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Jul 31, 2007 11:54 AM

Doing one thing, and doing it right

So I've been pondering two rather different issues lately, and wondering if they might actually be related:

(1) after 3 years of living in Boston and dutifully following leads and eating out at all sorts of places, I'm still hard pressed to find any inexpensive-to-moderate places that I'm at all enthusiastic about, and
(2) recent threads about hot dog stands elicited quite a bit of excited and devoted discussion.

How are these related? Maybe they're not. But here's what I'm thinking: in the city where I used to live, many of my favorite places had just one or two menu items, with maybe a few variations of flavors/seasonings. And specialization leads to quality, especially for a small-time operation with a limited staff. They started the business to do what they do well, and people only go there if they like that particular food. Every day they focus on what they know, and there's no chance that you'll go and have a bad experience because you ordered something that isn't really their specialty, or because their attention is spread too thin so they're inconsistent. The customer base tends to be connoisseurs of that item, and will only come back if it's a good rendition.

It strikes me that in Boston, there are certain food categories that seem to stick with this model routinely: hot dog, burger, wings, pizza, and ice cream places. Why just these? I'm interested in places that do something *besides* these, offering just one(+) thing and doing it right. Examples: Ken's noodles has mainly just ramen, Alive & Kicking just has lobster, several banh mi places just have sandwiches. Even if you deny my premise, I'm currently just curious for your favorite places that offer one(+) type of item.

What are your favorites?

***EDIT: bonus points for things that are *not* hot dogs, burgers, pizza, or ice cream. Donuts and sushi probably fall in this category, too-- we hear a lot about those already.

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  1. Curious - what was your former city?

    And to answer:

    Speed's hot dogs at Newmarket Square does only dogs and does them better than anyone else in Boston, IMHO.
    Falafel King at Park St. T does Middle Eastern, but the falafel sandwich there is king.
    I think Anna's, for what it is, does the burrito very well (a view not often shared here).

    4 Replies
    1. re: Bob Dobalina

      I figured I wouldn't distract the issue by inviting comparisons with my former city :)

      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Interesting thread. This is one of Bourdain's consistent themes in his essays on foreign food - places that have done only one dish for generations. Interestingly, I think street food is much more likely to be focused on one product only, and getting that one thing right. Maybe it's the climate here, but I cannot think of any great street food that I have had in Boston (no, have never been to speeds), but can reel off a huge list of places that do just one thing really well that I love and miss from philadelphia.

        I would include sushi as a great example - virtually always good in places that mainly do sushi, not so great when combined with other cuisines.

        1. re: tdaaa

          Anybody know what Boston street food would have been 100 years ago? Lobster maybe? (Which gets me thinking about Kelly's on Revere Beach for doing the same thing fairly well for a long time.)

          I dissent on Chacarero (wife and I have tried them twice and been nonplussed both times), but I'll leave it at that.

          1. re: Dr.Jimbob

            100 years ago lobster was considered to be junk. If you go to the Vinyl Haven (Maine) history museum, they have a contract for a nanny that specifies that loster cannot be served more than twice a week. Interesting question, though. I heard a great article on NYC a few months ago - for years oysters were ubiquitous street food there.

      2. Charcarero and ASSBAR immediately come to mind.

        4 Replies
        1. re: garlic breath

          Shoot...I always forget about Chacarero. That is the PERFECT example!

          Also, Al's State Street Subs.

          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            Oh, great call, I meant to cite Chacero as one of my leading examples, thanks! (And perhaps not coincidentally, it's one of the few places I find myself returning to!)

            1. re: another_adam

              sadly, today was the last day for the downtown crossing location. the other location is still open, though.

              1. re: alyssap99

                Chacacero IMMEDIATELY came to mind for me, too.

          1. I'm not sure if this would count, but Formaggio is primarily cheese etc. . . and they do it right.

            1. Victor's in East Boston for rotisserie chicken.