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Seeking out excellent ethnic food in the near burbs, with a NY hound

Hallo, Hounds! Mr. Swank and I are dining with a Queens-based hound this weekend. Our hobby is finding unheralded and succulent spots to dine -- preferably cheap. In the past, we've ended up at and loved:

Biryani Park
Winsor Dum Sum
Taqueria el Amigo
Strip T's [which isn't unheralded -- but is excellent nonetheless]

Essentially, we're looking for a sublime dining experience that isn't overhyped and overpriced. An exotic cuisine is always a plus: Sonoran, Bolivian, Taiwanese, Sri Lankan, and so forth.

Would love recommendations. The Hound is staying in Newton, and we're in the Lexington-Arlington-Belmont triangle.

Thanks!

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  1. Little Q, Sofra, Asia Gourmet in Concord, a trip to Mt. Auburn to shop at Severn, Arax, Fastacchi, Eastern Lamejun

    3 Replies
    1. re: teezeetoo

      Ditto for Sofra! Eastern Lamejun has amazing grape leaves, too.

        1. re: Small Plates

          Plus one for Little Q. Don't worry about eating hot soup in the heat - they air-condition that place to a fair-thee-well, you will want a sweater!

      1. Moroccan Hospitality in Malden is a great place, serving tangine dishes.

        1. Cambridge is full of good dining spots; I am sure you know them as well as i do. You can start with Oleana and Cragie and go from there.

          1. I have not yet been, but heard good things about Oya Cuban Café in Malden.

            1. I do the same. Lately I've enjoyed East Boston for Latin (Tacqueria Jalisco, Tu Metapan, Rincon Limeno) and Lowell for Cambodian (Simply Khmer, Red Rose) and Framingham for Brazilian/Salvadorean (Casa de Chicharron and lots of Brazilian bakeries).

              2 Replies
              1. re: gourmaniac

                What's good at Casa de Chicharron (asking what is probably an obvious question)? Is it the crispy giant bacon kind of chicharron? I poked my nose in there and almost went in, but it looked like a cafeteria-styled operation with steamer trays, and I needed some quick stuff to go (and wasn't sure I'd be able to navigate it properly)?

                1. re: nsenada

                  I had a chicharron mofongo, which was delicious. seven of eight bucks and included a salad. The chicharron loses its crispness in this dish but added to the chewiness of the mashed plaintains . The chicharron was on the steam table and looked great.

              2. Schezuan's Dumplings in Arlington. Sichuan Garden in Woburn
                Haven't seen much written about Katmandu Spice in Arlington recently, still good tibetan/nepalese?

                1. With respect, all food is ethnic. I see your helpful notes of cuisines to indulge; can you be a little more specific about any particular ethnicities to avoid?

                  1. Two rather unique and superb spots that have not been mentioned:

                    Gustazo (Cuban) in Belmont.

                    Yoma Burmese in Allston.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Yoma is closed for the month for a combination vacation and remodeling.

                    2. Thai North in Brighton isn't far from Newton

                      1. Midway is Muqueca, Brazilian seafood at its best, 1008 Cambridge St., Camb. As far as I know, they're the only place in the area doing what they do.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: peregrine

                          2nd Muqueca... that's some tasty fish stew...

                        2. +1 on Gustazo. They have a covered back patio, but it was too hot for us this past weekend. The brunch is really nice if lunch/brunch is an option. Enjoyed the Papas Salteadas and Sandwich de Huevos y Tocinos. The churros with Spanish hot chocolate will definitely give you a sugar high, but really good. My kids ended up dipping their blueberries and blackberries in the chocolate when the churros ran out. :)

                          1. My suggestions would be Tepthida Khmer in Lowell for Cambodian, Sushi Island in Wakefield for Japanese or China Star in Lowell for Dim Sum.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: RoyRon

                              2nd on Tepthida, I think the Swanks would like it. Haven't been for a while but I liked Pho 88 on Chelmsford/Lowell line (goat hotpot!). Add Toraya in Arlington, Chung Ki Wa in Medford for Korean tabletop grill, Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica.

                              1. re: Aromatherapy

                                we were sorely disappointed in tepthida khmer. tablecloths didn't make up for the unholy din, the erratic and amateurish service and stultifying ticket times. add in meh food and having to chase people down for our check and we will never be back.

                                we love simply khmer though.

                            2. I would also add Shangri-La in Belmont for excellent Taiwanese and Golden Garden in Belmont for Manchurian cuisine. At both places be sure NOT to order the standard Americanized items...

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                If you have lunch at Shangri-La, take a few steps to Eastern Lamejun Bakery and stock up on Armenian and other middle-eastern snacks.

                                Their lamejun is, of course, excellent. (I like the single garlic, stamped on the box; the double-garlic is a bit much for me.) Buy the dozen and freeze them. They also have an OK pastry selection - not as much as Arax or Sevan, but you're there - and lots of pita, lavash, choregs, and much, much more.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  I understand what you're saying about not ordering the standard "Americanized" items, Striper, but.....I love the kung pao jumbo shrimp and kung pao chicken at Shangri-La. Shrimp come with peanuts, lots of hot peppers, savory brown sauce and that's it. Chicken is the same with addition of onions. Go figure.
                                  I need to explore the menu more, but at least some standard items are not prepared in standard fashion at Shangri-La.

                                  1. re: katzzz

                                    Hmmm, good to know. That said some of the Taiwanese stuff is really quite amazing.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      Got a few particular Shangri-La favorites you recommend?

                                        1. re: katzzz

                                          Gosh many, many, many posts on this topic:

                                          Tea smoked boneless duck
                                          Ginger chicken casserole
                                          Twice cooked beef
                                          Spicy eggplant with pork
                                          Sour mustard and pork soup
                                          Tendon
                                          Dried tofu, pork and chile (on the lunch menu also a great bargain)
                                          For starters...

                                  2. Don't forget Habesha for Ethiopian!

                                    1. Others to consider: Chili Garden and Tenoch in Medford Square. Chile Garden is kind of hold-in-the-wallish and Tenoch is counter service (but they have wine/beer).

                                      1. Probably too late, but I wish I had remembered to mention Istanbul'lu in Teele Sq, Somerville, close to the Arlington border. Excellent!

                                        1. Max and Leo's Pizza on Washington St in Newton. Very, very few tables but if you eat closer to 8 you should be able to get one and the pizza is sublime. Special nods to the simpler pizzas on the menu, margherita, etc.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. Ahem... it is way too late for this post, but in case anyone else wants to take a NYer, especially from Queens, to ethnic places!!! I'm sorry but you guys are all of the mark. Pizza, Chinese, Brazilian...all of those are WAY better in NY.And Queens is the center of American ethnic dining.
                                            Here are the things I loved upon moving to Boston:

                                            I never had great Pakistani like I've had at Darbar in Brighton.

                                            Never had Palestinian like at Boston Kabob in Allston.Oh wait, there was a good place in Brooklyn, but it was hard to get to. It would be worth it to take the person to Boston Kabob.

                                            Nor Israeli like Rami's in Brookline.

                                            I didn't try too many Korean places in Queens, but Kaju Tofu in Allston can run with them.

                                            Simply Khmer in Lowell if the person has never had Cambodian.

                                            Those are it, sorry, along with whatever nice seafood place you like. Lots of great food in Boston, but comparing the ethnic places here to those in Queens is a tall order.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: fara

                                              Agree that Queens is fairly insane for ethnic food.

                                              I would say the Taiwanese food scene here is pretty unique to Boston. Surprised you liked Kaju Tofu, which though good, in my book is not nearly on a Queens or even Manhattan Korea Town caliber.

                                              Rami's, really? Nothing about that place has ever stood out for me.

                                              Yoma Burmese is pretty unique. Totally agree about Darbar. Some of the Thai options in Boston are pretty spectacular.

                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                Yeah, I didn't have much Korean at the time. But I really like Kaju Tofu's homemade tofu- the soups are really good. Plus they supplied my daughter with lots of banchan. Hard to make direct comparisons :)

                                              2. re: fara

                                                Korean is much, much better in Queens than anything in Boston. Korean food should really be better here.

                                                I actually think Chinese in Boston is really strong (especially when it comes to Sichuan and Taiwanese) and I'm going to miss a few places here when I move back to NY (Fuloon, Shanghai Gate, Jojo, Golden Garden to name a few).

                                                I agree on the strength of Thai and Cambodian.

                                                The other thing is Latin food here is pretty sad. Taqueria El Amigo is the only Mexican worth it (Taqueria Jalisco is often underseasoned and not at all worth the trek to East Boston) but I wouldn't go out of my way to go there to take someone from Queens, where there are plenty of places just like it. Wouldn't bother with any Peruvian because it's better in NY, especially in Queens. Likewise when you go to Corona you can get great chicharron that never sits on a steam table and is fried fresh for you.

                                                1. re: saria

                                                  SRSLY wish we had better Korean.

                                                  There is SO MUCH amazing Mexican, South American, and Central American food in Queens it is essentially endless.

                                                  1. re: saria

                                                    Also, how could I forget? The one area where I absolutely think Boston completely trumps NY is Vietnamese, and I'm actually surprised more people didn't go straight to that. New York's Vietnamese is weak, and outside of Elmhurst there isn't much in Queens. And nothing in Queens rivals the the restaurants here. Just banh mi alone is much, much better here.

                                                    1. re: saria

                                                      I actually had some great Vietnamese in Manhattan chinatown. Better than anything I've had here. Super 88 has good pho but other than that, what do you recommend?

                                                  2. re: fara

                                                    I like Rami's very much, but Taim and Azuri Cafe, in Manhattan, dwarf Rami's!