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how to Eat Well at Boston Tourist Traps?

i'll go first.

at any Legal's:
sit at the bar, drink draft beer and eat only shellfish and at the most have a chowder.

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  1. I am not sure that Legal's fits the definition of a tourist trap, but I will play anyhow.

    At Legal's I enjoy the Rhode Island Calamari [appetizer], fish chowder and the salad with blue cheese. Any two of those, and I have the perfect meal for me.

    1 Reply
    1. Also at Legal's, order the appetizer called "The Legal Experience." If you can get over the stupid name and the high price tag ($24 or $26 or something like that), it's actually kinda tasty: mini crabcake, shrimp cocktail, shrimp dumplings and seared tuna.

      1. A beer and a chowder is OK. Anytime I've tried to do more I've been so offended that they compted my check....which wasnt why I went in there. A disappointment every tiime. I really have given up on them, after loving them time aftter time 30 - 40 years ago. What a shame! They really did have high standards iwhen they started in Cambridge. Back then even Julia Childs came in for fresh fish.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Win

          I enjoy half a dozen oysters and the calamari "Thai" style. Oh ya and for luch the Tuna burger is very tasty. And can't forget about the old salt ale.

          1. re: Win

            Legals has a free wine tasting on thursdays in the Prudential. I occasionally go and have mussels at the bar afterward. 10 dollars tab for wine and good mussels is fine by me.

          2. Chowder at Legal Seafood. I get the lite (without cream, but good), DH gets the regular (with cream, also good).

            Fried oysters at Durgin Park, although I haven't been there recently.

            The lobster special at the Summer Shack split between two people is a pretty good deal if you are in the Red Sox neighborhood.

            Neptune Oyster, anytime.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chowfamily

              Prime rib at Durgin too.
              Bahamanian fish chowder at Summer Shack.

              Huh. Judging by the response so far, we don't have very many tourist traps in this town. And the ones mentioned don't suck. Go Boston.

            2. At legals I like the spicy calamari. They also used to offer "spicy" fish and chips. It tastes like they mix tobasco into the batter, have not had anything like it elsewhere. I also like the chowder but prefer the fish chowder over the clam. they also have good rolls!

              1 Reply
              1. re: hargau

                The rolls are good, and with the chowder, it is a nice $5.00 respite. I'll have to try the calamari!

              2. I agree Steve, shellfish chowder and beer at the bar at any Legals is a great meal. I also like their fried clam app.

                Steamers are what I get at Durgin Park.

                Fried scallops at the Salty Dog.

                Chowder with beer(s) at John Harvard is also pretty good.

                Speaking of tourist traps, I've never been to the Cheers bar!

                1 Reply
                1. re: steinpilz

                  While the Cheers bar is definitely a tourist trap that I never aspire to try out, I will point out that 75 Chestnut, which is about a block away and owned by the same people, is quite the lovely neighborhood upscale pub place. They make a mean burger, do a variety of things on their pub menu with interesting twists, make some lovely chowder, and have a neighborhood feel without any trappings of tourism.

                  1. I think the key is to stick with the basics/specialty. My mother, for example, LOVED the oysters at the bar at Union Oyster House, but the rest of the food was decidedly meh. I think picking food where the ability to make something gross is limited--simple oysters, lobster, shrimp, burgers. Unless they're legitimately spoiled, it's hard to REALLY screw those up in a basic prep.

                    3 Replies
                      1. re: okello

                        Forgot to add--there is NO WAY to successfully do this at the gross tourist traps in the North End. Eat beforehand if you must go, and drink a LOT. I'm thinking particularly of Piccola Venezia (sp?), which has twice served me the worst italian i've ever eaten (got forced there a second time by people I didn't even like. As I said, drink.)

                        1. re: okello

                          Ugh, I also got served the worst italian food of my life (and nearly the worst food of my life) at Piccola Venezia. Even worse, I went there with a friend who had just moved to Boston. Took me a year and a half to get her to go back to the North End (we went to the Daily Catch, which was fantastic).

                      2. and for the Barking Crab:

                        hot Summer Day at twilight, Reggae band thumping, room to move around a bit, beers only, and maybe some steamed crab legs($$, i know), peel-n-eat-shrimp, and Dan Andleman nowhere in sight.

                        1. Great topic. I could use some pointers for Durgin Park and Jacob Wirth's, if anyone's got them. Thanks!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Allstonian

                            I happen to enjoy Durgin Park, although I understand why it would have a rep as a tourist trap. The best thing on the menu for most people is the Prime Rib. If you get a cup of clam chowder and the Prime Rib, and maybe some Indian Pudding for dessert, I don't think you could go wrong there.

                            1. re: mwk

                              this is to allstonian: jacob wirth's has great atmosphere, good beer selection, decent brats and great fried clams. it's not awful.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                i'm (dare i admit it?) really fond of Durgin Park's Fish Chowder--unthickened, plenty of fish, nothing flashy or spicy, just old fashioned fish chowder--ditto their oyster stew--lots of oysters, plump, briny, and not over cooked--and their indian pudding.

                          2. Mike's Pastry is a tourist trap. There are better pastry places in the North End. (But I forget names... who can advise?)

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: jajjguy

                              Modern Pastry and Maria's are way better than Mikes.

                              1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                ok, if Mike's is the Trap, gimme One Thing they do well.

                                  1. re: ScubaSteve

                                    Mike's attracts tourists because it has a deserved reputation of being great. It's no trap. I think their cannoli and lobster tails are fantastic--better than at Modern or Maria's.

                                    1. re: pollystyrene

                                      I disagree. IMO Mikes attracts tourists because they have a larger storefront, a larger interior space & counter, a larger variety of (mediocre at best) pastries. Classic quantity over quality situation. Oh, and they have those white plastic bags with their name emblazoned on it, causing other tourists to think "oooh look at all the stuff they got, let's go THERE"

                                      1. re: ScubaSteve

                                        Those pistachio macaroons are amazing. Mike's is crowded, but I think its reputation is deserved. I am sure Modern is quite good, but its like getting a lobster roll in Maine at Red's Eats - I am sure the shack across the street is quite good, but its not Red's Eats.

                                        1. re: grant.cook

                                          Lobster tail. Lobster roll. Whatever!

                                          1. re: grant.cook

                                            I know this is the PC Vs. Mac of Boston Eats, but Modern squashes Mike's like a grape in terms of quality, especially when it comes to cannoli. There's really no comparison. Heck, I even like Maria's better than Mike's, and I'm not a particular fan of Maria's.

                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                              I'm not a big dessert eater but much prefer Modern..had a really good ricotta pie from there yesterday. FYI, there was probably a 2 hour wait on Sat afternoon...pre Easter but fortunately Ms 9 got there early. Mike's was also very busy.

                                              I do love those pistachio macaroons at Mike's Pastry; but that's pretty much all I get there.

                                              1. re: 9lives

                                                Agree -- i think it was galleygirl who turned me onto the pistachio macaroons at Mikes. Generally I head across the street to Modern. Their Florentines are fantastic!

                                                And I discovered how busy Easter Saturday in the North End can be a few years ago. Since then I've been hitting up Modern's outpost in Medford. Still lines but not as nuts.

                                              2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                BFP, meet me at the dumpster behind Prezza at midnight. Bring your pastry gun.

                                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                  Maria's being the Linux of this metaphor? Smaller, less flashy, but in the opinion of some, far superior to either of the bigger players. :)

                                                  I once ate cannoli's from all three with a friend and we rated them Maria's, then Modern, then Mike's. The biggest differences were in crispiness of shell (I like it very crispy and fresh) and sweetness of filling (I like a less sweet filling).

                                                  1. re: maillard

                                                    Probably due to the fact that the cannoli's are filled to order at Maria's and Modern.

                                                2. re: grant.cook

                                                  Red's Eats = Maine Tourist Trap.
                                                  Go to one of the local fisherman's coops for much better lobster rolls...

                                            2. Chinatown is a tourist trap, and it's easy to eat badly there. I can recommend Taiwan Cafe. And Eldo Cake House. Where else can we recommend?

                                              21 Replies
                                              1. re: jajjguy

                                                I'm inclined to agree with this (I think it's a reflex, just send out mediocur stuff for Americans), but I'm also pretty inexperienced in Chinatown. I have had nice meals at Grand Chau Chow, Pearl Farm, and Zinh Zihn.

                                                1. re: jajjguy

                                                  Ctown is far from a tourist trap. I have rarely had a bad meal at any of the restaurants I visited there over the 8+ years living in Boston.

                                                  1. re: jajjguy

                                                    It's no easier to eat badly in Chinatown than it is in any other neighborhood in Boston, and it's far easier to eat well there than most. Any neighborhood that has New Jumbo Seafood, King Fung Garden, New Shanghai, Peach Farm, China Pearl, Shabu Zen, Winsor Dim Sum House, Mei Sum Bakery...this is a tourist trap with lousy food? Huh?

                                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                      Well... this was all jajjguy's idea (:-)). As I say, I'm no expert and I've had some good meals. Good to see a strong defense there!

                                                    2. re: jajjguy

                                                      I would argue that Chinatown isn't a tourist trap, if only because I don't think this is on top of tourist's list to hit (certainly wouldn't be mine). I do agree that not all places in Chinatown are created equal, and when dining there you do need to know where to go or have some prior guidance to actually getting a really great meal vs. an average meal.

                                                      Legal's to me is less of a trap, because I don't find it overwhelmed with tourists when I'm there. It's more of a bland, safe seafood place; I like their crabcakes and default to that when I have to dine there.

                                                      I do consider Union Oyster House and Durgin Park to be traps, as are so many Faneuil Hall places (including most of their foodcourt). Not only mediocre food, but ridiculously overpriced! I honestly haven't been to either place in years and couldn't recommend how to eat well there. I used to enjoy Durgin's chicken pot pie, but I know they've since changed the crust that I used to enjoy. Ditto for a lot of places on Newbury Street, but Stephanie's in particular - never had a good meal there, and don't have any ideas.

                                                      1. re: kobuta

                                                        Faneuil Hall--a turkey sandwich or (yum) turkey wing from the place that roasts turkeys. I forget what it's called, though. And a Beard Papa cream puff for dessert. Or Chipyard cookies--I can't even assess whether these are good, they're such 70s nostalgia food for me.

                                                        1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                                                          And you can get some good stuff at that raw bar place. I also like some of the baked goods at the bake shop close to Starbucks. Red Barn coffee in the other building. And I did have a good bit of kebab or schwarma from the Greek place during a sample evening. And besides some good Salty Dog stuff, Kingfish Hall can be good.

                                                          1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                                                            I think it's called Prime Shoppe or something like that. Like their turkey wings, but I guess I wouldn't recommend someone to go down to gnaw on wings considering how difficult they are to eat. It's something I prefer to buy and bring back to a place where I can act neanderthal-ish in private. Love Beardpapas too, but again I was thinking more of a real meal.

                                                            1. re: kobuta

                                                              Is Beard Papa still there? I thought I had seen a mention in another thread that they had closed.

                                                              1. re: Allstonian

                                                                Was there a few months ago. If it closes down, I have no reason to visit Faneuil Hall ever again. :(

                                                        2. re: jajjguy

                                                          Chinatown is a tourist trap? Wow...then I guess I'm a tourist ;)

                                                          Some of the best food in Boston is in Chinatown, at Peach Farm, or Wing's Kitchen or King Fung Garden or Taiwan Cafe, New Jumbo Seafood.

                                                          The only place in Chinatown I've ever had close to a bad meal, was at the Moon Villa. But, I was still pretty drunk at the time so maybe it wasn't as bad as I remember? :)

                                                          1. re: mwk

                                                            I agree totally mwk. I don't consider Chinatown a tourist trap at all (is it even popular with tourists?). Some of my favorite dishes and most memorable meals have been in Chinatown. Though I think that's a good question jajjguy - "how to eat well in Chinatown?" Because of Chowhound, I think it's extremely easy to find great food there - just do a search on this board; it's covered pretty extensively. Even easier, just click on Places and enter "Chinatown Boston", which links to prior discussions on best dishes to order at Chinatown restaurants.

                                                            Some of my favorites:

                                                            Hong Kong Eatery
                                                            79 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02111

                                                            King Fung Garden
                                                            74 Kneeland St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                            Taiwan Cafe
                                                            34 Oxford St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                            Peach Farm
                                                            4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                            Wings Kitchen
                                                            23 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                            Xinh Xinh
                                                            7 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                          2. re: jajjguy

                                                            Alright, alright, C-town is not a tourist trap, but I think it's a good discussion point. Let me put it this way: what do you tell someone who says they're planning to go to Chinatown and grab lunch at someplace that looks good? What chance do they have of getting a good meal with no prior information? I did that once, many years ago, and was very disappointed. It was years before I went back, armed with recommendations. (I agree that this can happen in any neighborhood, but the uninformed may be at an even more serious disadvantage in chinatown.)

                                                            1. re: jajjguy

                                                              Honestly? I think it depends on what they plan to order. I usually go for "Jewish Christmas Eve" with friends, to Peach Farm. Last year, some "new" people joined us. They insisted on ordering sweet and sour pork and egg foo yung, and then complained that the pork fried rice they ordered wasn't the same as they usually get. They also hated the pork and foo yung, and professed complete amazement that anyone would want to go to such a dump for such lousy food.

                                                              If the aforementioned "someone" is planning to do the #2 lunch special of egg roll and lobster sauce, I'd probably say they have only a 50% chance of finding a good meal. If they are looking for a big steaming bowl of roast duck noodle soup, or some dumplings, I'd say they have an excellent chance of finding a good meal.

                                                              I think that the pitfalls of uninformed dining are MUCH, MUCH higher in the North End and the Back Bay, then in Chinatown.

                                                              1. re: mwk

                                                                Thank you. That makes perfect sense. Interesting how ordering the "specials" is exactly the wrong thing to do at a chinese restaurant but exactly the right thing almost anywhere else.

                                                                1. re: jajjguy

                                                                  Actually the specials at most Ctown locations can be awesome. Just make sure you're getting the real menu as opposed to just the Americanized "Chinese" specials menus.

                                                                  1. re: Dax

                                                                    How do you get the "real" menu, can you just ask for it without being rude?

                                                                    1. re: jajjguy

                                                                      Some places have the real deal on their menu without you having to request a separate one. Sometimes there literally are other menus. Sometimes it is pictures on the wall, mostly with Chinese or other characters, etc. I guess you just find out for yourself if you're not dining with someone that speaks the native language(s). I cannot speak Mandarin or Cantonese and sometimes get frustrated with possibly inaccurate translations but I just keep trying dishes until i find something I like. I also try to look around to see what others are eating and looks good. Or ask about a specific place/dishes on CH. Good luck.

                                                                      1. re: jajjguy

                                                                        I often request the "real" menu but in different ways depending on the place -- for example at Szechuan Garden, where I went recently, I asked for the "Chinese menu" when presented with the luncheon specials. At Taiwan Cafe, the specials are on the wall and on other tables around you (agree with Dax here -- always ask if something at another table interests you) Most of the time, you can simply ask if there are any specials that day and the waiter will either bring a more extensive menu or tell you what's off-menu. The guys at Peach Farm have often recommended great greens when we ask what's especially good that day. Seafood too. I think you just ask.

                                                                        1. re: jajjguy

                                                                          If you can read Chinese or have someone with you who can, just ask for the Chinese menu. There are some exceptions, but most places (like at Peach Farm) will have no English on the other menu. What's up on wall's in Chinese scripts are usually special dishes (not daily specials). As others have suggested, you can always ask the waiter for recommendations, and what's fresh for seafood and greens.

                                                                2. re: jajjguy

                                                                  How many tourists do you see trapsing around chinatown?

                                                                  I don't see many, unlike in cities with major chinatowns.

                                                                  The north end, otoh ...

                                                                3. From a former naysayer, LSF is not a tourist trap. Few tourists at the malls in Peabody and Burlington. Agree on the oysters and chowder, but would go for wine over beer. List, especially at Park Square, is stupendous and underpriced.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: aadesmd

                                                                    Very well said I thought the same thing about the suburban Legal's Mall locations...I'd like to add that their Fried Clams are never bad either.

                                                                  2. as the city has changed, i think the tourist traps more frequently are becoming the ubiquitous chain restaurants that pop up everywhere now. but i know that's a discussion for another board.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                      I agree. I don't find it as troubling when I see lines at Legal's as when I see people waiting for an hour for a table at Maggiano's.

                                                                      1. re: Blumie

                                                                        Seeing as this is about how to eat well at a tourist trap, what is the deal with Maggiano's (I know some of the people who wait in line). Is there any way to eat well there?

                                                                        1. re: ginnyhw


                                                                          I will stand up for Maggiano's, and say that I've had some perfectly pleasant meals there. Sometimes, when you are with picky eaters who only seem to like Italian, and you are going to a show in the theater district, and the point of the evening isn't to have a gourmet experience, it suits well.

                                                                          The Maggiano's chopped salad is good, their stuffed mushrooms are quite tasty, and the non-pasta dishes are better than the pasta, in my opinion. Also, their desserts, especially the apple crostata, are good.

                                                                    2. Find a place with a "happy hour" raw bar and get inexpensive, but good, oysters..

                                                                      1. Good thread! What about spots along the Freedom Trail or in Harvard Square? Both mega tourist destinations. Any specific suggestions for eating well there?

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Whisker

                                                                          I guess some might consider Bartley's a tourist trap. And I know many disagree, but I think a Bartely's burger and o'rings are hard to beat.