Welcome to The Best Things the Eater Boston Team Ate This Week, fall 2021 edition. On Fridays, we share a restaurant dish or two that really hit the spot in the past week. (Check out last season’s edition here.) Want to share your own favorites? Join our Facebook group to give and get recommendations for local dining.
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November 24: The best meal in months (and a lot more)
Dinner at Cicada Coffee Bar; meatball sub at Semolina Kitchen & Bar; tom yum noodle soup from Soup Shack; khao soi and sai ua from Dakzen; pizza from Ciao; c-mo:mo from Zuzu Momo
Cicada Coffee Bar, 106 Prospect St., Central Square, Cambridge; Semolina Kitchen & Bar, 572 Boston Ave., Medford; Soup Shack, 9 White St., Porter Square, Cambridge; Dakzen, 195 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville; Ciao! Pizza & Pasta, 59 Williams St., Chelsea; Zuzu Momo, 291 Main St., Everett
It’s been about a month since the last update here; it’s not entirely for lack of good eating (although I’ve leaned a lot on some of my regular takeout/delivery standbys over the last few weeks, and I don’t need to tell you about all my favorites for the 100th time), it’s just an extra-busy time of year. But I wanted to jump in before we shut things down early for the holiday weekend to highlight the absolute best meal I’ve had in months.
If you scroll down the page a bit, you’ll see I already mentioned Cicada Coffee Bar earlier this season for its dreamy backyard and lovely cafe lunches, but I have to include it again because the recently launched dinner service is an entirely different experience — and even more magical — and is likely to quickly become one of the toughest tables to book in town, so get there now.
Behind the scenes at Eater, we talk a lot about the restaurants that transport us to other places, and Cicada is the epitome of that: On one side of the door was a cold, rainy Cambridge evening; on the other side, a bustling, intimate piece of Hanoi nightlife with natural wines flowing, tropical greenery peeking around pieces of mismatched furniture that chef and cofounder Vinh Le restored by hand, and flavor-packed dishes that made me want to immediately book (a) more reservations at Cicada and (b) a flight to Vietnam.
Maybe a little bit of the magic of the evening was that we’ve been dining indoors extraordinarily sparingly (and dining out in general pretty sparingly too, as we’re still navigating whatever’s left of the pandemic/new parenthood with a baby too young to get vaccinated), so to have this ultra-rare date night indoors and to forget about how weird things continue to be for just a couple hours, sure, that might have a little bit to do with my memory of this meal. But the majority of it is that the food and ambiance are incredible, and I truly hope you book a reservation immediately and love it as much as I do.
Try anything and everything, but I’ll note that the lemongrass duck tartare was probably the best thing I ate all year; the monkfish with vermicelli and the oxtail with fresh noodles were also major hits. Save a tiny bit of room for the single dessert, Cicada’s house-made yogurt with passionfruit reduction.
A few honorable mentions from the past few weeks:
- On a warm-ish recent day, we decided to go for a lunch adventure with our 10-month-old to Semolina, the sit-down restaurant in Medford from the Dave’s Fresh Pasta crew. We had a fun patio lunch, and because Eater freelancer Karen Wilber had gotten Semolina’s meatballs on my radar in her recent “meatballs of the world” guide, I ordered the meatball sub, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. (It also caused the baby to nearly escape from his high chair and lunge across the table to try to grab it.) When it comes to meatball subs, I’m typically a P&K Deli loyalist — or Bob’s if I want the meatball/chicken parm combo — but the Semolina version is absolutely getting added to my list for when I want a sit-down experience.
- Soup season is in full swing, and I finally made it to Soup Shack (the Cambridge location, which I think is the newest of the trio). Soup Shack basically focuses on three types of soup: Thai noodle soups, Vietnamese pho, and Japanese ramen, with a few variations of each. My husband and I stuck to the Thai section this time; I got the tom yum noodle soup and he got the duck noodle soup. Both were hits. Looking forward to trying one of the pho or ramen options next time.
- Speaking of Thai soups, I’ve continued to get takeout/delivery from Dakzen pretty frequently, and it continues to have the best khao soi around. (Sai ua, too, which is sausage, not soup. Get both.)
- Another longtime favorite (that I don’t get to nearly as much as I should): Ciao in Chelsea continues to serve some of the best wood-fired pizza in the area.
- And I look forward to actually dining inside Zuzu Momo or on its super cute patio one of these days, but I had a chance to grab takeout from this new-ish Nepali restaurant in Everett (I think it opened about a year ago) and had a great first impression, especially of the new road style c-mo:mo.
If you’ve stuck with me all the way through this extra-long dispatch, thanks for reading, and please go to Cicada! I hope you have a chance to spend the holiday weekend safely and with family and/or friends and plenty of good food. Oh, and if you’re still looking for holiday gifts, please check out Eater Boston’s first-ever holiday gift guide — I’m really excited about all these New England food and food-adjacent items!
October 22: Pastries and (scallion) pancakes
I didn’t get out much this past week, but I did get to have the joy of bringing a couple of visiting friends to one of my absolute favorite places, La Saison Bakery in Cambridge, so they could pick up a beautiful chocolate cake to bring to a family event nearby. Fortunately we had time to sit outside the bakery and snack on a variety of treats, too, including the pistachio rosewater cookies and the kouign-amann. Everything here is always incredible. Please, if you haven’t tried a loaf of the sourdough or a slice of chocolate cake yet, do yourself a favor and get over there.
In other pastry news, those same friends brought us delicious pan de muerto from Atticus Bakery in New Haven, Connecticut. (A couple days later, I was excited to read more about it from Atticus’s pastry chef Selene Tepatzi and manager Brian Lance in the Wordloaf newsletter by America’s Test Kitchen alum and baker extraordinaire Andrew Janjigian. Definitely sign up for that newsletter if you’re into bread.)
Another highlight of the week: My first visit to Malden bubble tea shop Monkey King Tea. Particularly awesome: the pork chashu s’taco. I assume the “s” stands for scallion pancake, since that’s what it’s wrapped in — a big, pillowy, extra-crispy scallion pancake. I have to play Frogger across a busy street to get over there, but it’s sort of within my geographic lunch radius, so I can only assume I will be eating quite a lot of these tacos...sorry, s’tacos...in the coming months. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
October 15: An intersection of Caribbean and South Asian flavors
I’ve been enthusiastically awaiting the opening of Comfort Kitchen in its own space in Dorchester — global comfort food from a really great team of people? I’m into it — but fortunately the future restaurant has been popping up frequently throughout the pandemic and has settled into a long residency at the Little Dipper space in Jamaica Plain, so interested diners can get a sneak peek. The current menu focuses on the intersectionality of Caribbean and South Asian cuisines, connected via the spice trade.
My husband and I ate our way through quite a bit of the menu — hey, date nights are rare these days, so if I actually make it out to a restaurant, I am going to eat — and were blown away by the flavors. Subtle, delicate ones. In-your-face ones. Everything was bright and fresh and colorful and got me really excited about little details, like the perfect herb pistou or the way we each said “OH!” upon taking our first bite of an exceptionally good grilled prawn. Hard to pick favorites as everything was fantastic, but if I return while this menu’s still running, I think I’d have to get the beef short rib (stout coffee lacquer, braised greens, yuca frites) or the new fish curry (hake, coconut curry brodo, marble potatoes, rainbow carrots, herb pistou, roti) again.
Honorable mentions this week go to:
- The Pizza Project pop-up, which I caught at Goldilox Bagels in Medford. Pizza Project is using the fantastic pepperoni from Ezzo Sausage Co. that curls up into little cups. The best.
- A spicy falafel roll-up from Medford’s new Egyptian restaurant, Kushari and Grill.
- And a lovely Earl Grey cookie from Cafe Beatrice, eaten outside on a sunny fall day that felt like summer.
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
October 8: A special farewell dispatch from Eater Boston’s reporter, Terrence Doyle
Beach pizza from Tripoli; roast beef sandwich from Nick’s Famous Roast Beef; fried clams from J.T. Farnham’s; Taiwan-style dumplings from Dumpling Cafe; barbecue beef banh mi from Ba Le
Tripoli Pizza, 23 Broadway, Salisbury Beach, or 418 State Route 286, Seabrook, New Hampshire; Nick’s, 139 Dodge St., Beverly; J.T. Farnham’s, 88 Eastern Ave., Essex; Dumpling Cafe, 695 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston; Ba Le, 1052 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, Boston
Today is my last day as Eater Boston reporter (don’t worry, I promise to dip in every now and then as a freelancer), and I couldn’t leave without dropping a final “Best Things I Ate” post. But instead of writing about the best thing I ate during this particular week, I’m going to mix things up a little bit and write about the five best things I’ve ever eaten in and around Boston — or at least my five favorite things, anyway. These are the dishes we write home about, the ones we tell friends they must eat when visiting town, the bites we talk about when we talk about last meals. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my five favorite things to eat in Greater Boston.
- Beach pizza from Tripoli (Salisbury or Seabrook location, doesn’t really matter): Beach pizza seems deeply weird to people who’ve never eaten beach pizza, but really it’s just thin-crust pizza made on a sheet pan and cut into rectangular slices — not too dissimilar to grandma-style pizza, at least in theory. The crust is cracker-like and a little sweet, and the sauce is sweet too. The pizza is topped with a vanishing amount of cheese, so be certain to order it with “extra,” which consists of a slab of provolone. Get it from Tripoli, not Cristy’s. (Cristy’s is fine, but the sauce isn’t as sweet, and the sweet sauce is one of the draws at Tripoli.) I grew up in Amesbury, just a town over from Salisbury, where this kind of pizza originated in the 1940s. It’s nostalgic to me in a way it might not be nostalgic to you, so I understand the doubters. I’ve brought many of them to the Salisbury strip for some arcades and a slice of beach pizza, and not one of them left a doubter.
- Roast beef sandwich from Nick’s in Beverly: The North Shore-style roast beef is perhaps Greater Boston’s most (only?) iconic sandwich type. The iconic version (called a “three-way”) consists of thinly sliced, rosy pink roast beef piled high on a Kaiser roll, topped with mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, and a slice of American cheese. It is messy — the messiest, to be sure — and it is perfect. There are a number of excellent roast beef joints dotting the coastal and near-coastal towns north of the city, but the best can be found in north Beverly at Nick’s. Be blasphemous and order yours with shredded lettuce on top. Conformist North Shore beef eaters will shun your decision; they will be wrong to do so because this sandwich is best as a “four-way.”
- Fried clams from J.T. Farnham’s in Essex: I have written at great length about my love for the Great Marsh and the bivalves that live in its mud, so I’ll spare you all several minutes of your busy lives. Suffice it to say, there are many great clam shacks on Rte. 133 between Ipswich and Essex, but Farnham’s just so happens to be my favorite. Eat these suckers with plenty of tartar sauce, and look out at the marsh to catch a glimpse of some nesting birds.
- Taiwan-style pan-fried pork dumplings from Dumpling Cafe in Chinatown: Chinatown is Boston’s best food neighborhood, and I sorta don’t think it’s very close. One could eat every meal there every day for a month and not even scratch the surface of what its restaurants have to offer. My favorite among them is Dumpling Cafe (I’ve probably made this abundantly clear over the years), and my favorite thing to eat there is the Taiwan-style pan-fried pork dumpling. Its interior is salty and full of juicy pork and fragrant alliums, and it’s exterior is golden brown and simultaneously chewy and crispy in equal measures. Be sure to order the house eggplant (it was hard to leave this dish off this list, so here we are), and wash it all down with a Tsingtao or three.
- Barbecue beef banh mi from Ba Le in Dorchester: Ba Le is a gem in a neighborhood full of gems. Its banh mi — especially the barbecue beef, but also the fried pork floss — is the best sandwich in the city of Boston, and maybe the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten, period. My god, that bread! Anyway, in my not so humble opinion, you can’t really have an opinion about eating in Boston without eating in Dorchester (its biggest neighborhood), especially in Little Saigon. Ba Le is the perfect place to start.
(Honorable mention: the jerk chicken and beans and rice at Jamaica Mi Hungry, which are both exceptional.)
These last four years have been a real treat, folks. Thanks for putting up with my North Shore bias, and thanks for reading my work (from the delightfully inane to the decidedly more serious). I appreciate you all so much. [Insert prayer hands emoji.]
September 24: Noodles on a dreamy patio, pad thai in chicken wing form, and more
Pho noodle salad with cured salmon at Cicada Coffee Bar; arepas and empanaditas at Tertulias Cafe; kushiyaki and chirashi from Ōmori Izakaya & Sushi; miso ramen from Pikaichi
Cicada Coffee Bar, 106 Prospect St., Central Square, Cambridge; Tertulias Cafe, 26-28 Porter St., Maverick Square, East Boston; Ōmori Izakaya & Sushi, 166 Eastern Ave., Malden; Pikaichi, 123 Boston Ave., West Medford
Time flies, and it’s been a few weeks since our last installment of this roundup, so instead of focusing on one or two dishes, I’m going to break my own rule (as I do more often than not!) and give a quick rundown on several excellent recent meals from the final days of summer and first days of fall.
- Cicada Coffee Bar: This is one of those rare spots that I immediately fell in love with just upon chatting with the team about it before the opening — sometimes you just know a place is going to be great, you know? The cafe’s menu is a concise mix of Vietnamese noodle salads (I always get the cured salmon) and banh mi, Vietnamese coffee beverages (try the “sea salt shaker” with foam, sea salt, and sweetened condensed milk), and some pastries from fellow Cambridge venue Cafe Beatrice. I almost hate to tell too many people about the back patio, because it’s small and I want to be able to get a seat there now and then, but it is the most dreamy, magical little garden. Sipping iced coffee under a big red umbrella as a hint of rain started to fall yesterday afternoon — perfect. I can’t wait to see what the team does now that they have a beer and wine license.
- Tertulias Cafe: I’m pretty new to Colombian food, and I’ve definitely been missing out. Tertulias has a huge selection of arepas — some Colombian, some Venezuelan — and the arepa colombiana with carne desmechada (shredded beef) is perhaps my new favorite thing. Or the expertly fried, potato-stuffed mini empanadas. Add a side of passion fruit juice, and you’ve got a great feast.
- Ōmori Izakaya & Sushi: We were in Brookline Village recently, and I pointed out the original location of Ōmori to my husband as we passed by; I had gone a while back without him and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure when we’d get to go together, though, since if we’re trekking over to Brookline Village, we’re almost definitely headed for Mahaniyom or Blossom Bar. Coincidentally, later that day, I stumbled on the news that Ōmori had expanded to Malden, much closer to us and within delivery range. I put in an order the next time we were in the mood for delivery, and we were thoroughly impressed by the chirashi and the grilled skewers of meats that we tried, including chicken skin, kurobuta sausage, and more. Can’t wait to go eat at the restaurant to soak up the izakaya vibes (by drinking lots of sake).
- Pikaichi: I know, I’m way late to the party on this beloved Medford ramen shop, which was over in Allston before. Not much to say about this except that you were all right about it, and I can’t believe it took me this long to try it. Definitely going to be a regular here. (Don’t be afraid to get takeout, even though ramen is at its best when eaten immediately; like a lot of other ramen spots, Pikaichi has really perfected the pandemic-era takeout ramen situation.)
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
Sassy-style wings at Twelve Hours
559 Washington St., Brighton, Boston
These six-piece crispy morsels have returned to the menu, and I couldn’t be happier. They are actually one of the main reasons I order from Twelve Hours because they are that good. Fried with a crackling crunch and a house sauce, “sassy style” is a blend of soy, sweet, spicy pepper, and basil. Garnished with crushed peanuts, this appetizer is like a spicy pad thai in chicken wing form with a nice lingering heat. They make the perfect appetizer for other noodle or rice dishes. —Samer Khudairi