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Apr 23, 2010 03:57 PM

Visiting from LA - what does Boston do better?

The BF and I will be in Boston for a couple days next month. We're pretty hardcore Los Angeles foodies and know our home city has Beantown beat in terms of Mexican and Asian food.
So what're Boston's strengths, food-wise? I'm guessing seafood, pub grub, maybe pizza...I'd love some restaurant/bar/hole-in-the-wall recs that won't break the bank!!

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  1. Where are you staying? That will help if you're only here a couple days.Agreed, we have better seafood and pizza. Avoid Mexican here at all costs.

    4 Replies
    1. re: trufflehound

      Haven't decided yet. Definitely going to Fenway, probably visiting a friend near the Common. We're used to going a bit out of the way for really good food, so as long as it's public transit accessible, I'm game.

      1. re: thestratbrat

        It's been years since I lived in LA, but I don't recall that there was a big Ethiopian hop on the Orange Line to Malden Center and check out Habesha. Or the Red line to Andrew and Cafe Polonia, for Polish food (is Warsawa still in Santa Monica?). If you're here on a Sunday morning, take the Green line to Brookline Village and have a full fry at Matt Murphy's (or go for the beer and bangers and mash any other day).

        And duh! Italian...our local faves are Prisco's Pasta Market Cafe in Malden, and Abbondanza in Everett, which are not as T-accesible (tho Pasta market is a ~15 minute walk from Malden Center - is that too far for an Angeleno?). But anywhere that makes their own pasta should do for you.

        Matt Murphy's
        14 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02445

        Cafe Polonia
        611 Dorchester Ave, Boston, MA 02127

        Pasta Market Cafe
        237 Ferry St, Malden, MA 02148

        Habesha Restaurant
        535 Main St, Malden, MA

        Abbondanza Italian Seafood Restaurant
        195 Main St, Everett, MA 02149

        1. re: gimlis1mum

          No offense; the above recommended places might be good, but i wouldn't send someone who is visiting Boston out to the suburbs to get good food. There are plenty of great spots right in town.
          A few that come to mind --Neptune Oyster in the North End, Hungry Mother, East Coast Grill (both in Cambridge.) Strong emphasis on good, fresh food cooked with passion, focusing on local ingredients.

          Agree that Portuguese is also great here, though I defer to others for good recs.

          Have fun!

          East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
          1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

          Hungry Mother
          Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

          1. re: twentyoystahs

            Galleria Umberto in the North End would be an excellent place for a visitor from the fine food city of LA. They serve Sicilian food (perhaps the city's best pizza, arancini, potato croquettes, calzones) starting at 11:30 AM until it runs out (any day but Sunday). There is a bit of a line so it is wise to get there before noon if you can. I love Los Angeles but don't think you will find anything quite like this there.

    2. First option should be Portuguese which is something we are blessed with alot of in Boston and surrounding areas. Try out Casa Portugal and Portugalia in East Cambridge for T accessible.

      Another option is West Indian. My cousin in LA never stops talking about how hard it is to find a decent Jamaican restaurant in Cali as a whole. My favorite place is Flames II in Brigham Circle, some of the best Escoveitch Fish and Curry Goat you will have in a restaurant setting.

      For Roti try out Ali's Roti, they have two locations but the Tremont St shop is the easier one to find probably. My wife who is from Trinidad says they make the best Roti skins she has tasted outside of the Island.

      Casa Portugal
      1200 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

      Ali's Roti Restaurant
      1035 Tremont St, Roxbury Crossing, MA 02120

      12 Replies
      1. re: Matt H

        I'm a transplant from LA to Boston, and second the rec for Portuguese. I'd also recommend Brazilian, and in particular, you might like Muqueca in Inman Square, since at least when I lived in LA, moqueca was fairly uncommon (I think Zabumba had one version, but the other Brazilian places in that little clump of Culver City brazilian spots specialize in other things)

        On the Caribbean front, if you'll happen to be in Cambridge, Izzy's for Puerto Rican plates near Kendall also might fit the bill of a place that's cheap and underrepresented in LA.

        Turkish is another thing that's reasonable decent here and hard to find in LA- I'm not sure I'd make a special trip for it, but I'm a fan of Brookline Family Restaurant near the Brookline Village T stop.

        Also, if you're looking for lunch on the go while sight-seeing downtown, there's Chacarero for chilean sandwiches (I haven't been in quite a while- there have been reports on possibly mixed experiences lately, but I usually just get the vegetarian version with lots of extra hot sauce, and that's pretty stable)

        On the whole, though, I think it's hard to pick out a whole categories/ethnicities/countries that are better here. For example, even if pizza is overall kinda mediocre in LA, there are certainly places to get great pizza, probably rivaling anything you'd get anywhere else-though I should add that since I don't really like pizza, maybe I'm missing some subtleties between acceptable and great pizza. Similarly, ice cream's big here and not big in LA, though I can think of gelato places in LA that beat anything I've had here even if on average it's probably better here.

        It's a lot easier, though, to think of specific places that are worth a visit that don't have an obvious counterpart. Unfortunately, most of the ones that come to mind aren't really the hole-in-the-wall places, since I generally think that it's in the "moderately nice" category where the interesting places in Boston congregate. For example, I've always enjoyed what I've gotten at Hungry Mother in Cambridge, and it's a friendly little place with an "old house" atmosphere quite unlike anything in SoCal, which my foodie friends from home have always enjoyed. A little higher on the scale, Neptune, which is always mentioned reflexively on this board, is probably in this category- i.e., places where you feel like you paid the extra money for better food, and not just the atmosphere.

        Brookline Family Restaurant
        305 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

        1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

        Hungry Mother
        Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

        101 Arch St, Boston, MA 02110

        1. re: another_adam

          Also along the Cambridge places in houses, check out Oleana - high falutin' Middle Eastern-spiced chow. Go with the meze and apps, the veggie tasting, or combo thereof.

          134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            Fried Clams with the bellies - Neptune Oyster

            Neptune Oyster
            63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

            1. re: lizziee

              You misspelled "Ipswich Clam Box." That would be worth the drive from Boston.

              Clam Box
              789 Quincy Shore Dr, Quincy, MA 02170

          2. re: another_adam

            Great suggestions and insights, adam.

            I agree, it's pretty tough to come up with an entire genre or nation's cuisine that is better here. Best example, as you noted, are Portuguese and Brazilian, and while we're at it, might as well also throw Cape Verdean in the mix as you're unlikely to come across it in LA. Check out Restaurant Laura or Cesaria here in Dorchester.

            Having said that, it might also be fun to do some comparative analyses and/or further explore regional differences. While we may not have the same depth in Taiwanese as SGV or Cambodian down in Long Beach or Armenian in Glendale/Burbank, I do believe these are true strengths of the greater Boston area that could be fun to compare. In fact I did the same thing a few weeks ago out in LA -- in addition to Taiwanese fare, there was a Burmese restaurant in SGV by the same name as one here in Allston, YoMa, and it was interesting to note the differences by way of access to different produce/ingredients etc. Both excellent places, just a little different.

            I'm not so sure the "craft cocktail" situation here is a noteworthy strength, though I'll admit I'm the last person to ask. But between places like The Association (which I really quite liked), Varnish, Tar Pit, plus all the old classic bars (eg, Musso & Frank), I'd be surprised to learn that we'd have a clear edge.

            1. re: Nab

              I've noticed that burgers are a big source of regional differences (lots of cheese or creamy sauces vs. salt, pepper and maybe some pepper relish). So it could be worth seeking out a place that specializes in the more sparing New England style to experience that... There are plenty of threads on this board about burgers, so I won't make any specific recs. (A possible caveat, though, is that I have yet to find anyone who grew up on West Coast-style burgers who was won over by an encounter with the New England style! but maybe my friends are just mayo-loving hedonists?)

              Another point of comparison- though not a favorable one, in my opinion- is the prevalence in NYC and Boston of "designer sushi" containing things like beef, asparagus, mango, and other meats and fruits. Cream cheese probably belongs in that category, too, but I've also seen that in CA...

              And yeah, I'd agree that the craft cocktails here would hardly be an education for someone coming from LA- but there are indeed some good ones, so it's surely not a bad way to experience a bit of Boston anyway :)

              1. re: another_adam

                I thought about the burger bit too, but struggled to come up with a few good examples of truly unique New England/Boston burgers. Best I could come up with was the Neptune burger.

                I guess I'm thinking of good New England/Boston counterparts to some of the places I visited a couple of weeks ago, like:

                Pastrami burger @ The Hat:

                "Chronic Burger" at Mom's in Compton:

                Granted these are on the quirkier side of the spetrum, but they are uniquely LA.

                1. re: another_adam

                  Are you saying that the west coasters like mayo and east coast doesn't? I've had mayo on burgers since I was a child growing up in the stone age in VT. Or maybe you mean west coasters don't like mayo on burgers (I feel like Snoop Dog talking west coast vs. east coast at the Source Awards right now). In any case, I'd have to offer Bartley's as a New England institution even tho someone will probably pipe in and say it sucks. And a few orders of fried clams at Neptune, Morse, Atlantic, Plough when it's on special, etc. will be unique to the area.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    Haha I think I'm in over my head here :) My impression was that many east coasters strongly disapprove of mayo on a burger (especially New Englanders- for example, all portions of my mom's family, from CT, MA, ME, consider mayo on a burger to be complete sacrilege), and it's very rarely a default even in Boston, where you generally have to ask for it special if you want it. When we moved here, we had quite a few experiences of needing to try to flag down servers for post-hoc mayo while the burger was getting cold, until we learned the drill. That, together with the periodic discussions on this board about whether burgers should ever have anything other than salt and pepper on them, give me this (possibly unfair) impression of puritanical NE burgers :)

                    So I guess the challenge is a purist place that can be contrasted with, say, the architectural burger experience at the Counter... (Not to say that LA doesn't have purist burger places, but even a place like Father's Office, famous for denying you condiments, puts bacon compote, caramelized onions, etc., on it)

                    1. re: another_adam

                      I always thought East Coast was more pub style (like Bartleys or O'Sullivan's) and West Coast was more flat style, like Flat Patties.

                      I've never heard of the mayo distinction.

                      Flat Patties
                      81 Mount Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      1. re: another_adam

                        OMG Father's Office..this thread is making me crave a trip back to LA. OP, I hope you let us know where you went, what you ate, and how you liked it.

                  2. re: Nab

                    While Long Beach has the largest Cambodian population in the States, Lowell is
                    #2, with a good selection of Cambodian restaurants. Just wanted to say.

                    I do wish, though, that given the seemingly good sized population of Armenians in
                    Watertown, that they had (more?) Armenian restaurants.

              2. Cocktails. I visit L.A. usually once a year and haven't found a Craigie/Green Street/Deep Ellum-level bar experience. Also, I think we have more interesting beer bars than Father's Office, which is what everyone seems to mention when they talk about beer in L.A.

                9 Replies
                1. re: robwat36

                  I would highlight Drink (first and foremost) and Eastern Standard (not during Sox games) ahead of the rest for craft cocktails

                  Eastern Standard
                  528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                  1. re: robwat36

                    I didn't search for cocktail bars in my one trip to LA, but I would be careful bragging about our local offerings as I've found the selection not only better in San Francisco and Portland, Ore, but also in Washington, DC of all places...

                    In my opinion, Boston is generally behind the curve when it comes to cocktails in comparison to other major U.S. cities.

                    1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                      I don't agree. I have sampled a broad cross section and completely stand by the recommendations on Drink and Eastern Standard, in particular - I think they belong right at the same tip top level as Death & Co /Pegu Club in NY and Zig Zag in Seattle. I haven't been to LA for a long time, but we are light years ahead of Miami, Houston, and Dallas as far as I can tell. I'll be researching in Chicago and Louisville this summer.

                      Curious - where was better in San Francisco for you? I tried several top spots overa couple of visits, and thought they equaled but did not exceed our top options - in particular - I really liked Alembic and thought Bourbon and Branch was WAY overrated - where else should I try on the next visit? And what are your favs in the Wash DC area - I haven't checked that out at all but would like to.

                      Eastern Standard
                      528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                      1. re: rlh

                        I might have been a little too expansive in my comments since I haven't searched for cocktails in many of our fine big cities.

                        Before I get to my general rant, the city specifics.

                        I agree that Bourbon and Branch was overrated, and while not a big fan of the speakeasy/fake secrecy thing (which Drink was credited with to a small degree early on, btw), if a place is not a restaurant and focuses on serious cocktails, I do appreciate the limits to capacity. The notion you should talk about what you like with the bartender is great, but it quickly falls apart when the crowd gets two deep at the bar.

                        I liked Alembic and really liked Rickhouse, 15 Romolo, and Beretta. Though with all the cocktail focused establishments, I think my favorite in terms of cocktails (and food in general) was the restaurant NOPA.

                        In DC, the Columbia Room at the Passenger is without parallel in Boston. While there are people with a comparable level of talent as Derek Brown, there currently exists no commercial arrangement that combines that level of service, absent any attitude (another pet peeve of mine--sometimes at Drink the service isn't about you but about the bartender), with ridiculous crazy skills. The Gibson and PX are fully in the speakeasy school, but again I like the limits to the crowd if you are looking for staff interaction and the talent level is normally fantastic. PS'7, Proof, and Rasika are also all fine options. In addition, neighborhood places like Wisdom on Capitol Hill are true jewels that combine the best of the B-Side with even a tighter neighborhood focus.

                        In Portland my only worthy experience was at Clyde Common, but it was a experience that made ESK pale in comparison.

                        I agree that we are blessed with a number of great restaurants with great bars. But Hungry Mother is very limited in seating, Rendezvous when Scott isn't working hasn't impressed me, Highland Kitchen seems great for that neighborhood but on my very limited exposure was actually pretty disappointing in terms of drinks, and Green Street and Deep Ellum (two places I adore along with the Indo) are pretty dependent on exactly who is behind the bar on your visit.

                        Our claim to cocktail fame seems to rely heavily on Drink, and I haven't been all that impressed. Great talent, some of which I knew of from their previous postings, but poor follow through on strategic vision. Overcrowding has already been mentioned, and combine that with the obvious fact that many if not most of the bartenders are working from a mental menu even if they do not have one to place in front of you (see the discussion when it first opened up on this board--so many of the drinks were repeated over and over again to various customers) all take away from the promise. I prefer to angle for a seat at Craigie or plan a trip to one of the many other places mentioned on particular nights when I know who is working than deal with Drink.

                        All in all, just my opinion. But one I believe at least rests on a bed of a serious cocktail hobby and willingness to root out the best options wherever my travels take me. And I have found that the service, attitude, and environment are better in cities that should not have an automatic advantage over Boston (such as DC but not including the NYC-class metropolises).

                      2. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                        Yeah, I gotta disagree. I think at this point most cities have a few big-ticket bars that take cocktails really seriously, and obviously L.A. has its share - but they're places like Seven Grand, where you have to plan your entire weekend around getting in before the line forms. Or The Edison, where someone really thought about the cocktail menu, but it's still a sideshow to the scene and the atmosphere, and the bartenders may or may not know how to execute something off-menu.

                        The point of my original comment was that I think you're more likely in Boston to wander into an unassuming bar or restaurant and be surprised at how good the cocktails are - Green Street, Independent, Rendezvous, Hungry Mother, Deep Ellum, Highland Kitchen, Coppa. Those types of places.

                        Highland Kitchen
                        150 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                        Hungry Mother
                        Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

                        Deep Ellum Bar
                        477 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134

                        253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                        1. re: robwat36

                          I am no craft cocktail expert, but I think this is right ... lots of very very good cocktail weanie action happening where you might not expect it.

                          Add to the list Gargoyles, Trina's. Oh, and although I absolutely hated the scene, the Boston Mule at Woodward at the Ames is outstanding.

                          1. re: yumyum

                            I agree that the Boston Mule is truly excellent (and I generally avoid vodka, and especially flavored vodka - go figure...), however, the bartending skills and expertise at Woodward are HIGHLY variable - be careful what you order and from whom you order it...and if you want a cold cocktail glass, you better ask for it in advance.

                            1. re: rlh

                              thanks for the tip! I enjoyed their Ames Addiction but will be sure to specify a cold glass next time. Maybe they should rope off a section of the bar for cocktail weenies only...

                              1. re: barleywino

                                The Ames Addiction (no longer on the menu, BTW) was my other choice and was also good/interesting, but a little too sweet (and I had to ask for an ice cube thanks to the warm glass...) - and I think they like to rope off sections for any reason there - (this time it was the whole upstairs for Dom Perignon - my invitation must have gotten lost...fascinating conversations overhead in the WC...

                    2. Yes on the seafood, you should take a ride up the coast (north shore) and stop in at a clam shack, preferably Clam Box in Ipswich, MA or hit a lobster shack like the Lobster Pool in Rockport. For pizza stop by Santarpio's in E. Boston near the airport. If you really think all that's left is pub grub, I'd recommend reading fome of the CH topics on what BOS has to offer and lose some of that 'left coast tude'!

                      Lobster Pool
                      329 Granite St, Rockport, MA 01966

                      Clam Box
                      789 Quincy Shore Dr, Quincy, MA 02170

                      1. I have to respectfully disagree with you that LA has Boston beat with Asian food. You may well exceed the east coast when it comes to Thai, but straight forward Chinese can best be enjoyed in Boston, NYC and San Francisco. Mexican, well that another story. Hope you enjoy your stay in Boston and don't shy away from our Asian eateries. Make sure you get some fried clams. You won't find those anywhere in LA.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: CocoDan

                          Is LA really that different from SF when it comes to Chinese? I don't know, am genuinely curious. (Would strike me as surprising if true.)

                          1. re: autopi

                            I think it depends on how broadly you construe "LA". In terms of diversity and quality of different types of Chinese cuisine, the west side is not fantastic, and even the downtown Chinatown can be rather hit or miss. The San Gabriel Valley has a number of cities with majority-Chinese demographics, though, so if you're willing to take a little drive to Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Alhambra, Rosemead, etc., you'll find an incredible array of mini-malls with specialties of different regions and ethnic groups.

                            But, to keep this about Boston, it *is* true that Chinese places in Boston can be more accessible, since the majority-Chinese + hundreds-of-places-to-choose-from factors in the SGV means that you've really gotta have a spirit of adventure to find the good spots. (Or, it doesn't hurt to listen to Jonathan Gold :) ) My partner actually prefers dim sum outings here, because the system is less chaotic and more transparent, with less of a wait and less of a language barrier. As Nab pointed out, there are also definitely lots of differences in dishes and ingredients, concerning things that are kind of common here for one reason or another.

                            Actually, to mention a couple others that come to mind:
                            - We were struck when we moved here by how random broccoli turned up in so many unexpected places. Broccoli in a burrito? In udon? In stir-fried spicy pork kidneys? I guess if you really were into the spirit of comparison, you could do something like go to Anna's and get a veggie burrito, in order to experience the steamed tortilla and the broccoli and carrots in your burrito (but I personally don't recommend it!)

                            - Similarly, it's amazing how so many dishes get transformed into chicken, salmon, or tofu versions! I think you'd be hard-pressed to find tofu bibimbap in LA, even though it's quite common here.

                            In these cases, though, I can't say that I'm particularly fond of the Boston modifications, so I wouldn't really consider it a rewarding comparative field trip :) I think it's really easier to just think of where is good here without worrying about whether you could get better somewhere in LA!

                            1. re: another_adam

                              Once again, very well said, adam.

                              I try to stay away from these kinds of inapt comparisons, but going back to CocoDan's point, on a per capita basis, I can maybe see where you're coming from. But LA just runs SO deep in certain cuisines. But if you look at access to Sichuan, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Shanghainese, or even Cambodian etc etc etc on a per capita basis, I don't think we have much to complain about.

                              Same goes for SF proper. It's just not a good comparison (to LA). Morevoer, while there are still some great gems within the city limits, I think that has changed greatly. SF Chinatown is still a wonderland, but there is so much more to be found outside the city limits nowadays. I go where the strip malls are, all around this country.

                              1. re: Nab

                                Let me say, I have never been disappointed with any dining experience I've had on my trips to LA, including Chinese. They have many great chioces no matter what cuisine you might choose. My point to the OP was not to shy away from Asian if you're craving it while here.

                          2. re: CocoDan

                            I love our Chinatown and its many offerings, but I wouldn't bet against the San Gabriel Valley and its many many miles of suburban Chinatown. Something on that scale and with such a critical mass is hard to top.