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Arlington - What's Always Good?

I know there have been plenty of posts about Arlington and I've read through them but I'm hoping, with this inquiry, to get the most recent feedback on which establishments fellow Chowhounders find to be continually dependable, delicious, and recommended.

More to the point, my partner's 35 birthday is coming next week and her family and I want to take her out to somewhere in Arlington, somewhere we haven't been yet. We love Zas and have been to Tryst but beyond that ... I'm searching for guidance and ideas. What's your Arlington Go To restaurant? Where do you always have a good time and enjoy a Chow-worthy dinner?

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  1. My favorite is probably Thai Moon on Mass. Ave. across from the library. It's a small place, but usually not too crowded. Excellent food and reasonably priced as well.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hiddenboston

      Had a good meal at Thai Moon last Saturday (based on your recent post, hiddenboston- thanks!) with a group of 8. We ordered a few appetizers- tod mun was a winner, and the only loser was chicken wings. Dinners that were particularly good were the red curry with tofu and the basil duck. Arlington chicken was liked as well. Pad thai was polished off quickly but was a bit bland for my tastes. I would definitely rate the food above the other Thai places in Arlington, notably Sweet Chili. The beers and wine especially were quite reasonably priced- we found ourselves double-checking the bill it seemed so low!

      1. re: Parsnipity

        Glad you had a nice meal there! After my disappointing meal at Sweet Chili a few weeks ago (and with Sala Thai closing), Thai Moon looks to be my go-to place now for Thai food around that area.

    2. We absolutely love flora (on Mass Ave right before the Capitol Theater heading west). It is a family-run restaurant where the staff are knowledgeable about food and wine and are like family. The food is local and seasonal, and you can depend on some menu staples like the swordfish and the roasted Giannone chicken. Last week I had the sour cherry and jalapeno-glazed pork loin with sweet potato polenta, greens and bacon - and it was delicious! There is a recently new wine manager who has some interesting acquisitions in the $30-$50 range.... AND there is always a flora white and red wine by the glass for $7 - some have surprised me quite happily. It is not cheap (entrees $18 - $28, apps $6 - $12) but the quality and the value support the price points. The room is very pretty - an old bank on one side - the modern side features a huge fish tank with about 5 angel fish - very pretty. Local artists are always on display, and true to the name of the restaurant, fresh flowers are in abundance. There is also a private dining alcove. This is my idea of a special occasion as well as a regular Go-To dining destination. Again, we love it!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Small Plates

        Second Flora. Used to live down the street, so have been there countless times. Never a bad meal; in fact, usually quite memorable. Note: I much prefer sitting on the side with the hostess stand (especially back in the little cubby) than the side with the bar (we usually ended up floating in the middle of the room on display on a two-top in there).

      2. It's not exactly high-gloss, but I think Toraya is Arlington's best restaurant by leaps and bounds. Top-notch, understated sushi and various other Japanese food. The small room isn't anything special, but the chow definitely is.

        Just over the line into West Medford is Bistro 5. Not my favorite high-end place in town, but reasonably priced for what it is, and to me, significantly better than Tryst.

        If you can travel into Cambridge or Somerville, you have a number of options I think are probably better fits for a birthday dinner. Quick picks that I think are the most consistently good, roughly in descending order of personal preference:

        High end - Salts, Craigie on Main, Ten Tables, T.W. Food, EVOO (if you love Za, EVOO is probably a good call, as it's owned by the same people), Gargoyles

        A bit less expensive - Highland Kitchen, Green Street, Garden at the Cellar, Rendezvous

        Notably excellent bar menus (cheaper, often better than many of the above, but limited seating and no reservations) - Chez Henri, Craigie on Main, Gargoyles

        I'd put Gran Gusto on the radar, an absolutely stellar Italian trattoria near Arlington in Huron Village, but it can be a little inconsistent, especially on weekends. Best in town when it's on, pretty good when it ain't.

        2 Replies
        1. re: finlero

          Based on your vegetarian addendum, here's my super-veggie-friendly subset of the above:

          Craigie on Main, Ten Tables, T.W. Food, Chez Henri bar (killer pressed veggie Cuban sandwich), Gran Gusto.

          Oleana in Cambridge does a very good vegetarian mezze "tasting menu", which is reasonably priced as well.

          I haven't been to Flora in many years; it's high time to try it again. Based on feedback here and elsewhere, this will likely be one of your best bets.

          1. re: finlero

            I've always found EVOO to be quite vegetarian-friendly as well.

        2. Always a good time and chow-worthy food = Toraya for me, although it's more of an everyday type place than a special occasion place. I think the Flora suggestion is a good one and you might also consider EVOO, which is not in Arlington but not far, and has the same owners and attention to detail as Za. Based on one visit, the new restaurant Pasha was excellent but it has not had time to compile a track record of consistency and dependability -- although I sure am cheering for it to do so!

          8 Replies
          1. re: GretchenS

            Terrific feedback so far! For one thing, I was unaware of the connection between EVOO and Za's. This is all great to hear - one of the people going out with us actually lives in Arlington so I'm all the more excited to get all these suggestions.

            One thing I didn't note in my original post (oops!) is that one of us is vegetarian so if that snippet of info generates any additional mindsparks (or tastebud vibrations), please add to the thread.

            1. re: lescaret

              I've never been to Flora, but keep hearing (on the radio) about their new veg'an tasting menu and would love to hear how it was if the vegetarian in your dining party ends up trying it. The menu is on their website, not sure when they switch from spring to summer menu.

              1. re: lescaret

                Kathmandu Spice, nice atmosphere, superb Nepali with a bit of an Indian influence. Awesome for a veggie or meat eater.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  I'll second Kathmandu Spice and Punjab for excellent vegetarian as well as non-veg dishes.

                  Not in Arlington, but in Davis Sq, Somerville, which is not far, Martsa on Elm is a Tibetan restaurant which has both veg. and non-veg dishes.

                  (There was some talk a while ago about Somerville parking meters until 8pm - can anyone update that topic?)

                  1. re: peregrine

                    In my book Kathmandu Spice blows away Punjab and Martsa on both decor and pure food deliciousness. I find Punjab to be just another anonymous Indian restaurant turning out the same old same old. I do like Martsa, but MUCH more casual. For Indian nearby (Kathmanu is Nepali), Guru the Caterer on Broadway in Somerville is far superior to Punjab, but not really much of a sit down place.

                    1. re: peregrine

                      I second Martsa on Elm! We walk, so I don't know the parking meter situation. We haven't gotten around to trying Kathmandu Spice, glad to hear good reviews and to have the reminder.

                      1. re: peregrine

                        Currently meters in parking lots go until 8. I believe street meters run until 6.

                    2. re: lescaret

                      For sit-down stuff, Flora, Tryst, Scutra, or Punjab (Indian). Or you can head up the street for the ultimate dining experience - The STEER HOUSE! - just don't get there around 5:30.

                  2. Ristorante Olivio and Jimmy's Steer House are both dependable, as is Punjab.

                    1. Toraya, Pasha, and Scutra top my list.

                      The food is always delicious at Prose, but the owner/chef/waitress is unpredictable and can be a little nutty. We like it well enough to take the chance every now and then.

                      1. Absolutely unequivocally Toraya and Blue Ribbon, but neither is strong on atmosphere. Thai Moon and Za are always enjoyable - just be sure to specify your spice level preference at TM and ask for your pizza well done at Za if you want it remotely crispy.

                        I'll also add Moulton's Seafood in Medford as an always good option but also quite casual.

                        I like Flora and Bistro 5 for solid upscale suburban dining, but would typically apply that higher level of budget to either Catch in Winchester (so good, but extremely quiet and low key) or head into Cambridge/Boston for a multitude of tastier, livelier options.

                        1. Hey everyone, thanks for all the great suggestions, it's apparent there are plenty of great places to eat in Arlington!

                          We ended up going to Garden at the Cellar (in Cambridge, not Arlington - oh well). The food was delicious while the service was indifferent and the atmosphere not exactly what we'd expected based on their website. It struck me more like a pub with good food than a fine restaurant that placed its emphasis on the dining experience. On the positive side of that, though, the prices are very reasonable and affordable.

                          But little quirky things seemed off about the place. I ordered the cocktail listed first on their cocktail list, a French Gimlet made with St. Germain, Tanquery, and lime juice. Shortly the waiter came back and said they were out of St. Germain and would I mind a regular gimlet? Sure but ... St. Germain is not exactly an exotic mixer, I'd think someone might have been aware that they were out before they opened and went out and got some?

                          Initially, when the runner (a cheerless teeneger, what's up with that?) brought out our appetizers, for some reason he couldn't figure out which table to bring them to - which seems odd given that the place has all of about 12 tables. We had to flag him down and point out that the apps were meant for us.

                          Also, a table of eight who came in about ten minutes after my party of three ended up being served their entrees before we were served ours (not a big deal, only a couple minutes difference and it didn't bug us but this is indicative of what I mean by "off").

                          Our waiter was pleasant but inattentive. We arrived fairly early, about 6:00 and were seated right away (w/ menus) but spent about ten minutes sitting before the waiter actually took an interest in us.

                          So overall, given the multitude of dining possiblities, I wouldn't rush back to the Garden at the Cellar anytime soon - unless I happened to be really hungry and thirsty and walking down Mass Ave hankering after a nosh and a drink. Even then though I might hold out 'til I got to Arlington.

                          1. Ate at Flora this week (second time in the past 6 months). Enjoyed the vichyssoise with crab- a nice light, cool summer appetizer. Tried a sole special, which was (unfortunately) fried. Had shrimp/mango coleslaw bed, which was OK. Dessert was a delicious blueberry crumble which could have been warmer. Service was attentive w/o being cloying. It was fine, but I wouldn't rush back there (d/t price points).

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Chocolate Mousse

                              It's worth mentioning that Khushboo, the Indian place in Lexington Center, has outdoor rooftop seating available, weather permitting.

                            2. I heartily endorse Tango, the Argentinian steakhouse. I can't believe no one mentioned it. The food is fabulous, the wine inexpensive, and goes beautifully with dishes. I also like Thai Moon. - am I missing something, I don't see a veggie addendum. If that's the case, then Tango isn't the place to go (which would explain why no one mentioned it!) I have yet to get to flora, obviously I must go!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: CookieLee

                                I like Tango also. I think a lot of folks insist upon the American-style high-end steakhouse way of doing things and as a result brush off the Argentine style. But I actually prefer Tango over Morton's/CapitalGrille/(InsertStuffyOverpricedSteakhouseNameHere). Atmosphere is lovely, many knowledgeable Argentine natives on the staff, steaks are great.

                                I suppose it's not for everyone, but I am a fan.

                              2. I further support the votes in favor of Thai Moon and flora. Toraya is ok, and Punjab is disappointing. (Khushboo / Lexington is far, far superior.)

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: musicman

                                  Does anyone else feel this way? I've always thought the board by a large margin preferred Punjab. My own experience has been good meals at both, with slightly better northern dishes at Punjab, but the option of Southern dosas making Kushboo a good choice as well. Both seem to have nice tandoors, IMNEO (In my non expert opinion)

                                  1. re: justbeingpolite

                                    I like both. I've only been to Punjab twice, since Khushboo is closer and I adore their onion naans. Also, I think the latter is a more attractive room. However, closer still, and better than both, is The Pongal in Billerica (and the menu includes all regions). The lunch buffet, 7 days a week (a few dollars more and more elaborate on weekends) is the way to go, with lots of non-menu dishes.

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      The Pongal lunch buffet is the best in the area, IMHO.

                                    2. re: justbeingpolite

                                      The nan-wich at Punjab goes down in my memory as one of the worst food items I've had in years. Also, I've had truly awful service there- had to go up to the bar and re-order and serve myself my own coffee once as all desserts and the check had already been presented and I was still waiting. On the other hand, I've had several good dishes. But the inconsistency is such that I won't be rushing back.