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Unexpected finds

I intend for his thread to be a discussion of places where you expect to get barely tolerable food -- a convenience store, a mall food court, a tourist-trap chain -- only to discover something really chow worthy. One example, frequently mentioned on this board, is the Indian food served at the food court in the Burlington Mall, which is surprisingly good.

Here's my contribution to get us started: I have always found Starbuck's sandwiches to be above average as far as pre-wrapped sandwiches go, but still not chow worthy. And I find that you've got to wait half an hour to eat them after you buy them to get the chill of the refrigeration off. Today, however, I bought a tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich on ciabatta, and I had them heat it up in one of those ovens they installed in many stores last year. It was GREAT, even after applying the got-it-at-Starbucks demerit.

Who's next?

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  1. Obvious to CH regulars:

    * Villa Mexico - solid, if perhaps not best-of-city Mexican, in a Beacon Hill gas station.

    * Vinny's at Night - some of the Boston's better Italian food in a nice setting, but located in the back of a convenience store.

    * Speed's - the best hot dogs I've ever had, served out of a sketchy truck in an industrial park.

    Not so obvious:

    * On the Border - (no, not Border Cafe) this is a national Tex Mex restaurant chain, the closest branch to Boston being in Woburn, and most of the menu sucks. But they make absolutely phenomenal homemade salsa (with a legitimate little bite to it), light and crispy chips fried on premises, and really flavorful fajitas. They also use 7/11-style slurpee machines to make their very strong frozen margaritas, the result being vastly smoother than a crushed ice version.

    * Sei Bar - surprisingly inventive maki at this random little Thai/Japanese place in Medford. I think of them as Oishii-lite.

    2 Replies
    1. re: finlero

      As nasty as it may be I really enjoy the empanadas at Lechmere train station.

      1. re: finlero

        Good call, finny.

        I'll throw in the Iggy's Breads outlet in the industrial park adjacent to nothing in Alewife.

        And although I cannot vouch for it recently, the Keene NH airport at one point had the best Indian restaurant in an airport in NH that I have ever had! It was legitimately very good.

      2. Great topic (if vague header) - does this fit?

        I am extremely wary of packaged sushi ; I have the lowest expectations for anything 'fast food' that demands fresh. Ditto anyplace with a "captive audience." So it's totally out-of-character that I even dared to eat food-court sushi in Terminal E before boarding a 7 hour Air France evening flight.

        I enjoyed tasty and inexpensive Dragon and California rolls. It was a guilty pleasure and crapshoot LOL.

        Plenty of cooked Americanized Chinese food options also, at "Wok & Roll" (the sushi station is barely visible at the far left in this photo):

        1. Here's a link to catsmeow's post about Boston Pizza at a Mass Pike rest stop:


          1 Reply
          1. re: finlero

            Thanks finlero. I usually try to keep up with all of the topics but must have missed this one.

          2. Definitely Villa Mexico in Boston (great Mexican food in the back of a gas station).

            The sierra turkey sandwiches at Panera are really good, IMO.

            Also, the hot dogs served by one of the vendors at McCoy Stadium in Providence are downright awesome, though I haven't been in a couple of years, so I don't know if they are still there.

            Another is the food at the Mendon Drive-In. Surprisingly good burgers, dogs, sammys, etc.

            Finally, the clumpy, old-school macaroni and cheese at Tennesee's in South Braintree may be in my top 3

            1. Many of my surprises already posted here.

              Blumie: be aware that not all Starbuck's franchises are exactly alike in this respect: I recently got a Logan Airport Starbuck's sandwich that was so inedible, I suffered through a long flight with almost no food rather than choke it down. Wretched. I think it was supposed to be turkey.

              I was shocked to find some good, reasonably-priced wines on the list at a Capital Grill in Orlando. Pretty decent KC style bone-in tenderloin too, though I never would choose such a place on my own dime. Terrible value if the company's not paying.

              I think the paddy melt at The Junction, a pub in Southie, is excellent: grilled onions, a nicely cooked patty, and Tabasco-fired Russian dressing, like some imaginative variant on a Reuben. With few exceptions, I don't expect to find decent food almost anywhere in the entire neighborhood (I still have to get back to Amrhein's with its new chef, though).

              1 Reply
              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Starbucks definitely are not all created equal. Most notably, as you point out, the airport locations, which I believe are operated by HMS Host, suck. But at the "regular" Starbucks, I find most of the sandwiches are acceptable, and that many of them -- the mozzarella/basil/tomato, the Italian, and the turkey and pepperjack cheese, for example -- are affirmatively good if heated in the ovens they installed in many locations.

              2. I have to credit SeaSide Tomato for this one, but the felafel on pita with tahini at the Middle East Grocery on north Hancock Street in Quincy was unexpectedly delicious and ample for $5.00. Everything else looked good too, but you might never have noticed it just driving by.

                1 Reply
                1. I have actually never tried a starbucks sandwich and I go there everyday. I never think about eating at a starbucks just my coffee. Do they taste fresh? I see young kids buying it but I have yet to build up the nerve to try it. I guess it's that I know they are not making it in their stores and it comes from an outside source and who is that outside source. I think different starbucks get it from different sources. Has anyone tried the new Mcdonalds's crispy chicken sandwich on a buttered roll with pickles? Again I need to build up the nerve. I have yet to try a Mcdonald's lobster roll. Airport food scares me too!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: macadamianut

                    My sister used to work for a food service company that made sandwiches for Starbucks. She stood in a refrigerated room and made them from like 4am until 1pm following assembly instructions that are written on a little card. She says a truck picks up the finished products at around 1:30 pm. So the sandwiches at Starbucks are delivered freshly made daily but not put on the shelf until the next day from what she says.

                    1. re: macadamianut

                      mcd vanilla soft serve is amazing, and there coffee is surprisingly ok when im in a rush...much better then dunkin d's

                      1. re: seedove17

                        Mickey D's strawberry sundaes! Always a guilty pleasure. :)

                    2. Two years ago, a foodie friend was visiting from NYC. We had a snack while at the Peabody-Essex Museum, and she still raves about the corn muffin she chose; claims it was the best she's ever eaten. I assume it came from an outside source; I didn't sample it - I do remember that it was small.

                      1. The burgers at the Corner Cafe in the north end are surprisingly good.... and cheap.

                        The mac and cheese at the Chauhaus (the cafe at Harvard's Graduate School of Design) was a real winner in the past--a perfect mix of toasty and crunchy outside with not-too gooey cheese and not-too soggy pasta inside. They switched suppliers this year i think, because it has not been very good at all. No crusty, and the cheese seems gritty like its from a powder. Maybe they've switched back though? I haven't tried it again since then, though I know many people were vocal in their discontent.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: pierce

                          strange circumstances stimulate unexpected opportunities. the pizza at the cafeteria at Beth Israel's West campus building, considerably better than expected. Cobblestones, a kind of icky-sticky breakfast roll from Panera. the wine list at Legals, priced quite reasonably.

                          1. re: pierce

                            Speaking of Corner Cafe - no idea if they still do it, but several years ago they had both 'free tacos' nights and 'free pasta' nights. was it the best food in the world? not at all, but it was free!

                          2. While Speed's, Vinny's and Villa Mexico are in odd locations, they get so much hype that I don't consider them "unexpected". I usually like a burger and fries from Flames in some food courts. And of course, I still think the Food Wall in JP is better than you'd expect from a semi grungy Chinese takeaway.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Joanie

                              Y'know, I've tried and tried to give Food Wall a chance (esp because it's so incredibly inexpensive and quick) but every time I get anything beyond standard chinese american appetizers (like chicken fingers or egg rolls) i am disappointed. I find their chicken really rubbery/grisely which totally turns me off. Sorry, I'm not really contributing to this thread, just lamenting abt Food Wall. I'd gladly pay 2x as much for better quality.

                            2. The hot & sour soup at the Chinese place in the Corner Mall food court at Downtown Crossing (Wong's, I believe is the name) is better than I've had at half the fancy Chinese restaurants in town, and a great deal to boot!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: BobB

                                My wife used to love the Indian place in that same food court when she worked in the area.

                                1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                  Yeah, by and large it's much better than the typical suburban mall food court.

                                  1. re: BobB

                                    The Greek food and the Thai food at the Corner Mall are also surprisingly tasty, for that type of venue.

                                    In addition, there's a teensy Chinese takeout place, in the same building as Falafel King, on Winter St. in Downtown Crossing. They have daily specials that are really good, and really cheap. The portions are usually so huge that I can split it for two lunches, making it even cheaper.

                                    As for other surprises...the stuffed mushrooms at Maggiano's are really very good. The lettuce wraps at PFChangs are good as well.

                                    One other surprise...the steak dinner at No Name is really good. My SO is allergic to fish, so when we go, he orders the steak. It's a big piece of meat, tender and juicy, with a pile of fries. He's a picky eater too, so if he gobbles it up, it must be good.

                              2. Been thinking a lot about this one. Unexpectedly great to me comes in the form of superb Neapolitan pizza at an out of the way spot in Cambridge (Gran Gusto) or in the fried chicken at Mulan -- nope, it's not your mama's fried chicken but it's addictive with fried basil leaves to boot. Unexpectedly great is the pulled pork sandwich or grits at Highland Kitchen -- who knew we could get southern flair like this at a place not known for "Southern". Unexpectedly great is an awesome sandwich from True Grounds in Somerville, who pretend to be a coffee shop but have some excellent breads and fillings. The three cheese grilled cheese is so good. I'm still waiting for some hound in lurking to tell us what's unexpectedly great in, say, her little block in Egleston Square. <hope>

                                1. I generally don't eat much red meat, but have become extremely fond of the steak tips at Orleans--they're served atop an arugula salad and IIRC, are only on the bar menu.

                                  1. The spring rolls with peanut sauce at Not Your Average Joe's. Very minty and delicious.

                                    1. Palak Paneer and Naan at the Burlington Mall food court.

                                      1. Theo's Cozy Corner in the North End - Tilappia Muqueca, rice, beans, and homeade Brazilian hotsauce. This dish has become one of my go to favorites for those random weekeday nights I need some takeout. Has anyone else tried this?

                                        1. Same Old Place in JP has delicious, pizza-slice pizza. As good as a NY slice, IMO, if you get it fresh. They also make amazing egg and pepper (or mushroom) subs.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: mags02130

                                            Agree. Pizza by the slice is good at Same Old Place. Not so sure it's as good as a NY slice, but certainly the best in JP, for sure. (Though that's not saying all that much!)

                                            1. re: twentyoystahs

                                              When the Real Deal Deli opens on Centre Street, I anticipate that it will get my pizza dollars. SOP is good, but really heavy.

                                          2. Wan's Deli has some of the most amazing sandwiches I've ever had. It's a dirty looking little bodega in Mission Hill. The Pastrami is really really good and so is the "Bob Marley" sandwich. The owner makes really great sauces and each sandwich is a perfect mix of flavors and textures.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: lycheefloat

                                              The new Southern Style Chicken Sandwich at McD's. Basically a ripoff of Chick-Fil-A (soft bun, two pickles, thick breaded chicken breast). Best thing on the menu.

                                              1. re: wittlejosh

                                                It's the second best. The same chicken between a breakfast biscuit is better. ;)

                                            2. Had the Ortaggi sandwich at Osteria Rustico on Canal Street. Thought it would take a second to make - oops - they fresh-grilled the thickly-cut zucchini to order! With roasted red peppers and fresh mozz with a dash of tomato sauce - didn't have time to eat it right away, but was still warm and really yummy 2 hours later.