Welcome back to The Best Things the Eater Boston Team Ate This Week, fall 2020 edition. On some Fridays, we each share a dish or two that really hit the spot in the past week. Given the current circumstances, we’ll mainly be discussing delivery and takeout options, as well as some drinks.
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December 18: All the raw fish and meat, plus booze
Ever since the first pandemic surge hit Massachusetts in March, we’ve all said goodbye — hopefully temporarily — to a lot of our beloved dining experiences, replacing nights cozied up at our favorite neighborhood bars, shoulder to shoulder with other regulars, with contact-free takeout and delivery (not to mention a huge amount of home cooking, for better or worse).
For me, the change in dining habits caused by the pandemic has been inextricably linked to the fact that I’ve also been pregnant almost the entire time. Sure, I could still get takeout from Highland Kitchen down the street until it went into hibernation last week, but I couldn’t get my favorite burger from there, cooked to a beautiful medium rare that would make my obstetrician cringe, and I couldn’t try the new boozy milkshakes the restaurant added to the menu this summer, a fact that has tormented me on several occasions in recent months.
Furthermore, I haven’t been able to take advantage of any to-go cocktails, and I sincerely hope that those end up sticking around for a while post-pandemic, or at least post-pregnancy.
The Eater Boston team occasionally shares some of the best things we’ve eaten in the previous week on this page. In that vein, I present this special edition of the column, one of the last things I’ll write before disappearing for four months of parental leave. (In my absence, please reach out to my colleague Terrence Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org with any story tips, questions, etc.).
Here are the best things I haven’t eaten in 40(ish) weeks, an ode to my non-pregnancy-friendly favorites in and around my neighborhood of Union Square, Somerville, that I’ll be ordering as quickly as possible upon leaving the hospital. (No judgment if you ate some of these while pregnant; medical opinions and comfort levels vary on some of these items.)
- Torched salmon belly from Ebi Sushi: If COVID-19 restrictions didn’t prohibit my husband from leaving the hospital and coming back during my recovery, this is what I’d send him out to pick up. Instead, it’ll have to wait until our first day back at home. This is probably my favorite bite of sushi in the city.
- Likewise, if we’re up for a splurge, I’m eyeing fancy sushi takeout packages from Cafe Sushi, Umami Omakase, and Momi Nonmi. Really, I just want to eat all the raw fish...
- ...which brings me to ceviche (and a pisco sour) from Celeste...
- ...and poke from Manoa.
- On the undercooked meat front, I want that medium rare burger from Highland Kitchen (and a boozy milkshake) when it emerges from hibernation; some fancy Spanish ham from Pagu; a roast beef sandwich from Hot Box; and a rare steak — I haven’t figured out from where yet. Maybe we’ll just buy some nice meat from a shop like Savenor’s and grill that one at home.
- One movie clip has been running through my mind throughout this pandemic pregnancy, and I am certainly looking forward to my first cocktail when the time comes. That’ll be the Bad Boy from Casa B: mezcal, lime, scotch bonnet pepper and pomegranate syrup, and orange bitters. Beverage director Taso Papatsoris graciously let us use it as a “signature drink” at our wedding a few years back, providing the recipe and the spicy pomegranate syrup to the beverage service our venue required us to use, so it holds a special place in my heart — and also it’s just really delicious and strong.
I’ll be back in April, and I’ll look forward to hearing all your kid-friendly dining recommendations upon my return. In the meantime, hit up Terrence and the rest of the Eater team at email@example.com, join our Facebook group, follow along on Instagram, and have a safe holiday season. Here’s to a 2021 that is significantly better than 2020. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
November 20: A combination chicken parm and meatball sub and, yep, more birria tacos
Birria tacos from Chilacates
1482A Tremont St., Mission Hill, Boston
We finally did it; we finally jumped on the birria train this week.
And what a good ride it was. Chilacates recently began offering these meaty, cheesy, juicy, messy tacos at all of their locations, so we snagged an order — as well as a carnitas burrito and half a dozen other tacos, including chicken tinga, lengua, and al pastor — from the shop on Mission Hill. (We live close by, so we order takeout from this shop, like, at least twice a month.) The Tijuana-style tacos are made with stewed meat — typically goat, but sometimes beef or lamb, too (Chilacates uses beef) — and smothered with cheese, and they are served with a piquant reddish jus for dipping.
We split the order, and we regretted not ordering more. These tacos are fatty and rich, and as such are especially good when paired with something sweet (a Coke, honestly) or something crisp (a clean lager, for example). These tacos probably aren’t for everyday eating, but they’re definitely for every-other-week eating, which is about the frequency with which we order from Chilacates. I’m very much looking forward to eating so many more of these things. —Terrence B. Doyle
50/50 chicken parm and meatball combo sub from Bob’s Italian Foods; suan la chow show and dun dun noodles from Mary Chung; pepperoni pizza from Newtowne Grille
Bob’s Italian Foods, 324 Main St., Medford; Mary Chung, 464 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge; Newtowne Grille, 1945 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge
We published an update to our chicken parm sandwich map the other day, which prompted a flood of comments asking for the addition of Bob’s Italian Foods in Medford. It’s a fair suggestion (although that particular map is currently limited to the confines of Boston proper, but perhaps we’d expand it out of the city in the future, like many of our other maps). I’ve always heard good things about Bob’s, and it’s kind of odd that I hadn’t yet made it over there, given that I’ve been living in Somerville for about a decade, and it’s just next door in Medford. (What can I say? I’m a P&K loyalist when it comes to subs, although they don’t have chicken parm.)
In any case, I finally got takeout from Bob’s this week — thanks in part to a gift card that’s been kicking around since my wedding over three years ago (thanks, Ed!) — and all I can say is: Why did none of you alert me to the fact that there’s a half chicken parm, half meatball sub?! I would have run over there a decade ago had I known, probably. Two of the best subs in the world smashed together into one. Heaven.
If I were forced to choose a superior half of the sandwich, I’d agree with the crowds who swear by Bob’s chicken parm. But the meatball was great, too, so why not both? I am still blown away that (a) this sandwich exists and (b) no one told me about it. Thanks for nothing! (Kidding, I love you all, please continue to send me tips about what I should be eating, especially if it’s full of carbs and red sauce.)
Couple honorable mentions for the week:
(a) Another addition to the “I can’t believe it took me this long to get here even though people have been telling me it’s incredible for years”: takeout from Mary Chung in Cambridge’s Central Square. Yep, I got the suan la chow show and dun dun noodles, which seem to be everyone’s favorite dishes there, and they lived up to the hype.
(b) Newtowne Grille has reopened in Cambridge’s Porter Square, and I’ve been crying happy pepperoni tears that I can finally get my favorite cheap/reliable pizza again. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
November 6: Quesabirria tacos and jollof rice
Quesabirria tacos from Rincón Mexicano; momo, jollof rice, and more from Comfort Kitchen
Rincón Mexicano, 99 Broadway, East Somerville; Comfort Kitchen, currently popping up at Tanám at Bow Market, 1 Bow Market Way, Union Square, Somerville
We posted this birria taco roundup a couple weeks back, and I haven’t been able to get the cheesy, meaty, messy tacos off my mind. (Note: Since publication, several other local restaurants have started serving birria tacos, so we’ll surely be updating the map soon. Chilacates, for example, is now serving them at all locations.)
Amid the stress of the election, work deadlines, and such, last night was a good night for no-thinking-required local takeout — the perfect night to get quesabirria tacos from the nearest spot to me on the map, Rincón Mexicano. It’s one of East Somerville’s most popular restaurants (and one of several excellent taquerias in the area), and for good reason. While you can’t go wrong with anything there, the quesabirria tacos are next-level. I’m obsessed. How often is too often for me to order these? Tip: You can dump the cup of onion and cilantro onto the tacos themselves, but it’ll all just fall out as you dip the tacos into the consomé. Instead, throw it all in the consomé, which you absolutely must drink at the end, whatever’s left over after dipping all the tacos in it.
The quesabirria tacos are a special; you won’t find them on the online ordering menu or Uber Eats. You’ll have to call or show up in person to order these for takeout. It’s worth the effort.
I also want to give a shoutout to Comfort Kitchen, the forthcoming Dorchester restaurant that will be “celebrating the food of the Diaspora — global comfort food.” The team is currently running series of pop-ups around the area. Following a few weeks at Sweet Basil in Waltham, Comfort Kitchen is now at Tanám in Somerville for Mondays and Tuesdays throughout November, and there’ll be more pop-ups elsewhere in the coming months. All profits are being split among three local organizations: Urban Farming Institute, Boston Cyclists Union, and Student Immigrant Movement.
On a recent night, my husband and I ordered the beef momo, mitmita charred baby rainbow carrots, suya kabab, and jollof rice with Himalayan grilled kauli — all highly recommended. I’d be happy to eat my way out of a giant pot of the jollof rice.
Comfort Kitchen is one to watch; it might be a bit of time before the Dorchester space opens up, but definitely stay tuned to social media for updates on its current pop-up schedule. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
October 23: Emiliana-style lasagna, a dumpling feast, and more
Dumplings, Taiwan-style eggplant, and more from Dumpling Cafe; pizza from La Befana; banh mi from Banh Mi Ba Le; sushi from Fugakyu
Dumpling Cafe, 695 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston; La Befana, 15 N. Beacon St., Allston, Boston; Banh Mi Ba Le, 1052 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, Boston; Fugakyu, 1280 Beacon St., Brookline
The fiancée that I write so much about in these blurbs is no longer my fiancée — she’s my wife! We got married last weekend in a small ceremony in a park near our apartment, our parents and a dear friend (who doubled as a dear officiant) in attendance. After the ceremony, we gorged ourselves on dumplings, fried rice, string beans, and Taiwan-style eggplant from Dumpling Cafe. We miss dining out in Chinatown — especially at Dumpling Cafe — so we could think of no better celebratory feast.
We didn’t honeymoon (because we’re not selfish monsters), but we did take the week off to relax and eat and drink more than we should. Our indulgence led us all over the city (for takeout, because we’re still not comfortable eating at restaurants).
We ordered pizza from La Befana, a favorite from my many years spent living in Allston. We picked up banh mi from Banh Mi Ba Le, which is perhaps the best sandwich in the entire city. And we ate more sushi than two people should eat from Fugakyu in Brookline.
My wife and I met over a meal at Coppa in 2018. We ate pretty much everything on the menu that night. It was a good start; no one likes a picky eater. The only thing we didn’t like was the taleggio. (Taleggio tastes like ammonia smells. It is a bad cheese, do not @ me.) In the two and a half years since that first date, we’ve eaten at countless restaurants throughout Boston and beyond.
Like all of you reading this, we desperately miss dining out and drinking out. The takeout experience will never replicate the excitement that comes with sitting down in your favorite restaurant or bar, running into old friends, and shooting the shit with your favorite bartender. But it’s better than nothing, and we’re glad we got to celebrate our wedding with some of our favorite standbys. —Terrence B. Doyle
Lasagna from Gran Gusto
90 Sherman St., Cambridge
Well, I can’t top Terrence’s week of food and celebration (huge congratulations!), but I did eat some great stuff this week. (Like Terrence, I am also sticking with takeout and delivery for now, and you’ll notice that the maps and guides we publish continue to emphasize these options. We’ll indicate if restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining, but if you are looking for maps and guides specifically centered around indoor or outdoor dining, you’ll be better served by posing questions in our Facebook group, where 3,500+ members are ready to provide input.)
So, the best thing I ate this week: I’ve gotta go with Gran Gusto’s lasagna. The Cambridge restaurant has always had a reputation as one of the most “authentic” (yeah, yeah, that’s a loaded word) Italian restaurants in the area, and I’ve always been a fan of its pizza and pasta, particularly the paccheri with braised short rib ragu. But for a delivery order this week, I spotted the lasagna on the menu, described as “traditional Emiliana-style meat lasagna,” and knew I had to give it a shot.
Shortly pre-COVID, my husband and I ate our way through Spain and then Italy, including a day in Modena that involved a lasagna unlike any we’d had in America: While the Italian-American lasagna — which is fantastic in its own way — is heavy on ricotta and tomato, this was a masterpiece of simplicity, featuring a béchamel sauce, no ricotta, and a true Bolognese ragu (that is, Bologna’s hearty meat sauce, not America’s very tomato-y version). I expected that Gran Gusto’s promised Emiliana-style lasagna would be similar to what we had in Modena (Modena and Bologna are in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy), and it was spot on. Truly. And that was for delivery from several miles away — it must be even more incredible fresh out of the kitchen. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
October 9: Texas brisket, a meatball sub, and more
Brisket from the Scott Brothers at Winter Hill Brewing Company
328 Broadway, Winter Hill, Somerville
Don’t fact-check this against my social media accounts — it was actually from a couple weeks ago, oops. I meant to include it here last week but got distracted by that Sarma breakfast spread (see below). Anyway, the Scott Brothers took over the kitchen at Winter Hill Brewing a while back, and they’ve been making magic there, including some Saturday barbecue specials.
My husband and I each got a brisket meat-and-three plate; one was on the leaner side and one was on the fattier side. The leaner portion was good; the fattier portion was on a very short list of the best briskets I’ve had outside of Texas. Mac and cheese is the must among the side options, and the accompanying pickles were outstanding as well. I’m excited to try more Scott Brothers meals — they’re always up to something interesting at Winter Hill.
A few honorable mentions from the last week-ish: a takeout “McRib” from the Curio Coffee “Shit We Ate in the ’90s” series, paired with a rewatch of one of my favorite ’90s movies, Ever After; a meatball sub from Somerville convenience store/hidden gem sub shop P & K, which has just entered the modern age with a website and Instagram account — give ‘em a follow; a hefty delivery spread from one of my pre-pandemic favorites, Southeast Asian restaurant Chalawan, including the excellent scallops and snapper dumplings and lots more; and a big delivery order from Zoe’s Chinese in Somerville, which I always seem to crave on the day it’s closed (Monday) — the new-to-me Hunan dish of spicy beef with peppers and cilantro was a big hit. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
October 2: Maine lobster rolls and Turkish breakfast
Lobster rolls at Stewman’s Lobster Pound
35 West St., Bar Harbor, Maine
We needed to get the hell out of the city for a couple days, so we drove up to Downeast Maine and camped in Acadia National Park. We drove to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, took a quick hike through the woods near the Bass Harbor lighthouse, and hung out in Bar Harbor one afternoon where we ate lobster rolls on the sunny patio at Stewman’s Lobster Pound.
The lobster rolls were honestly the best we’ve ever had, and they were accompanied with perfectly crispy, salty French fries. (French fries, which have the capacity to be the best food on the planet, almost always suck. It’s a true pleasure when they do not suck.) We drank blueberry beer to ensure that each of Maine’s three best exports were represented. Best thing I ate this week; best thing I’ve eaten all year. —Terrence B. Doyle
Breakfast from Sarma
249 Pearl St., Somerville, Massachusetts
I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram around 10 a.m. on Sunday morning when I spotted a post about Sarma’s new takeout breakfast, available from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Given that this was a pandemic Sunday morning, showering and wearing real clothes were a distant memory, but I managed to place an order and get ready to enter the real world in record speed to get in before the cutoff.
I’m glad I did: From the ultra-thick dulce hot chocolate to the ricotta loukamades with halva caramel, it was an indulgent Sunday morning. I think my favorite part, though, was the Turkish breakfast — petite and incredibly sweet tomatoes (the last of the season, I’m guessing; farewell to one of my favorite parts of summer), soft-boiled eggs, hunks of salty feta, olives, and figs with smoked green wheat.
I’ve always felt lucky to have Sarma in my neighborhood, although given the dinner pricing, it’s not the type of place we can enjoy too often, aside from (pre-COVID) late-night fried chicken and drinks at the bar and a rare special occasion dinner. But the addition of a reasonably priced weekend takeout breakfast is a game-changer. I need to go back to try the latke hash browns, anyway. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal