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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 ..no.

              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.

                    2. Just how vegetarian are you? Fish? Flexitarian?

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Aromatherapy

                        I'm only a little veg-- eat fish and eggs, as well as dairy. My little one goes back and forth. If he eats meat, I like it to be chemical-free.

                        1. re: saacnmama

                          You'll want to get away from Copley. Bring good walking shoes/boots (April can be iffy) and check out the subway ("T": http://www.mbta.com/). Unfortunately "inexpensive and interesting" and "chemical-free meat" are pretty much mutually exclusive.

                          Allston has the biggest collection of cheap eats, especially along Brighton Ave near Harvard Ave. (B line on the T). There's a food court at the Super 88 Asian grocery, Ken's Ramen, further out is Madina Market (Pakistani), then further toward Harvard a new shabu-shabu place, several Korean places, Carlo's for southern Italian, Rangoli for southern Indian, Anaka Rasa for Malaysian, Reef for Lebanese, S&I Thai (Thai menu), Gitlo's for made-to-order dim sum all day, Mamma something or other has empanadas, another northern Indian place (blanking on name), YoMa for Burmese, Shanghai Gate for Shanghaiese, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch of others.

                          Galleria Umberto in the North End for lunch, extremely casual (wait in a long line). Sultan's Kitchen downtown is a favorite but they're basically takeout with a few tables. More Turkish at Saray (B line again) and Turkish Family in Brookline Village (D line). Chinatown has lots of stuff including Vietnamese--Mei Sum bakery does a nice tofu bahn mi (sandwich).

                          Lots of options in East Boston, two of which are Angela's Cafe for Pueblan Mexican and Rincon Limeno for Peruvian. Good Cambodian in Revere at Floating Rock, there's also a Cambodian/Thai place in Allston whose name escapes me.
                          Useful thread on downtown lunch places: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/488550

                          1. re: Aromatherapy

                            Suvarnabhumi Kiri is the Cambodian/Thai place in Allston you are thinking of..I only know the name because I flew into that airport there last year (it's the new international airport in Bangkok). Still haven't made it over there to try the food...dangit. Allston sure is a hell of a lot closer than Bangkok.

                            1. re: Aromatherapy

                              Yeah, your comment on meat is probably right. That's why the chemical stuff keeps selling.
                              Peruvian is new to me, but sounds intriguing.
                              Can anyone help out with the name of the N. Indian place Aromatherapy mentions in Cambridge? One of my old haunts was an Indian restaurant run by a family from Kashmir. I'd love to taste some of those things again.
                              lots of good lunch choices here too, thanks.
                              As for footwear, I'm basically bringing my Berlin wardrobe. I rode lots of subways there.

                              1. re: saacnmama

                                I was ref'ing a place in Allston, actually. There are a few Kashmiri places around--I'm blanking but surely someone will know.

                                1. re: Aromatherapy

                                  I'm pretty sure the Northern Indian place in Allston that Aromatherapy means is Punjab Palace. It's on Brighton Ave at Linden Street, on the north side of the street about three doors down from the corner itself. Get off the B line at Packards Corner and walk up Brighton (in front of the previously-discussed Super 88 food court) two long blocks.

                                  Punjab Palace is quite good. It's owned by the same folks who own India Quality in Kenmore Square, which is my favorite Indian restaurant in town.

                                  Another nice spot near there is the Fun Food Snackery, which serves Korean-style shaved ice desserts and other treats. There's also a nice little Korean bakery directly across Brighton Ave from Punjab Palace, called Yi Soon. In fact, our dessert tonight is going to be a couple of coconut custard tarts from there that Allstonian picked up on her way home from work!

                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                    FYI, the guy who runs FFS is from Hong Kong, and Yi Soon is Taiwanese.

                            1. re: adamgendreau

                              Whoops! Sorry about that--I've got to keep my communities straight! I'm coming to Boston for a geography conference, and that's a term geographers use all the time.
                              I meant the boonies/outback/bush.
                              It means to the rural area that is tied to a city--provides agricultural production so the city folk can focus on other pursuits. In return cities provide military protection, education, religion, etc. Young people from the hinterlands work in the military, study in the city institutions, etc. Obviously, it's not a system that exists today, when city and country folks alike are apt to be eating kiwis from New Zealand or beef from Argentina.
                              We don't really live in Boston's hinterland--far from it. We're in the very rural Texas panhandle, 5 hrs from Dallas, 4 from Albuquerque, just down the road from Hereford. On a clear day we can smell the feedlots.

                              1. re: saacnmama

                                Actually, I spent many years in that part of the panhandle myself (Friona, on the other side of Hereford about halfway to Clovis), so I understand the desire to call it the hinterlands.

                              2. re: adamgendreau

                                I meant the boonies/bush/outback.
                                I've got to keep my communities straight. We're coming to Boston for a geography conference. Geographers use "hinterland" to refer to an area surrounding a city that is tied to that city by economic, political, and cultural relations.
                                The rural area provides agricultural production to teh city, as well as labor for big construction projects: castles, places of worship, etc. The city organizes the military that protects its hinterlands, and is where intellectuals and religious leaders do their thinking and set up institutions. The hinterlands benefits from these by having places for their kids to study and by having military protection. Obviously, it is a traditional relationship. These days Boston's food and our is likely to come from China, Mexico, or who knows where.
                                We're not really from Boston's hinterlands. We're in the Texas panhandle, 5 hrs from Dallas, 4 from Albuquerque, but just up the road from Hereford. On a clear day we can smell the feedlots.
                                Looking forward to Boston--thanks to all of you for the tips!

                                1. re: saacnmama

                                  There is an Olive Garden in Dorchester / Southie if you get homesick. It's next to a full size Asian supermarket, so you get a full helping of cultural irony.

                                  1. re: lergnom

                                    Oh you are cruel!
                                    And you made me laugh;-)

                              3. Sounds like an exciting trip, this thread has already brought up a lot of good suggestions.

                                On the "picnic" end of things, it's not cheap at all, but Formaggio Kitchen is to cheese what the Louvre is to Art, go and get some snacky stuff (they have much more than just cheese) to eat in the park, you will not regret it. Also, if you can get out to Watertown, the Armenian Bakeries along Mt. Auburn St. are great for a picnic - hummus, dolmas, pita, olives, lamejhun, baklava and pasteries... Sevan's is my favorite.

                                I think Baraka in Central Square is another great reccomendation - awesome Tunisian food, affordable, veg. friendly, and very tasty. Don't miss their rose-scented lemonade (cherbat).

                                The Helmand, Afghani food, alredy mentioned and linked, is excellent as well. Don't know how old your kid is, but it feels a bit on the fancy side - not that you shouldn't bring a kid, but that a kid might be more interested in a funkier, more casual, place.

                                I don't think I have seen any mention of Muqueca yet, and awesome Brazillian restaurant specialzing in seafood, esp. the delicious fish stew they are named after. Good stuff for kids and vegetarians there as well, and you can get ice cream at Christina's afterwards.

                                Chinatown is an obvious choice, not just for Chinese either. Try any number or Vietnamese restaurants (Xinh Xinh is my favorite this month) or Bahn Mi Sancwich spots, or Penang for Indonesian.

                                There is lots of good Portugese food as well, but not typically as vegetarian friendly.

                                Sure I will come up with more soon, this is a fun mental excercise - I'll post more if I do. Hope you enjoy the trip and have some nice sunny weather.

                                Baraka Cafe
                                80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                Formaggio Kitchen
                                244 Huron Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                Christina's Homemade Ice Cream
                                1255 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                Sevan Bakery
                                599 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: andytee

                                  You should try some Malaysian while you are here...either Penang or Aneka Rasa.

                                2. Oh, I'm looking forward to this! Thanks to all the hounds for all the suggestions. I've just started marking up a map to hook up eats with other treats. I'll post a note about our week when we get back.

                                  1. Hattip to the Boston Chowhounds!

                                    It's been a few years since this post. I've asked for advice for trips to other places in the meantime, but haven't come across such a hospitable, helpful group yet. Thanks again for your part in a memorable trip!

                                    1. Don't forget about Chinatown! Easy to get to from Copley (on a nice day I do that walk to Copley and back in no time). Lot's of interest places but you must try the Bahn Mei at 163 on at 68 Harrison-they also have a great avacado bubble drink or the best Jasmine tea around- for great Udon noodles try the chow mein at China King on Beach St,

                                      1. Here are some suggestions(excuse me if some were already mentioned)

                                        "Q" restaurant in Chinatown for excellent Chinese Hot Pot.
                                        Fuloon in Malden for excellent Sichuan
                                        Habesha in Malden for really good Ethiopian
                                        Asmara restaurant in Cambridge (Somalian food, but to us Americans, it's Ethiopian)
                                        Xinh Xinh Vietnamese for Pho
                                        163 Vietnamese Sandwiches and Bubble Tea in Chinatown for really good Banh Mi
                                        Sultan's Kitchen for outstanding Turkish food (loads of vegetarian options here...only open until 8pm so go for lunch)
                                        Atasca in Cambridge for Portuguese food
                                        Cafe Jaffa for Israeli food (Falafel, etc.) in Back Bay
                                        Falafel King for excellent Falafel (Downtown Crossing)
                                        Ariana Afghani restaurant in Allston
                                        Bon Chon Korean Fried Chicken in Allston or Harvard Sq.
                                        Suya Joint for Nigerian food in Roslindale
                                        Dosa Factory for Indian food in Cambridge
                                        India Quality House for Indian in Back Bay/Kenmore
                                        Kaju Tofu House in Allston for sundubu jigae (spicy soft tofu stew)
                                        Grasshopper in Allston for vegetarian Asian food
                                        Penang in Chinatown for Malaysian curries
                                        Montien in the Theater District for Thai
                                        Brown Sugar Cafe in Allston for Thai
                                        Teranga in the South End for Senegalese...I don't know if they have that peanut sauce, but it's good food.
                                        Rangzen Tibetan food in Central Sq., Cambridge

                                        1. this is a very old thread ...