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Jan 15, 2011 07:41 AM

Food Culture in Boston (or lack thereof)


I am interested in starting a conversation about the food culture in Boston. I have only been here 2.5 years after living in the South, Vermont, NYC and Southern France.

I can't afford expensive meals (>$50/pp) and rarely eat meals costing more than $20/pp. I have eaten at quite a few places around town and while there have been some good meals, most are very disappointing. I think am am just so frustrated and have given up hope.

I think what it boils down to is a population that does not demand good food. I cannot understand this though as Boston is a wealthy city with an educated, diverse population.

And even though Boston has a diverse population there is better Vietnamese in Denver, better French in Austin, better bagels in Oregon, better Mexican food everywhere else, better Turkish in NYC and the list goes on. Chinese, even with the large population is hit or miss. Dallas has better Dim Sum. My point is that Boston can't even manage good ethnic foods with a supporting population. How about a freaking Italian joint!? Not American/Italian but a nice eatery with decent value.

How does Boston not have a bakery with a wood fired oven? Rural Vermont has better pizza and bread. I have had better burgers in Berlin ($8) than I could possibly hope to find here. How hard is it to make a good burger? Meat, potato roll, salt, proper heat, done.

Markets are a whole other story. The best Japanese market doesn't sell local fish? How about a butcher shop (Savenor's is just for looks, they defrost and cut primals up, just like the supermarkets)? Cheese there are great choices, without a doubt. Latin American groceries are sad as well. I have no idea why people recommend the Hi-Lo. Market Basket in Chelsea seems like the best option but still is rather lacking. Or an Italian Market? J. Pace is the best out there and but none of their locations even stock artisinal/quality products. How about a good ice cream joint? One that doesn't use stabilizers nor pre-made mix. Or coffee roasters in the city?

Well that's the end of my rant. I'll end with places I like.
Baraka Cafe - excellent
Pho 2000 - best pho in the city but that's it
Habesha - Very good
Singhs - Very good Roti
Oleana - Best upscale place I have eaten at

And no, cities as far away as Burlington, Waltham and Providence do not count as Boston. Sorry.

please commiserate with me. or flame away.

Baraka Cafe
80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Pho 2000 Restaurant
198 Adams St, Dorchester, MA 02122

134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

Habesha Restaurant
535 Main St, Malden, MA

  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. To not count Burlington or Waltham as part of Boston is at odds with the way that the Boston area actually works. Many years ago those were all very separate communities with distinct marketplaces, but these days they are really part and parcel of the Boston area, with Boston proper as just one more part of it. It is as if you were to say that NYC does not have great Chinese food because you did not like Chinatown and felt that Flushing could not be counted as part of NYC.

      3 Replies
      1. re: PinchOfSalt

        Also, Waltham is less than 10 miles from parts of Boston, and Burlington less than 20. To group them with Providence, which is an hour away and in another state, is hardly fair.

        1. re: PinchOfSalt

          Maybe OP wants to restrict to areas that can be accessed by T. Then Burlington and Waltham certainly don't make the cut.

          While I suggest OP read this thread.

          1. re: cutipie721

            Waltham, especially around Moody Street, is quite accessible by T, by commuter rail, local buses and express buses.

        2. I think you're being too hard on Boston, even if you only want to focus on low price food. (I think Boston's mid-to-high price offerings are very competitive with other U.S. cities of a similar size.) Some of your statements ("better Mexican food everywhere else") are obviously exaggerations. Have you tried a few meals in East Boston? I'd say that between JP Licks, Toscanini's and Christina's, we aren't hurting for ice cream. Have you tried John Dewar's for meat? I'm admittedly not a burger person, but the burger at Craigie on Main is the most delicious I've had anywhere. Is Trattoria Toscana not "a nice eatery with decent value"? Sure, there are plenty of things the Boston food scene is missing, but a little credit please for some of the many things the city does do well.

          Trattoria Toscana
          130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

          Craigie on Main
          853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

          5 Replies
          1. re: peelmeagrape

            I too feel that gross generalizations obscure the many assets we have here, many in categories that fishmanator complains about. While the OP is certainly entitled to feel frustrated by the food scene, I eat at the same price point for the same reason and have also lived in other excellent food cities and disagree with the overall point. It would be much easier to have this discussion with specific examples. I do not think it is terribly unusual that the Chinese food here is "hit or miss." I think you would find that in any city, with any cuisine. Of course there are good and bad options, but I would put Fuloon, Peach Farm, Gourmet Dumpling House, Dumpling Cafe, New Shanghai, Zoe's, Best Little Restaurant, Winsor, Szechuan Gourmet against the Chinese restaurants in any other city. Washington, DC has a very rich Asian food culture that I am pretty familiar with and I have found equals here across the board--and that is not my opinion alone. What makes the Vietnamese better in Denver? Anh Hong, Pho 2000, Pho So 1, and Xinh Xinh are excellent, to my tastes at least. I have eaten Vietnamese in other strongholds and have not found it lacking here. What does the OP find lacking? It seems especially odd to criticize ice cream and coffee, both of which are actually real strengths of this area. As peelmeagrape points out, Christina's and Toscanini's, among others, are real innovators and generally pretty excellent. I am not sure whether they use stabilizers or "pre-made mix" but have never found their tastes to be off or the texture unpleasant. The flavors are vibrant. Barismo and George Howell/Terroir are extraordinary coffee roasters, as good as anything in the country. We have really great options for retail coffee: Thinking Cup, Voltage, and Simon's among the growing list of Third Wave choices in this area. Picco, Pizzeria Regina, Santorpio's, and Emma's are just some of the pizza choices we have here, and I don't find them lacking. Perhaps we do not have a dozen Neapolitan pizza options here as in NYC, but there are some really fine options, which actually directly reflect our "food culture"--Pizzeria Regina and Santorpio's are certainly reflective of the particular history of this area. And what about the Portuguese and Brazilian options here? Those certainly seem to be a distinctive food culture, one that few other cities can boast in similar numbers.

            Peach Farm
            4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

            New Shanghai Restaurant
            21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

            Xinh Xinh
            7 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

            Gourmet Dumpling House
            52 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

            Pho 2000 Restaurant
            198 Adams St, Dorchester, MA 02122

            Anh Hong
            291 Adams St, Dorchester, MA 02122

            169 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02474

            1. re: hckybg

              LOL fishmanator! I'm going to enjoy watching for your posts --if they even make it to this board. If you question the majority opinion here you can look forward to having your posts yanked. Period.

              Take it from another newb in Boston: there is good food to be had here, but Boston cuisine is wildly inconsistent. Just realize that the dish and the restaurant you liked last week won't be very good next week though it might be excellent again the week after that. Keep experimenting. It's out there, but you'll have to find it for yourself.

              Yes, you'll have to travel like a FedEx deliveryman from one borough/town to another to find individual places you like. And good luck navigating Boston's roads.

              Best bets here? Bread. French bakeries abound and they're
              all wonderful, with European-style loaves and pastries to choose from. Local ice cream is also expertly made. Wine shops stock really good stuff. The beer is fabulous. As noted above, the coffee is first class and they told you true about the pizza. I agree with you about the ethnic food, at least as much of it as I understand. Don't believe anybody here about the Chinese or Mexican. Beware reviews that address how MUCH food a restaurant offers; we both know that isn't the point. And the rapturous reviews of hot dog wagons gives you an idea of what passes for gourmet here. It's too bad, as you say, that a city this sophisticated in every other respect would settle for restaurants this indifferent, but it's possible that Boston's physical isolation from the rest of the U.S. accounts for it.

              I'll be surprised if this post even makes it to this board. On the off-chance that it does, I wish you luck with your culinary travels an advise you to get over your shock and approach each meal with an open mind.

              1. re: SSqwerty

                Can you explain what you mean by "Boston's physical isolation from the rest of the U.S."?

                1. re: stomachofsteel

                  Maybe somebody didn't get the memo about the city fathers filling in the Back Bay?

                2. re: SSqwerty

                  Rarely is there a post here that addresses "how MUCH food a restaurant offers," I believe that is firmly Phantom Gourmet territory. They can also point you guys to some great ooeygooeycheesybaconmcfried ________.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. I have lived in (within 10 miles), of Boston most of my life.
                I love the Italian Suulmeria in the North End.
                Christina's Ice Cream in Cambridge is excellent.
                Formaggio in Cambridge for Cheese.
                Karl's for sausage (Saugus)
                Red Barn Coffee Roasters (they have a location in Fanueil Mkt)
                I agree that the prices in Boston are high as is the parking. I stay out in the burbs
                and love to eat pizza in Santapio's, East Boston. But, both Regina and Antico Forno
                have brick ovens, so you might want to check at least Regina's out. Galleria Uno
                is great if you want a slice and some Arancini, but geat there by 11am. They sell
                out and close afterward every day.
                Sofra Bakery is a great place for lunch as is Dave's Pasta.
                Oh, if you ever make it to Burlington, check out H-Mart, it's worth the trip.

                Antico Forno
                93 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113

                Red Barn Coffee Roasters
                2 Walker Dr, Upton, MA

                1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                3 Old Concord Rd, Burlington, MA 01803