Devra First files a mostly enthusiastic two-and-a-half star (out of four) review for Banyan Bar + Refuge in the Globe this week. After a bit of nostalgia for the ghost of Hamersley's Bistro in the South End space, First works through the menu. The snacks prove to be "worthy accompaniments to sassy house cocktails" — but why get a cocktail when you can get a Kirin slushie, "beer topped with a frozen cloud of more beer"? While it's a "gimmick," it's "fun."
Fried pig tails, "succulent little nubs," are "the real deal," while the "dud" snack is a "glorified take on potato chips and onion dips" that First's server really talked up. A salad that "riffs on the Caprese" suffers from "gritty and tasteless" tofu and tomatoes that don't taste like summer. But in general, chef Phillip Tang (East by Northeast) "and crew generally do right by vegetables." A grilled corn on the cob has a "wow factor," and a grilled avocado loaded with toppings "tastes like a banh mi."
First is disappointed to find very few noodles on the menu — they were a "forte" of Tang's at East by Northeast — but she hopes winter brings more options. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are "too many buns," but one of the bun highlights features "a cross between Chinese red-cooked pork and pulled pork...with green cabbage slaw." The best of the larger dishes is an "expertly done" whole fried fish, "the presentation full of exciting flavors."
On the "Cheap Eats" side, the Globe's Sheryl Julian visits the new East Cambridge location of Lone Star Taco Bar and declares the "thunderously noisy little place" to be "Umami Central." Despite "a few missteps" — a bacon-wrapped Sonoran dog that she thinks requires a diner to be "inebriated and arriving very late at night"; a torta milanesa that has "just a little too much of everything"; a chicken ranchero tostada with "a slight Cheesecake Factory quality" — Lone Star hits all the right notes.
There are "superb in every way" huevos rancheros, tacos with "intensely flavored toppings", and "wonderful" Victory Club nachos. Overall, she finds "a friendly staff, attentive bartender, and food that tastes fresh every time."
Staying on the taco theme, First also shares a "Quick Bite" overview of Tavitas, the new Mexican restaurant inside of South Station. "So wrong and yet so right?" she writes of the walking tacos — "all the meats and toppings served inside a snack-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos."
"A margarita and some nachos de la casa make that wait for a delayed commuter train feel a whole lot shorter," she writes.