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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. :)

--kate

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  1. 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...

    1 Reply
    1. re: whs

      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!

    2. hi marchviolet,

      Lots of folks in Southern NH/northern MA like the Common Man in Windham. Let's see, what else.

      Italian:
      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.

      2 Replies
        1. re: Harp00n

          Yes! and it's the only place I know that I can be seated almost immediately no matter how crazy The Steakhouse etc is during the summer along that strip in Wells. Actually, everyone forget I mentioned Marcia's. :)

      1. 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.

        Cautionary tale:
        - 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.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Rabbit

          Wait a minute!! -

          The Viet place I like is actually T&N on S Broadway in Lawrence. Mr. Rabbit corrected me.

          (Sorry - I still mix up the suburban configuration around Salem)

          1. re: Rabbit

            Wow!! Thanks to ALL of you so far for such a helpful and extensive list of recommendations and suggestions! I can feel my spirits lifting already!! And I'm getting a little hungry, too. :)

        2. 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.

          1. 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.

            5 Replies
            1. 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!

              1. re: marchviolet

                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.

                1. re: whs

                  If we're talking tapas in Boston, Tapeo is also excellent. One of the most authentic I've found outside of Madrid. Would recommend the octopus vinaigrette, rabbit in juniper sauce, and I'm a sucker for tortilla.

                  www.tapeo.com

                  1. re: Rabbit

                    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.

              2. 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.