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Aug 31, 2011 01:42 PM

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?

774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

O Ya
9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

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  1. The original comment has been removed
    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?


                      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

                        Belmont, MA, Belmont, MA

                        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.


                          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. The original comment has been removed
                1. 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