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Omnivore and vegetarian, excited to get time in/around Boston: seeking recs

We've been lucky enough to be able to make a yearly visit from NYC to the GBA several times now, excited to be coming up this week. The range of food pleasure in the area is a primary motivator for us, from Turkish to regional Chinese to Italian to (new) Southern to Ethiopian, from bakeries to ice cream to dim sum to deli - we've had wonderful experiences over the years.

If anyone's got current recommendations (and skinny) on places good for these and more, that work for a mixed marriage - omnivore and vegetarian (lacto-ovo) - we'd tremendously appreciate them.

In addition to what's good for the above, we'd love to hear about good Vietnamese, Burmese, and (yes) Indian pudding (years ago memory from Locke-Ober). Oh, and good vegetarian places mixed in would be good for us both too.

Hoping any recs provided are useful to many in addition to us!

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  1. Do you have any preferences on price or location? Oleana and Sarma immediately come to mind. Also an entirely different option - Life Alive has great vegetarian food that made me not even miss meat!

    2 Replies
    1. re: addiez

      Thank you, addiez! I hadn't discovered Life Alive yet. Sarma looks great, as does Oleana (we love Sofra, which we always include in our trips).

      We're booked for a b'day dinner at a (now) long-time favorite, Hungry Mother, and may do one or two others at a moderately high price, but hope to stay around (or under) $20 - 25 per person, without booze, for most.

      1. re: round2

        One other place that could be worth trying is Orinoco - there are locations in the South End, Brookline Village, and Harvard Square. I had a great meal there for about $35 a person including a carafe of sangria. The Harvard Square location has a wonderful outdoor patio in the back that I would highly recommend. Our meal, though it included meat, could easily and deliciously have been vegetarian.

    2. Searching the boards will bring you a lot more information, but here's my quick shortlist:

      Sichuan: Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline (very close to the Fenway/Longwood Medical) - just make sure that you stick to the Sichuan dishes and avoid the American-Chinese dishes like the plague

      Turkish: Oleana (I would eat the veg tasting menu every night), Istanbu'lu

      Southern: Tupelo, especially for brunch

      Ramen: Yume Wo Katare, which specialises (read: serves only) jiro-style ramen; no veg options but would be a great and hard-to-find food experience for the ominvore

      Vietnamese: So many choices, especially in Dorchester; avoid the Pho Pasteur chain; if you need vegetarian soup options, check menus in advance or call to make sure that they do vegetarian broths - in my experience that's a bit harder to find than you'd expect

      I would also say that I've been to Life Alive twice and didn't find anything to recommend it: the lines are long, the staff is super slow and flaky, seating is hard to come by, and (most importantly) the food is very, very average. Boston is not short on good vegetarian choices (especially for ovo/lacto), so there's no reason to compromise.

      1 Reply
      1. re: TimTamGirl

        TimTamGirl, thank you! Great information, including spotlighting places that had not been on my radar screen (Dorchester for Vietnamese, and Tupelo). I forgot the name of Istanbu'lu, but we once had a VERY memorable brunch there a few years back. I will indeed keep combing through the boards, but it's not often clear which good places work well also for vegetarians. We've had so much luck finding great places there in the past.

        Much appreciated!

      2. Interesting that you brought up Burmese food. There's only one Burmese restaurant that I know of, Yoma, in Allston. Generally good, but mixed reviews on this Board, feel free to search it. Definitely on the cheaper end, and will fit your vege/omni requirements. Their salads, such as the tea leaf salad, are very different and quite good. The rest of the food is more hit or miss for me, but ymmv.

        1 Reply
        1. re: tysonmcneely

          I really appreciate this suggestion, tysonmcneely. We did go to Yoma, missing Burmese food in NYC, which was a favorite from SF. We had the tea leaf ginger salad (kind of a combo of their ginger and their tea leaf salads) which we enjoyed, and scratched a long-time itch. The plata (layered bread) with potato and bean curry was delicious too. The okra potato tofu was okay, but less successful, and the Burmese kimchee (spicy, sweet and pickled shallots, I believe), was more interesting than gobble-it-up delicious. So hit or miss, yes, but a wonderful treat for Burmese food fans.

        2. I'm the lacto-ovo vegetarian half of a mixed marriage. :)

          Regional Chinese: look up threads about Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe (now in Woburn, previously in Chelmsford) on here if you haven't been. Very short menu but 2-3 veg options. (3 if the weekend and the weekend-only chilled noodles haven't run out yet. If they haven't, get them!)

          Vietnamese in Chinatown: 163 Vietnamese Sandwich for bahn mi -- they have multiple vegetarian options. (The mock duck is my fav.) Xinh Xihn for sit-down Vietnamese -- they're very good about labeling veggie stuff and understanding "no fish sauce". We don't get down to Dorchester very often but I've had trouble finding places with varied veg. options there whereas Xinh Xinh is great.

          For pastries in Chinatown, 101 bakery labels all their stuff with ingredients, so no surprise lard or porkfloss.

          For Ethiopian, we always hit up Habeesha in Malden, which is super-inexpensive and great, but it's out of the way if you're staying in town, and it doesn't offer anything the pricier places in town don't, it's just cheap and fast and friendly.

          Vegetarian: Red Lentil in Watertown is all-veg and good with the comfort-food type stuff. True Bistro in Teele (near Istanbu'lu) is all-vegan and good for fancy-veg.

          For cuisines you didn't ask about: in Union Square (Somerville), two recs: Bronwyn for Eastern European, and Machu Picchu for Peruvian. The latter had a lot of new veg options since the last time I'd gone, and the former has always been pretty good about veg. food.

          4 Replies
          1. re: antimony

            Gene's has now opened in Chinatown, which would be much easier to get to than Woburn would be; however, the menu is small (maybe smaller than the other branch?) and I'm not sure there's much for vegetarians. The hand-pulled noodles are exquisite, though, so if you can find something for the veg to eat it's absolutely worth a stop.

            Lucy Ethiopian is my favourite of the Ethiopian places in Boston. There's a real sense of love there that is hard to come by, and despite the downtown location it's still quite inexpensive.

            Bronwyn is lovely, and you could start/finish with a drink at Backbar. I've fallen in love with a wildberry (half raspberry and half something else; natural cross, not human-made) liqueur that I've never seen anywhere else. Our bartender made me a Kir with it last time I was there, and it would be my summer drink forever except no one else carries it (that I know of, at least).

            1. re: TimTamGirl

              Ribelle works for both sides of your food equation. If you go before 6:30, each of you can order three plates for $30.00. Plates come out as they are made and are quite generous for a "small plate" concept. Great bartending too and a very welcoming vibe.

              1. re: teezeetoo

                Ribelle looks wonderful - thank you teezeetoo. We have one dinner left in question, though we're meeting up with folks who may need something more casual and cheaper. If not this trip, hopefully we get back and can try it soon.

            2. re: antimony

              Very much appreciated, antimony. Hoping to make it in to Xinh Xinh (AND 101 Bakery) for lunch today. If we can, I'd love to make it to Gene's this weekend, but also would like to hit Bronwyn and Machu Picchu, but time now is running way too short (we start mourning the impending end of our visit almost as soon as it begins). We're in Cambridge near Charlestown, and it may not be a bad drive to Malden for Habeesha... but time is getting tight.

            3. Much thanks to all for the terrific recommendations.

              Last night we had a fabulous meal at Hungry Mother, probably our fourth since our first soon after it opened. We always loved a special cocktail they made with sorghum, that's not among their specialty drinks any more, but they made one for us they said would be a close approximation. It was good, but not exactly what we remembered and loved. The food, though, was sensational last night, start to finish. They continue not to exactly cater to vegetarians (!) on their menu, but served me a platter with what was described as corn porridge (really good), a squash melange (lovely) with the best cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes I could ever imagine tasting. Wow. The special side we ordered, cauliflower with almonds and butter, was fantastic. The omnivore absolutely loved his cast-iron chicken, as did we both the cornbread with sorghum butter, and boiled peanuts.

              Had a nice lunch at Ulu Cafe in Jamaica Plain yesterday, wonderful ice cream at Christina's the night before, and a delicious (apricot and ?) tart from Clear Flour Bakery this morning.

              Looking forward to getting to Istanbu'lu tonight, after lunch at Xinh Xinh...

              1 Reply
              1. re: round2

                thanks so much for reporting back. love both xinh xinh and Istanbu'lu so I think you are bound to have good food today.