Tell me about eating in Boston...
It's good to have a long-time Chowhound joining the Boston board. Soon you will get to know the contributors here as well as you do those who are part of the boards where you're now active.
This is a bit of an open question and I would have to suggest that you begin by scanning the recent topics and clicking over the read the ones that appeal to you. And, of course by adding your own specific questions or comments to the current conversations.
Someone new to the area should know that we have good depth in ethnic foods thanks to our diverse student population. Not every culture is represented well, but there is enough quality to make this an interesting place to explore other foodways.
One contributor, "eattv" recently did a wonderful 30-day report on Boston's ethnic scene. Those are worth reading.
We have a strong local food movement and great farmers' market, CSA, system. I live in the heart of the city, shop mostly local with a CSA, a regular organic produce delivery (Boston Organics), fish and meat shares and I fill in what else I need at Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Except for two small chains (Market Basket, and Roche Brothers,) the mainline grocery scene is dreadful.
We have a small but thriving Chinatown and a section of the city we call the North End that was once mainly Italian but is slowly in transition. But, you can still find great little markets there and a collection of good restaurants.
Our food truck/street food scene is new but fun and growing. I've spent the past summer writing about that part of the food scene and have really enjoyed it.
The downside of our food scene, to me, is that we are chained to death by national and local food factories. They fill ever decent size restaurant space in a good location. Fortunately, their latest move seems to be out of the center of the city to the convention center area. Perhaps that will give some of our wonderful small, chef/owner, locally sourced, and creative dining places room to step up to the next level if they decide to do that.
With an assist from this board, you will be able to avoid the chains and dine in small local places and never set foot inside a food factory.
That will get you started and I'll left lots of space for other ideas and other points of view.
I do recommend eattv's wonderful 30 day sprint through our ethnic food world. An earlier post by striperguy included great references to our ethnic markets, etc. To Penny's list, above, I would add the great shopping at such fine fish markets as New Deal and Court House, the great ethnic foods available in the Armenian stores in Watertown such as Arax and Severns, and the general reliability of the vegetables and fruits available at both the Armenian markets and at Russos in Watertown. We have some fine local meat purveyors including River Rock and good Asian shopping options at HMart, Super 88 and Mings. So, if you are a cook, you won't lack for good source material. As to restaurants, the posts are numerous and it will help if you specify location and type of food you'd like to find. welcome.
One biggie for me is that thinking of Boston as a Italian-and-Seafood town isn't particularly accurate. Yeah, it's easy to find indifferently executed, overpriced Italian-American classics in the North End. But with only a couple exceptions, any good Italian food is found outside the North End in relatively new restaurants. And even then, it's not like they're all over the place.
The other is that 1) there aren't many good restaurants that focus on seafood and 2) New England style seafood cuisine seems to be based NOT on showcasing the freshest possible seafood, but instead on things like clam chowder, fried clams, and baked fish under a pile of ritz crackers. To me, it seems much more like the birthplace of Sysco seafood! I gather that historically Boston-proper was never a fishing port, and therefore heaps of fresh seafood were never really part of the equation.
We do excel in availability of lobsters, steamers, oysters, and scallops, and if you can find a good fishmonger or restaurant, local fish like bluefish, porgy, black bass, and flounder. And we do have a few good fish restaurants. It's just not the paradise of seafood that many expect when the step off the plane at BOS.
Oh, and there's essentially no Mexican food in Boston, with the exception of Angela's Cafe in East Boston and a few scattered tacquerias (some of Salvadorian origin). Most of the Indian places seem to set a rather low bar, though I'm no expert in that area.
We're going well with Southeast Asian cuisines (Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian), especially if you include the north suburbs. We have a number of good Chinese places of various regional focus. The selection for Japanese is limited, but gets the job done.
We have a great (though expensive) craft beer scene. Cambridge Brewing Company brews world-class beers, and there are at least a half-dozen exceptional beer bars. With many local brewers, and with Harpoon and Sam Adams being regional fixtures for over a decade, many "ordinary" restaurants and bars in the area have a surprisingly good selection of beers.
We don't have a proper butcher in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville, as far as I know. Many stores have meat departments that can help, and specialty cuts are available, but not from a butcher. With Formaggio Kitchen, Russo's, Christina's, Penzey's, Capone's, and the Asian markets in the area, I think we're doing pretty well when it comes to other specialty markets.
244 Huron Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138
Cambridge Brewing Company
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139
Well, Boston's Fish Pier was built nearly a century ago when Boston (together with Gloucester and New Bedford) were the center of groundfishing on the East Coast. There is a deep history here, but the local approach to seafood was pragmatic, not a grand cuisine. I will spare a history of salt cod (while we often think of the Canadian Maritimes and the local Lusophone and Italian communities as the primary locus of salt cod, Yankees ate it too). The key thing is that we overfished here, and it's shellfish that remains the more reliable local option (even so, the summertime mobs at the clam shacks on the North Shore up to Maine are not generally getting as much local shellfish as they'd like to imagine - there's not enough supply for that seasonal demand).
And speaking of Lusophones, let's not forget the fact that the longtime presence of people from the Portuguese & colonial diaspora on the southeastern corner of New England from Gloucester to East Providence has given us a rich gift that is unusual elsewhere in the US. For my money, kale soup (the New England variation on caldo verde) is a much more "authentic" regional soup than the gloppy overthickened crap that passes for clam chowder in many (even otherwise) esteemed establishments.
When I moved here from the Midwest, I had the following impressions:
• Boston has a very different set of ethnic specialties than what I'm used to. You can find pretty much any kind of cuisine you want, but as mentioned, we don't have terrific Mexican or Indian. But I live in a neighborhood with three Tibetan restaurants in walking distance. Brazillian, Portuguese, and Greek are part of the food culture here more than other places.
• Food delivery is awesome here. With sites like Foodler, you can have virtually any kind of food delivered to your house. The first time I saw people casually order sushi for delivery, I knew it was a different food scene than the midwest.
• As other folks mentioned, the stereotypical Boston foods are weirdly hard to find. Sure, you can get a great bowl of clam chowder all over the place, but if you want Boston Baked Beans or great seafood, you'll have to do some searching or go to more marine places like Cape Cod, Cape Ann, or Marblehead.
My first impressions upon moving here from DC four years ago were:
*An excellent Chinatown, which has maintained its identity while hosting a range of Asian cuisines (good Vietnamese, Thai, and a range of regional Chinese cuisines)
*Much more ethnic food in the city proper than many large metro areas, where the suburbs offer the best ethnic dining
*Great neighborhoods, dense with restaurants: Allston, Inman Square, Coolidge Corner, Bay Village, East Boston are just some of the enclaves that reward a trip off the beaten path
*At least two great ice cream places: Christina's and Toscanini's
*Thankfully, much less emphasis on really expensive steak restaurants (though we do have our share)
*And more recently, I think we have begun to develop a very vibrant coffee scene.
As someone who moved up to Cambridge from Baltimore/NoVa a few years ago, I was surprised with the willingness of Chowhounds to leave Boston proper for shopping and dining. My impression of the DC/Bmore board was that DC people were reluctant to go outside of DC or the Beltway. So my suggestion to the OP is to keep an open mind and be willing to drive/take public transportation out of Boston proper to find great chow.
The other big difference for us was the lack of traditional Happy Hour deals (basically can't discount alcohol, but can discount food) and higher prices for alcohol in general.
It helps to think of opportunities to dine as far northeast as Portland ME (which to my mind has been the real capital of dining in New England) and southwest to Providence or even to New London (that brings in the warm, buttered non-salad lobster rolls of SE Connecticut...). Rhode Island has an unusual number of regional Chowish specialities given how tiny it is.
It also pays to spend time wandering through town centers on state routes and seeing what's here and what's there and when; given the dense settlement pattern of New England (very different from the county style that obtains in many other parts of the USA), this can be the work of several years' exploration. Instead of an afternoon on a computer or device, you spend it in the car or on foot, wandering.
(Oh, and whatever you do, do not use a cell phone or text or stare at your GPS while you wander in search of chow. You will be honked, swerved around or rear-ended, remorselessly. If you don't know where you are, get off the road and let people who do know where they are get to where they are going while you figure out where you are. We do not suffer fools gladly. Especially on the roads, which make sense to us even if they don't to you. We're very much like Romans in this regard; it's probably the most Italianate thing about this region.)
re: Karl S
Actually, in Massachusetts, there's no requirement for complete signage at intersections: therefore, you will typically find only the lesser street signed, as it is assumed you know the greater street is. When MA municipalities switched to larger signage in anticipation of the (now-delayed) federal signage standards, this maddening local quirk was often still left in place. The mind reels.
(And newcomers should be glad for the Big Dig, which removed such monumental challenges to unfamiliar drivers as The Merge (ahh, the memories) and the death-defying free-for-all junction of the harbor tunnels and Haymarket Square and Central Artery ramps). Getting to downtown Boston chow is so much easier these days.
cheese shops including Formagio and Wine and Cheese Cask (sic)
Chinese food - including Chinatown and places in Cambridge and Alston and Belmont
Southeast Asian food including street Thai (Rod Dee), as well places in Lowell - that is a long drive from where i live in Cambridge
sushi including Sakayana for take out fish that is sourced by an ex fish cutter from Tokyo
Ok south Asian: Tamarind Bay in Cambridge is my favorite
good Italian including Coppa and Rialto
1.00 oyster specials - various places around town at specific times; i went to Rialto and had 2 dozen for 24.00.
local American/French: Cragie on Main, Clio,
Spanish tapas: Toro
1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118
75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Wine and Cheese Cask
407 Washington St, Somerville, MA
253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118
Oh, and there is no happy hour in Massachusetts. I only mention this because it seems to confound new folks and visitors.
The other thing is that we are a lark's city, not an owl's city (for example, the first subway train out of Oak Grove on the Orange Line at 5:17 in the morning can be SRO in some cars before it reaches downtown). Yes, there are all these owlish college students. No matter. If late night is your bag, expect to have to adjust expectations.
re: Karl S
A few more alcohol law quirks:
Here are the BYOB rules:
If a restaurant has a license to sell alcohol, you cannot BYOB.
If a restaurant does not have a license to sell alcohol, the state does not prohibit BYOB. However, localities may prohibit BYOB, and it seems that most do, including Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline (though I haven't seen positive confirmation of Brookline). Winthrop and Belmont are probably the closest towns to Boston that allow BYOB.
One owner may hold a max of three retail alcohol licenses. This is why there are only three Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc in the state that sell alcohol. So don't go into the Fresh Pond TJ's expecting to buy some two buck chuck.
You don't need to be a member to buy alcohol at Costco or BJ's.
Anything I'm forgetting?
re: Karl S
People love to complain about the happy hour law, but if you really can't be bothered to pay more than $5 for a cocktail, lots of places sell cheap drinks that are only available during after-work hours (i.e., they're not discounted).
Some antiquated laws notwithstanding, Boston is a first-rate place to drink, with an A-list roster of craft cocktail bars (Drink, Eastern Standard, Clio, Craigie, Green Street, No. 9, Deep Ellum) and some fantastic craft beer bars (Publick House, American Craft, Lord Hobo, CBC, Bukowski's). Nearly every new restaurant seems to pay close attention its beer and cocktail programs, so you end up with wonderful surprises like the amazing list of Scottish beers at The Haven. I gather the wine bar picture is less rosy, but I don't really drink wine, so I wouldn't know.
528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215
280 Green St, Cambridge, MA 02139
Deep Ellum Bar
477 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134
50 Dalton St Ste 4, Boston, MA 02115
92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141
1700 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02445
Do you like to cook and are you interested in sources of locally-grown food (e.g. Massachusetts, maybe including southern NH)? Boston has a wonderful array of local produce during the warm weather months. There are many farmers' markets (unfortunately most are coming to the end of their season right now) around the area. There are also a good number of veggie CSAs (mostly June-October) and some year-round meat CSAs, PLUS if you like really fresh fish, you can join Cape Ann Fresh Catch for amazingly fresh seafood.
Oleana in Cambridge, her cafe Sofra at the Cambridge/Belmont line, Neptune oyster in the North End. I mention these because I think no one else has yet posted about them, I could be wrong. But there are huge threads and mentions all over this board.
The Eastern Med food stores/produce markets in Watertown have been mentioned......such treasures. Also Russo's in Waterown and Capone's in somerville and North Cambridge. And the great cheese shops.
Are you coming from NC? I grew up there. There are also lots of BBQ threads here.....lots try, mostly miss in my opinion, but just search those threads, I don't mean to start a new one.
I'm glad opinionated chef came in, her comprehensive posts are so helpful.
1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138
134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139