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Boston-area chow that's difficult to find in New York

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I'm headed north for a four-to-five-day weekend, this weekend. I've already planned excursions to Lowell, Lynn, and Revere for Cambodian (and a little Lao), and I've scoured the Boston and New England boards for recommendations. I've also noted a Cape Verdean joint down in Dorchester (perhaps out of the way for this visit), as well as the Karo's cart (perhaps only ostensibly Armenian, but easy to get to). I'll leave room as always for Rhode Island-style calamari; it's too early for Indian pudding, I reckon.

What else is notable in the Boston area that's absent from the New York food scene? To expand the discussion, what's found in both cities but is outright better up north? If you make "better in Boston" suggestions, please also supply specifics on your points of comparison in New York. Thanks to all, in advance.

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  1. The first thing that comes to mind is Armenian and Turkish food/stores, not that there's a giant volume of this in Boston, just that nothing in NYC really comes to mind. Also, the fried clams etc. paired with good soft serve.

    Love your blog!

    1. I've never been that much of a burrito eater myself, but there are those who claim that burritos found in Boston are vastly superior to those found in NYC. Also, I don't know if it's still the case, but seven years ago when I lived in Boston, Thai, Vietnamese pho and Portuguese were better than they were in NYC. I think we've caught up a bit, since, but Boston's scene may still edge us out.

      ETA: Oh, one more: I also think that Boston has perfected the art of the laid-back beer bar in a way that NYC hasn't, yet. One of my former favorites, Anam Cara, has closed down, but I'm sure folks can suggest similar alternatives.

      4 Replies
      1. re: cimui

        Anam Cara is better than ever, but with a new name--The Publick House/Monk's Cell. Same location in Brookline.

        You don't consider Blind Tiger on Bleeker in the same league?

        1. re: Trumpetguy

          Oh, Blind Tiger is lovely, you're right, and they even have a cozy fireplace for the winter like Anam Cara. But Anam Cara also had all those soft and comfy couches and chairs by the fire and crazy, full-participation quiz bowl nights... I guess I'm just waxing a little nostalgic, here!

          I also fondly remember the terrible food and grog / mead / mulled wine and incomparable atm. at Grendel's Den... And the sports bar / frat basement atm at Sunset Grill, combined with the fantastic and fantastically inexpensive beer flights... and that kooky bar near MIT with the chemical structure of ethyl alcohol, I think it was, etched on the wall...

          Very interesting to hear about The Publick House / Monk's Cell! I didn't realize it was related to Anam Cara in any way. Is it the same ownership?

          1. re: cimui

            If we are indeed talking about the same Anam Cara(I don't remember it the way you do!) it is the same ownership. Brookline--Beacon St. Yeah?

            1. re: Trumpetguy

              Yeah! The area to the far right when you walked in, by the fireplace, had two armchairs and a table in between, right in front of the fireplace. Behind that, there was a couch, and all throughout the rest of the restaurant there were tables and bar stools. It was a hop and a skip away from Washington Square Tavern. Sounds like we're thinking of the same Beacon St. location, at least?

      2. Chacarero

        1. Tall order: New York is so much bigger than Boston.

          For its size, I believe Boston has more and a more diverse range of Tibetan restaurants than NYC, maybe a function of the original JFK-era resettlement of Tibetan exiles here after the Chinese invasion.

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          5 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            I can only think of two Tibetan places off hand (one in Cambridge, the other in Allston). Is that what you are thinking of? The Chinese invasion occurred well before JFK, though the Dali Lama exile happened right before his term...and I'm not exactly sure what the direct connection with the Boston-area would be in terms of settling dissidents (there is not a huge Cuban population in comparison to Miami for instance)...

            1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

              House of Tibet (Teele Square), Martsa's on Elm (Davis Square), Rangzen (Central Square), Tashi Delek (Brookline Village). Last I looked (in a feature for Boston Magazine a little while back), New York only had six Tibetan restaurants in a city 13 times Boston's size.

              I'm guessing the Allston place you're thinking of is Mt. Everest Kitchen, actually Nepali.

              Some history of the Kennedy-era Tibetan ex-pat resettlement in the Boston area here: http://www.bostontibet.org/about.html

              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I was thinking Rangzen and Mt. Everest. Haven't spent much time in Brookline Village since St. Petersburg Cafe left for Newton. Forgot that Martsa's was Tibetan.

                Guess I was thinking since I had my first Tibetan in NYC, that they had to have more than the Boston area (and I probably would not trust Boston Magazine as a reference for NYC restaurants)...

                Plus, the link you provide starts with, "One of the first few Tibetans settled in Boston in 1965." That is two years after JFK's assassination. So unless LBJ was trying to not settle any of them in Texas, I'm guessing the Boston connection during that time was rather tenuous...or coincidental.

                1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                  If you are getting specific (re Mt. Everest being Nepali...as I'm sure the influences/dishes are worlds apart), the review for Martsa's actually specifies Indian and Chinese influences/dishes as well. So I guess that can't count as pure Tibetan either:

                  http://www.boston.com/dining/globe_re...

                  "Both owners were born and raised in India, like many young Tibetans whose parents fled along with the Dalai Lama from the Chinese in 1959, and the menu wanders through their Indian favorites as well."

                  "Two standouts derive from Indian and Chinese influences."

                  "His father, a yogi lama, had just opened a Tibetan monastery in India. The Martsas visited and found the monk in the kitchen making the same old bland dish that he made every day. So this world-traveled pair taught him a half-dozen of Martsa on Elm's Tibetan-world-fusion entrees, and now he too is serving up these Somerville-born recipes."

                  But getting back to the OP's question, I would guess Portuguese might be the way to go. My NYC experience is limited, so this is purely a shot in the dark. But it seems that New England has a pretty large Portuguese/Brazilian population, and I have not heard much about such cuisine in NYC.

                  1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                    Yes, Marta's is Tibetan-in-exile-in-India cuisine, rather different from the others for the local influences they absorbed (and very interesting for it, I think). But I wonder whether the folks at Mt. Everest would appreciate a North American casually lumping their cuisine together with that of Tibet, however similar they might appear to you.

                    As I understand it, JFK's State Department did provide many emergency visas for Tibetan refugees to enter the States in the wake of the Tibetan famine that followed the Great Leap Forward, and I believe some of these ex-pats stayed temporarily in the Boston area, but few stayed permanently. Barney Frank was the driving force behind enabling another influx in the early 90s, and more of those folks stayed, which I believe was the germ of our cluster of Tibetan restaurants. I know of one Tibetan ex-pat who had long worked at Tremont 647, which is why they've had momos on their menu since the early days.

                    Portuguese/Azorean/Cape Verdean is an excellent suggestion, something we're fat on that few other areas of the country have.

                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          2. Ice cream. Boston is passionate about ice cream and it shows. There are many local purveyors, each with a distinctive style. A quick search should land you into the many opinions that is chow-land.

            1 Reply
            1. re: smtucker

              Yes, I read once that Boston Metro has the highest ice cream consumption in the country. I don't know if that is actually true, or not, but we will go to ice cream stores in the dead of winter, so maybe it's true.

            2. A few more things to consider. Whenever I go back up to Boston, I feel I have to go to Speed's for a unique hotdog experience. I haven't been there since Speed himself went into retirement though. As others have mentioned, Portuguese is something lacking in NYC (but abundant in nearby Newark) and worth checking out the places near Inman Square. I'm not sure if there's a real Tunisian/Algerian place in NYC like Baraka Cafe near Central Square. You'll need to give them at least a day's notice to get their good b'stilla. In the general Cambridge area, I like East Coast Grill or Green Street Grill for their uniqueness. Cambodian in Revere is a no-brainer. You might want to check out the Vietnamese section of Dorchester as well, especially for things like banh mi at places like Ba Le or Hau Giang (is this place still around? I really dug the banh mi there). There's also Haitian Creole food in Somerville that might be worth a visit. I'm not sure if I've heard of places in NYC for this kind of cuisine. As for Armenian, I've never found anything to be too excited for in that Belmont/Watertown section. I usually get my Armenian fix in LA, so I make do with the slightly-Armenian-influenced Lebanese places in Queens. Someone mentioned the Chacarero sandwich shop in Downtown Crossing. It's pretty good, in a California-ized kind of way. You can get a more down to earth version in Astoria still (at San Antonio bakery), but I do like the addition of the "other" hot sauce (you have to ask for it). And although they call any of their sandwiches a chacarero, the beef is the only way to go. Don't go out of your way for burritos. People seem to love Anna's (I preferred Boca Grande), but it's just a mediocre version of a San Francisco Mission burrito, but it's cheap and filling. If you've been around to the burrito joints around the Mission in SF, then you'll probably feel similarly. Another place I need to hit up when I'm in Boston is Galeria Umberto in the North End. I just love the feel of the place and have a special place for the panzarotti, arancini, and the individual-sized calzones. I get a bunch of stuff in a takeout box and bring it home with me to NYC, usually with a few items from Modern Bakery just down the street.

              I would add that it's worth making the trek to the northshore to get the real-deal New England seafood, like at the Clam Box in Ipswich or Essex Seafood, and the like.

              1. Clam shacks for sure. On a recent trip to Coney Island I got fried clams and they were unrecognizable. Our clams have big bellies (unless you order strips, but you won't) and are absolutely worth the drive up North of the city. Two favorites are the Clam Box and Essex Seafood, but if you're struggling to find time, Kelly's on Revere Beach will fill your clam pocket nicely.

                4 Replies
                1. re: yumyum

                  To plug a favorite closer to Boston: Celebrity in Watertown has whole bellies for a very reasonable price, and great soft serve (essential to have with the clams).

                  1. re: yumyum

                    yumyum nailed this question. Tibet? Whatever. If you are looking for food that is truly notable in the Boston area that is largely – but not exclusively, of course - absent from the New York (Manhattan) food scene, whole belly clams are the way to go. My personal favorite comes from the Porthole in Lynn. Really. But Kelly's is very accessible and also good.

                    Clam chowder is another contender, and there are many other posts about that.

                    1. re: StevieC

                      My experience (was only once) with the Porthole was a year ago, so it isn't all that recent - the fried clams there were good - but the portion was tiny. Didn't go back.

                    2. re: yumyum

                      Neptune Oyster also has great fried clams. Essex seems to have gone downhill however, judging from a visit a few months ago. Have to hit Kelly's soon!

                    3. Paging itaunas....

                      1. We have had some of our most memorable Chinese seafood meals at the humble Peach Farm restaurant in Boston's Chinatown.

                        I know there are great Asian seafood restaurants in NYC and the boroughs, but they've never come close to what the Peach Farm has offered us.

                        A qualification: I speak Chinese, my wife's from Taiwan, so perhaps this has made a difference. The people at the Peach Farm are so nice, however, I'd be hard-pressed to imagine that they'd make a dish two different ways for two different tables.

                        1. You can get Indian pudding anytime of year at Durgin Park; I often take out-of-towners there just for dessert. Their's is also the best...

                          1. as a frequent traveler between boston & nyc, I generally agree w/ many of mr. eto's choices below. though the list of nyc things I crave when in boston is longer (tacos, burgers, chinese dumplings, upper-midrange fancy food etc. etc. etc.), here are a few things I've found in boston which I crave when in ny:

                            diner breakfasts from charlie's sandwich (s. end) & auntie b's (west roxbury) - weekdays only
                            - the only ny diner I would go out of my way for is tom's in bklyn and its food is inferior to these. though I still love it for vibe.
                            also, Irish breakfast- my favorite is Blue Star in roslindale, made by Albanians (I think).

                            vietnamese - even the obvious chinatown boston places are way better than ny. I haven't even scratched the surface of dorchester or quincy yet.

                            cafe baraka - very special place. only thing I could compare to in ny is maison du couscous in bay ridge and the menus are totally different.

                            lebanese rollup sandwiches from shwarma king or its offshoot, the king - don't know exactly why this would be, but I don't know anywhere in nyc that makes sandwiches in this style, and these are my favorite places to get it.

                            and if you're willing to schlep as far as lynn, maybe a trip out to dosa temple in ashland for the buffet would be interesting. I went once, a few months ago, and it was the best s. indian veg food I ever had, in a totally nondescript strip mall. much better than the curry hill places (madras mahal, etc.)

                            peach farm is really good, but it's not substantially different from ny noodletown. they have different strengths but are more or less the same cantonese cuisine. though I've gotten used to pf's mellow atmosphere and will probably never go back to noodletown's insanity...

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: skordalia

                              Getting slightly off-topic, but you can get good Irish breakfasts around Sunnyside/Woodside in Queens. For Lebanese roll-up sandwiches, try Cedar's Meat House in Astoria.

                              I might add one other favorite spot that I go to in Somerville: Victor's Deli for their chicken/veal parm sandwiches.

                              1. re: E Eto

                                I was waiting for you to mention Victor's! Still good as ever, and expanded dinner hours for your next trip.

                                1. re: yumyum

                                  How's Mangia Mangia these days?

                                  1. re: limster

                                    I've never been! It's REALLY hard for me to not go to Artu if I'm in the N. End at lunchtime and am craving a sandwich. What did you like at Mangia Mangia?

                                    Best meatball sub I've had lately was at Nappi meats, in Medford. Best chicken parm is still at Victor's.

                                    1. re: yumyum

                                      Chicken Parm Sub. The veal parm might also be worth trying.

                            2. I've lived in both cities, and I don't think the chowder in New York compares favorably at all with the best of Boston's chowder, either clam or fish.

                              1. Some threads on Portuguese:
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/557596
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611952
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/497919

                                1. In all the times I've been to NYC, I didn't get the impression that there's a lot of Ethiopian food there. Addis Red Sea in the South End is very good and worth trying. Also, if you want to trek to the 'burbs, there's a wonderful little place called Habesha in Malden, which is delicious. It's actually only a block from the Malden Center T station, so it's accessible if you want.

                                  1. I have no idea what the Nepali scene is like in NY, but, damn! Kathmandu Spice in Arlington (right outside of Boston -- on the 77 bus) is insanely good. The lunch buffet skews Punjabi Indian, but at night, from the menu, and on Sundays, at the lunch buffet, it's solidly Nepali.

                                    Great tasting stuff, all around.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: sablemerle

                                      NYC, particularly Jackson Heights in Queens, seems to be the ground zero of immigrants from Nepal and Tibet to the US. Nepali is not a cuisine I would suggest for a visitor looking for something not available in NYC.

                                      1. re: sablemerle

                                        The Nepali dishes at Himalayan Yak in Jackson Heights are about 83 times better than anything you can get at Kathmandu Spice or Mt. Everest, as good as those places are.

                                      2. Lot's of good ideas mentioned already, espeically Cambodian, Portugese, and the specific places of Speed's, Cafe Baraka and Chacarero. Let me add a few more, on the high end for variety: Locke-Ober has lot's of specific Boston character that's hard to pin down. L'Espalier and Clio may not be wholly unique examples of their respective genres, but they are good in any city and very creative. If you like that sort of thing, Blue Ginger and Banq are pretty unusual.

                                        Most importantly however, is that the Chinese food in Boston blows away what's available in New York. Sichuan Gourmet is several levels above the Grand Sichuans and their ilk in Manhattan. And there is no palatable Northern Chinese food in New York that rises to the level of anything like Wang's or Qingdao, and no Taiwanese food that's anything like Jo Jo Taipei or Mulan. And there's certainly nothing like the culinary triptych of Fuloon (a single restaurant with outstanding Chuan, Yue and Lu cai). The only world class Chinese food I've found in New York are the small Xi'an and Lanzhou style stalls in the Golden Harmony Mall cafeteria in Flushing, genres that are not well represented in Boston.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: lipoff

                                          Hmmmm, thanks lipoff. It confirms my own feeling that the Boston Chinese food scene really is something special. I guess also that I end up eating Chinese here so often.

                                          I would also add Best Little Restaurant to the mix which as I understand it is Teochew cuisine (I probably got it wrong and am mauling the spelling.)