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NH VT staycation favorite restaurant ideas?

Chowhounders -
Please help with a cool idea we want to do.
We're spending a couple weeks off in March and rather than pay for flights & hotels for vacation travel, we want to spend the money on trying different restaurants within 1-1/2 (2 hours if very special ) drive from Concord NH. NH VT even ME MA all good if drive not more than 2 hours.
Someplace SPECIAL, but upscale fine dining OR down n dirty unique local dives good.

Our tastes, and desires for this staycation especially, are:
continental, American, French only if very special - such as chef owned, local produce or meat, unusual dishes or the best duck confit you've ever had etc.

We're not so into Italian or steakhouses, unless it's the best place you've EVER been (and not Italian-American cuisine please). For example we love Cinque Terre in Portland ME.
Not much of a sandwich eater either.

Love: vegetarian (although we are not vegetarians), most "ethnic" such as Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, classic diners, crepes, homemade soups, chocolate desserts, BBQ.

We might spend the afternoon in a town and eat either lunch or dinner there. So if you have advice on cool stuff in town and a place to eat, even better! Would especially like to hear about places that I might not already see on recent chowhound board, or might not even find much info by googling (restaurant has no website).

Oh, I DON'T need info on Manchester though, already know enough. And I've lived in China so I already know the few good places in New England that would meet my standards. Portland ME is too far and I'll just search Boston board even though that would be within 2 hrs requested range.

So far I'm thinking of:
Keene or Peterborough since I've heard is some good food there, and we'll see Taiko drums concert one night in Keene, but don't know much about that area.

Silver Moon Creperie in Dover, any feedback on that?

Please describe the food, atmosphere, prices and WHY you think it's special or you love it so much. You can't get too detailed for me. Name your favorite dishes even.

Thanks, we are looking forward to our chowhound staycation!

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  1. Out of curiousity, have your tried the Thai place in downtown Franklin NH next to the opera house. If so, how would you rate it compared to Siam Orchid? Our favorite dishes have included House special fried rice and Massaman Curry. I think the owners have changed in the past 6 months. The place is a little nicer (redecorated) but the food seems to be a bit different.
    For comfort food: Smoke Shack in Boscawen NH. I usually pick the brisket with baked beans and mac 'n cheese. Their cole slaw passed my taste test, one of the few places that makes their own, it's good, but I liked their other sides better. Sweet potato fries aren't the best but are ok. The best sweet potato fries are at the Dipsy Doodle in Northfield NH across from the police station. The Dipsy Doodle also has our vote for best lobster roll. Alas, it's not open in March.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dfrostnh

      Thanks for the Smoke Shack details, never heard of the place even though Boscawen is not far from Concord. We love good brisket, and I am very picky about cole slaw too so glad to hear they make their own and it's decent.
      No, I've never been to the Thai place in Franklin. I've heard the Thai place in Tilton is good but never heard about Franklin .
      Definitely putting Dipsy Doodle on my list for summer - I love both sweet potato fries and lobster rolls!
      I know there are many gems in small towns in NH that I will never know about otherwise, since they don't really advertise in newspapers and not much info available about them online. Your reply is exactly what I was hoping for!

      1. re: dfrostnh

        We finally made it to the Smoke Shack, last night on way home. I was dissapointed but hubby enjoyed. Maybe we got "end of the long weekend" food. I found chix, ribs and pulled pork to be too dry and no flavor. We did love the mac n cheese but def agree on the sweet potato fries (Dipsy Doodle is #1). These at Smoke Shack weren't cooked through and very very greasy. Fried pickles were good. Been wanting to go here for a while, it's really close to Rt. 93 (closer then I thought) but I would prefer to stop at Dipsy Doodle.

        1. re: lexpatti

          Funny, I was just about to reply to an earlier post you made about Lowell. It's been awhile since we got anything from the Smoke Shack. I hope they haven't gone done hill. I usually get the brisket. My husband usually gets the ribs. A friend who lives in Pelham loves the music festival in Lowell. I've thought of tagging after her if I can't drag my husband that far south.

          We're going on an Asian stay-cation June 13 for a culinary tour of Boston's Chinatown. I very much enjoyed the culinary tour of Boston's North End a couple of years ago. I'm looking forward to a dim sum meal with a GUIDE! After that jaunt to Boston, it will probably take another year to get my husband to a city again.

          1. re: dfrostnh

            Oh, yum yum yum, we've been in to do china town/dim sum a couple times - love love love dim sum (had my first in Seattle which is kind of funny since we have china town)! Have a blast. There's good advice on here about where to do and what time (important stuff). The food is awesome for Lowell Folk Fest - bring your appetite.

      2. For Mexican, Loco Coco's in Kittery is excellent. Here's their website:

        http://www.locococos.com/

        The Silver Moon Creperie in Dover was recently featured on the NH Chronicle, you can see the video here:

        http://www.wmur.com/chroniclevideo/18...

        We like the place; it’s very casual and somewhat quirky in their hours, yet the crepes are very tasty. Here’s their website with photos, menu, etc.:

        http://www.silvermooncreperie.com/

        Both places seem very kid friendly if that's a consideration.

        Another place which doesn't get a lot of mention is Zampa in Epping, NH. Here's their website:

        http://www.zampa.com/

        The chef there uses a lot of local ingredients.

        6 Replies
        1. re: bewley

          Great, thanks especially for the video link on the creperie. I just watched it and looks like someplace we'll definitely go- good food and friendly. Love savory crepes especially.

          Yeah, I've never heard of Zampa before. The website has good info, and the menu looks interesting. Spinach mushroom empanadas, tuna carpaccio, sounds yummy. I think my spouse will go nuts over the gourmet sloppy joes! So Zampa is on the list now too.

          Have seen people mention Loco Coco's on the boards, yet I'm always a little sceptical about Mexican in New England. But since the website says they even have barbacoa and Baja fish tacos (my faves besides carnitas and lengua) and so many people say it is excellent, it's probably worth a try!
          Thanks so much for the recommendations and all the website, video details are so helpful.

          1. re: starvinginNH

            I'll try and give you a fair and balanced opinion here. I lived in both Texas and Southern Cal for a number of years, so I would have to say that loco coco's is quite good if you are comparing only to NE Mexican, but it does not come close to the standards you would expect in the southwest. The burritos and barbacoa are pretty good, but I asked for guacamole once, and received a little plastic container with some bland avocado flavored liquid I would not call guacamole.
            Also, do not try the tamales, they are the worst I have ever had. Keep in mind, there is no table service and you are eating off styrofoam plates with plastic knives and forks. This doesn't really bother me at a casual place, but I thought you should know.
            I realize this is starting to sound more negative than I wanted, and it is a fun, cheap place to eat, provided you are not a Mexican food aficionado.
            In all fairness, its probably the best you can do in NH or ME.

            1. re: derekj

              Thanks for more details, I'll at least know not to expect too much. I've lived in Texas and Calif too, to my expectations are always realistic in other parts of the country where it's generally blander food. I didn't realize it was that casual, so it helps to not expect something nicer.
              Thanks for the warning on the tamales, because it's something I usually will order if it's on the menu!

              1. re: derekj

                Yes, I agree with you as we also have traveled throughout Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California, and Loco Coco's would be just average there. But in New Hampshire/Maine it's about as good as it gets for casual Tex/Mex. So, I guess "excellent" may now be such a valid description, but good "authentic" food in, and around, Portsmouth is pretty scarce.

                Now, if you include Boston suburbs and Providence, there are much better (more authentic) places. Chilangos in Providence comes to mind.

                The other thing which is hard to find in these parts is good BBQ.

                1. re: derekj

                  Just top chime in re: the guac at Loco's- Derekj must have accidently been given the mild avocado sauce (they have four smooth sauces). The guac (which I order all the time) is chunky and wonderful.

                  Also, they've opened a second half of the restaurant, so you can get table service in the lounge, or counter service in the other half.

                  1. re: happybellynh

                    The problem would seem to be that the real (chunky) guacamole used to come with the meal. Now you just get the watery stuff unless you specifically
                    order the real thing, and pay EXTRA! The owner confirmed to me that this has caused some confusion among diners.

            2. Do you need Nashua suggestions? Have you been to Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica? Some of the South Indian places in Lowell? How about Giorgio's or Lucia's? In Peterborough we like Acqua Bistro and Pearl. Lexpatti knows the area better than I do, but the Lakeside Grill at the Inn at Church Landing is a pleasant place to have lunch in the Lakes region. German John's in Hillsborough is a fun place to have bratwurst and soft pretzel. I've given up on BBQ after tasting the mesquite-smoked ribs and brisket in South Texas. Same with Mexican food, have to eat it someplace where they don't have plowable snow.

              5 Replies
              1. re: whs

                Yes, please give some info on South Indian in Lowell - you said placeS so that sounds good, more than one! We never go to Lowell, and I love SOUTH (specifically) Indian food - dosa, idli, sambar.

                Nashua special suggestions would be great (beyond the usual board recs of SF Kitchen, Michael Timothy's etc).

                Haven't tried Billerica Sichuan Gourmet, though we do love Sichuan Garden in Woburn. Have you been to both, is one better?

                I'll look up more on Acqua and Pearl in Peterborough, thanks for the recs.

                Yeah, Texas barbecue is a particular thing with the dry rubs and mesquite wood smoked pits. No other brisket is as good. For ribs though I do like the St Louis style BBQ at City Flame in Manch.

                1. re: starvinginNH

                  The Lowell area has a lot to offer for dining, as well as things to do:
                  grab a show at the Merrimack Repertory Theater (awesome small venue), or a Red Devil's Game at the tsongas arena or a show at the Memorial Auditorium or the Brush Art Gallery (love this place). Just a bit north in Londonderry is Tupelo Hall (fantastic venue for music, small personal).

                  http://www.merrimackrep.org/home/
                  http://www.lowellauditorium.com/
                  http://www.thebrush.org/exhibitions.htm
                  http://www.tupelohall.com/

                  Food in the area:
                  *just fell in love with Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica (unbelievably fantastic, and wonderful service - thanks to chowhounders for turning me on) Dan Dan Noodles - OMG
                  * only been twice but loving Moonstones in Chelmsford (tapas and eclectic dishes) - loved their oysters, had a fantastic lunch that had these unbelievable polenta fried, we enjoyed their tapas but would like to do entres next time. Had the best fish tacos for lunch - loved them soo much.
                  *WHS has great suggestions for Indian in the Lowell area - I just can't get it into my routine even though I really enjoy it.
                  * Excellent vietnamese at Pho88 on the Chelmsford/Lowell line - everything is fantastic, I usually get the bun, my son loves the pho, hubby loves everything.
                  * Lowell has 2 fabulous portguegese restaurants: Friends (on market St) (shrimp dishes to die for, awesome puff potatoes) and Cavaliero's on Lawrence st. (the latter being more upscale). Been dieing to have their filet on marble stone (u cook yourself). I've enjoyed a fantastic rib eye and lunch too, pork sandwiches.
                  * we love Sakura's for great sushi (chelmsford
                  )* haven't been in a while but love Cafe Il Cepresso in Tyngsboro - fresh made to order, excellent italian
                  * if you get down this way for breakfast - the best eggs benny in the world is at Owl Diner - downtown lowell. It really is a great place to hang for an hour or so, everything is great but anything with ham in it will totally blow you away.

                  http://www.cavaleirosrestaurant.com/
                  http://www.moonstones110.com/
                  http://www.caffeilcipresso.com/
                  http://www.menupix.com/lowell/restaur...

                  Ok, enough - have a blast and let us know how you do.

                  1. re: lexpatti

                    Thanks for all the great info on things to do as well as eat!
                    Oh, I remember you talking about Pho88 in our Vietnamese food in NE discussions.... I think we must try it.
                    Sounds like we should head to Lowell much more often - my kind of chow! Sichuan, tapas, Vietnamese, Portuguese, sushi, diners! More than we can do in one day this vacation.

                  2. re: starvinginNH

                    The one we like is called Udipi Bhavan--an unprepossessing spot with a great view of a Jiffy Lube place: http://udupi.us/ There's another one called Mysore Veggie: http://mysoreveggie.com/ In Lowell is a French place called La Boniche which I have never tried; maybe lexpatti can provide some info: http://www.laboniche.com/

                    If you love spicy, you will LOVE Sichuan Gourmet. I've never been to the place in Woburn.

                    Nashua--you know the usual suspects, MT, Surf, Saffron Bistro, etc. There was a recent posting about a new Mexican place downtown--can't remember the name. There's also a new Mexican bakery on Pearl St, and an old Portuguese bakery with linguica bread on a tiny little street behind downtown. We stopped by Stella Blu after dinner last night--Jared makes the best martinis. Did not have a chance to try the tapas, but Tunamelt gave it a good review in the Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/ae/food/restaur... FYI, I just saw that the Bedford Village Inn is doing a lot of 50% off deals this month on wines. They are doing a $20 3-course lunch and a $30 3-course dinner as well. They are not listed on the website, but there was a big ad in today's UL.

                    1. re: whs

                      Thanks for the South Indian recs with websites. They look great, will definitely go to one of them and report.

                      We LOVE spicy (and I lived in Sichuan for a month, boy that numbing sichuan peppercorn is like nothing else in this world! ).

                      I assume from seeing other chowhound discussions about martinis, that you mean real martinis at Stella Blu and not flavored cocktails inaccurately called martinis ;)

                      Yeah, we haven't been to the new wine bar Corks at BVI yet. Thanks for the tip on the special wine deals, that will help the pockets during this foodcation!

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. I really hope you report back on your culinary staycation, now you've given us the same idea!