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Oct 2, 2009 12:23 PM

New to Boston, where are the best places to eat?

I'm a Manhattan expat - help me find new places to dine :)

So, my last post showed my ignorance well - "Best places to eat under $100 per person excluding alcohol", but thank you for letting me know that Boston isn't like Manhattan in that respect, and most places will be had for under $100 a person.

For those that go to Manhattan and are familiar with the scene there, my favourite place for lunch is Jean-Georges, my favourite place for dinner is Per Se NY or Daniel NYC. I usually eat a prix fixe menu and I am allergic to ALL fish and seafood, so I need a restaurant which is accommodating for this.

Now I'm living in Cambridge full-time and would like to experience the Boston/Cambridge scene at its best.

So, can we make a list of the best places to eat in Boston?

French cuisine: would it be L'espalier? Where else?
Italian cuisine: Would it be via matta? Where else?
Bagels: Where can I get a good bagel in Boston and Cambridge? I love Ess-a Bagel in Manhattan
French bakery:

Can you help me complete this list? Add as many restaurants as you want. I'm always looking for suggestions and I'm pleased to write up reviews of each place I go to. :)


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  1. Boston (or Cambridge) is not Manhattan - as you are learning and I, who grew up in NYC, can assure you. I have never been able to get a bagel like the ones I grew up on (warm from the oven, baked at the little bagel store literally two blocks from home). The last time someone (actually three someones) tried to open a good kosher deli/restaurant in Cambridge, it died (and the food was good, and appreciated by those of us who grew up enjoying it). Boston is best taken on its own terms - so many delightful places to dine. Yes, there are some "name" or "destination" restaurants, but here that does not seem to be as emphasized as it is in NY. Or maybe that is just my impression.

    So my advice is, rather than making a list of bests - peruse this board to find the restaurants people really like. There definitely are a number of ChowHound Boston favorites. Take Oleana, for example. Maybe it could be classified as Mediterranean, maybe not. Check out O Ya if you want highly lauded sushi, but do make it a point to try a few of the board's favorite Chinese seafood restaurants too! And so on...

    One final thought. Are you only interested in high-end fare? There are some awfully good meals to be had here that cannot be duplicated in Manhattan, but at the same time are to be had at informal, lower priced establishments.

    4 Replies
    1. re: PinchOfSalt

      Great reply. If you approach Boston/Cambridge by asking which places are like Per Se or Jean Georges, you're not going to get very far. Boston's dining scene is different, and although much smaller than New York's, still is very exciting. I just moved to Cambridge, too (I also have a place in Manhattan and spend time in both cities each week), and received some outstanding tips about Cambridge's dining scene in this thread:

      The vast majority of the places discussed in this thread are casual, but exciting nonetheless.

      1. re: PinchOfSalt

        Ooops! In writing I forgot to keep in mind that the OP is avoiding seafood. My apologies...

        1. re: PinchOfSalt


          So, don't expect any decent bagels here? Is Brugers the best I am going to get?

          I definitely have read up on the boards and am getting ideas.

          No, I'm not only interested in high end fare. I said the two restaurants in Manhattan which I like most because most people will have an idea what type of food they have, and the atmosphere. Can you recommend some authentic places which are reasonably priced which you think I'll enjoy? I'm not sure how to separate the junk from the good.

          1. re: cmm3

            While you can definitely do better than Brugers, alas, good bagels are hard to find in the Boston area. Recently I went over to Chelsea and stopped at Katz's. Those were pretty decent. Other folks might send you to Brookline or Newton.

            Personally, in the quest for atmosphere, service, and food, I am by far the most interested in food; exploring ethnic cuisine is my idea of a fun adventure. So, with that in mind, here are two recommendations for you: FuLoon in Malden and Jo Jo Taipei in Allston. Neither are terribly far from Cambridge. Both are Chinese. FuLoon has my vote for best Chinese in the Boston area, but JJT is pretty darn good too. You will see many mentions of them here on this board. Call ahead to make sure you can have a fish/seafood free meal, since both do serve plenty of seafood.

          1. The task of trying to compare to any place, let alone one with its own very long identity like Boston and its environs, to Manhattan is something you should give up, and as quickly as possible. Otherwise, misery is guaranteed. I strongly suggest you try to identify the impulse to compare at every urge and hit stop. The economics of Boston are differ from those of the lower half of Manhattan: real estate and overhead are expensive, yes, but there is no vast swath of development like the part of Manhattan between 14th Street and, say, 90th Street; thus, there is not the same volume of clientele just by dint of the fact that there are fewer of us (there are about 6 million people in the Boston-Providence CMSA, which stretches from the southern tip of Maine to Rhode Island) but that's less than a third of the greater NY metro area.

            Our ethnic heritages are rather differently weighted than NY's. We get different concentrations of people from different places in east and southern Asia and from central and southern America. NY has a wealth of central European heritage; Boston, not so. Boston has a fine representation from the Lusophone (Portugal and its onetime colonies) community, much more evident here than in NY.

            I will repeat advice I gave 3 months ago to San Franciscan ex-pats who asked similar questions:

            Just remember: expectations are premeditated resentments.

            That said, land has been scarce and expensive longer than anyone can remember around here (especially after the mid-19th century), so it means overhead can be prohibitive for any low-margin operation that does not have high volume, which tends to include many types of restaurants and food establishments favored by foodies if not exactly Chowhounds. The process of urban development here has roots in the 17th century, and was very organic, as they say (it may be the most organic thing here, though most people are unaware of it).

            And you might feel less constrained food-wise if you eventually extend your sense of Boston out about 2+ hours, to capture places not only like Cape Ann and the North Shore, Cape Cod, but also Providence and Portsmouth and, very importantly, Portland, which to my mind and the mind of many others, has more of a food scene that you might find most congenial. Learn to get off interstates and wander back roads: you get the most out of New England by getting on back roads regularly - cuz that's where we all are anyway when we're not commuting. New England has dense chains of town/village centers extending for a few hours that merit gradual exploration over years.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Karl S

              karl, very nice reply.

              i'm really curious what the op means by "asian" or "mediterranean". does that mean tibetan or tempura? albanian or morrocan? the terms put forth are so broad it boggles.

              that being said, this is a very lively board, filled with passionate people who love food. you will find lots to love if you don't think of boston as simply a smaller nyc.

              oh, and you will never find decent bagels, never mind bialeys. :)

            2. Welcome, cmm3. I'll just throw out a few of my current favorite places to get you started.

              Mamma Maria: upscale Northern Italian in a charming townhouse in the North End
              Prezza: upscale Northern Italian in a more casual, contemporary setting in the North End
              Helmand: Very reasonably-priced authentic Afghan in a charming setting in East Cambridge
              Grotto: Moderately-priced, very rich Italian in a subterranean, boho romantic setting in Beacon Hill
              Chez Henri (the bar area only): Cuban and French with a killer Cubano and Periodista in a dark, cozy room outside Harvard Square
              Gaslight: Large but charming brasserie with good cocktails and a free parking lot in the South End
              Pizzeria Regina: The best pizza in the city. Eat only at the original in the North End and don't get more than one topping or it'll ruin the perfect, thin crust. This is not as good as the very best pizza in NYC, but close.
              Mike's Pasty: fantastic cannoli in the North End.
              Parish Cafe: Good, casual bar with gourmet sandwiches created by various Boston chefs, in the Back Bay

              You might also like Sorellina, Erbaluce (both upscale Italian), Hamersley's (bistro), and La Voile (bistro).

              Ess-A-Bagel is my favorite, too. I agree with the others; you won't find anything close here, but there's plenty of great chowder if that floats your boat!

              1. I like Rosenfeld for bagels, but that requires a trek out to Newton.

                Rosenfeld Bagel Co
                1280 Centre St, Newton, MA

                2 Replies
                1. re: digga

                  It's not a bad ride on the green line if you want to wander around Newton Center a bit. There's the pie place and Johnny's has some good breakfast and lunch items.

                  I'm sure Hamersley's Bistro in the South End is mentioned in on of the links, I think you'd like that.

                  Michael's in Coolidge Corner and Sam LaGrassa's downtown are favorites for deii style sandwiches but they probably won't make you forget NYC.

                  You'll get more ideas as you read the posts here.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    Actually, while Michael's is a small, mostly take-out establishment without all the trimmings (gratis gribnitz, anyone?) that you might get in Manhattan, the quality of the meat is right up there, no surprise since most of it comes from New York producers.

                    I once had the opportunity to eat at both Michael's and the 2nd Avenue Deli in NYC in the same week, and while 2nd Avenue's house-made pastrami was better then Michael's, Michael's corned beef was tastier than what I got in NY.