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Feb 22, 2008 09:34 PM

making a break from the heartland

Bostonians must be sick of people from the hinterlands asking for dining advice, but I hope you'll give me a few tips or places to look. We live in what a cartographer friend has termed "the pole of inaccessibility in North America", where the phone book lists the Olive Garden under ethnic restaurants and no one thinks anything of it.
My 5-yr-old still loves pad see ewe and saag paneer, which he knew when we moved here 2 yrs ago, but I'm afraid he's loosing his desire to try new things. We'll be in Boston for a week in April. My goals are to eat enough "real" food to satisfy me until my next conference in the fall and to entice my son to expand his palate (or at least slow the shrinkage).
We're looking for places that are
not too expensive
fairly casual, bistros or even delis for yummy picnics
close to Copley Place or easy to get to on the T
We like: curry, (Caribbean, Indian, or SE Asian), Mediterranean (any coast, paella to spanikopita, pasta to falaffel), Ethiopian wat (I've seen 3 East African restaurants mentioned on this board--none of them sounds close or worth the trip), Ghanain kuntumbre, savory tastes
I'd love to find the peanut sauce that a friend used to serve at his Senegalese restaurant (in Berlin), but that's really a more specific request than I need to make. We have 7 days, and I just don't want to waste them on limp vegetables.
I'd love to taste something new.
Live music &/or an interesting sidewalk scene would be a plus.
Thanks for your help. I'd be happy to report back if you'd like.

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  1. We love hearing from you Hinterlandians; it reminds us of how lucky we are not to even have to walk or drive by an Olive Garden.

    Parish Cafe is very close to Copley, and serves sandwiches (some vegetarian)created by various Boston chefs, for a wide range of flavors and a true taste of Boston, in a casual, pretty setting on the Park.

    Grotto is walking-distance from Copley. They've got a good prix-fixe deal, and terrific Italian in a Gothic, basement setting.

    Baraka Cafe in Central Sq., Cambridge, on the Red Line, serves authentic North African cuisine. Sabur, a short walk from the Davis Sq. Red Line stop in Somerville, serves a mix of Mediterranean, heavy on North African also. If you're spending a day in the Davis Sq. area, you could first have jazz with a good brunch at Johnny D's, a funky, earthy-crunchy place.

    There's a great Afghan restaurant in East Cambridge, but you'd have to walk a ways or take a cab from the Kendall Sq. stop (Red Line). I think it's worth it, especially since the prices are so reasonable for good, authentic food served in a lovely room.

    Don't miss the North End for Italian; in particular, Pizzeria Regina. Two of my favorite Boston restaurants are in the NE, but they're expensive, and I'm afraid that other than Regina, I haven't found any inexpensive places I like there. And don't miss Mike's Pastry while you're there. Your kid's eyes will light up when he walks in, and so will yours when you eat their lobster tails or cannoli.

    I'm a vegetarian and haven't been offered limp veggies at any of these places. Others will have to help with Asian and Ethiopian since that's not my expertise. And of course we want you to report back!

    7 Replies
    1. re: pollystyrene

      Adding a place link for The Helmand (Afghan in Cambridge). I heartily second the recommendation!

      The Helmand
      143 1st St, Cambridge, MA 02142

      1. re: fbf242

        I think Helmand is closer to the Lechmere stop, last on the green line.

        For a bakery somewhat close to Copley, you could walk to Appleton, on the same street in the south end, about 10 min from the back side of Copley Place.

        A couple places right in the area that aren't bad are Chili Duck for Thai (across from the Pru), Bhindi Bazaar on Mass Ave. by Newbury and Island Hopper is right next door.

      2. re: pollystyrene

        I'll add a twist to Pollystyrene's Parish Cafe suggestion. If you hit a wonderful Sping day, get the sandwiches as "take out" and walk over to the Public Garden for a picnic. You'll find a circle of stone benches in the quadrant where Charles and Boylston streets meet that are a perfect picnic spot. You can munch among the blooming trees, let the Chowpup burn some energy, watch the Swan Boats (If you are after April 15th) and the people.

        A Parish/Garden picnic is a rite of Spring for us.

        Bonus is a playground across the street on the Boston Common for after lunch if there is time.

        1. re: BostonZest

          perfect--just like what I'd hope to find by serendipity, but without the element of suspense (which I won't miss, in this case)

        2. re: pollystyrene

          Several great suggestions--thanks!
          We may head out to Somerville, but should probably find a time filler between brunch (maybe the salmon bagel) and Sabur...

          1. re: saacnmama

            Davis Square has a nice old 2nd run movie theater (Somerville Theater) and a few places to shop as well (Black & Blues, Poor Little Rich Girl, Magpie, Chinook, Goodwill). The Burren has live Irish Music, but I'm not sure of the exact hours. Diesel Cafe has pool tables in the back, though I'm not sure how they are with 5 year olds. Oh - and there are two playgrounds in Davis Sq as well! Plenty to keep you busy...

          2. re: pollystyrene

            For the Mediterranean, Vlora is right in Copley Square, and serves a pan-Mediterranean menu, specializing in Albanian. Good pastas, great steak frites, great Albanian appetizers, outstanding fish. Plenty of veggie options.

          3. T-accessible destinations:

            Mt. Everest Kitchen in Allston (Nepali, dinner only)
            Sichuan Garden in Brookline (Sichuan)
            Dok Bua in Brookline (Thai)
            Trattoria Toscana in the Fenway area of Boston (Italian, a much better experience than 99% of the North End)
            Baraka Cafe in Cambridge (N African)
            Hei La Moon in Chinatown, Boston (Dim Sum on a Saturday or Sunday morning around 11 is optimal)
            Xinh Xinh in Chinatown (Vietnamese)
            Royal Bengal in Cambridge (Bengali, dinner only)
            Chacarero / Sam Lagrassa's in Boston (these two sandwich places, serving a Chilean sandwich and a fantastic reuben respectively, are almost next to each other and are only open for weekday lunchtime)

            3 Replies
            1. re: Luther

              Just listen to this advice from Luther. You won't (can't) do better..different..yes; better

              1. re: 9lives

                I love that he gave me T-connections for all of them!

              2. re: Luther

                In addition to Luther's estimable list, I'd pitch in FuLoon restaurant (Malden Center, Orange Line), possibly the best all-around real-deal Chinese restaurant in town (search on the board for a long list of reviews, including several by me) and Brookline Family Restaurant (Brookline Village, Green-D line), arguably the finest Turkish joint iin town and very much along the lines of veggie-friendly, fairly casual and not at all expensive.

                375 Main St, Malden, MA 02148

                Brookline Family Restaurant
                305 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

              3. My favorite Indian restaurant in the vicinity of Copley is India Quality in Kenmore Sq. on Commonwealth Ave.

                In Coolidge Corner on the Green C line, I like Rami's for hummus, falafel, etc. Just as a warning - they are not open on Friday afternoons or Saturdays.

                2 Replies
                1. re: LauraB

                  I want to try both of these--thanks for mentioning them.
                  Is the Green C line related to the Green E line that stops at Prudential Station near where we're staying?

                  1. re: saacnmama

                    There are four branches of the Green Line (B, C, D, & E) and only the E branch stops at Prudential. Walk over to Copley Square where all the branches stop.

                    I second Trattoria Toscana in the Fenway bit it's not particularly T friendly. Only open evenings and closed Sundays.

                    Trattoria Toscana
                    130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

                2. In the Cheap Eats category, Veggie Planet in Harvard Square serves fantastic salads and veggie pizzas in the space occupied by a folk club at night (Passim), it's around the corner from Church St.
                  Karibu serves Ugandan food but it's off Moody St in Waltham so it might be hard to get to w/out a car,
                  Sultan's Kitchen, on Congress St near Faneuil Hall serves wonderful spicy Turkish soups (FH is fun to walk through but don't be tempted by the touristy purveyors when there is authentic chow nearby). There are also several good sushi places in that area off Broad St--Sakura Bana, Nara.........

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cassis

                    Is FH a good place to pick up some snacks and breakfast foods for the week?

                    1. re: saacnmama

                      I agree with Cassis that FH is fun to walk through but not good for actual food. There's a Trader Joe's on Boylston across the street from the Pru that strikes me as better for easy snacks and breakfast foods (juice, milk, cereal, okay packaged baked goods, tons of trail mixes, granola bars, etc.). I'm trying to think of good bakeries nearby for freshly made breakfast treats but coming up blank -- maybe others have suggestions.

                      Thinking of Ethiopian, Addis Red Sea in the South End isn't really on the T but it's less than a mile from the Pru, which might be walkable at least one way with a 5-year old, and a really quick cab ride in any case.

                  2. No one has mentioned Elephant Walk but it is literally a 5 - 10 minute cab ride from
                    Back Bay, or you can take the T and hop off just past Kenmore Square (not sure what the next stop is called on Beacon St because I haven't T'd it in awhile). They have vegetarian and are an interesting mix of Cambodian and French...and relatively affordable.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bostongal

                      The Elephant Walk is also on the Green C line near the Saint Mary's T-stop.

                      Also, in response to a few things above. Trattoria Toscana is probably about a 10 minute walk from the Fenway stop on the Green D-line or a 20 minute walk or so from the Pru (It would take me a bit less time than this, but I am figuring a 5 year old might slow you down). I love it there, but it is a little tight for space so I would go early or not a Friday or Saturday. Also fairly near the Pru is a Whole Foods (near Symphony stop on Green E-line or a 10 minute walk) which would be good for snacks if you want fruit or other fresh stuff. Trader Joes is great for trail mixes, dried fruit, etc too.

                      1. re: LauraB

                        Hmm, where am I most likely to be able to buy some local produce and maybe breads/pastries? Any of the above?
                        Trader Joe's was a favorite for the kind of munchies you mention when we lived in Fairfax VA. Whole Foods was a weekly ritual for me when I was realizing that there's life (and taste!) beyond hotdishes.

                        1. re: saacnmama

                          formaggio kitchen, with locations in cambridge and south end (more accessible by public trans) has fancy stuff. $$. the one in the south end has a middle eastern market right next door too.

                          hi-rise does great breads and pastries, 2 locations in cambridge, one of which is conveniently close to burdick's chocolates.

                          clear flour in brookline, and canto 6 in jamaica plain also do great breads & pastries.

                          you are unlikely to find much local produce in boston in april. that's a bit early; farmers markets and whatnot don't really get going until june, if i remember correctly.