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Chowish places that haven't caught on

After dodging hour-long waits at several chowish mainstays (Washington Square Tavern, Publick House, Asian Fusion), we ended up at Soulfire. Friday night at 8, the place is less than half full. Excellent barbecue chicken, ok ribs, fabulous fried chicken, best collards ever, pretty darn good beans, excellent spicy barbecue sauce, fine selection of beer, lively room with thumping r&b music, Celtics on the big screen TV.

Two questions (1) Am I wrong about Soulfire-is it not a chow-worthy place? and (2) What other chowish places are out there that haven't caught on with chowhounds or the masses?

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  1. Here are a few that I think haven't yet been discovered by the masses or most CH folks, for that matter:

    Don Ricardo's (South End)--a Peruvian/Brazilian restaurant on a lesser-traveled road (W Dedham) in the South End with kind, friendly owners, excellent food, and decent prices.

    La Siesta (Winthrop)--some of the best Mexican food I have had in the Boston area (along with Angela's in East Boston and Cafe Azteca in Lawrence), and it seems to be completely unknown outside of Winthrop. Note that they have finally started renovations to increase the space by about 110%, so I'm not sure if they are open right now...

    Uncle Pete's (Revere)--very good BBQ on a busy road (Route 60) in Revere, but they don't seem to get any crowds at all. Their spare ribs are outstanding, and the grilled bourbon steak is delicious.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hiddenboston

      Don Ricardo's is definitely one of the "hidden" places that those South Enders in the know frequent. In the same area, Miami Cafe is a wonderful place to get your Caribbean fix for short cash (mmm... mofongo...).

      For both of them, I think they're both hurt and helped by their location. Hurt because it seems that few South End visitors are willing to walk into Villa Victoria (a.k.a. Little Puerto Rico). But helped because the off-Tremont rent keeps the prices reasonable.

      1. re: hiddenboston

        I'm not sure if I just a bad experience at Uncle Pete's, or their style of BBQ just isn't to my liking. The quality seemed to be there, but I did not at all agree with the way it was spiced and sweetened. As I was looking over their menu, I asked the woman at the counter what her favorites were... "Ribs?" "Yeah, we get awards for those" "Pulled Pork?" "Blech, waay too sweet for me." Should have heeded that warning.

        Before I continue, I'll note that until now, my threshold for sweetness in BBQ has only been surpassed by mass marketed Kraft type sauces. My tastes do tend to lie on the more savory side of things, but I am *very* flexible in that regard.

        When I got home, everything was so sweetly spiced (ie cinnamon, clove, allspice, etc) I couldn't finish my meal... and there wasn't even any spicyness that it was pushing up against. It was just really sweet. When I opened the styrofoam takout carton thingy expecting to smell delicious smoky ribs, all I could smell was the cinnamon from the biscuit. The ribs were decent quality, but once again, much too far on the sweet side sugar wise, and was way too heavy on the sweeter spices. As for the pulled pork sandwich i bought for my girlfriend, you could have put that in a baking dish with a crumb topping, and you;d have a pork cobbler. Maybe 2 bites before it hit the garbage can.

        That being said, their mac and cheese blew the mac and cheese of any other BBQ place I've been to, completely out of the water.... if you reeeally like butter. (and I do)

      2. I've mentioned Soulfire several times on Chowhound Boston, I think it's pretty good BBQ with good beers and prices and good location. A pulled pork sandwich and beer for $10 is a great lunch deal IMO. Others have agreed (the collard greens are reportedly very good BTW) and some aren't as happy with the BBQ. For a year or more after it opened Soulfire didn't have a beer license, I'd say they lost some people because of this. Maybe they ought to have a free BBQ tasting on Harvard some sunny weekend day, like on Gordon Ramsay's show.

        1. Last night, after a wonderful chili verde taco from Three Amigos, I was wondering the same thing- I don't know why I haven't heard more about it here. This taco was just so good- moist chunks of pork in a spicy green sauce with a strong cilantro flavor. Granted, the chicken mole was one-dimensional (especially compared to Angela's- but bonus points for dark meat rather than dried out chicken breast!) The ground beef hard taco was boring (but then, that's to be expected) but the shredded beef was very good. Their tortilla chips seem homemade and their salsa is about as good as Angela's. It's very convenient to 128/93 interchange so it's an easy place to stop on the way home if you're in that neighborhood.

          -----
          Three Amigos
          125 Main St Ste 4, Stoneham, MA 02180

          8 Replies
          1. re: Chris VR

            Just a note on Three Amigos. They opened, maybe 10 years ago, and they were fabulous. Great dishes, huge portions. Then apparently they changed hands and instantly went downhill. Everything was bad from cleanliness, freshness, portions, etc. I tried them a few times, always a disappointment. Now, apparently they are pretty good again but it takes a while to get the "bad taste" (pun intended) out of one's mouth.

            1. re: powerfulpierre

              Ahhh- that makes a lot of sense. I have a really hard time getting myself back into places that have disappointed me. I only started going there about a year or so ago. Portions are definitely large- the chili verde taco was actually too full for me... but it made it easy to share, because I ate the taco and hubby ate all the rest of the pork that spilled out. Everything seems fresh, and the few times I've eaten in, the cleanliness seemed fine.

              1. re: powerfulpierre

                Three Amigos was around circa 1989-90, because I recall going there before I moved to Melrose early in 1991.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Tres Amigos is one of my favorite spots for Mexican. I have never been disappointed there. I too love their version of Chilli Verde and usually order it in a burrito. I also like their refried beans and would have to agree that while their mole isn't as good as Angela's Cafe it still is pretty darn tasty. I also like their Carne Asada tacos especially if they have their home made soft corn tortillas. This is a great little spot and certainly far and away better than any of the other so called Mexican restaurants in the Stoneham area

                  1. re: RoyRon

                    I love 3 Amigos too, and especially their homemade soft corn tortillas with carne asada - and yeah, that pork chili verde is great too. The owners are sweethearts, too. Atmosphere isn't my favorite, but the food is consistently good.

                2. re: powerfulpierre

                  Yeah, we hit them in the downhill slide and nothing could get us back. We just couldn't figure out what the noise was about.

                  1. re: three of us

                    Soul Fire suffers from the same syndrome as all the bbq places I've tried in Boston and New York (haven't been to Redbones yet, though) which is that the cuisine is just too OBVIOUS --to salty, sweet, saucy, smokey etc. It all tastes like cartoony bbq instead of resting at a low temperature long enough to develop the right flavor. As a kid my parents dragged me from one Florida backwater to another where local families set up a smoking shed on Friday night and put out a sign. By 6 pm Sunday, they were packed.
                    Sauce? *snort* They didn't believe in it, or at least very much of it. And the cole slaw had better be good. And there'd better be hush puppies or it wasn't authentic. For economic reasons, I guess, the Slow Food movement just isn't catching on in Boston. Restaurants need to turn over those tables in a hurry to pay the taxman. But when it finally gets here --and it will-- I hope we can all look forward to some real barbecue because I really miss it.

                    Sorry this is somewhat OT.

                    1. re: SSqwerty

                      A wise man at Memphis in May BBQ contest once told me if you can make BBQ fast enough to make money selling it, then it aint no good.

              2. Soulfire has its detractors, of which I am one. How much you like it depends hugely on what you expect from a barbecue place, and Soulfire does not meet any of my expectations.

                2 Replies
                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                  It would be great if you could elucidate what it is that you expect from a barbecue place but don't get from Soulfire.

                  1. re: FoonFan

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/398084

                    Do a board search with a 2-year window - there are a fair number of threads discussing Soulfire with a wide range of opinion form great to horrible, sometimes (as with BFP) from the same people.

                2. jnj turo turo filipino cuisine (quincy)
                  mittapheap (lynn)
                  house of tibet kitchen (teele sq)
                  color (allston)
                  s&i thai (allston)
                  uncle cheung's (framingham)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: galangatron

                    I'm with you on mittapheap and color. both have amazing flavor palates. I've yet to try s&i - I'm too much in the dokbua groove.

                    1. re: FoonFan

                      I 'heart' Mittapheap...;)
                      Try S&I when you're not in the moidd to sit down at Dok Bua...
                      And, of course, I'm right there with Uncle Cheung's...They even sell me moo shi pancakes when I run out at home...

                      1. re: galleygirl

                        Used to eat at Uncle Cheung's once a week when I worked nearby. Still meet some friends from that company there for lunch occasionally. It never disappoints. Hmm, time to schedule another lunch soon.

                  2. Wing's Kitchen in Chinatown has been distressingly empty every time I've ever set foot in the place, but he does stay in business. (Mah-jongg game in the back?) Same goes for FuLoon in Malden Square, so far. Vlora has been empty also, though they're a little more hit-and-miss.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Dr.Jimbob

                      Wing's seems to have a decent Friday lunch crowd..but agree. More people should try this little gem.

                      http://flickr.com/photos/61246842@N00...

                      1. re: Dr.Jimbob

                        I frequent Wing's and I'm always surprised by the small crowds. I'm more suprised by the fact that I very rarely see Asians eating inside... good food is good food and Wing's food is my #1 spot in Chinatown.

                        To make things even weirder, my wife and I ate there this past Sunday at about 9:30pm after a trip to NY. Practically all of Chinatown was empty, but Wing had 4 tables occupied... as full as I've ever seen him. I don't get it.

                        If you haven't tried it, the spicy "fried" eggplant is a winner there. As are both the shredded and minced pork dishes with sesame cake.

                      2. After reading this board, I was very surprised at how good Soulfire was when a bunch of us from work went a few weeks ago on a Tuesday night for dinner. Everyone thought it was great and people compared it to their local BBQ places, Blue Ribbon and Redbones, as favorable. Hits were pulled pork, catfish and mac and cheese and we all remarked how extra friendly the service was.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ginnyhw

                          My own experience with Soulfire was that the quality of the bbq and sides was so so. Not at all on par with Blue Ribbon. If they really have the 'cue down maybe it is worth another whirl.

                        2. I liked Soulfire enough when they first opened. Good but not great but the convenience of it being close to my neighborhood added points. Then I went to try the fried chicken which was way under done. Nothing turns one off quicker than undercooked chicken. Haven't been back since. Maybe I should try it again.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: chuck s

                            Funny, I tried the fried chicken there a couple of weeks ago (after a recommendation here) and it was, if anything, a bit overdone, though not to the point of being burnt. Consistency is apparently not their strong suit - or at least is trickier to maintain on quickly-cooked foods like fried chicken than slow-smoked ribs and pulled pork. I also found the chicken to be excessively salty.

                            I'm with you - it's convenient to have in the neighborhood but not worth traveling for.

                          2. Green Tea 2, dim sum. I know they are well regarded on this board and the original in Newton does quite well. Today, arrivee around 12:50, not more tha 4 tables occupied. Left around 2:30, still only 5 or so tables came in.Sechuan Beef Noodle soup was excellent. Nice heat, rich dark broth and tender beef with several fresh herbs. Radish cake was great. Nice crust and flavor. Eggplant with shrimp, great texture, eggplant a little underseasoned.Sticky rice reavioli. Firm, chewey texture, slightly sweet. The only thing off was the sweet water chestnut cake. Chunks of water chestnut were good, but it was greasy, like it was fried in cold oil, then left in the pan too long and had a burnt taste to it.

                            1. James' Gate in JP. I've only had the food on teh bar side, so I imagine the eats on the restaurant side must be just as excellent.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: FoodFemme

                                Stick with the pub menu. They don't quite pull it off on the other side. I love the pub menu so much there, that I've given the restaurant side 1/2 dozen chances and always come away thinking about the opportunity cost - knowing I would have been much happier with the shepard's pie, or curry fries, or loaded nachos, or....

                              2. I'll add another one to the list--Mrs. Jones in Lower Mills (Dorchester). I've been there several times, but this is the first time they actually had the deep-fried turkey on hand, and they were nice enough to give us some samples. All I can say is, "Wow." The dark meat was tender and delicious, while the white meat was moist and also had some nice flavor.

                                1. I have no idea of what makes a place "chow" worthy. I'm sort of new at this and the first place I wrote about was Zenna Noodle Bar in Brookline. It has some of the best Vietnamese food I've had, always fresh and flavorful. I've had the best crab rangoons I've had anyplace there. The duck dish is also unbeatable. There are fresh flowers everywhere and linen napkins and a beer and wine licence. I still go there several time a month. I was immediated sort of shot down by some fellow chow people with a lot more experience than I have, who recommended some less expensive local places that they claimed to have better food. I'll admit to not trying them as I enjoy a really good atmostphere as well as good food accompanied by a glass of wine. After reading many of the postings, I've noticed that many chowhounds have their favorites and recommend them frequently. I'm always interested in hearing about new places and personal opinions are worth more that a five star review, so go figure what makes a place "chow" worth.

                                  27 Replies
                                  1. re: ghostcat

                                    My guess is that "chow" worthy tends to focus more on cheap but excellently authentic places. A typically "chow" worthy Vietnamese would be something like Pho So 1, in a less appealing part of town but serving real Viet food to local Viet people. Great and cheap authentic dishes in a slightly shabby setting. Zenna Noodle Bar with it's wine and rangoons (an American invention) sounds less "chowy" but appealing in other ways.

                                    1. re: teaTomE

                                      I think "cheap" is one of those parameters that ought to be avoided. Overpriced food and the restaurants that serve it are hateful, but requiring a restaurant to be "cheap" dooms the search from the getgo.

                                    2. re: ghostcat

                                      I'd say that TomTeaE's take on chow-worthiness is too narrow a definition, that the board's mission crosses the spectrum of cost/formality/ambience. As a rule, though, I value this board most for exactly what he's talking about: cheap, authentic, out of the way, and/or under the radar.

                                      Speaking to the OP's question, there's a short step from "undervalued" to "out of business". I have far more stories of places I loved that didn't find the audience and are now gone (a long list, but that's not really germaine to this board). If I had to highlight one, it would be Eat, Union Square Somerville. Location seems to be the biggest factor in these kinds of failures.

                                      Some of the ones I'd rather see more busy (some repeats here) include Don Ricardo's, the bar at Sage on weeknights, Vlora on weeknights, Benatti, Grain and Salt, Reef Cafe, St. Alphonzo's in the evenings, and Gran Gusto on weeknights.

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        I used to live near Eat and enjoyed it a lot while it lasted. I also got a kick out of their doggie bags, which bore the word "Ate."

                                        The dining climate in the old neighborhood seems to be improving, though. The Independent, which opened a few doors down not long after the demise of Eat, and is (at least approximately) in the same niche food and price-wise, was still going strong last I heard, though I no longer live in Union Square and haven't been back there to eat in a few years.

                                        1. re: BobB

                                          eat was a special place, and the Independent fills a slightly different niche with pub fare and more fine dining as well. I don't go to the Indy to eat, though. Could just be me.

                                          Closest to the eat model in Somerville is the new Highland Kitchen -- a friendly neighborhood joint with solid food and very good bartending. It's the kind of place where you are bound to bump into people you know. Last night it was buzzing after Somerville Open Studios.

                                          1. re: yumyum

                                            Sounds like the Independent has evolved, and not necessarily in a good way. When it first opened it served very creative food at reasonable prices. I do recall hearing that the original chef had left, the new one(s) must have shifted the focus of the place.

                                            1. re: BobB

                                              Not so re: The Indo, far as I know, BobB. Way-tall chef Paul is still there and the food still solid with occasionally very good specials. Always excellent beer selection too.

                                              Have a search through Chow and I think you'll see very positive reviews. I know I've mentioned how much I enjoy the place, but I know I'm not the only one with consistently good things to say about them.

                                              1. re: franksnbeans

                                                Good to hear. I always enjoyed their food when I lived there, but as I said, I haven't been back for a few years.

                                      2. re: ghostcat

                                        For me chow-worthy is strictly about the food. If it is at Clio, or Troquet, so be it.

                                        If it is a modest place with superb food (see my recent post about S&I) also good, and I get to save my $.

                                        For me crab rangoon is an immediate red flag: cream cheese and sirimi (fake crab) in a wontoon wrapper just makes me go ick. Sort of by definition any place that serves crab rangoon is going to go light on the Nước chấm, lemon grass and chili, and heavy on sugar.

                                        Atmosphere is all good, but that don't make the food taste any better for me.

                                        1. re: StriperGuy

                                          "Sort of by definition any place that serves crab rangoon is going to go light on the Nước chấm, lemon grass and chili, and heavy on sugar."

                                          Although i agree with the fact that they are not chinese food, i totally disagree that you can judge a place for serving them or having them on the menu. I cant think of ANY places that dont offer them on the menu. Doesnt mean its their specialty or anything but they are on the menu! Fuloon- yep, Sichuan gourmet-yep, even your favorite shangrila has them on the menu and does "serve them"

                                          1. re: hargau

                                            Pont well taken. Honestly I had never heard of a vietnamese place that served crab rangoon, and when I hear them praised as and indication of good food it brings home the fact that that my idea of good chow is VERY different from ghostcat's. To each his own.

                                            1. re: StriperGuy

                                              ohh im sorry i missed the part that it was a vietnamese place you were talking about, i read it as *any* place that sells them... Actually one of my fav restaurants is SouthEast Asia in Lowell, and oddly enough they have them on the buffet and the menu...So you never really know where they will pop up.. If you have not tried it, i think you would like the place, although likely a hike for you. http://www.foodventure.com/

                                              1. re: hargau

                                                Wow, foodventure looks awesome. I tell you, I am just not up in that neck of the woods, or in Dorchester, or Lynn often enough to feed my SE Asian food lust. I really don't have a go-to Vietnamese place that really rocks my boat the way Nam Vang, or Ducky Wok used to. Guess I better get in the car...

                                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                                  The dishes with the max spiciness marked are really spicy! Hotter then anything i have had at any of the popular sichuan places. Different sort of hot. We go to the Saturday buffet almost every week but you really need to get there before noon as sometimes they let it get kind of low later in the day.

                                                  1. re: hargau

                                                    I ventured up there about a month ago for the weekday buffet, and learned the hard way that you indeed need to get there early, most of the very spicy dishes were waning or out, but a Saturday adventure might serve me better. My goal is to hit the buffet a few times to become more familiar, and then do a deep dive into the regular menu. The wait staff was charming, and the dining room was full of regulars.

                                              2. re: StriperGuy

                                                Zenna's NOT a Vietnamese place, so it's less surprising that they offer rangoon. It's more of a cross-Asian thing. There's about a dozen places I'm more likely to eat at in Coolidge Corner, but it's not bad, and it's a nice room.

                                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                  Pan-Asian for me is a second strike. Pan Asian usually = attempting to do too many cuisines, and doing none of them particularly well.

                                                  1. re: StriperGuy

                                                    I assumed so, I was just clarifying that it wasn't a Vietnamese restaurant.

                                                2. re: StriperGuy

                                                  yeah - but just because you haven't heard of a place doesn't mean it does not exist =)

                                                  Pho 99 in Malden offers crab rangoon, yet the vietnamese dishes are as good as any others I've tried. I can't personally judge if it's "authentic" food, but on any given night, at least 80% of the crowd is Vietnamese.

                                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                                      I'll second Pho 99- very good for this area. Not sure it's good enough for a special trip to Malden though.

                                                      1. re: Chris VR

                                                        agreed - it is quite good, but I would definitely not put it on a list of hidden chow destinations. But, if you are in the neighborhood, check it out.

                                                        Do avoid the crab rangoons though. I had never had them before, so we ordered them once. nasty.

                                                        1. re: lisa13

                                                          Is it that you didn't like crab rangoons at all, or was their version particularly vile for some reason? It is admittedly a weird food- wonton wrapper filled with mostly cream cheese with maybe some flecks of fake crab. (I have a friend who orders them whenever we go out together, because she's from NYC she's never found it there. The only place I've seen it with real crab was at Su Chang's in Peabody- and she didn't like those because it wasn't what she was used to!)

                                                          1. re: Chris VR

                                                            well, I don't really have anything to compare it to, as I have not tried them again!

                                                            To clarify, I don't mean to insult pho 99 in any way. They were not poorly prepared, per se, but fried packets of cream cheese with duck sauce are just not my bag. I think if there were a lot more crab (even fake crab would be better than almost none), and just the slightest schmear of cream cheese, it might be pretty good with a spicier dipping sauce.

                                                            I had no idea what they were, which didn't help - I have never seen them before on a menu until I moved to the area. I think I can see the fascination in that it's in the realm of bad food people love (like pizza rolls or something in that direction?) It is just not for me. I hold pho 99 100% harmless.

                                                          2. re: lisa13

                                                            My youngest daughter loves them and her instincts are the best. Like any fried thingy, the quality varies.

                                                            As to restaurants serving them, New Taste of Asia's Qun Li used to make excellent ones. My daughter would get her crab rangoon and I'd get tendon and tripe with chili sauce.

                                                3. re: StriperGuy

                                                  Tsk tsk. Such crab rangoon bias. I enjoy those things and I've grown up eating authentic homestyle Chinese food all my life.

                                                4. re: ghostcat

                                                  Like much of the web Chowhound is about opinions, highly developed opinions which can also be quite educational. I get shot down too (often?), it's part of the experience. I liked your Zenna review ghostcat and plan to go there.

                                                5. I don't see Zocalo in Arlington mentioned often on this board, I think the table side guac is as good as Angela's, the fish tacos are a home run, service is good, and they have some beers you don't see all the time (ie: Bohemia). I'm a huge fan but it is a little off the beaten path on a dead area of Arlington. My take on Soulfire is that they do the most things right and would win the all-around medal, where some places (Blue Ribbon), do some things better they would fall short of the all around experience.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Hambone Willy

                                                    The guac at Zocalo is purr-ih-tee awesome. They start by pounding cilantro into minced onion until it almost liquifies then i think it's garlic, tomatoes, avocados from there. I don't even like cilantro, but I thought it was totally bitch'n. They also only pull their avocados from Mexico, I think. The man mentioned something about 'cados from the DR not tasting right. I would add that their mole enchilada is the only good mole I have ever had. In fact, I don't even like mole either :) wonderfully warm velvety mole...