December 29, 2013
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As I mentioned, I am leaving for Dallas in a few days. I have spent most of my adult life studying or living in Boston, and with the exception of a brief interlude in New York, I’ve lived my whole life in Massachusetts.
So let’s talk about restaurants and bars. I am not going mention everywhere but will speak to what comes to mind.
Cambridge, Somerville, and North of Boston
- For the last 2+ years I’ve lived in Central Square, Cambridge. It is located halfway between Harvard and MIT. There are many foodie restaurants in the immediate vicinity, but few that fit my tastes. The place I’ve gone to the most is Tavern in the Square, which is a little expensive for what it is, but it’s fine. Hi Fi Pizza is possibly the worst pizza place I’ve ever been. Cinderella’s for pizza is okay, but nothing special. Asgard is good when I’ve been but it tends to get crowded. I actually think, though, that Central Square is a great place to live. The Red Line is possibly the best subway line in the city and you can get downtown rapidly with it. I regularly got to the airport using the Red and Silver Lines in 40 minutes. There are some crime problems, but there are far worse places to live in Boston for that, and Boston isn’t exactly a crime-riddled city.
- In Harvard Square, everyone must experience Border Cafe. The economics of the place confuse the hell out of me. What you get for the price is amazing. For lunch, I suggest Al’s (which also has a location by the Financial District/Waterfront). I went to Bartley’s Burgers once, which was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and I enjoyed it. Bon Chon (another location is in Allston/Brighton) is great and a must if you haven’t had its style of fried chicken. Fire & Ice is crazy overrated but I would still recommend it as an experience. Russell House Tavern is expensive but you get what you pay for. Grendel’s Den is very inexpensive if you get the half price deal but the food tastes cheap. Charlie’s Kitchen has very inexpensive drinks if you play the menu correctly.
- Davis Square might be the best place in the Boston area to bar hop. Tyler Cowen endorsed the food scene in Somerville in An Economist Gets Lunch and Davis epitomizes that. I haven’t been to as many places as I would like (likely because many plans to go to Davis get derailed to Border Cafe). M3 is probably my top recommendation. Redbones people rave about but I thought it was good-not-great the one time I went. Foundry is… interesting but is a high variance experience given its menu (including drink menu). Joshua Tree is generic and has been caught watering down drinks but it’s alright.
- In Kendall Square, I recommend Firebrand Saints.
- Inman Square is a place that has respected restaurants but in the absence of a car you must walk or take a bus to get there. If you are driving, it is no worse than any other place so I would suggest trying it. Go to All-Star Sandwich Bar for sure. Union Square is similar to Inman and nearby but I have even less experience there.
- Some random neighborhoods I’ve been around…. Sullivan Square is a bit sketchy but but an underrated place for college students to live. Not a big nightlife there though…. Stay away from East Boston except to go to Santarpios, and try to go when there is daylight.
- If you are driving, Route 1 in Saugus has a fantastic collection restaurants that you probably want to try even though they are sorta sleazy. The top of this list is Kowloon.
- The entire area is a damn tourist trap. But it’s okay because even the tourist traps are mostly fine. Bell in Hand is a solid place to have a beer at. Union Oyster House is overrated but they are competent. Legal Seafoods – which has locations everywhere in the area with money – is competent. Durgin Park and Dick’s Last Resort are… experiences. The North End is just American red sauce fake Italian food, but it is damn good American red sauce fake Italian food – go there and get veal parmesan (~$14) and some decent red wine (and a cannoli at Modern Pastry or Mike’s Pastry). If you want upscale North End, go to Strega.
- But how to do cheap bars? Coogan’s has maybe the cheapest beer in the city. There are a number of bars right by Union Oyster House that have very inexpensive draughts. I highly recommend Zumas, which is sorta hidden right by Faneuil Hall, for their margarita pitchers. Barracuda is very uneven, but it is one of my favorites – just take a look at the specials but don’t expect too much of the place.
- Speaking of Barracuda, there are many identical restaurant-and-bar type places in that area. The best, besides Barracuda, is probably Red Hat, along with Emmett’s. 6B, Scholars, 21st Amendment, and Kinsale are nothing special but not bad. Silvertone is crappy. STAY AWAY from Beantown. Fajitas and Ritas is a crappy version of Border Cafe that closes too early, but I still like it.
- I’ve been to several places in Chinatown, but still haven’t made a dent in the huge number of restaurants. There are several good hot pot places – for something consistent and a little Disney-ized, try Q. Pho Pasteur, which is basically next door, has the best Pho that isn’t annoying to get to. I also like Empire Garden, also basically next door, but it is a hard to explain its strangeness. If you want “authentic” (cough) for the sake of “authentic,” try Hei La Moon. Shojo is a solid hipster version of a Chinatown restaurant in Chinatown.
- Lunch places. My first mainstay is Lambert’s Deli for a great sandwich. My other is Wong’s, which is crappy food court Chinese food, but it’s 90th percentile crappy food court Chinese food. Sam Lagrassa’s was featured on Diner’s, Drive-ins, and Dives, and MUST be experienced, though its strategy of hitting you over the head with salt, sugar, and spice wears thin quick. Finally, Viga serves high quality food at pretty cheap prices.
- In the theater district, there are a number of high end national chains. The best are McCormick & Schmick’s and Maggiano’s.
- Pour House is probably my choice in the area, but beware of the cheap burgers – they suck. I like Summer Shack but be careful about the food prices. Five Napkin Burger should be tried but it’s not exactly sublime. People like Trident. Cafeteria is a unique place. At Top of the Hub you are paying for the view, but I’m okay with that. L’espalier is the best restaurant in Boston but I’ve never been because it is so expensive.
- By Fenway Park, Boston Beer Works is the winner if that is your type of thing. Many of the clubs and venues have migrated to this area over time, but I don’t know them too well. Jillian’s is expensive but that should be expected. I actually find the idea of watching the Red Sox at the Uno’s in Kenmore kinda endearing and have done so several times.
- I never went to Cheers before friends from out of state convinced me to go. It’s not good.
- Getting people to go out here is like pulling teeth. I don’t blame them. There are constant delays on the Green Line as four separate line (B, C, D, and E) slam together to form one. If you are waiting for one particular line – which is generally necessary – you often must wait for what feels like 20 minutes. Boston College, where I went to undergrad, is technically located at the end of the B line, but the B is so horrendous that most BC students would take C or D to get into “the city” (i.e. Kenmore and points east) even though it is more of a pain to get to C or D. One thing I should point out is that the D line stops at Cleveland Circle, where C terminates, and gets there significantly more quickly. Not many people know that and it can come in very handy; you can park for free in Cleveland Circle if you know where to look.
- Eagle’s Deli, which has been featured on basically all food shows, is located in Cleveland Circle. It looks much different now, as being featured on the Travel Channel like eight times apparently made investment possible – the place used to be a complete pit. The food is (and always was) pretty overpriced. Pino’s has excellent cheap pizza. Cityside has long been one of my favorite bars, though it doesn’t have anything in particular going for it. Roggie’s is fun with its extensive menu and drinking options, but the food quality is not high. Mary Ann’s is a great American institution, and by that I mean it smells like a bathroom and someone I brought there almost cut her lip on a broken beer glass.
- Some of my friends would be very angry if I didn’t mention Bluestone Bistro regarding which one once said “Yes Ryan, it’s a shithole, but it’s our shithole.” Mediocre pizza/sub joint that serves beer and at least pretends (?) to have its own brand of beer. So there’s that.
- There are many restaurants and bars throughout the area, but the one that sticks out the most in my mind is Sunset. The food menu is huge and the beer selection is bigger. The food itself is overpriced, but this is not an experience to be missed.
- It is worthwhile to walk around Coolidge Corner. It has an independent movie theater that people like if that is your thing. It has a great independent book store. And it has Zaftig’s, which is frikkin wonderful.
So I got a bit wistful about Boston as I realized that it would be unlikely I would stay there, and even more so as I am about to move. It does seem like the right time – several of my local friends have moved all around the country recently. But I haven’t even mentioned the Red Sox even though baseball still takes up most of my waking thoughts each day.
Many people know Boston way better than I do, but I know it well enough to be… comfortable where I was. I hope I’ll soon feel the same way about Dallas.