italian too. I had a Salad Caprese there that was to die for, and I'm not even that thrilled with tomatoes! Mike's Red Barn in Salem has excellent marinated meats (I'd avoid Mr. Steer in Londonderry - I think they are overpriced and not as fabulous as they think they are). La Carreta is certainly the best Mexican around, but the past couple times there, it has seemed a bit "fast food" like to me. The food comes out about 2 minutes after you ordered it, orders have been screwed up, etc. Martha's I like, but it gets mixed reviews from others (mostly bad I think), I've also heard mixed reviews about Black Orchid, although I haven't been there myself (because of the mixed reviews.
My "stay away" list that opposes ideas here: Maryanne's - blech. See my note on the English Muffin above - I'd even recommend Derry Diner over Maryannes. Coliseum - I've had one decent meal there and a few terible ones. They've gotten too big for their britches, but I seem to be the only one who thinks so. I had a terrible meal at the Lakeside in Kingston - definitely not the kind of place you are describing that you like (no funk at all!) Keep us posted on your food finds and experiences.
"We love wine bars and tapas places as much as we do down-home Mexican joints and favorite Sunday-brunch creperies. "
There's a great low-key, but authentic, mexican grill in Kittery, Maine called Loco Coco's
And I know they're not open on Sundays, but there's a creperie in Dover, NH called the Silver Moon:
Both places are unpretentious and "different" in that they are not your average eateries.
Unfortunately, in New Hampshire (generally speaking) tastes are not as progressive as they are in the the West Coast. Your's will be a difficult search indeed. On a good note, however, you can always drive to Boston or Montreal!
for Italian food have you tried the Chateau restaurant on route 93 south at River Rd in Andover? Probably a 10 min ride from Windham. You can see it from the highway. I've been to their place in Waltham, MA and I liked it. I'm going to the Andover one next week and I'm looking forward to it, I checked out their website and was literally drooling. Very reasonably priced menu with plenty of selections.
another fabulous place I go regularly is Kittys restaurant in North Reading, MA, not that far from the NH line. Great food and huge portions and very large menu. I get a surf & turf dinner, lobster tails in sauce plus a 16oz sirloin steak that melts in your mouth. I've been going there for over 20 years and have never had a bad meal or experience. They serve a large bowl of salad with the dinners and hot rolls. On route 93 south, get off at exit 40, route 62, Wilmington - No. Reading exit. On 62, Drive east to No. Reading, about a mile till it intersects with rte 28, take a right and Kittys is on your immediate left at the set of lights. Large parking lot and huge restaurant. Fast service. Check out their menu online also.
good luck and happy eating ....
Chateau is very good in Lawrence/Andover (off Rt. 93, River Road exit). Wait can sometimes be a problem on Friday and Saturday nights, but you can usually find a seat or two in the large lounge.
When you say "huge portions" at Kitty's, you aren't kidding. I can tell you stories about people I've brought there that ordered the nachos for an appetizer, and was so stuffed that the meal they ordered became takeout....! Food is very good; braciole is excellent, and full of garlic (yum!).
BIG flag on Kitty's. a shadow of it's former self. the place hasn't been cleaned in YEARS. and the last time we sat at the bar, you could tell they hadn't cleaned the men's room either.
on my last (also my last ever) visits i found the antipasto to be slightly wilted and a bit brown, the sauce to be way over-simmered and the 'veal' to be more like pork.
all set with this place.
I have to agree with you. I grew up in the Reading area and we ate at Kitty's frequently. After I had moved to NH, we went there for a casual special occasion meal (maybe 3 years ago) and they had gone way downhill from what they used to be like. We were not impressed at all and never returned since.
Since you mentioned brewpubs, have you tried Martha's Exchange, in downtown Nashua? It fits the the "little bit of everything" category, and has a nice funky vibe. It's been a couple of years since I've been, but I was pretty happy with both the food and beer each time. (No halibut fish & chips, though....)
There's also the Lobster Tail Restaurant near by, right off Rt. 111 - here's the information and website: It's a casual place, order at the counter and take a seat - they serve beer and wine -
Lobster Tail Restaurant and Fish Market
4 Cobbetts Pond Road
Windham NH 03087
Phone 603-434-TAIL 603-434-8245
Thank you! We have not yet tried Martha's, though someone else recommended that to us and I have driven by it before... it certainly sounds like it would be right up our alley!
Ah, yes - halibut fish & chips seems to be a Pacific NW thing. Gotta say, once you go halibut, cod etc. just doesn't won't do anymore... ;-)
That's Maryann's. I hear people rave about it, but I consider it to be merely average. Of course the food's no better or worse than the Red Arrow in Manchester and that got rated as one of the ten best diners in the country. If you're looking for a cheap filling meal that's not bad, then I guess it's a good place. But for a truly excellent breakfast, my favorite place so far is the restaraunt at the back of the ice cream/taffy shop off short beach in York Maine. There you get food that's not greasy, fluffy, perfectly cooked eggs, thick cut bacon, and house made jams with zest for your toast. And the maple syrup is probably real too.
I live in Manchester, used to live in Windham, and there's very little in Windham itself. You need to go to Salem for anything, but there's also very little there.
Here's a few places that are decent:
Bertucci's in the Rockingham Mall in Salem:
The Homestead in Londonderry NH, which I haven't been to, but it's run by the same folks that run Fratello's in Manchester so it can't be too bad. It's popular anyway. (Though Fratello's itself is not a favorite of mine.
If you ever want breakfast in Salem, don't go to the Denny's, it's awful, but there is an IHOP just down the road and their pancakes are excellent:
For Mexican, there's a Margaarita's tucked away behind a hotel near the Salem Windham line at exit 3 on 93:
As someone else suggested there's the Texas Roadhouse in Methuen:
My dad always raved about the Macaroni Grill, though I haven't been there:
And that's about all I can think of. I think where the Macaroni Grill is in Methuem there's a mall with a big cinema and a bunch of other chain restaraunts, like The Rainforest Cafe or something. Nothing to write home aobut probably, but the theatre is interesting, with a huge fancy lobby.
I would recommend that this post be moved under chain.
Under no circumstance (other than suicide by eating inedible substances) should one entertain eating at a Weathervane or a Margarita's.
My recommendations -
Wirsthaus in Methuen - decent German - good rouladen, decent schnitzels, and a nice Deutsch beer list.
The lobster shack on Rt 28 - I think it's technically in Derry.
Drive across Rt 111 to Nashua - not that long a drive and plenty of good places in Nashua. Best Mexican (northern/tex-mex) in the area is at La Carreta (a mini-chain with 3 places in the local area, but family run) - try the carne asada made from ribeye. The sushiya at Takumi is a desciple of Toru Oga (of Oga's in Natick MA, one of the best traditional sushiya's in the Boston area), and presents a very inventive and high quality omakase - something totally unexpected in the burbs.
Definitely try Pho 88 at Drum Hill in Lowell off of rt 3 - great shabu-shabu on top of all the standard vietnamese items.
By all means, feed your love!
It's a small country place - reminiscent of some of the ratskellers I used to frequent. It’s run by an elderly couple – the wife is German and she runs the kitchen – although she has others cooking, it seems, as she is also doing FOH duties some nights, The food is very good and as authentic as I’ve had in the US – rouladen, schinken (various sauces), a decent sauerbraten. They have pig knuckles and schweinebrauten on the menu. The spatzle were just right. They had several wursts in different combination platters – I had a bite of the fine-ground brat, and thought it was very good. The only thing I was completely unimpressed with was the black forest cake. Having lived for three years as a tenant of a baker in the Black Forest, I know what Schwarzwald kirschkuchen is supposed to be – and this isn’t it. But that’s a real specialty item, so I forgive them. They had other desserts that sounded a lot better. A good beer list, like I said.
They’re not open M-W.
17 Hampstead St., Methuen
Welcome to the NH. I used to live in Seattle and your mention of the Pink Door dredged up memories. I also remember eating fresh shucked oysters out of the tank at the Pike Place market, whole live geoduck (half sashimi and half stir fried with black bean sauce), and singapore chili crab in Chinatown.
But here we are in NH. Salem has surprisingly good middle eastern food; most of the local independents have decent kabob and mezza, but you would never know driving by. Rosey's Place in Salem looks like a coffee shop but I love the lamb kafta wrap and can never decide between the sweet potato fries or the tabouleh to go with it. When I was at Salem Kabob and Pizzeria, they were out of baba ganouj so the owner made a fresh batch while I waited. Samantha's (in an old church in Salem) has decent lamb and a full bar. At the Phoenician, you can get fries with your lamb but they are fried twice, extra crispy, and out of this world.
For Asian food, Lawrence MA has Vietnamese and Korean places. The T&N is the Rabbitz pho resto of record and is next to a southeast asian grocery store. Inaka has passable Japanese (I'm a huge snob here) and a small but interesting Korean menu. Northern Mass (esp. Lowell MA) has a huge Cambodian immigrant population but I haven't figured out where they eat. Anybody know?
Italian up here tends to be the classics. If you want more foodie food, go to Boston. My current fave is the wild boar rigatoni at Lucca followed by a cannoli and a ricotta tart at the pastry shop up the street from it. The food in Boston is worth the trip and if you drive south on I-93 during evening rush hour, you get the schadenfreude of seeing the poor people parked on the northbound side.
For French, Cassis in Andover is decent. 98 Provence in Ogunquit Maine is fabulous.
re: Mr Rabbit
Yet more fabulous suggestions - thanks so much. I figured it wasn't a total wasteland here -- it was simply a matter of knowing who to ask!
Re: the Pink Door, *sigh* .... I miss that place so much. Every time we went there, whether seated inside during the fall/winter or out on the patio gazing out at the Sound during the warmer months, we never failed to leave smiling from ear to ear. Something about the general "vibe" of the place and the way they do everything there just makes you feel like all of life should be that way. ;-)
Re: Italian, we haven't made it to Boston's North End yet, which I understand is a must. Frankly, we've barely been here long enough to make it to Boston at all, save for a couple of Saturday afternoons -- one of which had us ending up with a couple of visiting out-of-town friends on Newbury Street around lunchtime, where out of a lack of knowing where else to go, we decided to grab a bite at Ciao Bella, which I now see has received unanimous (and emphatic!) gawd-awful reviews on this board, two different times! Our experience was thankfully fairly nondescript, and I'd actually say we found it pretty pleasant, for an expensive-shopping-drag-sidewalk-restaurant type of place. Service was fine (no one was rude to us, even though we were by far the least 'fabulous' looking people in the joint) and the food was downright edible. Then again, none of us ordered anything complicated (it's pretty hard to screw up bowtie pasta with pesto). Though I will say it's been a long time since I've seen a side house salad comprised of primarily iceberg lettuce. :-/
Oh, and we did try Orzo in North Andover once, which was good.
Thanks for all the tips - you guys are the best!
We went to Toro last night in Boston--if you like tapas, you will love this place. 3 different kinds of cava, cool crowd--though no reservations--we waited an hour to get seated. While we waited we ordered lots of little plates and enjoyed the scene. Also stopped by Manhattan on Pearl in Nashua last Thursday--though not quite as "hip", we liked the fried artichoke hearts and feta and spinach flatbread--there was live jazz and the drinks were potent.
Yes! Tapeo is one of two places in Boston that we've been to thus far (the other time it was Ciao Bella, as I previously mentioned). We quite liked it! Had a couple glasses of wine and about 4 small plates to share....it was quite pleasant indeed, nice romantic atmosphere, and the food & service were very good.
re: Mr Rabbit
I know Lowell pretty well and yes, great Cambodian. My favorite asian place in downtown - SouthEast Asian on Market St. (has Laosian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Bermese) There are several great Indian and cambodian rest. on Middlesex Street too. And Pho 88 is awesome on Drum Hill Rd. in Lowell - on the Chelmsford line. Lowell's got a phenominal Italian place (downtown) called Ricardo's Cafe Trattoria that pulls a great bar scene as well - they are right out of the north end of boston for excellent Italian. For excellent portugese is Friends (on Market Street) or Cavelaro's on Lawerence Street.
Texas Roadhouse is actually pretty good.
There are a few restaurants in Kingston NH, not far from you.
Either the Lakeside or Ricks might be a couple of good choices.
I lived in Derry for 20 years, while the kids were growing up. I've been back in Boston for the last 10 years, and there is no comparison to your area. Manchester is getting better, don't bother with Derry/londonderry, not much there.
I am a part-time transplant in Salem... from Toronto (which is a pretty good foodie city - especially for ethnic offerings). Mr. Rabbit will tell you that I sulked and pouted for months about the paucity of local restaurant offerings in Salem. Sometimes I still do. But in the end, this is what I've discovered:
- The Colosseum (also thegolferbitch's rec) is our favourite local go-to. Authentic and reliable Italian (homemade pasta!). Save room for dessert (cannoli or Mr. Rabbit's favourite rum cake). Atmosphere is kinda old school, but not stuffy... think travelling musicians on weekends, and the glorious aforementioned dessert cart. I actually think the food here is quite exceptional.
- Paradiso Italiano is an Italian deli with some good takeout offerings (on Broadway)
- Also you might try Mike's Red Barn if you're into Italian. Lovely meat and good takeout sandwiches, plus locally celebrated (with much desert!) Italian takeout stuff like meatballs. And ricotta pie. I physically lose control around Mike's ricotta pie - it's kinda shameful.
- I also like the Blackwater Grill on Pelham Road. Pleasant bar, and pretty patio for summer dining. Food is a little-bit-of-everything (as you put it), and all reasonably well executed. We also really like the owner and staff at the Blackwater (especially bartending Brad).
- The Windham Restaurant is not terrible if you go and sit at the bar for a cocktail and a salad. The "fancy" side looks grandma-would-like-it stuffy, but the bar is just fine. We've found the food quality mixed. I think it's one of those place you learn how to "order right" and then it takes up a happy place in restaurant rotation.
- In Lowell MA, I like T&M's Vietnamese. And it's located next to an Asian grocery where we go to stock up on hard-to-find stuff.
- If you're willing to drive to Manchester, Cotton is my absolute NH favourite. American-bistro style food is always great, and I'm very very fond of the masterful bartender, Duane.
- I also like CR Sparks in Bedford (although it does feel a little corporate)
On our to do list:
- Z in Manchester (well reviewed on this site)
- Cassis (French in Andover). Mr. Rabbit has been once and liked it.
- George's in Haverhill - I think another little-bit-of-everything menu, and I keep hearing positive things from my aesthetician, who is a foodie.
- Don't fall for Evenfall in Haverhill. We went once and it was terrible.
Note that you can search for my reviews of Evenfall as well as Cotton, Windham Restaurant and The Colosseum.
Honestly, and I'm not trying to slag the Salem/Windham area, the options are limited - and you can just forget funky. But there are a few gems. I always look forward to returning to these faves, and remain ever optimistic of future discoveries (Indian, pleeaasse, Indian!!)
PS - Glenn's Kreme and Kone (I know it has a new name...Hawksley's maybe??) on Main Street. What small towns are made of. I mean, it's not for dinner (well, only very occasionally). Also, I think they do a good breakfast, although we've yet to check it out.
Lots of folks in Southern NH/northern MA like the Common Man in Windham. Let's see, what else.
In Salem NH down route 28 a bit, the Colosseum has never disappointed me. You can order simple stuff or a feast, and it's all freshly made. They're Italian fare, and not "red sauce" Italian (though you can get a great homemade marinara there). The owner also runs cooking classes.
Italian bakeries: in Lawrence, MA...a bit tricky to get to, but excellent are Tripoli bakery for bread/sheet pizza/Italian cookies/cakes and Fisichelli's bakery (for cannoli). Easier to get to but not quite as old school is Piro's bakery in Methuen (on Route 110). They have really nice rolls, rum cakes, and such.
Other Italian: Also on 110 in Methuen is Borelli's deli (nice cold cuts, nice selection of Italian soups and sausages) (maybe a stone's throw from Piro's) and in Piro's plaza, a nice espresso/gelato place. The name is escaping me.
Chinese/other: I just had really good sushi and my husband, really well presented "American" Chinese food in Beijing, Route 125 Haverhill. (Take the Ward Hill exit off of Route 495).
Fish: Wow....well, you have the NH seacoast. Joe Fish, down the road from Beijing, is really good. Across the street from Joe Fish in a small mall is a fish market that's quite good, too...the name escapes. It's in Butcher Boy plaza which brings me to
Meat: Borelli's for grilling, Butcher Boy (Route 125 N. Andover) or Haverhill Beef (route 110 Haverhill, same route as Piro's or Borellis but further west) for speciality cuts.
Mexican: Cafe Azteca on Common Street in Lawrence (a stone's throw from Tripoli Bakery) is really good. Also good, if you feel like hopping on Route 495 to 95 to Route 1 in Wells, Maine is Marcia's Mexican Cantina...which has the exact vibe and crowd I think you're looking for.
Beef: I really like Fuddrucker's Hamburgers (Route 114, North Andover, off 495), and for steak, either the Texas Roadhouse in Salem NH (Route 28) or The Steakhouse (Wells Maine, down the road from Marcias)
BBQ: Okay...Texas Roadhouse has some decent BBQ items but we like The Smokehouse in Ossippee NH alot. It's a little roadtrip up Route 16 off of 95. Great vibe there too.
This is not an exhaustive list AT ALL....just some favorite spots. Others will chime in. With the exception of The Smokehouse, all are within maybe 15-45 minutes of you.
No comparison between Seattle and Windham unfortunately. Your best bets would be to explore the restaurants of Manchester and Nashua, which have the closest thing to a food scene in New Hampshire (besides Portsmouth). In Manchester you could try Cotton, Richard's Bistro, or Z for contemporary American/Fusion. Piccola Italia is good Italian. Numerous ethnic places--India Palace is excellent and has branches in both Manchester and Nashua. Nashua has Michael Timothy's, Surf, Black Orchid Grille, and Fody's for upscale contemporary cooking. Manhattan on Pearl is a martini bar with tapas. Welcome to NH--it's not the culinary wasteland it first appears...
Sad to say, although Manchester is not that far from us at all, we haven't explored it yet! I will definitely insist we head over there one of these upcoming weekends. Thanks for all the suggestions!
Re: Piccola -- yes, somewhere I'd read wonderful things about it and that's where we would have gone for Valentine's Day dinner this year had the Nor'easter not had other plans for us! Ha ha... instead it ended up being frozen pizza night at our house, washed down with a bottle of Ravenswood cab. No less romantic, mind you! ;-)
Okay, I'm very curious about any restaurant named "Black Orchid" anything and a martini/tapas bar sounds promising (the husband loves his martinis).... this is great! Thanks!