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Is Allston the best chow neighborhood in Boston?

tamerlanenj Feb 22, 2010 09:32 AM

After a wonderful lunch at Mt. Everest kitchen last week, I stopped for a moment to take stock of what a marvel the neighborhood of Allston is. You can literally eat the world in a couple square blocks...and while not every place is a winner, the vast majority are quite respectable. I do wonder how ALL THOSE INDIAN places stay in business, though I know there are regional differences.

  1. t
    tamerlanenj Feb 23, 2010 08:01 AM

    The kicker for me was a recent meal at Soul Fire in which I was genuinely impressed by the terrific ribs. They were better than the ribs I had in Nashville, and I sure wasn't expecting that in Allston.

    The lack of a fine dining option is a valid point, for certain. I can't even think of one.

    26 Replies
    1. re: tamerlanenj
      Allstonian Feb 23, 2010 08:27 AM

      The closest we've got for "nice" places are Carlo's, Saray, and arguably Shanghai Gate & Jo Jo Taipei, and while I think the decor and atmosphere at those restaurants is a bit above average for the neighborhood, none of them is a place where you'd plan to get dressed up or anything.

      1. re: Allstonian
        BobB Feb 23, 2010 09:11 AM

        A place doesn't even begin to qualify for "fine dining" in my book unless it has a reasonable wine list. Many of the better food places in Allston have no license at all, including three of the four you mentioned.

        1. re: BobB
          MC Slim JB Feb 23, 2010 09:16 AM

          I think she's saying "finest of a humble bunch", not "actual fine dining". But I agree with that criterion, and would add, "has some formality and rigor in the service", too.


          1. re: MC Slim JB
            BobB Feb 23, 2010 09:21 AM

            Understood. I didn't mean my comment to come across as snippy as it sounded.

            1. re: MC Slim JB
              Allstonian Feb 23, 2010 09:28 AM

              Thank you - "finest of a humble bunch" was my point exactly. We have some modestly "nice" restaurants, but we have no "fine dining" in Allston.

              Frankly, as has been discussed on other threads before this one, the neighborhood probably can't support fine dining without drastic changes in the demographic. The current mix of students and working-class immigrants won't do it.

              1. re: Allstonian
                BarmyFotheringayPhipps Feb 23, 2010 09:38 AM

                And I can't help but think that if a couple of fine-dining places opened -- even something neighborhood-bistro-like along the lines of Ten Tables or Hungry Mother -- then other people would start grumbling about how Allston wasn't all cool and edgy anymore. It's kind of a no-win.

                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                  hckybg Feb 23, 2010 10:00 AM

                  I agree with Barmy's implicit suggestion that Allston works best as it is. It has a great, unique identity and doesn't need to be something else. It's nice to have a neighborhood with a large selection of cheap, reliably excellent, mostly ethnic places. There are other excellent dining neighborhoods like Inman Square that already offer a range from the cheap to the very fine--you don't need every neighborhood to be like that.

                  1. re: hckybg
                    MC Slim JB Feb 23, 2010 10:37 AM

                    I think there's consensus (at least in this thread) that Allston shouldn't be anything but what it is, or be criticized for its lack of fine dining spots.


              2. re: MC Slim JB
                Joanie Feb 23, 2010 09:32 AM

                I'd actually put Privus in there as the "finest" dining. It's a comfortable room, has fancy cocktails, and that yummy Korean fried chicken. Which isn't fine dining but I think the space qualifies it more than anything else.

                1. re: Joanie
                  MC Slim JB Feb 23, 2010 09:41 AM

                  Will Privus survive the imminent closing of The Kells? For some reason, the two spaces were linked by more than proximity in my mind.


                  1. re: MC Slim JB
                    BarmyFotheringayPhipps Feb 23, 2010 09:44 AM

                    Unless something has changed recently, you're right: Privus and the Kells are related. Same owner and I believe same chef. Now that you mention it, I haven't heard if Privus will be shutting down too. Unlike the loss of the Kells, that would be a shame.

                  2. re: Joanie
                    Allstonian Feb 23, 2010 09:53 AM

                    Funny you should mention Privus - I almost included it in my little list. It's definitely a very nice room, and fancier than anything else in the neighborhood. I was there a few weeks ago picking up an order of Bon Chon chicken to go, and was struck by the loud music and several prominently placed TVs, which kind of undermined the classy atmosphere for me.

                    1. re: Allstonian
                      kimfair1 Feb 23, 2010 11:13 AM

                      When is The Kells closing? Not that I care about them, but it would suck if Privus went down too. Does it have to do with their licensing board issues (fights outside club)?

                      1. re: kimfair1
                        BarmyFotheringayPhipps Feb 23, 2010 11:19 AM

                        Very soon (end of the month, I believe) and yes, probably. Plus the owner did not exactly endear himself to the rest of the neighborhood when he made some absurd (and frankly rather racist) claims that "rap shows" at Harper's Ferry were the reason there were always fights in front of his club.

                        1. re: kimfair1
                          MC Slim JB Feb 23, 2010 11:20 AM

                          I'd say, yes: licensing issues. One more violation and they would have lost it, I believe, and it's obviously not a going concern without drinks to serve. I imagine they figured it was better to get out while they could sell the license.

                          I'm not a fan of the Taverns in the Square, either, so the closing of Bon Chon Privus would make this a net loss, in my book.


                          1. re: MC Slim JB
                            kimfair1 Feb 23, 2010 12:42 PM

                            It's too bad, Privus, not The Kells. It will be interesting to see what will go into that rather large space.

                            1. re: kimfair1
                              MC Slim JB Feb 23, 2010 12:46 PM

                              I haven't heard anything about Privus: this is all just speculation. For all I know, it will survive alongside the new Tavern in the Square.


                              1. re: MC Slim JB
                                teezeetoo Feb 23, 2010 01:11 PM

                                I'm firmly in the "yes" category on Allston. As to desert, a little farther afield is cafe japonaise (not far from Packard's Corner) and athan's (just past brighton center) and both can supply reasonable deserts. Now if only Eldo Cake House opened a branch at the Super 88!

                                1. re: teezeetoo
                                  Allstonian Feb 24, 2010 05:03 AM

                                  Even the Brighton Center Athan's is pretty far afield for this discussion, and in any case I've had nothing but disappointments there (except for their cookies, which I've liked a lot.) And I was thinking of the new branch of Cafe Japonaise (along with the many Koran cafes serving bingsoo, the bow bing and other desserts at Jo Jo Taipei, and Yi Soon Bakery, which unfortunately doesn't have sit-down service) when I said that we lack desserts that aren't Asian.

                                  Speaking of Yi Soon, I would argue that they're actually better than Eldo Cake House.

                                  1. re: Allstonian
                                    StriperGuy Feb 24, 2010 05:15 AM

                                    The only thing to eat at Athan's is the Chocolate Jamaica.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                      BobB Feb 24, 2010 05:54 AM

                                      Not at all - their pistachio florentines are incredible!

                                      1. re: BobB
                                        kimfair1 Feb 24, 2010 07:00 AM

                                        I find all of Athan's pastries to have a very similar taste. Not a bad taste, but I find them all to be way too similar.

                                        1. re: kimfair1
                                          BobB Feb 24, 2010 07:05 AM

                                          This isn't actually a pastry, it's more like a cookie-sized nut brittle made with caramelized honey and wall-to-wall pistachios. They also make almond and sesame versions - they're all good but the pistachio is out of this world.

                                          The florentines are pretty much all I buy there, I can't comment on their pastries.

                                          1. re: BobB
                                            teezeetoo Feb 24, 2010 05:48 PM

                                            I agree on the florentines, like their cookies, and love their lemon sponge cake which is what I usually buy. My friend loves their pistachio baklava. I think their fruit tarts are quite good. Seems to me that four or five good things make them worthwhile. I also like their rosemary white bread. I haven't tried the pastry at Cafe Japonaise but I often get the pastry at Japonaise in Brookline. First rate in my opinion in both their french and japanese deserts.

                                    2. re: Allstonian
                                      Science Chick Feb 24, 2010 08:27 AM

                                      I'm in complete agreeement about Athans.....so disappointing. Not true pastries, but wouldn't it be heavenly if Clear Flour opened a cafe with their yummy rustic desserts???

                                      1. re: Science Chick
                                        BarmyFotheringayPhipps Feb 24, 2010 11:21 AM

                                        I wouldn't recommend it on a day like today, but one of my favorite things to do in my neighborhood is to get a bostok or the like and a cup of coffee at Clear Flour and then sit by the fountain in the park across the street. Better than any cafe!

              3. MC Slim JB Feb 23, 2010 06:05 AM

                I've cited Dorchester as a great overlooked neighborhood for Chowhounds, but that's kind of cheating, since you have to take it as a whole for it to rate, and it's Boston's largest neighborhood. I tend to think of this question in terms of geographic concentration: if you have to drive around to hit all the great spots, it doesn't really count. In this context, you'd have to talk about Savin Hill vs. Lower Mills vs. Peabody Square, etc., to be fair.


                1. BobB Feb 23, 2010 05:35 AM

                  There was a lively thread on a similar subject a few years ago, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/319518

                  It's interesting to see how things have evolved - at that time the votes went more to the North End, South End, and mid-Cambridge/Somerville (basically the area bounded by Porter Sq., Union Sq., and Inman Sq.), with only a few mentions of Allston. But so many good new places have opened in Allston since then that's it's really taken over.

                  Rarely have I seen such unanimity on any Chowhound topic!

                  1. b
                    babka eater Feb 22, 2010 03:53 PM

                    I agree as well. There are a lot of high quality budget choices there.

                    1. MC Slim JB Feb 22, 2010 02:30 PM

                      It's a little short on fine dining options, but for budget dining, I think it's got better breadth than any other Boston neighborhood. Chinatown and Eastie have their merits, but if I had to pick only one to dine in, Allston would be it.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        Allstonian Feb 23, 2010 05:53 AM

                        Yes, I think Allston's biggest weaknesses lie in two areas: fine dining, and desserts that aren't Asian or ice cream. I'd welcome a cafe with really nice desserts (oh, how I miss the sweets at the Coffee Connection - that gingerbread! The dacquoise!) and/or an old-fashioned American-style bakery.

                      2. StriperGuy Feb 22, 2010 11:10 AM


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: StriperGuy
                          tamerlanenj Feb 22, 2010 11:17 AM

                          Short and sweet.

                          1. re: tamerlanenj
                            yumyum Feb 22, 2010 12:15 PM

                            He's actually not that short.

                          2. re: StriperGuy
                            Luther Feb 23, 2010 02:27 AM


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