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Visiting Boston for the weekend from NY - what are the must eats?

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We are visiting Boston this weekend from NY and we would appreciate your suggestions for must-eats. We are looking for places that best represent Boston cuisine or just do really good renditions of other cuisines. Budget is around $10-15 for brunch and $15-20 for dinner. Here is our list so far. Obviously, we need to narrow it down a lot! =)

-Elephant Walk - seems unique, is it worth it though?
-Helmand - how does this compare to Helmand in Baltimore? i remember that being fantastic
-Publick House - good beer, how's the food?
-Giacomo's - we just got back from Italy so looking for that authentic feel
-Speed Dog - how good is this compared to NY or Chicago dogs?
-Scup's - for brunch
-Neptune Oyster - seems pricey so we're on the fence on this
-Galleria Umberto - how different is it from other pizzas?

What is Boston's strengths in terms of ethnic restaurants? These places seem to have good reviews, but not sure if they're really good compared to say those in NY.
-Muqueca
-Orinoco
-Baraka
-Teranga

Lastly, for someone who has not tried these places, is it worth a try for the atmosphere? Is the food at least decent?
-Union Oyster House
-Durgin Park

Other recommendations are most welcome!

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  1. Of those that you listed, I would say that Elephant Walk is ok/good but not a must have. There aren't many cuisines in Boston that rival NYC and I wouldn't bother with any Boston pizza. I have never had a NY or Chicago hot dog but Speeds is excellent and worth it. I would highly recommend Neptune Oyster for either oysters, fried clams or lobster roll. For delicious clam chowder, I still think that Legal Seafood does an excellent version though nothing earth shattering. For delicious, reasonable somewhat authentic Italian, try Trattoria Toscana in the Fenway area. If you do a recent search on this board, others have highly recommended the recently opened Island Creek Oyster Company in Kenmore Square for seafood. Also, lots of excellent ethnic restaurants in East Boston (do a search on this board): Angela's Cafe is excellent, authentic Mexican; Rino's (recently featured on Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives) has very good homemade pastas and specials with very long waits in the evening. Hope this helps a little.

    -----
    Trattoria Toscana
    130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

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

    Elephant Walk
    900 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02215

    Island Creek Oyster Bar
    500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

    1 Reply
    1. re: bakerboyz

      you might consider O Ya for high end sushi though it is hideously expensive; I second Neptune and would add Coppa - Italian charcuterie - but be prepared to wait as neither takes reservations and are very popular.. Helmand makes excellent Afghan food and is located in Cambridge; i have heard that it is comparable to the one in Baltimore; it is certainly excellent. I am fond of the various chinese restaurants such as Golden Garden, Sichuan Gourmet, CK Shanghai, East Ocean Seafood - a better fish-in-the-tank restaurant than i have been to in NYC. All of these places are reasonably priced. The WSJ wrote a piece saying that Speeds was the best dog in the land, better than the runner-up Doug's in Chicago; so it is certainly comparable to anything you will eat in NYC.

      You might want to see what Kathryn ate; she is an ace on the NY blog sphere. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7414...

      -----
      O Ya
      9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

      Coppa
      253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

      Sichuan Gourmet
      1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

      Golden Garden
      63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

    2. If you want to pay no more than $20/person for dinner you will have to be careful. Boston is less expensive than NYC but you will still pay more than that for a dinner at most restaurants. To keep to your budget you may do well to stick to ethnic cuisines in restaurants that are in the corresponding ethnic neighborhoods. Two ethnic groups that are probably better represented in the Boston restaurant scene than in NYC are Portuguese and Nepalese.

      Also, here is some feedback on the list you proposed. Helmand is great and certainly worth one of your meals. I would also suggest Durgin Park. Yes, it has its detractors on this board. However it offers traditional Boston/Yankee cooking, which seems to be in the spirit of your request. While not outstanding up and down its menu, there are certainly some high points, such as the prime rib. Also, they do a pretty darn good version of Indian Pudding, which I would urge you to try. It may not look like much but it is very very good, especially on a chilly November evening!

      -----
      Durgin Park
      1 Faneuil Hall Sq, Boston, MA 02109

      1. I agree with PinchOfSalt about your budget. It will be tough to hit a lot of the places you mentioned on that budget. Are you trying to keep the entree price under $20 or the whole meal per person?

        I agree with bakerboyz about the pizza too. I'm a native New Yorker, and I don't bother with the pizza in Boston unless its one that is "artisanal" or gourmet. Coppa and Via Matta are good options for those. As for authentic Italian, it depends on where you traveled in Italy (regional differences). Most of the North End is better than Little Italy's food, but still not very authentic. I would describe the majority of the NE's restaurants as Italian American. Giacomo's is tasty, but more on the end of Italian American. I'd recommend going to Erbaluce for delicious Piemontese cuisine or Via Matta for food in the style of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Eating at either of those places won't keep you on budget, though.

        I second Neptune Oyster for a delicious lobster roll and I also second Island Creek Oyster Bar. Their Lobster Roe Noodles are perhaps the most awesome dish I've had in the last year.

        One last stop would be Toro. The tapas there are out of this world (puts Batali's Casa Mono to shame).

        These places would be a challenge for your budget. Maybe you should just change your budget!

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

        Toro
        1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

        Via Matta
        79 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116

        Erbaluce
        69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

        Coppa
        253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

        Island Creek Oyster Bar
        500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

        1. If you are looking for Italian with an authentic feel on a budget, I think bakerboyz recommendation of Trattoria Toscana is perfect. Giacomo's is definitely Italian-American, not Italian-Italian, and probably won't remind you too much of any place in Italy.

          Some other comments on places in your list: Neptune Oyster is worth the price, IMO, so if you are going to go outside your budget for one dinner I'd recommend that. Helmand is great, can't compare it to the one in Baltimore as I've never been, but definitely a great choice. Elephant Walk is fine, but not spectacular, I certainly wouldn't consider it a must eat.

          Portuguese is a good suggestion, and should be relatively easy to keep in your budget. See these threads (some a bit older but hopefully still relevant):
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/497919
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611952
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/714442

          -----
          Trattoria Toscana
          130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

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

          Elephant Walk
          2067 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

          1. Thank you for all the responses. Here is my updated list:

            dinner:
            -Helmand
            -Neptune Oyster or Island Creek - which is better? Island Creek seems cheaper?
            -Casa Portugal - seems better than Portugalia?

            brunch/lunch:
            -Scup's
            -Durgin Park

            snacks:
            -Speed Dog
            -pastries from North End

            drinks:
            -Publick House

            I haven't completely ruled them out yet, but what are your thoughts on these places?
            -Muqueca
            -Orinoco
            -Baraka
            -Teranga

            For Trattoria Toscana, do you think this is a must-try in Boston or would I be able to find a lot of similar places in NY? I have to admit we don't eat a lot of Italian in NY because it usually is pretty overpriced.

            Also, the budget I mentioned earlier is just prices for entrees in general.

            16 Replies
            1. re: krystle920

              All the places you've mentioned so far are quite good, with the exception of Durgin Park.

              I like Orinoco and Baraka a lot --- especially Baraka is very unique. I do not like Muqueca at all, but am in the definite minority on this board.

              One cuisine that you've missed, however, is Chinese. Places like Fuloon, Jo Jo Taipei, Sichuan Gourmet, and Shanghai Gate, are much better than anything you can get in Manhattan. Boston also has some very good Thai, such as Dok Bua and S&I.

              -----
              Baraka Cafe
              80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

              Shanghai Gate
              204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

              Sichuan Gourmet
              502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

              Muqueca
              1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

              Durgin Park
              340 Faneuil Hall Market Pl, Boston, MA 02109

              JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
              103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

              1. re: lipoff

                I would be interested to know why you don't like Muqueca. I'm also on the fence on Orinoco because one of my favorite restaurants is Valencia Luncheria in Norwalk CT where they make really awesome arepas, empanadas, and other Venezuelan food. Baraka seems promising. I've never had Algerian-Tunisian/North African cuisine - is it similar to Moroccan or Ethiopian?

                I have to admit I've deliberately not included Chinese food because I've been spoiled by Cantonese food in HK and Southern California, and also because we have tons of Chinese in Flushing. How do Boston Chinese restaurants compare in general?

                1. re: krystle920

                  Cantonese/southern Chinese food - you can get much better in NYC. The places referenced technically specialize in other Chinese regional cuisine, and admittedly I have not sought out these cuisines while in NYC (except Shanghai) so I can't offer a direct comparison. My general thoughts on Chinese food is that NYC will offer anything as good as Boston has to offer, so while the places mentioned are certainly good for our area, I don't think unique enough to make en effort to go there if you already have a full agenda.

                  1. re: krystle920

                    Orinoco is a nice place - and certainly within your budget - but I wouldn't make a special trip for it. It's friendly and cozy and has very reasonable prices for its neighborhood, but I've never been wowed by the food there - it's been good, but not especially noteworthy.

                    Baraka Cafe, on the other hand, is unusually good. It's also well within your budget, and definitely worth visiting. What they serve is not remotely like Ethiopian food, but I would think fairly similar to moroccan, just based on geographical proximity. Note that it can be s-l-o-w, so plan accordingly; also, they don't serve any alcohol (or allow byo) due to religious observance, but the rosewater lemonade is great, and of course no booze makes the meal much cheaper. (Many good places for drinks should you want one afterwards - Green Street Grill, Rendezvous, Craigie.)

                    A few other things: Speed's hot dogs are fantastic, both because of the dog itself (1/2 pound kosher dog slow-simmered then grilled over charcoal; ask for well-done) and the homemade condiments (get them all); but they are HUGE.
                    Scup's is great - take the water shuttle there (see other posts for specific instructions) - more scenic than the T + walking route.
                    If you go to the North End for pastries, the chocolate florentines at Modern Pastry are fantastic, as is the panforte, although they haven't had the latter the last few times I've been there.
                    I'd also endorse the suggestion of Toro above - really great food and also a very energetic and vibrant room. It would probably go a bit over your budget though.

                    1. re: MichaelB

                      We are staying at the Four Points Logan (which is actually by Revere, MA). Would it be possible to drive to Scup's on our way to Boston? Also, which roads on the way to Boston should we not use to avoid tolls?

                      1. re: MichaelB

                        I beleive that sppeeds is all beef not kosher

                        1. re: lobster lover

                          good point; should have said kosher-style, not actually kosher.

                          re driving to Scup's - it's in East Boston, which is right next to Revere. Driving around there can be confusing so you want either detailed maps or GPS, but parking shouldn't be a problem. Scup's is in a working shipyard, so you may not be able to drive in, but it's only a 5 minute walk from local streets where you can park. Might want to have their phone number in case you get lost wandering in the shipyard.

                          Since you mentioned Elephant Walk in your original post and are staying in Revere, one other place you might want to consider is Thmor Da for Cambodian food. (I don't know if you have much Cambodian food in NYC.) Elephant Walk is a nice restaurant, moderately upscale, but the food is a bit sweetened up and toned-down in flavor; Thmor Da is the real deal. It replaced the much-loved Floating Rock, which is moving to Cambridge, but in one visit there this past summer I thought the food (the menu is basically the same as Floating Rock) was just as good, with really vibrant flavors. It's pretty hole-in-the-wall, in a sketchy neighborhood - much different from most of the other places discussed in this thread, and maybe not what you're looking for - but the food is pretty great and it is nearby.

                          -----
                          Floating Rock
                          485 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

                          Elephant Walk
                          2067 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

                  2. re: krystle920

                    If you go to Publick House for beers, keep in mind that American Craft is a block away. They are owned by the same people. PH focuses on belgian beer while AC is domestic. Its a little bit of a hike from downtown so going to both might make the trip a bit more worthwhile.

                    Alternatively, if you end up going to a Cambridge restaurant like Muqueca, Helmand or Baraka, check out Cambridge Brewing Company and Lord Hobo as they are great beer destinations and close to those restaurants already on your list.

                    -----
                    Baraka Cafe
                    80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                    Cambridge Brewing Company
                    1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139

                    Muqueca
                    1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                    Publick House
                    1648 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                    Lord Hobo
                    92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                    American Craft
                    1700 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02445

                    1. re: Kinopio

                      Coming from NYC, there is no reason to go to way out to Brookline for either Publick House or American Craft. The usual reason to go to Publick is if you're really into beer. But, I'm sure there are several beer-intensive places in NYC. That part of Brookline is really out of the way for most people here for just a few days.

                      I agree that a combination of Cambridge Brewing and/or Lord Hobo, with Helmand or Baraka would be worth the trip, however.

                      -----
                      Baraka Cafe
                      80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      Lord Hobo
                      92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                      1. re: Alcachofa

                        Thanks for the input on Brookline. My boyfriend is really into craft beers so we try to make it a point to try a local brewery or place with good beer selection. You're right though that NY already has tons of places like that. We are already planning to visit Sam Adams on Friday. Would it be worth it to go to John Harvard's or something? Also, is Brookline even a must-see neighborhood or is it Allston/Brighton? Looking for a neighborhood with more of a Brooklyn or East Village vibe. Thanks!

                        1. re: krystle920

                          John Harvard's is *not* where you want to go. Deep Ellum or Lord Hobo sound right up your alley.

                          -----
                          Deep Ellum Bar
                          477 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134

                          Lord Hobo
                          92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                          1. re: krystle920

                            If your beau is that into beer, it’s probably best to check-in at BeerAdvocate.com. I would go to Cambridge Brewing over John Harvards. I think Cambridge Brewing cares a little more about their beer brewing process. I'm no expert though.

                            Also, Cambridge Brewing brews their own, if that is what you're specifically looking for. Publick House and Lord Hobo just have a good selection of very good beers made by others.

                            Are you driving to Sam Adams? If so, Brookline is sort of on the way back from where Sam Adams is. However, it is on a different subway line, so if you're on the subway, it is a royal pain in the neck to get from Sam Adams to Coolidge Corner.

                            NYC<>Boston, so there is no real equivalent to the EV or Brooklyn, but Central Square (where Baraka is), may satisfy the comparison loosely.

                            Allston/Brighton is not a must-see neighborhood; it is a must-eat neighborhood.

                            1. re: krystle920

                              Definitely skip John Harvards

                        2. re: krystle920

                          For Portuguese you have 3 sit-down options Atasca, Casa Portugal, and Portugalia all with owners from Continental Portugal. Atasca is more business oriented, they have a number of small plates, and do things like dishes using a Portuguese cataplana, have portuguese cured presunto, shrimp with piri piri. They are a bit more expensive, smaller portions than the others, but to me service and food aren't truely high end. I was a fan of their original restaurant but have been a number of bad experiences at the current one, but its got a lot of fans. Casa Portugal is the oldest, its more traditional in service style, and has a fairly wide menu of Portuguese favorites. Its more intimate than Atasca, but fairly busy weekends because of its location so can be loud, you get generous portions and things like half lobster in rice/seafood dishes (portuguese paelha is more soupy and they use long grain rice so keep that in mind). They also probably have the largest wine list and the largest list of Ports. I have had some hits and misses, I am not certain its better than the "homestyle" places and there are better restaurants on the South Coast, but in most cases good meals. Portugalia I specifically like for their salt cod dishes and they also have some unique dishes (feijoada de mariscos, bacalhau de ze de pipo), but I have never liked their meat dishes and skip most of the shrimp/plain seafood ones. They also offer additional specials in the bar which have included cod tongues and cheeks. One thing to keep in mind is they are open for lunch and offer their two best bacalhau dishes then, plus have half bottles of wine. Its a nicely decorated room, but can be pretty loud although not as busy as Casa Portugal.

                          So I overall like Portugalia best for a couple of dishes, its particularly nice lunch dining (and quiet then). Atasca has the more interesting dishes and is convenient, but I have sworn off it. And Casa Portugal is a good all around choice and fairly nice dinner destination, so a good choice but not necessarily "best."

                          For informal Portuguese there also is the Snack Bar in Cambridge (sub shop atmosphere) and JJ's in Somerville (convenience store up front, but full sit down dining in the back). Plus the Neighborhood which is mostly known for oversize breakfast portions and weak coffee, but does a Portuguese lunch and has a decent Portuguese breakfast. The first two are both fine destinations for the chow, not as polished as the others, but JJ's has sit-down wine + beer and their bacalhau a lagareiro compares with any of them.

                          Casa Portugal is nice overall, you can get some NE Lobster and have a good time, just don't expect the best restaurant in Boston. Atasca is a bit more creative, you should at least consider it for dinner. Portugalia is a bit more limited,but very good for what they do well. If you move Portuguese to lunch Portugalia is still an option, as is JJ's (a bit harder to get to) and the Snack Bar.

                          Muqueca is unique in doing their moqueca in a panela de barro and uses good quality fish, which isn't always the case with other Brazilian restaurants. You may not find another restaurant in the US doing a torta capixaba (from Espirito Santo along with their moqueca capixaba and the clay pots). They offer bobo de camarao which is one of my favorite dishes, but they don't use great shrimp, the broth is only ok and thus the moqueca is a better option. Their pirao is pretty lousy which is unfortunate, in part the broth again but in Brazil there is much better mandioca flour to use. They are more accessible to non Portuguese speakers (as is Midwest Grill on the churrasco side). Overall its more unique than Casa Portugal and although I have had some misses, has a better record than Atasca, but doesn't compare with a similar restaurant in Brazil. Don't stray to far and they have some americanized dishes (fried calamari with passion fruit sauce, etc). I haven't been to their larger location, so don't know how they keep up with that service, but they now have beer/wine.

                          -----
                          Muqueca
                          1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Midwest Grill
                          1124 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Casa Portugal
                          1200 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          1. re: krystle920

                            You should be advised that a speeds dog ain't a "snack". Those things are pretty giant. Also, it'd be folly to try to directly compare it to either a NYC style dog or a chicago style dog - a speeds dog is really its own thing

                            1. re: krystle920

                              I also like Sunset Grille. While maybe not as high brow as Publick House, they do have good reasonably priced menu and over 100 beers on tap. Depending on what exactly you're looking for, this might be an option to consider. I prefer Sunset Grille, but you can't go wrong with either.

                              -----
                              Publick House
                              1648 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                            2. Union Oyster House is worth a stop if you can get a spot at the tiny curved oyster bar and only for the raw bar items, a cold beer, and maybe a bowl of chowder. I often take out of town guests there for pre-dinner experience before moving on to something more serious/high quality for the actual meal.

                              -----
                              Union Oyster House
                              41 Union Street, Boston, MA 02108

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: joth68

                                Ah great idea, maybe it's a good pre-dinner thing. Although maybe not right before Neptune Oyster or Island Creek!

                              2. Muqueca is Brazilian. Recently hadtwo meat dishes from there- the steak tips and pichana. Both were inedible- very tough meat. I understand that the fish stew after which they are named is very good. I would avoid it.

                                -----
                                Muqueca
                                1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                1. Well, thanks for the tips everyone.

                                  Turns out it wasn't solo dining, as a co-worker ended up with me. Unfortunately, he didn't like the sound of the Craigie menu (too bad, I really wanted to try the pig tails) and wanted seafood. So we ended up at Island Creek (didn't like the prospects of a lineup at Neptune).

                                  Overall, a really good experience. We split the seafood platter for four. The oysters were absolutely delicious. Among the best I've ever had. Alas, the rest of it was a bit weaker, in relation to the fantastic oysters, that is. The lobster wasn't very sweet. And they halibut crudo was just a huge chunk of halibut. Very tasty, mind you, but it would have helped if they sliced it thinly or something. Cocktail shrimp were large and tasty. Had raw clams for the first time...not a huge fan.

                                  Overall, a few beers all this fresh seafood and i'm a happy guy. Prices weren't too bad either.

                                  After this, we headed to Eastern Standard Kitchen for a few drinks. Pretty happening vibe there. Very good beer list and I had a $10 daily offal dish, which turned out to be sweetbreads. Not bad, but it could have been crispier and was underseasoned. My companion had the hanger steak and fries which he enjoyed.

                                  On the way out of town, my flight was delayed, so I ate at legal seafood at Logan. C bar or something affiliated with legal seafood. Man, what a disapointment. Poor service and the oysters were small and virtually tasteless. The crab roll was pretty decent, and not a bad deal at $13. I guess the experience highlighted how good the oysters were at Island Creek.

                                  Thanks, and I look forward to returning to Boston to try out Craigie.

                                  -----
                                  Eastern Standard
                                  528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: grandgourmand

                                    Not sure how my post ended up here. Sorry for any confusion, but this is meant for a different thread.

                                  2. ICOB - this is just a lovely place!! It's a big open space high windows ,dine at the bar, on stools and high table, or seated. The atmosphere is really nice and coming from NYC what really impresses is how much younger the population is! The place is open until 1am. As stated often, the oysters are phenomenal-the DUXBURYS oyster are plump,delicious [$2/each] so if you're on a budget and want an unique experience, this is a way to go. Also,there is an ICOB Pilsner there which is downright sensational[$5]. A few blocks away is LA VERDAD TAQUERIA MEXICANA where the fish tacos[$3] are exceptional. I mention only these 2 places as i was also visiting from NYC and these 2 places were unlike anything I find in NYC. I had the chowder at UNION OYSTER HOUSE - def nothing to call home about. Far far better at GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR. I didn't get to XINH XINH (?spelling) the Vietnamese place in Chinatown but it's highly recommended and our Vietnamese stuff in NYC is mediocre except for maybe SAIGON GRILL which I don't go to because of the boycott. One other thing-astonished how friendly the people of Boston!! Lovely city!