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What's good in North Cambridge/ Mass Ave between Porter + Alewife Pkwy?

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Kind of a peculiar request, but I'm wondering if anyone has recommendations or thoughts about places to eat on the stretch of Mass Ave between Porter Sq and Alewife Pkwy in Cambridge/Somerville.

I've been out of the country for more or less two years and went for a run up there the other day and noticed a lot of new restaurants, lots of which looked like they might have potential for someone who loves a good no-ambiance, great non-American food place. (me) Are there things that people recommend on this strip? I know Qingdao Garden, and I saw another branch of Capone Foods which I know from Union Sq, but anything else that would be worth making my friends walk 30-40 minutes for?

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  1. Not a peculiar request at all!

    Qingdao Garden is excellent, especially for their dumplings and other specials on the back page of the menu. Greek Corner right near by is very good for casual Greek food.

    For markets, Capone Fine Foods is a terrific Italian market, also with excellent homemade empanadas. There is a lot more space in the North Cambridge store than their Union Square, Somerville store. The J & K Han A Rum Oriental Market next to Qingdao Garden has nice homemade Korean panchan (cold side dishes). Miso Market is my favorite Japanese market in the area, with a very helpful and friendly staff, an interesting rotation of prepared foods, produce, and many unusual products (such as pure yuzu juice in a bottle, without salt). Not cheap.

    I would avoid the Elephant Walk's mediocre faux Cambodian, Annapurna's medicore Himalayan, or Cafe Barada's mediocre Lebanese. Frank's Steak House has mediocre steak, but a nice neighborhood atmosphere.

    I had an extremely poor experience at L'Impasto, the relatively new Italian restaurant, when they first opened. But, the bread was as good as the rest of the meal was bad. I've heard better things recently though, but haven't been back yet myself.

    There are a number of unremarkable Thai restaurants around Porter Square. You could do worse than Rod Dee, but it's no S&I, Dok Bua or Thai North.

    10 Replies
    1. re: lipoff

      I'll +1 this post almost word for word, excepting the things I haven't tried (Frank's, L'Impasto, cold apps at J&K) and a defensive "it's fine, c'mon" for Elephant Walk. That said, Elephant Walk wouldn't be worth a special trip.

      Double-yay for those empanadas.

      1. re: enhF94

        Wait, what empanadas? :)

        Also, to clarify the 40 min walk criteria, I'd be trying to convince car-less, bike-less grad students who have been living (and eating) in Inman for 4-5 yrs now to come with me. So it's not like 40 minutes of walking vs. a 20 min drive to Brookline for something. And if there are places where it would feel appropriate to go by oneself, then it only has to be worth a 10-15 minute bike ride. (Which makes something like Rod Dee kind of worth it since it's at least better than any Harvard/Inman Thai places)

        In any case, thanks for all the recs so far!

        1. re: stephaniet

          Are you car-less, or anti-gas vehicle? Only bringing up the 83 bus runs a fairly frequent schedule between Central and Porter/North of Porter via Inman.

          1. re: harvard231

            Good point! It even stops right outside my house.

            More than anything else, it's that I have a knee-jerk reaction against doing THAT much planning to go eat. Which I know makes no sense since I'm doing this much work here. But the idea of getting friends to take the bus with me, potentially waiting in the cold, etc...well, it raises the stakes of the experience about to be had, if nothing else. I'll probably go check out some places myself first, and keep this option in mind if things seem worthwhile. Thanks!

          2. re: stephaniet

            the out-of-context empanadas at Capone Foods on Mass Ave!

            1. re: enhF94

              whoa! who knew. I wonder if they have these at the Union Sq location (much closer to me)...will check it out for sure.

              1. re: stephaniet

                yes, capones union square has the empanadas and they are delicious.

              2. re: enhF94

                There is a large Italian community in Argentina, and my understanding is that the owner of Capone's lived for ~20 years in Argentina, whence the empanadas.

          3. re: lipoff

            We stopped in to Cafe Barada the other night and really enjoyed our meal. Great fatoush salad, kofte, good Lebanese coffee. Stuffed pickled eggplants were a surprising highlight - great beer food. Also a small selection of decent microbrews for a place you would not expect it.

            Also, there is a recent thread on L'Impasto that updates with a number of positive reviews from the initial consensus of mediocrity noted by lipoff.

            1. re: lipoff

              This is a fantastic summary.

              Elephant Walk is okay, but with so many other superior options, it's not really worth it.

              Also be sure to check out Pemberton Market, which has a mostly excellent (and often pricey) deli. Avoid their faux Asian food. I have a great fondness for their sauteed chicken livers & onions.

            2. YumeWoKatare is a new ramen place in Porter Square that is apparently worth waiting in line for an hour for. I haven't been but there have been some experiences posted here.

              1. Addis Red Sea. 1755 Mass ave. Ethiopian, tres yumm.

                1. I've enjoyed L'Impasto.... Joe Sent Me is a bar that serves a good hamburger. Not sure if anything is up to the 40 minute walk standard, perhaps Quindao Garden.

                  1. Qingdao is really excellent. Get the beef flour pie -- essentially a marinated beef sandwich. It's amazing. Mr. Swank and I accidentally ordered it once, and now it's a staple in the Swank household. Darul Kabab is also exceptional (Bangladeshi-Indian-Pakistani), though I am blanking a bit; it could be *after* Porter Sq., though I don't think so--it's by the culinary academy. Friends have reported good things about Giulia, though I haven't gone yet.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Swankalicious

                      YES! Was hoping to hear about Darul Kebab. The exact name escaped me, but there is something about an upstart restaurant taking over a former fast-food building that really catches my eye/tempts my stomach...

                      1. re: stephaniet

                        Darul Kebab has hit a decent stride now that they've pared some of the stuff off of their original opening menu. Very good curries and Indian dishes, decent kebabs. Definitely get the DK Naan, which I've heard described as "big enough to swaddle a baby in", covered in a sweet glaze and dried fruit & nuts. Avoid the burgers and pizzas, which taste like school cafeteria food.

                    2. In the 10-15 min, bike ride category would be Greek Corner, casual environment and tasty Greek food, the usual suspects.

                      1. There are good threads on a number of the mentioned spots;just do a search. here's one for Impasto:
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/881372

                        There is a long thread on darul Kabob, with both raves and pans.

                        also, Sapporo Ramen in the Porter Exchange, has some very good curry ramen and soy sauce ramen that we enjoy.
                        there's also a very good fro yo place right near Chez Henri.
                        Both could be older than 2 yrs; if so, mea culpa.

                        1. Rod Dee in Porter Square is my recommendation. Good stuff. Try the tom yum seafood noodles on a cold day, or the Bangkok duck. Authentic too: a co-worker from my old lab was from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and he took me to the original Brookline branch, telling me it was just like food from home.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: lossless

                            Had a bit of a mixed experience with Rod Dee. My Pad Kee Mao "for here" had a burnt acrid taste, and veg was carelessly prepped and uninteresting, with scorched snow peas and much larger than bite-size pieces of green bell pepper. Had better at Sugar & Spice across the street a week ago. OTH, dumplings I brought home for later, and fried up were great.

                            I'll try again.

                            1. re: Chef Bwana

                              I've also had super mediocre pad kee mao at Rod Dee. I much prefer it at, for example, Thailand Cafe just on the other side of the river.

                              1. re: stephaniet

                                the one in central sq? that's not across the river. It's also not even a thai restaurant.

                              2. re: Chef Bwana

                                I find that the further I stray from the "typical" stuff on the menu the more I like what I get at rod dee.

                            2. I would walk 40 minutes for a Greek Corner gyro if the mood hit me. 15 min bike ride is a no brainer.

                              1. Any recent experiences at Singha Bella Cafe near Cameron Ave.? I had a decent falafel there a couple of years ago - have to say I have not been back, but it's still there which leads me to think it is a decent place.

                                1. Hi. I strongly recommend L'Impasto on Mass Ave. If you do a search you will fin d a review I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Great Italian food at reasonable price points.

                                  1. Greek Corner at 2366 Mass Ave in Cambridge. Casual, authentic taverna fare at very good prices.

                                    1. Agreed with the posters...love greek corner (value is great). Cafe Barada is very good lebanese (cash only). I also like Hana Sushi for good sushi although I think Genki Ya next to trader joes at Alewife is slightly better.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: AaronInBoston

                                        I like Hana Sushi better than Genki Ya -- it's my second favorite after Blue Fin in the Porter Exchange.

                                      2. Wanted to leave a general thanks for all the (marvelously consistant) suggestions and tips here. I've been on the Paris boards for a while, where people will often quickly shoot down a request like this, so these helpful responses are a nice welcome back to the Boston area. Thanks!