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Looking to open my parents' eyes...

My parents are visiting me here in Boston in early July. Coming from suburban Ohio with travel limited to North America, their experience with unique (particularly ethnic) cuisines is seriously limited. (Mediocre sushi a few years back was a relevation for my father. Oh god, and he had no idea what this strange thing in a tin, fois gras, was that I brought back from Paris.) As a result, I make it my mission to introduce them to food they would otherwise never experience.

So, I'm looking for recs of restaurants with cuisine that will be new and exciting for my Ohioian parents. It can be anywhere in Boston or Cambridge, and I'd like to keep the price reasonable, if not on the middle to low end. I had thought of taking them to Addis Red Sea for some Ethiopian, but I've already been, and selfishly, because I'm relatively new to Boston, I wanted to head somewhere new for all of us. (Also, I've already taken my mom to Toro so that's out. And yes, some items on the menu were a bit too extreme for her!) I was thinking of maybe one of the Portuguese places in Cambridge or Helmand for Afghani? Thoughts on those? Ideas of others?

One final requirement, I'm a bit of a health nut and while it's not a definite prerequisite, healthier cuisine, or at least healthier options, would be much preferred. Additionally, I typically don't eat meat, though I do eat fish/shellfish. Restaurants heavy on meat, lacking on seafood/vegs would probably not be too high on my list. Ok well, I hope this isn't too much to ask! I REALLY appreciate any help on this you can give me! Thanks in advance!!

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    1. Spots no middle-American tourist should miss, assuming they won't be going to NYC any time soon:

      Sichuan Gourmet in Framingham (or closer, Chili Garden in Medford, or Szechuan Garden in Brookline)
      Pizzeria Regina and/or T. Anthony's
      Dim sum at Hei La Moon
      Dok Bua
      Fasika (better than Addis Red Sea)
      Hot pastrami on rye at Michael's Deli
      Falafel at Rami's
      Trattoria Toscana
      El Oriental de Cuba
      O Cantinho (if you're feeling like going on the less-challenging end)

      4 Replies
      1. re: Luther

        First off, good for you for pushing the envelope with them! I once took my parents to Chinatown in SF and they just stared at the people at the next table asking me things like "what the heck is HE eating???"

        I'll put in a strong suggestion for Addis Red Sea in South End - though the food may not be quite as authentic as Fasika, it is still very good and the atmosphere is a lot more comfortable. I'll always remember my first time having Ethiopian food there, many years ago; that was an eye-opening experience.

        1. re: Luther

          I can't think of better suggsions than Luther made....

          1. re: Luther

            An excellent list, though dim sum is probably not a great choice if we're talking about a straight vegetarian (there are some straight shrimp dumplings, but pork has a nasty way of finding itself into everything whether intentionally or not). As far as ethnic Chinese, I'm also on the bandwagon for Sichuan Garden above Chili Garden (can't comment on Sichuan Gourmet) and Taiwan Cafe; Wing's Kitchen in Chinatown or Shanghai Gate in Allston for Shanghainese cooking (and soup dumplings) and Qingdao Garden in North Cambridge for northern Chinese and dumplings.

            I'd also put in a plug for Daily Catch for Italian seafood; Brookline Family Restaurant for Turkish that starts off as an extension of Greek diner food and goes off into some really heavenly directions; Spanish or Portuguese with a variety of options -- I have really enjoyed Dali and Tapeo for Spanish and Atasca for Portuguese, but not everyone on this list is a fan (and it is the case that the Iberian diet is typically a 15 year old boy's pipe dream, but with sixteen different classes of pork, again this might not be the first vegetarian's choice). Publick House in Brookline for a redefinition of what beer is capable of and some decent Belgian fare. And Helmand by reputation, though I have yet to make it out there. Thai is also a thought, though I don't claim to know the cuisine well enough to know what's authentic and what isn't (I like Sugar and Spice in Porter Square and Brown Sugar/Similans).

            1. re: Dr.Jimbob

              Iberians are also nuts for fish and seafood (though watch out for sausage sneaking into stews). I've taken suburban Midwesterners to Wing's, which was exotic to them but not that much, and it was a hit. (So was Rincon Limeno, but that's maybe too far afield.) Second Brookline Family, too.

          2. Of the places you mention, I have only been to Helmand. I liked it - especially the pumpkin kaddo.
            A few other suggestions my parents (or other visitors) have really liked:
            Oleana - Turkish influences (but not as straight out Turkish as Brookline Family restaurant - more with an "upscale" twist), vegetarian tasting menu was great the one time I had it, fish options are generally very good
            Elephant Walk - French/Cambodian - I have only eaten off the Cambodian side of the menu - several very good shrimp curry dishes
            Khao Sarn - slightly upscale Thai food in Coolidge Corner

            2 Replies
            1. re: LauraB

              I think E. Walk and K. Sarn are great ideas, Oleana may be more than you want to spend. Also agree with O Cantinho for Port. and El Oriental de Cuba since it's basically meat and potatoes but different (and seafood soups for you). I think Korean is a good idea too. Bulgogi is simple but different.

              I suppose you've done the clam shack thing with them already? None of that in Ohio.

              1. re: LauraB

                Don't overlook the "straight out" Turkish at Brookline Family.

              2. It sounds like they are pretty open-minded about what you might offer, which is pretty cool too.

                Have they had really good Italian? There are tons of options in this regard. Should forever kill off any urge to return to the Olive Garden. Or at least take them to Santarpio's.

                The Sunday dim sum brunch is a great idea, especially since they will get to see what they are ordering before picking.

                How about some great Indian? Maybe for more informal lunch one day, stop in to India Quality in Kenmore.

                For Thai, I love Dok Bua but it's so informal to take the folks - I'd suggest Khao Sarn instead - nice tablecloths and so forth.

                O Cantinho would be a great place too -

                2 Replies
                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                  I second Dok Bua/Khao Sarn and O Cantinho (both have lots of ocean options).

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    I brought my parents to Dok Bua and they LOVED it. We went for lunch, got a few different "lunch specials" and split 'em, had TONS of food, and the bill was something like 18 bucks for the three of us....they loved that too! Yes, it's casual, but maybe going for lunch is the way to go there with parents....

                  2. Dali, Oleana and Elephant Walk came immediately to mind....

                    1. Korean BBQ might fit the bill. It's fun to cook your own and the price should be right (although it's more pricey than the equivalent in NYC, Chicago, or LA). Many of these places (for example) have sushi/fish/noodle dish alternatives.

                      1. My conservative Michigan parents loved going on a whale watch and then a casual fish place. We took a boat out of Gloucester and then hit the Lobster Pool in Rockport. To them, it was very daring without rocking their world too much.

                        1 Reply
                        1. You could try Kaze in Chinatown (a Japanese shabu shabu restaurant). The food is really good and it's sort of a fun experience.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: kfb82

                            Actually, last time they were here we went to Shabu Zen. My dad LOVED it and is kind of begging to go back...but with so few days here, I'm not allowing any repeats!

                            Thanks for all the recommendations everyone! I think I'm going to stay away from Thai because we do have a few good ones back in my hometown. And my parents honeymooned on the Cape so I'm sure they got their fill of seafood places/clam shacks way back when. But keep the recs coming...I really appreciate it and am looking forward to looking into all of them further and making the final pick!

                            1. re: emmyeats

                              Honeymoon was a long time ago tho. A clam shack in the summer is always a good thought.

                          2. In addition to Luther's excellent list, consider:

                            Lala Rokh (Beacon Hill) for Persian
                            MuQueCa (Inman Sq.) for Brazilian seafood
                            India Quality (Kenmore Sq.) for Indian

                            All three are open at lunch, by the way.

                            1. My parents were once adventurous eaters, and enjoy dining, but have become less and less adventurous over the years. They LOVED Taiwan Cafe, and even go back there themselves from time to time.

                              I'd also imagine some salt & pepper fried soft shells at Peach Farm would impress just about anyone, adventurous or not.

                              If budget is not one of your criteria and they both eat sushi, I'd recommend Oishii Boston (though perhaps only because I haven't yet been to O Ya).



                              2 Replies
                              1. re: BJK

                                These mostly second recs above:

                                O Ya (awesome sushi and Japanese)
                                Kaze (best shabu-shabu, IMO)
                                Lala Rokh
                                Koreana (a good Korean BBQ place)
                                Dok Bua

                                1. re: wittlejosh

                                  There seems to be a lot of love on this board for Kaze, which mystifies me. Mrs. B and I had a very poor experience there and don't wish to return (long wait thanks to disorganized hostess desk, lots of dirty tables, not so fresh veggies, and slow and inattentive service). Shabu Zen has been our shabu of choice by a mile; haven't had a bad experience there in several tries. Also liked Little Q Hot Pot in Quincy for the Mongolian/Chinese version of this approach.

                              2. Peach Farm would be on top of my list. I've taken my mother and grandmother there; they loved it, and actually requested to go back when they visit next week. Very fresh, high quality ingredients, with an emphasis on seafood and vegetables. I recommend the oysters on the half shell in black bean sauce (which are amazingly huge), the sauteed peapods, and (a little less healthy) the salt and pepper squid. I would choose this over the Szechuan places, which are good, but also much spicier and oilier.

                                I've taken my parents to a large number of places on people's lists. Dok Bua is good. Parents didn't seem to love it. I think Rod Dee is better, particularly for curries. Parents didn't seem to think much of Pizzeria Regina, though I think it's great. They loved Tamarind Bay. Oleana was also a big hit. Helmand was a huge hit. For Portuguese, we didn't like Atasca. O Cantinho and Muqueca are good but maybe not the greatest places to bring the folks, especially Muqueca.

                                Everybody else's choices are good--there are probably only 4-5 choices up there I don't like.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: aventinus

                                  Nice run-down. I really appreciate that you mentioned what you liked and what your parents liked. Thanks!

                                  1. re: Rubee

                                    I second that!! Very helpful! :)

                                  2. re: aventinus

                                    Just be forewarned that the oysters at Peach Farm seem to freak a lot of people out a little. I haven't had them but it sounds like they're a little unwieldy, even for adventurous types.

                                  3. if "healthier" is a consideration, i'd forget dim sum, since so much of it is fried, and szechuan is also very oily.

                                    elephant walk and lala rokh are both well executed, different and reasonable.

                                    also consider taranta. the appetizer portions there are entree sized, as far as i'm concerned, so you can order some apps to share, and then 2 entrees are more than enough for 3 peeps.

                                    what about penang for malaysian and east ocean city for fish?

                                    1. I second--or five--The Helmand. Most parents would like its confluence of civility and authenticy, and you'll wonder why it isn't more expensive. I'm a vegetarian too and find many flavorful and interesting options here.

                                      1. Quite a lot of what you get at dim sum is actually steamed, but whether there is enough non-meat options really depends on what time you go. Saturday and Sunday mornings are prime dim sum time and are probably safe, and I love it. I would definitely second Dok Bua as probably the best Thai in Boston, and Shabu Shabu as a healthy tasty meal and a really fun experiences. There is also Machu Pichu, a peruvian restaurant in Union Square Somerville, with pretty good ceviche. It's different but not too crazy to take the slightly less adventurous.