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Mar 6, 2008 07:57 AM

What is a "Bostony" experience and does it represent good chow?

Seems I have seen this request on so many threads lately - My visiting relatives want to go to a "typical" Boston place. What is that exactly?

History tells me that "typical" Boston and good chow often did not often intersect.

My chowhound instinct tells me that the places generally regarded as "typical" Boston that still exist - Union Oyster House, Durgin Park, Anthony's Pier 4, No Name Restaurant, and the more recent Summer Shack - are not currently where a "typical" Bostonian EVER eats, except with said relatives, i.e., they are touristy places. Moreover, they represent some nostalgic, but warped vision of Boston that may have existed at one point, but certainly does not now. At least not for us hounds.

What really is "typical" Boston? Must it involve seafood? Chowda?
For me, it would be a place which, through the FOOD, and the ambience, I can get an accurate sense and even a connection with the people and heartbeat of a cross-section of our city - its sounds - its smells - its moods.

So my hope, hounds, is that we can re-define the paradigm of "typical" Boston and point some folks, respectfully, to this thread when the topic comes up in the future, to some more accurate FOOD choices.

To start off...I would suggest that Eastern Standard is "typical" Boston. Range of food, range of people - Sox to suits - chow that is not too adventurous, but very satisfying. The prices have a moderate range.

On the downbeat, for me, Santarpio's is also a great example.


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  1. That's an interesting inquiry, Bob. I still don't understand why people don't take their out of town relatives to restaurants that just serve good food. That's what mine always ask for and that's where we go. Trattoria Toscona, Namaskar, the Cafe at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Gargoyles have all been really well received.

    Bruni just noted that O Ya is an experience one can't get in NYC - does that make it typically Boston?

    I think Craigie Street Bistrot is a typical Cambridge sort of place - higher end cuisine in a relaxed, almost academic atmosphere; a focus on locally raised, seasonal food; simple yet perfectly executed concepts; and a neighborhood restaurant to boot.

    On another note - what about Locke Ober?

    4 Replies
    1. re: gini

      I like your thought about Locke Ober but hard for me to say it is "typical." Historic, definitely. :D Definitely about as close one can get to the crossroads of history and good chow.

      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Although I can not personally comment on the food, this comment makes me think of the Oak Room for drinks as part of the Boston experience.

      2. re: gini

        Has Bruni reviewed O Ya yet? I just saw the 3/5 article about Guy Savoy, Coi and Fraiche, but haven't seen the write up on O Ya. I can't believe that he would say that this level of food wasn't available in NYC. It is most certainly anything but typical for Boston.

        1. re: applehome

          The review hasn't run yet, meaning O Ya was in Bruni's top five for the trip.

          He was careful to say that it's not about food of a certain "level", but rather about variety and fresh perspective. From the first article:

          "My trip didn’t shake my conviction that New York is the finest restaurant city in the nation, with an unrivaled range and depth of options. But it was a fresh reminder of all the exciting dining experiences that aren’t duplicated here, and it was a challenge to the smug superiority New Yorkers sometimes feel."

      3. For me "typical" Boston would be a slice of pizza at Regina's, maybe that's because it was the scene of my very first date and all these many years later I can still go in and experience the same flavors. The only difference now is I can sit at the bar! Speaking of bars, Pete's Pub was a great Boston dive bar. The type of place where you could get a cheap beer and a hot dog that had been on the steamer all day. Renamed Durty Nellies it still brings in a variety of people from all over but it lacks it's once "charming atmosphere". Depending on the day you can even get an Irish breakfast there. Typical Boston is difficult to define, but I think everyone would agree that a hot dog at Fenway qualifies.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Pegmeister

          Good call on Regina's, Pegmeister.

          1. re: Pegmeister

            1 of my favorite "Boston experiences" and 1 I always do when I've been out of town for a while is 1/2 dozen clams at Haymarket followed by a slice of Haymarket Pizza and or Umberto's. Oysters at the bar at Union Oyster House.

            At the other end of the spectrum, lunch at Locke Ober is right up there.

            These (to me) are unique to Boston experiences..that represent good chow.

            Pizzeria Regina is always a hit..and if my out of town friends are from cities without vibrant Chinatowns or Italian communities..the North End or Chinatown is a treat..Neptune for high quality, Daily Catch for a unique atmosphere. Plenty of options in CTown.

          2. I think you can find an intersection between Boston-y AND good food but you need to be houndly. But then, why else would you be here?

            For example, many of my out of town guests enjoy the oysters at Union Oyster House, but I wouldn't make them eat a whole meal there. Our North End is unique to Boston, and much better than the little Italy's elsewhere. But again you must be selective. We have a tiny Chinatown which pales in comparison to other cities, but guests have always enjoyed Peach Farm when they want that kind of food.

            Other places that usually get the visitor nod are East Coast Grill Grill, which I consider typical Cambridge. Bartley's Burger cottage is typically Harvard. Summer Shack for the Jasper-groupies, etc. The cafe at the Gardner museum is another good call, gini, especially if it's a visiting mom or aunty. And then it depends on who your guests are. Friends from college like to visit B-side with me. Friends from New York dig our Portuguese offerings. I think there's something in the "read this first" document that helps to orient people to our neighborhoods and other FAQs but we don't remember to point people there often enough, IMO.

            1. This is a fun question Bob. My idea of a typical Boston experience is to show friends and family what is typical to me. That means taking them to all of the places where I like to go. Lucky for me, my friends and family who visit are always willing to go along with the program. I've taken my family to Hong Kong Eatery for wonton noodle soup (just had that for lunch today, yum), Vinny's at Night, B&G, Butcher Shop, Franklin Cafe, Via Matta. All of these places have gone over well and all represent places that I like to go regularly.

              1. small detail but my personal rule of thumb. if a menu lists "chowda" as opposed to chowder i know i'm not dealing with the genuine deal. it's a cutesy faux appeal to regionalism that irks me as a native bay stater. it's a pitch to tourists. a kind of parody that rarely bodes well for the food. but that's just me. i wish i could come up with some great, authentic dining options for you but - my POV - the truest new england "dining experience" is an oceanside lobster shack.

                1 Reply
                1. re: boppiecat

                  Exactly. Ditto "lobstah." Seeing either of those on a menu is an iron-clad guarantee that your meal is gonna suck. Although personally, I think the clam shack is more canonically New England than the lobster pound, but that's only because I prefer clams to lobster.

                  I'm sure I've told this story here before, but I once found myself in an ongoing battle with a regular on another food site who repeatedly insisted that Boston's streets were paved with restaurants that served fishcakes, baked beans and brown bread, and that it was the canonical meal of Boston. I gently pointed out that in fact this was not a combination you were likely to see on local menus anymore (you see places that have fishcakes, and places that have baked beans and brown bread, but not both), he went absolutely bonkers and spent the rest of the (brief) time I spent as a regular there attacking me personally for not appreciating the local cuisine of my home.

                  The kicker is that this was a guy from New Jersey who once admitted that the last time he'd been in Boston was 1983. But he just KNEW that one every street corner in Boston, there was a diner that served fishcakes, baked beans and brown bread!