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Feeling frustrated by the Arlington-Lexington dining scene

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Mr. Swank and I were lamenting today the lack of options in our area.
For Chinese, we shuttle between Golden Garden, TaiPei Gourmet, and Sichuan's Dumpling. Lately, each place has been very off. Had ma po tofu that resembled chicken noodle soup at TG, and had a truly horrific rendition of Kung Pao Shrimp at GG (should have stuck to their specials). The shrimp were tiny and tinny.

Toraya is great for sushi, if you can manage to snag a seat. Forget takeout; it's an hour wait no matter what day you call.

Would love to see a taqueria in the area. Ixtapa is dreadful. La Posada is cute and homey, but very hit or miss. Zocalo's menu hasn't changed in about eight years.

Blue Ribbon seems to have taken a dive in quality. Retro Burger is mediocre (and portions are very small -- noted in another thread). Madrona Tree is PRICY, and their burgers are miniscule as well. Plus, no seating.

Sabzi is excellent, though it's so quiet...doesn't feel like an "experience" dining there when it's just you and the wall.

Menotomy Tavern - only had lunch here, and it was the very definition of ordinary. I had a seared tuna sandwich served on a charred, blackened bun.

Used to love Tom Yum Koong III, but they suddenly shuttered. Sweet Chili is fine but nothing mind-blowing.

Acitron "Bistro" is lovely if you want to pay $25 for two enchiladas artfully drizzled with sour cream.

Punjab is our go-to for Indian; the other Indian spot across the way on Mass seems to serve everything in puree form.

Lexx is dull. Vinebrook Tavern is noisy and average. Yangtze River is oily.

Pizza? Nothing we've truly enjoyed since Nicola shuttered.

Thanks for letting me vent. If I am missing a gem, kindly steer me there, else I shall go hungry and make my own nachos.

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  1. That's why I live in Somerville. :)

    1. We keep a supply of Tango's beef empanadas in the freezer ; very handy. What about that hot pot place in Arl?
      Winch. is too far? I was told the chef of A Tavola is very talented (not the owner, the chef) but haven't tried it. Stone Hearth Belmont or Winch. is too far?

      1. It is actually a very interesting problem, why Arlington does not support a good restaurant scene. I think part of it is demographics, part history...I would guess the largest reason is that Arlington is mostly families who don't go out often enough, or if the parents do, they go into Boston.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          I would respectfully disagree. I live in Arlington and enjoy trying different restaurants in town, as do others. For a town its size, Arlington actually has a decent, diverse restaurant scene - as a friend noted, in the 80s you couldn't get much more beyond pizza in Arlington. In recent years there have been more young professionals moving in, and that's helped counter the "townie" harrumphing you're politely alluding to.

          1. re: Aristonice

            I don't think anyone would say Arlington hasn't been getting better over the years. But it doesn't have quite the level of draw of some other towns surrounding Metro Boston, it seems.. love to be able to pick up Biryani Park and Muqueca and Sapporo Ramen, and a Bahn Mi place from Dot Ave and drop them in Arlington Center..

            1. re: Aristonice

              What harrumphing? :) I agree, the dining scene has improved and is somewhat diverse, but lately I've noticed standbys taking nosedives while newer places are somewhat ho-hum. A great taqueria, someplace besides Toraya for sushi, and a decent American spot would be most welcome.

              1. re: Swankalicious

                Swankalicious, I was referring to the "harrumphing" some long-time residents do on the town listserv about the way Arlington has changed. I.e., yuppies who couldn't afford Cambridge (or who wanted to flee Cambridge for the country life) moved into their once-nice town, drove up property taxes, and put in all these fancy restaurants. Sorry I wasn't clearer about that - it wasn't a dig at you :)

          2. There is a subway in Arlington, i hear they are amazingly luscious! ;)

            On another note, i used to work in lexington but it was years ago but more on the bedford side of town. For lunches we would go to Bedford House of Beef for their chicken kabob sandwiches/salads/fried seafood, Luigis, Gourmet Kitchen for their daily roast meals and turkey terrific sandwiches(usually quite a long line at lunch), Yangtzee River (nothing special but their buffet can be ok as far as buffets go, better on sundays for the dimsum buffet-doesnt hold a candle to boston or even woburn/lowell but its something), I actually preferred Peking Garden but they are long gone.. Nourish is dreadful, you couldnt drag me in to eat there again.. I tried TG once and that was enough for me.. Food made us feel ill and just seemed off, room was way too loud.

            1. So I agree with your assessments of all of your regular places. But I really feel like you are leaving out a lot of the good places! How about Little Q? The hotpot is excellent, and their other food is pretty good as well. I find Taipei Gourmet to be very hit or miss, but Formosa Taipei can be pretty darn good and they deliver as well. I like the sushi at Daikanyama. It is definitely NOT traditional nor as good as Toraya and it is expensive, but sometimes it's what I want. I actually prefer their noodle soups over Toraya. Royal India in Lexington is good and they deliver, too. For pizza, I like Andrina's. And if you are in Arlington Joe Pizza in West Medford will deliver to you and they are good. I often really enjoy Tryst, and they are even kid friendly if you go early. It's too expensive for every day, but their shrimp taco app is tasty, I like their kale salad (which you can also order salmon or chicken with), and the burger with truffle fries hits the spot when I am feeling like I want a calorie bomb. My daughter LOVES Thai Moon. I find it a little sweeter than I like my Thai to be, but it's still really tasty. I live in Lexington, and I feel like the dining scene here has improved tons in the last ten years. I also wish we could get a better Mexican place and better pizza-- agree with you there. Not even my kids will abide Ixtapa. And that's saying something.

              1. Easybreezy hit most of the points I'd have added. Have you tried Royal India Bistro? Seems to be very popular. Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica is not too far a jaunt, and you've got New Jang Su Korean BBQ and Lester's there as well. Haven't heard much about Katmandu Spice in Arlington recently, but that used to be pretty well liked.

                1. Hi. I second the recs for Little Q Hot Pot. I tried it about 2 weeks ago with a friend who lives in Arlington and really liked it. I think going in with a group of four people would even be better because you could have more choices. I really liked that you can split the hot pot between a spicy broth and a non-spicy one.
                  If you are willing to drive a bit more I think Ginger in Bedford is okay for Japanese. Not as good as Toraya or the recently closed Sushi Island but certainly good. For Indian my current favorite is Ritu Ki Rasoi in Burlington. Really excellent Indian vegetarian food. A Tavola in Winchester is also very good but not an inexpensive night out. The Black Horse Pub in Winchester is serviceable pub food. Decent burgers, very good onion rings and at times so nice specials. It does get very loud though.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: RoyRon

                    I find the whole hot pot craze a bit bizarre. In the end its just a bunch of boiled food that you have to cook yourself at the table. I have tried it at least a dozen times at various places. Yea some places give you more/less of things or have better/worse broth or service but in the end its boiled / boring food. Plus usually overpriced unless its one of the allyoucan eat deals which i have not done. Oh and if anyone at the table gets chicken i spend most the meal freaked out about the raw chicken juices and their incompetence of handling the raw chicken and juice..Like i have watched dining companions pickup raw chicken with their chopsticks, drop it in the pot and then use the same sticks to eat something off their plate.. grosses me right out...

                    1. re: hargau

                      Regardless how much I liked Little Q, I completely agree with hargau, when the lunch price went up at LQ I had it. Expensive and you have to cook your own food and it's just boiled regardless of how good the broth is. The mala broth also lacked Sichuan peppercorn and they charged you for extra hot sauce.

                      http://thedailylunch-woburn.blogspot....

                      1. re: hargau

                        omg har, couldn't agree with you more. and how bout the reigning practice of spreading your burger (or pastrami etc.)with mustard and ketchup , after having dipped a meat juice covered knife in that mustard etc. I just figure that maybe those otherwise scary practices- serve to build up our immune systems.

                    2. Well, expand your range.. hit up Chilli Garden in Medford, or Amsterdam Falafel in Davis.

                      But I agree.. I live in Arlington Heights, and the newcomer restaurants, nothing has hit it out of the park. I find myself craving a run over to Allston/Brighton to hit up Thai North and other places, but as a parent, that's tougher to do..

                      1. Sux that Szechuan's dumplings has been spotty.

                        Kathmandu Spice?

                        1. I'm sorry, I'm old enough that the thought of an Arlington-Lexington dining "scene" still blows my mind. but: I don't actually disagree with anything you said, although I do like Ixtapa's drinks.

                          1. Give Menotomy Grill another try, and e-sarn Thai (the restaurant that "replaced" Tom Yum Koong). I second another poster's Kathmandu Spice recommendation...if I lived closer to East Arlington, I'd eat there a lot more often.

                            Have you tried Scutra? It's a little off the beaten path and doesn't get as much attention as (the overrated, IMO) Flora, but it should. How about Tryst?

                            I've been hearing great things about Szechuan Dumpling but haven't been there yet.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Aristonice

                              I just tried e-sarn for the first time. The gyoza and Thai rolls were good, but the pad thai was so sweet I could barely eat it.

                            2. Agree it's pretty boring, but

                              Thai Moon--as spicy as you wanna be, very good IMO.

                              Za--not takeout kind of pizza, but they use high quality ingredients and treat them well.

                              Pasha--have just had the mezze but one of the best babaganoush-es I have had. Really smoky & rich.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: dulce de leche

                                I am willing to drive from Somerville to Arlington just for Pasha's Red Lentil soup.

                                1. re: smtucker

                                  Have you tried the red lentil soup at Istanbulu in Teele Sq?
                                  It's luscious. Pasha was outstanding when it first opened. The past few years it's been hit or miss, IMO.

                                  1. re: sciaccagirl

                                    Love istanbulu!

                                    1. re: sciaccagirl

                                      On the list for sure. First time anyone has mentioned their soup specifically. What are your favorite other dishes. I can live on soup alone, but my primary dining companion likes something more.

                                      1. re: smtucker

                                        I've had mostly the breakfast dishes and they are all great. The pancakes are amazing...kind of crispy. The plate of Turkish mornings is a wonderful combo including cheese and meats....Turkish jams and honey are a real treat.

                                  2. re: dulce de leche

                                    Another one for Pasha. It's always a pleasant dining experience, even if the service is very slow. Count on an hour for lunch even if it's not crowded, but your food will be fresh and made to order.

                                    1. re: Isolda

                                      Forgot about Pasha. We've had very good experiences there, despite the leisurely service.

                                      1. re: Swankalicious

                                        Any recommendations for particular dishes at Pasha besides the baba ganoush and red lentil soup mentioned above?

                                  3. If you want excellent mapo tofu, you should go to Chilli Garden in Medford Center. Agreed that there are few "go to" places in Arlington (where I live). Sabzi, Little Q, and Lakota are the only places I frequent. Lexington is much worse, though.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Edokko

                                      Though I just dumped on Lexington, I forgot about the Sizzling House of Kabob there. Despite its cheesy name, the Persian-style kabobs at this hole-in-the-wall take-out place are quite good. As is the mirzaghasemi.

                                      Back in Arlington, I should also add that, even though it would only be an average neighborhood joint in Japan, Toraya at least serves food that one would actually find in Japan, which is more than you can say about most Japanese restaurants in this area (outside of Porter Exchange).

                                      1. re: Edokko

                                        We order from Sizzling House of Kebabs all the time. Their lamb kebab dinner is excellent (includes their very good hummus, rice, shirazi salad and a roasted tomato). We also get a side order of the mirzaghasemi. The only thing this place doesn't do well is pita--it's stale and they charge extra for it--but you really don't need it.

                                        1. re: Isolda

                                          thx so much, you two. can't wait to try it. will get your recs and also the unusual salad of corn, beet and sesame.

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            Have to tell you, we were really pleased with the food we got there last night. I posted it here:
                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/925758

                                            Thanks soooo much!

                                      2. re: Edokko

                                        I've never been there in person but I do dig Chilli Garden. It took me years to find it - I had had a coworker from sichuan who raved about "spicy garden" which never seemed to exist. Then one night "chilli garden" appeared not too far from where he had lived on my Foodler and a big "aha!" happened for me.e

                                      3. I like Dabin on Muzzey St. in Lexington for Korean/Japanese.
                                        They have grill tables in one room, talented sushi chef and my favorite Okdol Bim Bim Bap. Try it for lunch!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: sciaccagirl

                                          I also love the okdol (or dolsot) bib bim bap, but we don't eat here that often because the service is always dreadful. They never have enough staff and then when they get slammed (happens a lot during tourist season), they use that as an excuse for their bad service.

                                        2. My wife grew up near Arlington Center in the 60s-70s. If you think there's no dining scene now...anyone remember the Pewter Pot? How about Ye Olde Donut Hole? Jimmy's Steer House was the only real restaurant in town. Ethnic was a trip down Rte 2 to Aku Aku and maybe bowl a few strings next door.

                                          I know...I know...not helpful. I did have a great Korean lunch of Eel Bibimbap next door to the Regent Theater this summer. Manna House, I believe?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                            Yes, Arlington used to be Jimmy's and.....that was pretty much it, other than pizza, grinders and donuts. And back in the day there was no booze to be had either. It's pretty funny to hear complaints about the lack of good eats when the Arlington of today is bursting with culinary options compared to what was available 15-20 years ago, which was close to nothing.

                                            1. re: katzzz

                                              I do agree Katzzz...I grew up nearby in the...ahem...anyway, yes, it has changed a good deal, I concur.

                                          2. golden garden is still quite good, and you do not have to stick to the special; just get your fix of shrimp, lobster, et al in Chinatown.

                                            how about LIttle Q?

                                            You are close to Cambridge/Somervile, which have a pretty good restaurant scene.

                                            1. We, too, bemoan the loss of Nicola. Haven't tried Capri yet, though neighbors (whose tastes in food are a bit suspicious to me) like it.

                                              I just read on the "red herring" thread that the pizza maker at the ARL Whole Foods has some pizza-making chops. We might check that option out.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: digga

                                                The WF pizza guy, that moved to Whole Foods Arlington, is named Tony. He is originally from Chicago and took our pizzas very seriously.

                                                1. re: smtucker

                                                  I had a slice yesterday, so it wasn't fresh out of the oven, but the woman on staff did reheat it in the oven. Nice crust and flavor.. - I'll probably give them a chance next time the family gets a pie..

                                                2. re: digga

                                                  I called in earlier this week to get a pie and they said 25-30 minutes. Sabatino's said 10, and that's where I went.

                                                3. Oh my goodness, this almost reads like satire. "Lack of options", are you kidding? You list (by my count) twenty places. Ha, come out our way (west of Concord) if you think you lack dining options!

                                                  Seriously, Arlington is loaded with choices.

                                                  Za's is good, Sabzi (which I tried for the first time recently) is delicious (maybe you need to go more often and bring your friends and create your own "scene"), Tango is a fine option, Sichuan's Dumpling satisfied our crew not long ago ....

                                                  I love chowhound and really like everyone's take on things but sometimes you come along a post like this and it's just, I don't know, sort of absurd.

                                                  Thanks to all the people who provided some context by noting that once upon a time in the not too distant past Jimmy' Steer House was Arlington's answer to "fine dining."

                                                  Really not trying to be boorish here but my goodness, you have a surfeit of riches within about a five mile radius.

                                                  And one thing that I don't quite understand. When folks report that a place has "gone downhill" or "taken a nose dive," how many times do you have to dine there to make that call? I mean, if you go to a beloved spot and get a mediocre (or worse) meal, does that mean the place is going downhill? Couldn't it just be an off night?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: lescaret

                                                    Depends.. if its new ownership, and they've been operating for a bit, twice. I remember the delicious "Tacos Lupita" down near Porter square changed owners (and names).. the first visit was bad, and the second confirmed it.. never been again..

                                                  2. I'm actually surprised you liked Tom Yum Koong. That place definitely didn't do it for me. We haven't tried its replacement yet, Thai E-Sarn. I also want to love La Posada but it's fine on a weeknight or lazy Friday.

                                                    We both abhor Menotomy Grill... Too bad. It could've been a great addition to the dining scene!

                                                    1. Long-term, continuing fan of Za and our weekly visits to Toraya are always great to excellent (but do just forget takeout - they should not even try to offer it or limit it to kitchen items only),

                                                      Szechuan's Dumpling has been good every time (not in need of mind-altering spiciness), and Thai eSarn was surprisingly tasty, friendly, and prompt with our first try - a home delivery (large satay portions, good soups, and not so sweet or overly oily pad thai).

                                                      Agree that Punjab is consistently delicious, just don't like the service (or lack thereof) for dining in there.

                                                      A real taqueria would be an amazing addition, but I'd settle for a Boca Grande, Felipe's or Anna's outpost at this point - not a decent quick burrito anywhere in town that I know of.

                                                      Blue Ribbon ribs and brisket have been mixed in terms of quality recently but chicken and sides are always good (not great like their gold BBQ sauce that we consume by the gallon)

                                                      1. swank, did you see that Il Casale is expanding into Lexington's Nourish space? You must be thrilled! I don't know though; i might be afraid to live that close to their Arancini!!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                          Yes, and I am exceptionally gratified!!! Nourish did not "nourish" me one bit.

                                                        2. Speaking of pizza, have you tried Ristorante Olivio in East Arlington? I've been there but haven't tried their pizza. Nice, homey place and if you like Italian, give it a try. The short rib ravioli is very good, as is the stuffed pork loin.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Aristonice

                                                            Olivio is a pleasant enough place, I agree. I wouldn't go out of my way for it, but I've enjoyed their service and found the food serviceable.