HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >

Discussion

Has the Boston area finally become a good food and restaurant city?

It seems like with each passing year, more quality chefs and restaurants are opening. It's not to say that Boston is close with the likes of NYC, Chicago, Vegas, or the Bay Area, but the quality, standards, and diversity (from high-end, elegant restaurants like L'Espalier to Barbara Lynch's restaurants in No. 9 Park and Menton, to top-notch Japanese cuisine in O Ya to great Italian dining) seems to be much better. Are Bostonians becoming more appreciate of new concepts and tastes; willing to shell out money for quality and service?

-----
L'Espalier
774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

O Ya
9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

Menton
354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. I'd say Bostonians have always been willing to shell out plenty of money, but often it ends up being for mediocre service and overpriced or overambitious food. We seem to have plenty of restaurants that charge more than the cities you mention and don't deliver near the same level of food and definitely lack in service.

    That said we also have some standouts that have elevated the city's competition and its presence in the national dining scene. I think Boston has come a long way over the past twenty years and modernized at the higher end in rebellion against stodgy tradition for better and for worse (ie. the dress code debate). At the same time, other smaller cities that we currently compete with are doing the same thing and some are really killing us in the creative cheap eats category whether through small cafes, food trucks (we were slow to adopt them), or stronger ethnic food communities.

    1. A good food city doesn't just have high end places that are decent, it has delicious, inexpensive, creative food in every other deli, mom and pop place, and coffee shop. The Bay Area, NYC, Chicago and even the Seattle area have lots of places like this. I know I will eat well in those areas even if I'm just going for the $12 flatbread at the restaurant around the corner. Although Boston has come a long way since I moved to this area in the mid 80s, you still have to pick and choose to find good places to eat. It's rarely accidental, the way it is in the truly excellent food cities.

      14 Replies
      1. re: Isolda

        I would argue that boston is about at the Seattle level; heck, Rod Dee, several chinese places such as Sichuan Gourmet, Golden Garden, Indian: Tamarind Bay would be good even in NYC.

        -----
        Tamarind Bay
        75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

        Sichuan Gourmet
        1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

        Golden Garden
        63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

          But those are special places. You can name them because they stand out. In the Seattle area, even in my parents' suburban town, there are so many places of that caliber you can't even remember their names. You just walk into a place and know it will be good.

          1. re: Isolda

            one of my foodie friends - who taught me to cook - was not quite so excited about Seattle; i do not feel that i can just walk into a place in NYC and be sure of a good meal.

            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              I agree 100%. I feel this is a crapshoot in any city, and while I appreciate the sentiment I think it is very hyperbolic to say you can wander into excellence in New York or any other city. I haven't noticed a great deal of difference in the degree to which one needs to research restaurants no matter where I've lived.

              1. re: hckybg

                Hence the beauty of the Boston Board and the other regional boards. It's not a question of which city has the best chow, it's making sure that we can find it and thanks to you all, the chances of a good experience are enhanced exponentially.

          2. re: cambridgedoctpr

            I completely disagree with the use of Rod Dee and Tamarind Bay in that example. Rod Dee is totally average compared to just the other places in Boston.

            1. re: Gabatta

              Do you find Tamarind Bay "totally average" as well? Which Indian restaurants in Boston do you consider better? How about in New York?

              Just curious.

              -----
              Tamarind Bay
              75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

              1. re: FoodDabbler

                I think all of the Indian food I have had in Boston is pretty lacking compared with that available in some of the places I travel. I wouldn't say Tamarind bay is totally average (that was referring to Rod Dee) compared to other Boston indian places, but I personally much prefer Kebab Factory.

                -----
                The Kebab Factory
                414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

                1. re: Gabatta

                  i used to love Indian food, but have had such horrible dishes that I started to think I hated it! I need to try The Kebab Factory, though.

                  One thing that makes it difficult around here is that so many of our Indian restaurants in the Boston area are actually owned by one corporation. It took me a bit of digging to discover that.

                  -----
                  The Kebab Factory
                  414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

                  1. re: threedogs

                    I wonder how many Boston-area Indian (or Pakistani, Bengali, Sri Lankan, etc.) restaurants are actually owned by the same company. To my knowledge, nearly all of the dozens of sub-continental places here are independently operated, or part of very small ownership groups with two or three venues, like the India Quality / Punjab Palace tandem, or Tanjore / Bhindi Bazaar.

                    The biggest chain I can think of is One World Cuisine, which owns Bukkhara, Cafe of India, Diva, Kashmir, Mela, Mantra, Mumbai Chopstix, Dosa Factory / Shalimar, and a couple of liquor stores. Those aren't my favorites, but I'd hardly call them uniformly bad. They just lean toward what I might call date-night Indian: pricey, stylish settings and safely Westernized food, whereas I tend to favor plainer settings with more traditional fare at better prices.

                    What other big chains are you aware of?

                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      Not disputing anything you say, but the Tanjore / BB owner also owns Rani, I believe. Also I think that Punjab in Arlington, Khushboo in Lexington, and Kashish in Belmont must be owned by the same group. The menus are very similar.

                      For myself, I think that Tamarind Bay is a cut above any other Indian restaurant I've eaten at in the Boston area (or Manhattan). It has a distinctive menu, for one thing, not the same old fare you get pretty much everywhere else, and the execution is generally good. I've written in detail about their food elsewhere on this board. I'm not a huge fan of Kebab Factory. I've found their dinner food generally mediocre, although their lunch buffet is decent (but not, to my taste, spectacular). The one dish that I've found consistently excellent there, through over two dozen samplings, is their rasmalai dessert.

                      -----
                      Tamarind Bay
                      75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      The Kebab Factory
                      414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

                      Kashish
                      Belmont, MA, Belmont, MA

                      Tanjore
                      18 Eliot St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        I have to add my favorite, India Samraat on Mass Ave between Commonwealth and Marlborough.

                        Here you should always check the blackboard specials before you order. They add variety to the menu with these offerings. And, they test new menu items by featuring them first as specials.

                        Penny
                        http://www.bostonzest.com/

                        -----
                        India Samraat
                        51A Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

            2. re: Isolda

              I tend to view Boston as a special kind of college town, and I think that's reflected in the reasonably priced restaurants. It's got a great range of family owned ethnic restaurants, speciality places and a pretty decent fresh-food culture. The balance of cultural sophistication, ethnic diversity and quality at a reasonable price puts it in a sweet spot for me. When I travel there, I feel as if I can eat out as much as I want while having good experiences and not overspending on food.

              I stopped at Craigie on Main, for example, and loved the Assiette de Maison (pates and terrines plate) I got at the bar for about $17. In the DC area, food of that quality would have cost me much more.

              Maybe with all the high end students in Boston, they are are sophisticated enough that they expect good food, but are maybe on enough of a budget that they don't have unlimited food money so that they to want to overpay.

              At any rate seems to me that where Boston's casual dining scene is, is pretty much in a sweet spot for this recession in terms of pricing vs quality, and it'll continue to grow as a food town, even if it's not there yet.

              -----
              Craigie on Main
              853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

            3. If you have to ask, it's probably not so. (For my money, Portland ME had a better claim on the tiara for Queen of New England Dining, though I've not been in a few years, so maybe the current depression has changed that.)

              Boston is way better in many measures compared to 30 years ago; but not all - the sheer cost of overhead is not balanced by high volume, so Boston tends to squeeze out the exceptional lower-end places that really help balance out the Lucullan dining choices (for our class of Benign Overlords Who Really Mean Well But Really Really Deserve Their Wealth) in Major Cosmopolitan Food Destination Cities. We have lots of threads wondering in various ways Why Doesn't Boston Have Much of X To Choose From? and the answer is in this dynamic.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Karl S

                Yeah, but those are the "why can't a city of 600k support five dozen traditional izakayas like the ones I tried that one time my employer sent me to Japan for a week" threads.

                If you're not eating well here, it's squarely your own fault.

                1. re: robwat36

                  Don't think Boston has enough people to support places you'd find in Chicago, NYC, Toronto, etc.
                  That said, it sucks a lot less than even 10yrs ago...and it's craploads better than 20yrs ago, but food in general has gotten better everywhere thanks probably at least in part to the Internet and foodie sites. Julia Child and Jacques Pepin's cooking is crude compared to what people do now... :-)

                  p.s., is this a serious question or is the OP just starting a lively discussion for fun? :-)

                  1. re: Spike

                    Not crude. A different style from a different era. So many so called 'foodies' are chasing nothing but trends and fashion, and discounting great food that is not flashy or trendy. ( for example everyone who says Tamarind Bay is "better" than India Quality)

                    Thats why you have to take this place with a BIG grain of salt.

                    Give me fresh, quality ingredients, treated with respect and care, any day over some flash in the pan, trendy, publicist hyped restaurant.

                    And without Julia Child Chowhound (and the modern American food scene) would not be here for us to argue the point...

                    -----
                    India Quality Restaurant
                    484 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                    1. re: aregularjoe

                      Different era is what I meant...part of eating is what it looks like and it seems people are paying more attention to that now. India Quality is definitely one of the best Indian places in this area, but still wouldn't be highly rated.
                      One example of flashy w/ great ingredients is the osso bucco at Mamma Maria...I had this a few years ago and it was great tasting, but plating was typical Italian plate style. Went there a few weeks ago, and they've updated it with a vertical plating style that looks better, but still tastes great.

                      Very true about Julia Child bringing "foreign" food back to the US and training/inspiring a lot of great descendant cooks... :-)

                      -----
                      India Quality Restaurant
                      484 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

              2. Vegas? Scratch that terrible place and substitute L.A., a far more interesting, Chowhound-worthy destination.

                Like most North American cities, Boston's restaurant scene has its strengths and weaknesses. Without attempting to be exhaustive, I'd cite a few positives:

                * Local seafood. We've long been a bit overrated on this from a restaurant perspective, but that's improving with the opening of places like Island Creek Oyster Bar.

                * Many independent chef-owned small restaurants doing New American with a seasonal, local emphasis. This is probably our greatest wellspring of creativity and value in fine dining.

                * A pretty strong Chinatown, though clearly there are some regional cuisines that could be better represented.

                * A handful of well-regarded small restaurant empires headed by semi-famed chefs: Barbara Lynch, Ken Oringer, Jasper White, Lydia Shire, Michael Schlow, Todd English (though English has mostly abandoned Boston to build a much larger national empire).

                * A mini-boom in the gastropub movement, mid-range places doing a lot of in-house craft: pickling, salumi and charcuterie, whole-animal butchery, etc.

                * A wealth of ex-pat communities with restaurants doing traditional cuisines of their homelands, largely for their fellow immigrants, so not dumbing the food down for Americans. Azorean, Brazilian, Cape Verdean, Haitian, Dominican, Salvadoran, Portuguese, Guatemalan, Colombian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Armenian, Russian, Polish, Tibetan, etc.. I'd call this our tremendous strength outside of the fine dining level. Nice to see Sichuan making a resurgence in town, and the new presence of Egyptian and previously little-seen African cuisines like Somali and Senegalese.

                * Thanks to biotech, high tech, medicine, and other fields that draw many H-1B workers, a range of sub-continental regional cuisines (various Indian cuisines, Pakistani, Bengali / Bangladeshi) that has finally gotten richer, including some more high-end kind of places.

                * New strength, quality and diversity in the food truck category.

                * Vegetarian and vegan options that are improving steadily, as well as more restaurants that accommodate folks with other dietary preferences or restrictions: gluten-free, seafood-free, halal, etc.

                * Beyond the North End's famous but touristy and forgettable red-sauce American-Italian restaurants, improving breadth in regional Italian at places like Erbaluce (Emilia-Romagna), Trattoria Toscana (Tuscany), and Marco (Roman).

                * A strong craft cocktail movement led by a solid core of serious Golden Age revivalists. A second generation that trained under these folks is fanning out, spreading the wealth to other bars and restaurants. There's still too many flavored-vodkatinis around, but we've come a long way in ten years. Our elite craft cocktail bars rank with the best in the country.

                * A pretty good and improving set of restaurants and bars that cater to beer geeks.

                Boston still has some big holes: traditional Ashkenazi Jewish deli, good diners, traditional regional Mexican, German, Czech, modest izakayas, Laotian (unless you include Lowell in Greater Boston), and so on. We lack world-class high-end dining; our best-regarded luxury restaurants might rate a single Michelin star. Nobody's seriously doing molecular cooking, though there's some dabbling here and there. We could do with more and better wine bars. We have far too many expensive chain steakhouses, fake Irish pubs, upscale faux-Mexican joints, and national casual-dining chain outlets.

                But those are quibbles. When you look at the entire dining spectrum from high to low; we have a great scene for an American city of our size. The dining populace has come a long way in adventurousness and sophistication from the bad old days of 20 to 30 years ago, though we still have some headroom there. Spend some time traveling around North America, to cities that are within five or ten spots of us in the population ranking, and it's easy to be grateful you live here, especially if you're willing to go a little bit out of your way to dine out.

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                18 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Also, an increasingly interesting coffee culture. Not the 100 places New York has, but who can drink 100 espressos at once?

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    we would appreciate so much if you can give examples in EACH category. Thanks in advance

                    1. re: galka

                      * Local seafood. Neptune Oyster, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Chinatown's live-tank Hong Kong style seafood joints, Cambridge's Lusophone restaurants.

                      * Independent chef-owned small New American restaurants: Bondir, T.W. Food, Rendezvous, Bergamot, many others.

                      * Chinatown. Taiwan Cafe (Taiwanese), Peach Farm (HK live-tank seafood), New Shanghai (Beijing and Sichuan), Mei Sum (Cantonese bakery with great banh mi), Vinh-Sun (roast meat specialist), Shabu-Zen (shabu-shabu), Best Little (Cantonese), many more.

                      * My favorites of the local celeb-chef mini-empires: Barbara Lynch (Drink/Sportello), Ken Oringer (Coppa/Toro), Jasper White (Summer Shack Alewife), Lydia Shire (Scampo), Michael Schlow (Via Matta/Tico), Todd English (nothing anymore).

                      * Gastro-pubs: Russell House Tavern, The Gallows.

                      * Modest traditional restaurants with mostly ex-pat customer bases: Azorean (O Senhor Ramos), Brazilian (Cafe Brazil, Muqueca), Cape Verdean (Laura's), Haitian (Camie's Bakery, Griyo Lakay), Dominican (Merengue, Alex's Chimis), Salvadoran (Mi Pueblito, Pupuseria Mama Blanca), Portuguese (Casa Portugal, Sunset Cafe), Guatemalan (Mi Tierra), Colombian (El Paisa, La Chiva), Thai (S&I, Dok Bua), Vietnamese (Xinh Xinh, Ba Le Bakery), Cambodian (Thmor Da), Armenian (Karoun), Russian (Cafe St. Petersburgh), Polish (Cafe Polonia), Tibetan (Tashi Delek, House of Tibet), Turkish (Brookline Family, Istanbu'lu), Syrian/Lebanese (Cafe Barada, Fordee's), Tunisian (Cafe Baraka), Afghani (The Helmand, Ariana), Sichuan (Sichuan Gourmet, Thailand Cafe), Egyptian (Falafel Corner, Azama), Somali (Tawakal), Senegalese (Teranga), Ethopian / Eritrean (Addis Red Sea, Lucy's), Australian (KO Catering), Greek (Esperia, Farm Grill, Zo), Puerto Rican (Izzy's, Cafe Latino), Trinidadian (Singh's, Ali's), Cuban (El Oriental), Persian (Jasmine Taste, Kolbeh of Kebab), Jamaican (Lorenz Island, Pepper Pot), Peruvian (Rincon Limeno, El Chalan), Mexican (Angela's, Jalisco, El Amigo), Korean (Korean Garden, Hanmaru), Japanese (Toraya, Oishii Chestnut Hill), Israeli (Rami's, Jerusalem Pita). I'm sure I'm missing any number of worthy traditional cuisines and their local outposts.

                      * Regional cuisines of the sub-continent: high-end (Tamarind Bay), Northern (India Quality, The Kebab Factory), Southern (Tanjore), street-food snacks (Dosa Factory), Hyderabadi (Rani, Kebab and Tandoor), Bengali / Bangladeshi (Darul Kabab, Royal Bengal), Tibetan-in-exile-in-India (Martsa on Elm), Desi Chinese (Namaskar, Indian Dhaba), Nepalese (Himalayan Bistro, Yak and Yeti), Sri Lanan (Biryani Park).

                      * Quality food trucks: Staff Meal, Clover Food Labs

                      * Vegetarian and vegan: True Bistro, Greater Boston Buddhist Cultural Center, Life Alive, Red Lentil.

                      * Regional Italian: Erbaluce (Emilia-Romagna), Trattoria Toscana (Tuscany), Marco (Roman) Rino's Place (Abruzzese on the specials menu), Daily Catch North End (Sicilian), Maurizio's (Sardinian), Gran Gusto (Campanian).

                      * Craft cocktails: Drink, Eastern Standard, Green Street, Deep Ellum, No. 9 Park.

                      * Beer geek bars: Deep Ellum, Lord Hobo, Five Horses Tavern.

                      Again, this list is hardly exhaustive, just a few examples.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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

                      Peach Farm
                      4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

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

                      Baraka Cafe
                      80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      New Shanghai Restaurant
                      21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

                      Eastern Standard
                      528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                      Tamarind Bay
                      75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      Alex's Chimis
                      358 Centre St, Boston, MA 02130

                      The Kebab Factory
                      414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

                      Muqueca
                      1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      T.W. Food
                      377A Walden St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      Indian Dhaba
                      180 Brighton Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                      Deep Ellum Bar
                      477 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134

                      Pupuseria Mama Blanca
                      389 Maverick St, Boston, MA 02128

                      Ba Le Bakery
                      1025 Dorchester Avenue, Boston, MA

                      India Quality Restaurant
                      484 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                      La Chiva Restaurant
                      259 Bennington St, Boston, MA 02128

                      Red Sea Cafe
                      1127 Harrison Ave, Roxbury, MA 02119

                      Tanjore
                      18 Eliot St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      Erbaluce
                      69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

                      Red Lentil
                      600 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                      Lord Hobo
                      92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                      Russell House Tavern
                      14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

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

                      Bondir
                      279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      Life Alive
                      765 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      Darul Kabab
                      2072 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

                      Clover Food Lab
                      7 Holyoke St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                      Staff Meal
                      Mobile truck, no formal location, Boston, MA

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        If I could "favorite" a post, I'd give yours a big shiny gold star, MC Slim JB.

                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                          Seriously, you are crazy nice to do that, MC. Great list.

                            1. re: hckybg

                              I agree - great list & great to do this, MC!!

                            2. re: Boston_Otter

                              Standing and applauding. We just don't thank you often enough. You add so much to this community's knowledge base.

                              Bravo !

                              Penny
                              http://www.bostonzest.com/

                            3. re: MC Slim JB

                              Thoughtful and diplomatic. What do you think of the bar at Citizen?

                              1. re: whs

                                Like the bar at Citizen a lot: some serious cocktail craft going on there, a combination of the Franklin Cafe chain's bar manager elevating staff chops across the mini-empire, and the hiring of some specific talents both veteran and relatively green but serious. $3 Fernet *on tap* is another plus, a naked gambit for the industry crowd.

                                Good budget-priced wine program, carafes especially a bargain. Most noteworthy: what might be the most interesting, globetrotting whiskey program in town, with the added bonus of the fabulous Japanese ice-ball machine, which gives a dram just the right chill without adding too much dilution.

                                Doesn't hurt that I like the food, the raw bar, and the jars of jerky on the bar. Also: whole pig roasts with fixings for ten diners for a mere $380++, a steal.

                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            I don't live there but when I did, in the andelluvian 1970's, the only places anyone went to for higher end or for local food were Locke-Ober, upstairs at the Ritz(the beauty of that room made up for any deficiencies although Icannot recall any faults...it was calssic straightforward for what it was), Maison Robert, No Name, Durgin for the rib, Jimmy's for fish. Thre was a small group of people who were very interested in food...you'd see them in Julia Child's audience...but it was still a surprise to many New England friends for me, as a man(boy) to be a devoted cook. On my home turf of New Orleans is was and is standard but restaurants and cooking are very much part of the culture here. Boston has improved on many levels in food. I even had passable RUssian at some place out in Brookline (can't recall the name) but my Rooskie Scientist friend in Somerville can still outperform them.

                            The addition of No 9 PArk and Island Creek is very welcome to me. I have yet to get a comprehensive tour in but look forward to doing it. My trips are usually of such a short duration, thogh, that I usually have time for Old Friends. Not terrible adventurous but it soothes my soul

                            -----
                            Locke-Ober
                            3 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108

                            No Name Restaurant
                            151-2 Fish Pier, Boston, MA 02210

                            1. re: hazelhurst

                              Glad you drew comparisons from now to the blighted Boston 70's. If you were in Back Bay at that time, do you remember Cafe Florian (for upscale-for-the-day brasserie fare) or The English Room (for cheap chowish meals) on Newbury St back in the day?

                              1. re: marais

                                I remember both the English Room (and their notorious sweet poppyseed salad dressing) and the Cafe Florian - although I remember Florian to have been just a cafe, not a brasserie.

                                1. re: Allstonian

                                  Remember le boucage at that odd watertown location? my recollection of that place is pretty positive.

                                2. re: marais

                                  I remember those but I don't think I was at either of them more than half-a-dozen times. Usually in Back Bay I went to the Ritz or to a schoolmates great aunt's wonderfully 19th C. townhouse on the flat part of Beacon Street.. When I was feeling flush I'd just default to Locke-Ober.

                                  -----
                                  Locke-Ober
                                  3 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108

                                  1. re: marais

                                    Was the Cafe Florian the one that burned down? (or at least, had a fire?) If so, I ate there quite a few times.

                                    1. re: threedogs

                                      No, Cafe Florian was in a basement, where L'Aroma Cafe is now. It was a favorite spot of mine when I was in my teens and twenties, for a spot of grown-up refreshment.

                                3. re: MC Slim JB

                                  It would be cool if Boston got a two-star or three-star world-class high-end dining establishment. L'Espalier and Menton seem to be the top two in that regards, but I think they're one-star establishments.

                                  -----
                                  L'Espalier
                                  774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                                  Menton
                                  354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                                4. I've lived in Seattle and I grew up in NY. I've also lived in Washington, DC. I visit them all often and I love them all. I've been fortunate enough to travel a lot and, like most CH'ers, love food. I can eat very well in Boston, find the food in Seattle over-rated (Portland Oregon has better eating), find the food in DC's good restaurants underrated but also surprisingly lacking in diversity, given that it has great cultural diversity. I also find the food in San Francisco (here I am only a visitor so I don't consider my knowledge great) over-rated (the italian food in particular) but the markets superb (farmer's markets, etc.). Compared to NY, it isn't possible for Boston, given it's size limitations, to compete at the high end, or at the level of diversity when you include Queens, Brooklyn, etc. All that said, Boston competes very well for both good ethnic and good upper end restaurants when compared with other cities of its size and it offers fine ethnic shopping. With a little effort I can find most of what I want. Which leaves me the pleasure of enjoying restaurants like the Modern or Per Se when I go to NY (or, on the other hand, Congee Village!).

                                  1. Hi all, please pardon the interruption. Two quick requests on this topic:

                                    * Please keep the discussion focused on specific Boston-area chow.
                                    * Please keep it civil.

                                    Thanks!

                                    The Chowhound Team

                                    1. Without bothering to read a single response, I feel compelled to say WTF?

                                      L'Espalier opened in 1978 and moved to what many mourn in 1982 to a backbay townhouse as far superior to the current location.

                                      Barbara Lynch opened No.9 in 1998

                                      O Ya opened sometime around 2007

                                      So as we approach the year 2012, the original querrie makes no sense whatsoever.

                                      -----
                                      L'Espalier
                                      774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                                      O Ya
                                      9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Bellachefa

                                        Boston used to be a rather pedestrian city for dining and food. Food culture and changes do not happen overnight. Does that mean because The French Laundry, which was bought by Thomas Keller in 1994, does that mean it is irrelevant to the food dining scene and not putting out top-notch food and experiences? Just because a chef or restaurant is established, doesn't mean it still can't deliver great meals next to the newest kids on the block.

                                        1. re: Eastwind

                                          Not sure, but I think Bellachefa's point might be that culinary excellence is not really new to Boston; we've had our bright spots for a long time. And I don't think many Chowhounds write off places just because they've been around for a while. Sure, we spend a lot of time here discussion new-new places, but plenty of recommendations here include the old warhorses of the scene, too.

                                          That said, the city truly has come a long way in 20 years at every point on the dining spectrum. I'd cite a few reasons: the steady accretion of new restaurant talent, the growing sophistication of the dining public, a broader cultural shift to dining out more and making the enjoyment of food more of a hobby, and the steady influx of new immigrant populations.

                                          I recently found a copy of Robert Nadeau's Guide to Boston Restaurants: Not Including Locke-Ober, Cafe Budapest, or the Ritz (1978). I'm struck by the fact that even then, 33 years ago, he'd already written over 200 restaurant reviews for bygone Phoenix competitor The Real Paper. Having skimmed through it, I'd say it's way, way, way better to be a Boston Chowhound in 2011.

                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                      2. Something else I feel compelled to point out is that while NYC has tons of amazing food, they also have such astoundingly high overhead that a lot of really mediocre food gets by on flash and hype. For example, there's not many places in NY to just sit down and have a nice, quality breakfast. I've been to pancake places in Brooklyn that charge $15-$18 for a plate of standard-issue pancakes... and like most spots in NY, only take cash. The upshot of this is that NY friends of mine envy Boston-area restaurants such as Friendly Toast, Sound Bites, etc. Not world-class, I know, but simple, reasonable, good food. Boston has it in spades.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                                          For the amount of time that I choose to spend eating out, which is at least a couple of times a week, there are plenty of places I don't get to as frequently as I'd like, and still more that I'd like to try and haven't been able to. I feel like that's the most important yardstick. I can't imagine sitting around saying, "Oh, I'd have 15 places I'd like to try tonight if I lived in Philadelphia, instead of 10 here."

                                          1. re: robwat36

                                            FYI the above post wasn't meant as a reply to Boston_Otter, but to the thread in general. Sorry!

                                            1. re: robwat36

                                              Wherever you meant to put it, it corresponds to my feeling about Boston restaurants. I have more options for good to great meals out at all price points than I have time, money or inclination to eat out. How Boston compares to other cities in that regard is largely immaterial.

                                          2. re: Boston_Otter

                                            This is supposed to be about Boston, not NY, but as someone who lives in both cities, I want to at least point out, without going into detail, that I disagree with virtually everything in Boston_Otter's post.

                                              1. re: Blumie

                                                Okay! I guess you and I have had vastly different experiences dining in both cities. My point in making my post is that Boston shouldn't consider itself a second-class dining city in every regard, as the OP suggests, when many of our dining destinations are envied by folks in so-called "first class" dining cities.

                                            1. I would like to offer a dissenting viewpoint -

                                              We get skewed in our views here on the Board because the people here LOVE LOVE LOVE food. But if we are talking about Boston as a whole, we are in the distinct minority. Most people are not going to "trek" out to Malden to try the Fuloon - most people are going to be happy with regular cheese pizza than spend $16 on a Gran Gusto "authentic" pizza. Or think whatever chow they are slinging in the North End is divine. And as long as the vast majority of the citizenry prefer 64 ounce so-called coffees with *no actual coffee flavor* and overwhelmed with cream and sugar, I cannot say the denizens of Boston know how to eat and that this qualifies as a "food city" or "food area."

                                              Which is not to say that there has not been a vast improvement. And thankfully, there are more and more people to support the great cuisine we do have. And I am certainly willing to accept that I may be overvaluing the response to food that I believe other "food" cities have. It may be just a complaint about Americans in general.

                                              But a check of the Boston magazine "Best of"s suggests to me that the mainstream - the middle part of the bell curve - still does not quite get it.

                                              14 Replies
                                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                Ooof...I wouldn't look at BMag's "best of's" as representative of anything other than itself.

                                                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                  Really, Bob: slagging the hallowed local institution that is Dunkin Donuts? This is the point where Dave Andelman points at you, screams the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" alien alert, and has you hauled off to be batter-fried alive and served with canned pineapple chunks in sweet-and-sour sauce on The Kowloon's buffet.

                                                  I see your point: the bulk of any dining scene by definition must cater to its lowest common denominator. Mt. Everest Kitchen goes bust while The Cheesecake Factory still has lines out the door. But many decent-sized American cities have very little beyond those kind of chain options: just look at their newspapers. I was in San Antonio not too long ago, and the local answer to Devra was reviewing a Chart House. That kind of thing happens everywhere: chain restaurant culture has come to dominate the entire country.

                                                  In light of that, I think you have to rate a city by how well it caters to its Chowhounds, even if that represents only 10% of the dining-out dollars that get spent, as the bottom of the pyramid looks increasingly similar everywhere.

                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                  -----
                                                  Mt. Everest Kitchen
                                                  182 Brighton Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                    Plus it seems like most of the newer places that get embraced by the CH community thrive immediately, both at the higher (Bondir, Bergamot, ICOB) and lower (Bon Chon, Clover, Cutty's) end. (I'm sure there are many exceptions, but it seems like a lot of CH favorites draw consistently large and avid crowds.)

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      Robwat - I don't personally put value in Boston Mag, nor most Chowhounds, but I suspect an awful lot of people do. Which is what worries me.

                                                      MC - I can definitely see your point about the majority of American cities - I am surely skewed in my viewpoint, since I could just as easily live in Portlandia. I guess what eats at me is the sense of Bostonians fetishizing certain things to their detriment - gotta have my Dunks, Barbara Lynch Barbara Lynch, Fenway Park is the best baseball stadium in the world, Kowloon...

                                                      How does a place like that even exist, and inspire such blind devotion? It's busy all the time, right? (I've been once, it was not horrible) Not to mention that something like the Phantom has a platform that apparently gets great ratings? Seriously? How?! Blech blech - The emperor has no taste, people!

                                                      I guess I don't fault the common man in say...Topeka...or Pittsburgh...if their only choice is Cheesecake F*ctory vs. the Bostonian who could seek out a Mt. Everest and chooses poorly.

                                                      It could also be that I just watched the Sardinia episode of No Reservations on Netflix.

                                                      P.S. - the death scene above would really be a terrible way to go.

                                                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                        You are always reasonable, Bob, and this makes sense in general. But I think the phenomenon you are citing is present everywhere, even in the consensus food meccas. I am sure that Cheesecake Factory in suburban NY is as slammed as the one is at Cambridgeside as the one is in Clarendon in Arlington, VA as is the one in Portland and in LA, etc. etc. New York's Little Italy is still absolutely chock-full every single night and those folks aren't going to Torrissi Italian Specialties either. My very food-oriented parents wouldn't try a place like Fuloon unless I dragged them there, it just isn't what they know or are naturally inclined towards by their own experience. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't like it, but they don't seek those kinds of places out nor do they use anything like Chowhound where they live.

                                                        All this to say that the qualitative judgement of food in a city probably has to be determined among people who do seek out the gems and not the "general public." I don't really care if most people prefer Cheesecake Factory in a given city, I think that is very much the case everywhere. I also don't really care if they are missing out on something else. But I do care if the gems are going under because nobody patronizes them. That isn't the case here: Dunks is flourishing but seemingly so are all the fancy coffee places that have opened up in the last couple years.

                                                        1. re: hckybg

                                                          Point well made. At least Red Lobster has restaurants in every state (I think) but none in ME, NH, MA, RI or VT. So I hold out hope for the general public.

                                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                            My wife's family is from Portland, ME, and they opened a Red Lobster near the Maine Mall. I asked my wife as I saw the crowds there in late spring, "How many people are going to eat there in Februrary?" It didn't survive it's first winter. No real Mainer would be caught dead in a Red Lobster!

                                                            1. re: kimfair1

                                                              I lived in AZ for 2 1/2 (ended up being miserable) years. My bf (who lived w/me at the time) and I were dying for seafood. After seeing those ads on TV, he finally got the chance for us to go there. In the land of chain restaurants, we were desperate...

                                                              Ugh. What a horrible, horrible experience. Food was gross, (except for those cheddar rolls that are like a zillion calories each), the shrimp we had was so small we referred to it as fish bait... can't remember the rest of the meal (I think I blocked it out).

                                                              But when we found out that someone from the east coast opened a restaurant in Phoenix - where they had REAL fried clams - we drove all the way up there just for our meal & were not disappointed. We were SO wiling to drive more than 100 miles each way for those clams, and would have done it again in a heartbeat if we didn't decide to move back home to Boston.

                                                        2. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                          for those lined up at the cheesecake factory at the pru, for example, how many do you think are actually from boston? i always imagine most of them just got off a duck boat and are the same americans who eat mcdonalld's when they are in paris.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            That particular location might have an above-average number of tourists for the chain, but I doubt that's where they make their numbers. I'll speculate that those queues are comprised of locals and suburbanites, mostly.

                                                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                        3. re: MC Slim JB

                                                          Really?!?! Couldn't we just hit him with a day old crueller?

                                                          1. re: jjbourgeois

                                                            I think there's another thread in there: "Terrible But Popular Anyway", for which Dunks could be the poster child. A lot of the places that immediately spring to mind, e.g., Union Oyster House, Ciao Bella, are more tourist traps than spots favored by locals. Another group is restaurants that are tilted at the young, who presumably can be forgiven for not knowing any better, e.g., Border Cafe, Fire & Ice, etc.

                                                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                              Do not get me started on Fire and Ice!!! I'll leave it at that. My insurance doesn't cover the PTSD from eating at that swill hole.

                                                              -----
                                                              Fire and Ice
                                                              50 Church St Ste 301, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                                              1. re: jjbourgeois

                                                                ....and I have Chowhound to thank for saving me from the same experience (Fire & Ice)...

                                                      2. Vegas? A food city? Sure, they put a few big name restaurants in town, but they're *far* lower quality than their sister restaurants in other cities. I'd say Boston is vastly superior to Vegas.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Indirect Heat

                                                          Though I'd trade, say, l'Espalier for Lotus of Siam...

                                                          1. re: hckybg

                                                            You just hit on the only thing I look forward to when visiting Vegas. Hellish restaurant town.

                                                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                              Jaleo got a little tired for me when I lived in DC, but was always still pretty fun. It might be worth giving a try in their Vegas location, and you will also get to see the preposterous Cosmopolitan that way. Also, there is a fantastic and genuine Tiki bar away from the strip that you especially would love, called Frankie's Tiki Room (http://www.frankiestikiroom.com/).