Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >
Oct 11, 2013 08:24 AM

Affordable Food in and almost-in 02143

Inspired by a recent thread, I am starting one to encompass food in 02143, and a few other spots that are almost in this zipcode. We all have those days. You finish your work day and for whatever reason, making dinner is just not feasible. It isn't a special night out with friends. It is just a Tuesday and you need some supper before you log into a client server to update their files. For me, these nights need a "cheap" eat that doesn't take too much time. We don't drink as a general rule so the cocktail or beer selection is irrelevant. We are there for the food.

My criteria are as follows. The food must be worth eating. I only get so many calories per day, and I want them to be worthwhile. Though my budget used to be under $10 per person, lately that number has been creeping up and can go as high as $20. Consistency is important. We need to be able to tolerate the noise levels. As working classical musicians, we find really loud voices and/or music too annoying to tolerate. Since time is important, we aren't willing to circle blocks repeatedly. We have a Somerville parking permit on our car, so Somerville locations often win out. Any place where the blackboard specials that are all shellfish only stay on the list if there are menu items for me since I was born with this darn allergy. And finally, we are both accomplished home cooks, so we prefer food that offers something more than what we could prepare easily at home.

We feel that the number of "go-to" spots has been dwindling. This could be because we eat out so seldom that we are putting too high a value on consistency and not exploring enough. It could be because Mr. SMT reverts to the burger too often. I hope that others will point out some spots [listing your must eat items] that we have missed or forgotten.

The List

The Independent. Eh. They have a decent burger, but the options in our price range drop pretty quickly from there. The chicken sandwich was about 4oz of chicken to 8 oz of bun. The French Onion Soup was watery without enough onion flavor topped with way too much cheese. The two times I ordered and ate the Mesclun Greens, I was sick that evening. The fish and chips had some bright spots, like the fish, but the spicy tartar was absolutely awful. Throwing a few red peppers into thick mayonnaise is NOT tartar sauce. For me, at $16 there isn't enough value there.

Machu Pichu Charcoal Chicken. This spot does a really nice chicken, but it really never makes the cut. Not because it isn't good, but instead, I can make this at home and do. Spending $16 for a chicken doesn't make sense for us. It will make sense for others.

The other Machu Pichu. I don't get this place. I tried to head there for dinner one night and they wanted to charge me a cover to hear a band that I wish wasn't there. The one meal I did have here was just not that good. The knife cuts for the ceviche were so sloppy that the cure was uneven. I remember really salty corn. The rest has faded from memory.

A4. Just isn't ever going to be on our radar for a quick, value-based supper. Though we enjoyed our food on our one visit [one pizza and the lentil salad,] the cost of an individual pizza is higher than I want to pay for pizza. I did love that lentil salad. Since eating here I have recreated that salad at home. It was a pretty standard bistro-style preparation.

Highland Kitchen. Here is where the CH-gods will strike me down. I don't love this place. I enjoy the ambiance. I enjoy the wait staff. The jukebox selections are terrific. I find the menu lackluster. Has it every been changed since the place opened? The Cuban was delicious the first few times I had it, but then it got really nasty. The short ribs are tasty and very rich but priced so I didn't want to order a second item. The entrees are also above my quick, bite out threshold. The specials are almost always shellfish, so I don't find that there is enough variety. The bluefish cakes are delicious. The fried chicken is pretty good, but the collards are like drinking a bottle of vinegar. My Georgia-born-and-raised husband much prefers what I make at home for both of these items. Same with the pulled pork. We want a mustard-based sauce, so don't order this out around here. I wish I liked this place more. I really want to.

India Palace. This place fell off our list when I was ill and their food made me even sicker. Not their fault since it was the tomatoes and onions in any food that triggered the attacks. Now that this body part has been removed, I only recently decided to try it again. The Kid likes their Chicken Tikka Masala. What I generally crave is tandoori proteins. Their tandoori lamb and chicken are almost what I want, but not quite. Not enough lemon in the marinade for my taste, but it is a passable version. Their dal makhani is insipid and we don't really care for the nan bread. At this point, an order from here would mean I am making both dal, dry-fried vegetables, and nan bread at home. Not the answer for a quick meal.

Mandarin Chinese Restaurant. Just not good based on my limited experience. I just looked at YELP and there are really good reviews! What am I missing here?

Red House Chinese Restaurant. Ordered some soup here once, a long time ago, and decided that this was drunk food. It was oily and flavorless. If there is something worth eating from here, I would like to know what it is.

Dosa n' Curry. I really like the food here but don't consider their food to be a good value. Each item is about $10 with a small portion size. We go here when my sister, a vegetarian, is in town but otherwise, it isn't a huge attraction.

Pho N' Rice. We tend to use Pho N' Rice as a lunch spot since the entree prices are so much lower earlier in the day. Ordering food here by phone is risky. For some reason the language barriers are increased on the phone, but eating in the restaurant seems to reduce that barrier. When their Pho is good, I think it is very good, but often it heads towards the sweet which I don't care for as much. The lunch Duck with Tamarind sauce is very good, and includes a lot of vegetables. Husband enjoys their Pad Thai on occasion. He doesn't mind the Americanization of this dish, though he does plead for spicy.

Taco Loco. This is one of the few actual cheap eats in the area that we have enjoyed consistently. I get two tacos, sometimes with pork sometimes with beef, which comes to $4.00. Husband always gets the beef burrito. There is some variation in quality, but at these prices, we are forgiving. It has never been bad. I find the pinto beans under seasoned. The tamales can be quite good, but I haven't eaten them with enough frequency to comment on those in detail. Parking in this area has been quite a challenge during the construction, but we do manage to find a space.

Vinny's At Night. The shear amount of food on the plate, plus the second plate for the pasta, is unseemly. No one needs to eat that much food at one time. Since you know you will be taking home 2/3 of your meal, you have to select something that can be re-heated successfully. I do like their lentil soup a lot, but they aren't pleased if you only order soup. We should try their subs for lunch someday, but we rarely eat out at lunchtime.

Potato Freak. I like rostie as much as the next person, but as the only thing I eat for a meal? Not so much. But for me, the biggest problem with Potato Freak is the cream cheese obsession. Almost all of their rostie are stuffed with cream cheese and I don't care for the flavor or the texture. Since learning to make rosties at home where I can use a nice aged Gruyere, Potato Freak has dropped off our list.

Tavern at the End of the World. This pub has lots of things on the menu that I enjoy tremendously. I enjoy their smoked haddock soup, lamb burger, fish and chips [which has a very good tartar sauce] and the Mediterranean Plate. The daily special soups have always been good. My husband is far more consistent and always gets the burger. Sadly, our last two meals he just didn't enjoy the burger at all. It has been a few months since we have headed in this direction. Maybe it is time to try them again?

Wangs Fast Food. I don't like eating in at Wangs. This is not a comfortable space. When we order from here, we do pickup since we have found that our food is better that way. When they are "on," the food can be excellent. The online menu looks totally different than my paper version, so can't list the dishes that we have enjoyed. I always have some of their dumplings in the freezer so I can steam them when I am cooking Chinese at home.

Pini's Pizza. This pizza is two things- consistent and cheap. It isn't bad pizza. It isn't great pizza.

Pescatores. For a number of years, this was our pizza spot. We ordered the Italiano early in the week when they lowered their prices. But, at some point, the quality of the cheese declined, and there was more and more of it. It went from being a well-balanced pie to a gloopy mess. We talked with the pizza folks in the back, but the pie we loved was gone. The one time we ate in the restaurant, I was overwhelmed by the sound and underwhelmed by the meal. We have some great fish markets around here, so I was hoping for something more special than what I make at home regularly.

Courthouse Seafood. The Courthouse offers a no-frills old-school place to eat seafood. I love this place. $6.95 for fish and chips. Decent cole slaw that is almost too sweet, but not quite. Wednesday night, you get the BIG fish, enough for two to split. I also enjoy the fish cakes, though still confused why they are served with fries since a fish cake is a lot of potato. The sides of calamari or clams are quite good, though the batter is a bit thick. Husband has enjoyed their shrimp plates which are served with some rice and non-descript vegetables. The cajoun preparations are actually spicy!

Neighborhood Restaurant. This is my mother's favorite breakfast in the area, and that is when I head in that direction. I never go on the weekend. Breakfast at home is the easiest meal to make, and I only eat breakfast for lunch or dinner. I enjoy the cream of wheat and the fresh fruit. Again, I just find the amount of food to be overwhelming. I hate to waste food and with this amount of food on a plate, waste happens. How is their food at other times?

Ball Square Cafe. See above. I don't generally eat out at breakfast so have only been to this spot for neighborhood meetings and I only drank coffee.

SoundBites. I avoided this place for a long time after reading about the eggNazi. I don't respond well to aggressive personalities. But, a friend wanted to meet here. The eggs benedict were pretty good. The poached eggs were perfectly cooked. The hollandaise could have used more lemon juice, but was an acceptable version. The muffin was properly toasted. I liked the bit of fruit on the plate. Very refreshing after all that sauce. Never been back since I don't really eat breakfast out. Are the other meals of the day interesting?

Places we Miss:
Zoe's. I so hope that they re-open. They were our most common go-to spot. Love the spicy green beans, lamb with cumin, salt & pepper calamari, lion head meatballs, dry-fried chicken, and some of the mushroom dishes. Generally dinner here was about $35 with tip, and enough leftovers for the next day's lunch.

Taco Lupita. Still miss those charred meats. I was particularly fond of their gorditas which were a great deal at $4.50. Husband always ordered the meat platter, the most expensive item on the menu. Total bill: $15 with one soda.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I miss Tacos Lupita as well. Zoe's too.

    Buk Kyung for the stone-pot bibimbap. It's decent enough. For me it's comfort food for cold days or when I have an upset stomach. It's on the lunch special menu I believe.

    Koreana for gomtang. It's the closest place that serves this, as far as I know. Another cold-weather staple for me.

    I think both are under $15

    1. Ebi Sushi in Union Square has been really good and fresh the few times I've been.

      A little bit farther away, but my two standbys for cheap eats nights are Rod Dee in Porter Square, and Tenoch in Medford Square. Both are always great.

      8 Replies
      1. re: nyc_to_ma

        What have you enjoyed at Ebi? Specifics are good.... It really helps to know what they excel at in particular.

        Just tried Tenoch the other night for the first time. Really enjoyed the black beans. I had a fish taco and a carnitas taco. I thought the fish might be tilapia; had that muddy flavor. The hot sauces were actually hot, a very pleasant surprise indeed. Next time I would ask for some pico de gallo as well. I missed having a fresh element on the taco.

        1. re: smtucker

          Tenoch is an "on the way home" favorite for us. Our usuals are the torta campechana, enchildas mole, or whatever looks good off the specials board, plus flan if they ever have any left by dinner-time. I really enjoyed the Mexican street corn they had last week, even though the corn itself was on the older side. I'd agree they're likely using tilapia in their fish offerings.

          1. re: T.B.

            yes, it is tillapia which is why i never order them there.

            1. re: T.B.

              Gosh. I knew I was getting blind, but I didn't even see enchiladas on the board. Husband had a burrito and enjoyed it a lot. He finds the Boston inclination to put vegetables in Mexican rice annoying. He said that this rice had nice seasoning without tasting like a pilaf.

              Clearly we need to return and investigate more of the menu offerings!

              1. re: smtucker

                The menus can be hard to read; enchiladas are on the left-most board. And yeah, it's one of the few places where I actually finish the rice and beans. Totally worth furher investigation plus the people are amazingly nice.

            2. re: smtucker

              I usually just get some sort of sushi combo dinner -- a maki and some nigiri or sashimi -- and have never been disappointed. Everything is decently authentic - no chicken maki here. It's my second favorite in the area after Toraya in Arlington - but that is outside your radius.

            3. re: nyc_to_ma

              after all the HYPE about rod dee opening in porter square we gave it a few shots and gave up. underwhelming. i also saw asians eating items not on the menu and get frustrated with receiving "round-eye" treatment, like they dumb down my food.

              tough neighb for decent eats.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                They have a thai menu which was translated in a thread here a few years ago. That said, some if the workers always say they're out of XYZ when I ask for stuff from it

            4. Atwood's Tavern is in 02141, but close enough to 02143 to qualify. (And you can park a couple of blocks away -- over the Somerville line -- with your parking pass.)

              I agree with your assessment of The Independent (eh --- good burger, overpriced everything else). Atwood's is better. Items I enjoy from their menu: burger, mussels, crispy pork belly, BLT, calamari, and sliders ($2.50). The fried fish taco ($3) is small (and maybe a wee bit overpriced), but it's delicious. Another bonus: the patio is fantastic and the craft beer selection is very solid.

              Also in the area: Muqueca, in Inman Square. The entree prices are at the upper end of your limit, but my wife and I go there to split one of their "moquecas" (seafood stew; their signature dish) and we get more than enough to eat (so your entree price goes down to around $10 a person, without tip).

              8 Replies
              1. re: huuvola

                Is Friendly Toast near your zip? I haven't been to the one in Cambridge but we used to love the one in Portsmouth.. If you want funky breakfast or funky anything at dinner time..The N.H one used to be really cheap and deelish

                1. re: chompie

                  Friendly Toast is a bit too far and involves driving around the block repeatedly searching for a parking space. If we are having breakfast for dinner, then we are eating at home where I have home-cured bacon, scones made with the Flour recipe, and some of the best coffee in town.

                  Very useful submission for others though.

                  1. re: chompie

                    I would strongly suggest staying away from the Friendly Toast in Cambridge. The food is just not good. The place is dirty. And I have it from more that one source that those cleanliness issues extend to the back of the house.

                    1. re: mkfisher

                      I agree with that. Also, the service is SLOW, and the kitchen has never been able to keep up there.

                      1. re: Gabatta

                        before that area had more options i would sometimes have a drink there when seeing at a matinee at the kendall. the bar was ALWAYS sticky and service dreadfully slow.

                        last time we went, the bartender was wearing a wife-beater t-shirt. totally gross and against health code. never been back.

                  2. re: huuvola

                    Terrific! Two places that were not on my radar at all. I had put Atwoods in the bar category, but if the food is worthy, I am in. And they have a burger for Mr. SMT.

                    Muqueca is a bit more complicated for me since the most interesting dishes have shellfish mixed in. My allergy is no longer as acute as it once was, but picking out fish from the shrimp, mussels, etc would make me nervous.

                    1. re: smtucker

                      sm, just to remind you that chefs WANT you to enjoy their food.Oftentimes or almost always- a good chef adds the shellfish components of a stew -a la minute (at the last) so they don't sit on a burner and overcook. so you can ask for the dish to have no shellfish and to have fish take the place of the shellfish. What would foil this would be their not having enough fish on hand or their fish stock having been made w/ shellfish.

                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                        there could very well be shellfish or fish stock in the sauce and any lapse or over-enthusiasm on the server's part could end badly for the op. not a gamble i'd take.

                  3. (if any are out of the desired area, plse just skip over them.)

                    Pollo las Brasas but for ther unusual huge very moist and meaty pork tamales, and their Roast Pork and Sweet Potato Perunisimo sdwch(we alway order these w/ extra pork.) .

                    Istanbullu- what a charming spot and many unique things to explore

                    Dave's Pasta for their VERY hefty and fab Cubano

                    Amsterdam Falafel- excellent falafel, and condiments make for a lot of variety options.

                    Sabor impressed me with 2 unique fish dishes a few yrs ago.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                      I have never tried the sandwiches at Macchu Picchu Chicken. Will put that on list. Istanbul... I keep meaning to go there, but just haven't made it. It is on the outer edge of our target area, since it can take 20 minutes or longer during rush hour.

                      Thanks for the ideas.

                    2. Mentioned Tenoch above, a few more affordable "on the way home" places we like:

                      Bao-baos at DooWee & Rice, great value at $5 a pair. A couple orders and some chicken hearts make for a tasty and cheap meal, if a bit short on veggies. If you don't like the atmosphere at Wang's you'd probably want to do take-out from here too.

                      Is Mulan in range? Really like their eggplant with basil, salted crispy chicken, smoked pork with leek, or pretty much anything marked recommended on their menu that sounds interesting. I avoid their lot even if there's room as it always seems high risk for trading paint, but dinner-time parking on Broadway is usually tractable.

                      Also if in range, The Friendly Toast works for breakfast for dinner and is less crowded/noisy than at lunch or brunch. The portion sizes make two meals for me. Parking can be iffy.

                      Machu Chicken: Agreed the chicken is just good, not great. We usually go for the el peruanisimo (marinated pork) sandwich and the anticuchos (beef-heart skewer entree', not the mixed appetizer), rounding it out with a quinoa salad. Love their aji amarillo.

                      I miss Tacos Lupita too. Will have to try Courthouse Seafood as PiC is a fish & chips fan.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: T.B.

                        Technically DooWee is in the 02144 but close enough for government work. I love it for the purposes of this thread. When we go there we're typically both stuffed for under $25 total.

                        While its not always a hit and/or I'm not always in the mood, I'm a fan of City Slicker on Somerville ave for these purposes. It helps that I'm in easy walking distance so it's often the most convenient takeout option. And it's actually in the 02143

                        Sapporo ramen is another place I like which I didn't see mentioned, and I think it also is in the 02143.

                        If we're going to extend the range all the way to the Friendly Toast (which I think is stretching the thread subject a bit) all sorts of options open up between the Webster St pathway to Union Sq and the Toast.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          I agree. Friendly toast is getting a bit "out" for a 02143 discussion, but DooWee isn't!

                          DooWee sounded so very busy and nuts when it opened that I didn't try it. I assume that it has calmed down. You know how it is. Everyone is excited about a place, and if you forget to even try it, the spot isn't rattling around in your head.

                          I have tried pizzas and salads from CitySlicker. Husband likes the pies just fine [never met a pie he won't eat] but I didn't care for it much. Can't even recall what my objections were to be honest. What else on the menu do you like?

                          1. re: smtucker

                            I want to draw attention to my disclaimer that my proximity biases my statement towards City Slicker - as in I can see it from where I'm sitting right now.

                            They market themselves as being a notch above your typical sub/pizza shop, and I think they succeed in that. Viewing them in any other light is going to bring disappointment. I wouldn't send someone out of their way to go there, but I felt it was in the spirit of the original challenge.

                            They have a seasonal list of specials and usually I find them tasty.

                            I love the combo of mixing their bacon cheeseburger pizza w/ their chipotle mayo.

                            I like both their umami and bistro burgers.

                            Lately I've been on a kick of their california BLT add turkey, on focaccia.

                            Their pasta dishes oddly seem to vary over time in terms of what they actually taste like. Sometimes I dig them (again, viewed w/ the appropriate lens).

                            1. re: jgg13

                              Disclaimer noted and appreciated! Spirit is spot-on. Hadn't considered trying their sandwiches, so that goes on the list. Thanks.

                            2. re: smtucker

                              Yeah, I got A4 and Area 4 mixed up when I suggested the Toast as a possibility. Also since found out that the new owners plan to revamp and update it in a "culinary-driven" manner. I suspect that's code for "will no longer be affordable."

                              Lately DooWee has been easy for us to park near and get into on weeknights. Most of their business seems to be take-out.