Vegetarian-Friendly Weekend for a Student Couple on a Budget
Hi there everyone. My long term boyfriend and I are coming to the Boston area for a wedding in June. I've been doing a little searching (both on and off Chowhound) and I haven't found a lot that fits our constraints. We'll be spending time in Boston and Cambridge.
We live in Montreal, so we have a lot of amazing things right at our fingertips. We'd love to find a great neighbourhood or two in either city to explore and eat in that would be outside of anything touristy or overpriced. I don't like to use words like "hip", but I think that's kind of what we're after. For anyone who is familiar with Montreal, we live in Mile End and we'd be looking for a similar kind of place.
We would consider ourselves foodies, but we're definitely not above great street eats or quality pub fare. I'm a vegetarian (no fish, but I do eat dairy) and he's a big meat fan, although he's quite open to eating at one or two vegetarian/vegan restaurants if it's not just a plate of lettuce. We're also very open to other cultures and would love to try some veggie friendly dim sum, which seems to be impossible to find in Montreal.
The main constraint is that our budget is quite low. We're students (well, he's graduating, but now comes the debt!) and we're looking for lunches in the 5-12 dollar range and dinners in the 10-25 dollar range, including tax. We love things like late night table d'hôtes, hole in the wall restos and any little gem that tastes great and doesn't break the bank.
My boyfriend definitely wants to go to a great place with lobster rolls/clam chowder (okay, maybe a little touristy) and we will definitely want to go to at least one iconic pub (not Cheers) for a few beers, pub grub and relishing the delightful accents... Sorry! I love a Boston accent like none other.
I know this is super long, but any ideas would be very much appreciated!
Thanks for all of the feedback, everyone! It sounds like we definitely have some areas to check out and some quality recommendations. We know we're not going to trip over fabulous restaurants non-stop, but we wanted to be really prepared for what to avoid and what to actively seek out. You've all helped very nicely!
I'm a grad student, just moved here this fall.
People will probably poo-poo Coolidge Corner in Brookline, but there are several great places:
Upper Crust (they have these all over town; you can't go wrong with pizza!)
Paris Creperie (I have a similar situation with my boyfriend--I'm vegetarian, he eats mostly meat--and this place is GREAT, and cheaper than you'd think. Amazing smoothies.)
Zaftig's Deli (best brunch in town, but a little on the pricey side)
There are a couple of good Thai places, too, the names of which I forget.
I work in Harvard Square and in addition to the above I would recommend:
Dado Tea (for a cheapish lunch special)
Fire and Ice (you pay $20 for all-you-can-eat, and they grill your food in front of you. Good for meat-eaters & vegetarians--just make sure yours is grilled in a separate area!)
Carberry's Bakery & Coffee House (near central square, also good sandwiches)
Some are new, some reiterate other recs:
Back Bay: Other Side Cafe, Parish Cafe
Beacon Hill: Paramount for breakfast, Grotto
North End: Pizzeria Regina, Euno, Maurizio's, Mike's Pastry
South End: Gaslight, Delux(no website--a small, kitchy, funky place with good food well-priced for the neighborhood)
Harvard Sq.: Garden at the Cellar, Hi-Rise, Burdick's, Algiers
Central Sq.: Green Street, Cuchi Cuchi, Toscanini's (amazing ice cream)
Davis Sq. (Somerville): Johnny D's, The Burren, Redbone's, Diesel (also a great old movie theater and great consignment shop, Poor Little Rich Girl).
I agree with beaconhillboy's recs, but it's not nearly as bleak here as he makes it sound. All these neighborhoods are fun to walk around, and good, cheap food can be had, but, like he said, you're smart to do your homework and not rely on serendipity. I agree that Allston, Brookline Village, and East Boston may have some good, cheap food, but they're not good walking-around places.
I'd suggest the Buddha's Delight in Chinatown, which is a vegan Chinese restaurant, and the food is good. Also in Chinatown, is Kaze, which is a shabu shabu restaurant. You cook your food at the table in tasty broth. Most of the broths are veggie based, and you can order just vegetables and noodles for cooking, or add meat for your boyfriend to eat.
Another good place for lunch is Sultan's Kitchen, a Turkish restaurant on State St. near Quincy Market. The food is very good, and very interesting. They have many different veggie dishes, such as stuffed eggplant, bean salads, artichoke fritters, etc. Plus they have meat dishes as well.
116 State St, Boston, MA 02109
A few neighborhoods to eat on the cheap:
East Boston - mostly South/Central American
Allston Village - Thai, Hot Pot, Middle Eastern, Malaysian, Dim Sum, etc
You could also try Rod Dee or Dok Bua in Coolidge Corner for excellent Thai
Chinatown - Shanghai-ese, Cantonese
Brookline Village - sushi, Sichuan
How about the Inman Sq. area? Punjabi Dhaba for cheap vegetarian fun meal. East Coast Grill for a bar, or split the grilled veggie plate, plenty for two at $17.50.
Not a very vegetarian environment, though. Could try some stuff at the bar at Oleana, plenty of veggie choices, Mediterranean upscale. Ice Cream at Christina's.
Reef Cafe in Allston Village is a great place for a vegetarian and a meat eater to go together and be happy, if you like wonderful Lebanese food cooked by a real Lebanese mom. You can combine it with a trip (two blocks away) to Deep Ellum for great beers. I don't know about hearing much of a real Boston accent in DE, it's got more of a kinda grungy hip vibe.
"We'd love to find a great neighbourhood or two in either city to explore and eat in that would be outside of anything touristy or overpriced. I don't like to use words like 'hip', but I think that's kind of what we're after."
EXPLORE & EAT, in that order. Sadly, Boston hasn't got 'great neighborhoods that aren't touristy' with lots of great cheap restos & cool stuff to explore. Wandering Boston is NOT like the Plateau/Mile-End, where you can stumble upon some gem every other block. Research where you want to go, what you want to see, where to eat: sorry - planning is necessary!
Like HARVARD SQUARE and MASS AVE./NEWBURY, all the nabes fail on one count or another (too touristy, too far out of the city, pricey restos, etc.) But you have the right idea: identify a "destination" for stuff to do/see THEN research the resto & backup choice.
I'd not waste a minute in East Boston (that must be a joke!) and Allston is quite boring too. Our Chinatown is a wasteland, and its restos pale in comparison to Montreal's. Brookline Village is as interesting as Westmount - that's Boston's problem, in a nutshell. We're a suburban city in too many regards. Suburbanites love & defend it; Europeans find it 'safe' and 'provincial.' Bars close at 1am, the T stops running at 12:30am! It is what it is - plan accordingly.
My short list, to other students:
1) JAMAICA PLAIN (a few cool boutiques hipsters galore)
2) SOUTH END (funky galleries)
3) NORTH END (classic Boston=touristy, but w/character)
4) CENTRAL SQUARE (night stuff: clubs & bars)
For example, on a sunny June morning-afternoon (3-4hrs): T to Jackson Square, lunch in JP, checking boutiques on Centre St., hanging out in Arnold Arboretum or Jamaica Pond. Note: we have nothing like Tam-Tam, and pot-smoking is VERY ILLEGAL!
Otherwise, HARVARD SQUARE may be the easiest one-stop destination for a student visitor.
Although I presume your evenings will be filled, these links cover what's on in Beantown for the student/hipster crowd, and may give you some idea what to expect.
Boston can be a BIG disappointment for a gourmande from Montreal. (Just imagine what the rest of the USA is like!) Really, Montreal is probably the pinnacle of food-culture East of the Mississippi; scale down your expectations, please! Bear in mind that despite it's famous reputation, the city population is only about 590k - Montreal is a 1,620,000 - and we have nothing like the Plateau or even ONE Marche. (Our Quincy Market was turned into t-shirt shops for the suburban tourists; yours remain FOOD SERVICE retail.) My Montreal friends all tell horror-stories of bad meals here, honestly; but with abit of research, your meals won't be so bad.
You will have to buy a T pass and travel: the two central nabes I'd suggest are "Mass Ave./Newbury" (in the Back Bay- Boston ) and "Harvard Square (Cambridge.)"
1) Mass Ave./Newbury is like one block of Mont-Royale fashionwise (with zero food boutiques sadly.) But there's THE OTHER SIDE/COSMIC CAFE which is trendy and full of hipsters - don't let the suburban moms tell you otherwise. The food is basic, vegan-friendly - think Divan Orange, with a dull menu. For the concentration of students, you'd imagine we'd have a dozen or so joints like this - sadly, no. On a brighter note, JP Licks is nearby, for ice cream & a few non-dairy options. 5 minutes, and you've seen all there is to see: sorry! I'd browse but not eat at the Trident Bookstore Cafe - nothing special to what you'll find in any of ten or fifteen cafes up there - but it's a scene standout here. (NOT A FOOD RECOMMEND: I've been physically ill from the food there, twice - uncooked bacon on a BLT and a dodgy stew.)
2) Harvard Square is, as you'd imagine, a student mecca. However, high retail rents have driven out almost all the local quirky shops! I like DARWIN'S for great sandwiches (1/2 sand & soup cup for about $6) and good coffee - it's a short walk out of the Square - a small joint, but well worth it. BURDICK'S is a chocolatier that seems almost European to us; it's often crowded. I also like VEGGIE PLANET, but it might be on the higher end of your lunch budget!
I've seen a number of pricier cafes lately - $9 panini - and there's no shortage of forgettable places where you'd feel ripped-off for a cr*p meal, too. So I hope the Bostonian Chowhounders can suggest other quality options to compare with Montreal's, for the price-range specified. (You mention "tax," but our meal tax is only 5%. We say "meal & tip" because the 15% gratuity must be added. Servers work for tips!)
Sadly, we have nothing like Santropol : (
148 Mt Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Other Side Cafe
407 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02115
Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA
I would not recommend Back Bay or Harvard Square as areas where one could eat deliciously on the cheap. Those two areas are filled almost exclusively with dull, overpriced food. While your recommendations (Other Side, Burdick's, etc) are great, I wouldn't steer anyone to those neighborhoods for chow, rather for people watching.