Unless you're from New York or San Francisco, you'll probably think that Boston is an expensive city. But don't despair, gourmands, because cheap eats abound. (All those broke students have to eat somewhere, too.)
No need to stray far from the Hynes Convention Center to find a tasty and affordable meal. In fact, you don't even need to go outside, with plenty of options in "the Shops at Prudential Center," an upscale mall attached to the Hynes. Its excellent food court will banish from your mind all associations with Sbarro's and Taco Bell. Standouts include Gourmet India (on the weekend, try such regional specialties as chaat, bhel puri, and dosas); Pizzeria Regina, an outpost of the famed North End eatery; Qdoba Mexican Grill, with a varied menu of burritos and other typical Tex-Mex fare; Paradise Bakery, which serves well-made sandwiches and desserts; Boston Chowda Co., specializing in chowders and bisques; and Flamers, with freshly grilled burgers and chicken. Probably the most popular spot is the latest addition, a late-night Krispy Kreme.
The convention center is located in the chic Back Bay neighborhood, where inexpensive restaurants are nestled among boutiques and galleries. Right across the street from the Hynes, Whiskey's Smokehouse (885 Boylston St. at Gloucester St., 262-5551) offers an affordable selection of BBQ and burgers, not to mention an impressive array of beers and whiskey (and check out their fantastic weekend brunch). Another solid option is The Pour House (909 Boylston St., 236-1767), which serves pub-style food.
Back Bay is dotted with Thai restaurants, and you can't go wrong at any of them, but the top choice also happens to be the closest to the Hynes. The dishes on the separate "Authentic Thai Menu" set Chilli Duck (829 Boylston St., 236-5208) apart from the competition.
Just past Massachusetts Avenue, several eateries cater to Berklee School of Music students. Crazy Dough's (1124 Boylston St., 266-5656) lives up to its name by offering the nacho pizza, the potato-bacon-cheddar pizza, and the barbecue chicken pizza, in addition to more traditional pies. Purists might prefer Little Stevie's (1114 Boylston St., 266-5576), one of the only Boston pizzerias that can hold its own with New York's. Join the bubble tea craze at Cassava Boba Lounge (1076 Boylston St., 266.5397), whose international offerings also include crepes, panini, s'mores, and shaved ice. The lounge has wireless internet access.
Other tasty options await just beyond Boylston Street. Very good Middle Eastern and American cuisine is offered at Café Jaffa (48 Gloucester St., 536-0230). Or warm up at Men-tei (66 Hereford St., 425-0066), where the specialty is Japanese noodle soup. It comes fresh and in giant portions.
Steps away from the Hynes is Newbury Street, the Back Bay's main drag, boasting a surprising number of reasonably priced restaurants. Steve's Restaurant (316 Newbury St., 267-1817) serves tasty Greek favorites, along with diner fare. Wisteria House (264 Newbury St., 536-8866) is not your typical Chinese restaurant, offering Taiwanese specialties, plus sushi. The only American outpost of a gourmet U.K. pizza chain, Croma (269 Newbury St., 247-3200) serves inventive pies in a spacious, stylish setting. For pizza in a less gleaming locale, try the enormous and delicious slices at scruffy Newbury House of Pizza (225 Newbury St., 536-9451). A bit farther off, but worth the walk, is the Back Bay location of the popular Vietnamese chain, Pho Pasteur (119 Newbury St., 262-8200).
On Massachusetts Avenue, just beyond Newbury Street, Island Hopper (91 Massachusetts Ave., 266-1618) presents good Pan-Asian cuisine in an airy, contemporary space. A few doors down at vibrant Bhindi Bazaar (95 Massachusetts Ave., 450-0660), the menu includes balti and other regional dishes rarely seen in the U.S., along with stalwart curries and breads.
The Hynes Convention Center is attached to not just one, but two, posh
malls. If you want to venture farther afield, but just can't take
that bitter Boston cold, cross the skybridge from the Prudential Center
to Copley Place Mall. Cut through the mall to Dartmouth Street and avoid
Surely you won't miss visiting the landmark Boston Public Library in Copley Square. While you're there, take a break at the Map Room Café (700 Boylston St. at Dartmouth St., 536-5660) for soup, salads, sandwiches, pastries, and snacks.
Head down Dartmouth Street past Back Bay Station to find out that ?healthy fast-food? is not an oxymoron. For low-fat - yet tasty burgers, sandwiches, and shakes - visit B. Good (131 Dartmouth St., 424-5252). Cut through Back Bay Station to Clarendon Street and head to Stanhope Street. Skip Hard Rock Café and enjoy the brick-oven pizzas at Bertucci's (43 Stanhope St., 247-6161) instead. They give chains a good name.
The South End manages to be simultaneously quaint and hip. The neighborhood enjoys a variety unusual to many parts of Boston: It's the center of the city's gay community, home to immigrant families, and, as gentrification continues, a magnet for well-off professionals. Between its hot spots and inexpensive international eateries, the South End is one of the city's best dining destinations.
The northern edge of the South End, Columbus Avenue, is just a half-block away from the Dartmouth Street exit at Copley Place. Just around the corner, you'll find Tim's Bar and Grill (329 Columbus Ave., 437-6898). Yes, the place looks a little . . . gritty, but don't let that scare you away they grill Boston's finest burgers, at bargain prices. For a trendier dining experience, head to Delux Café (100 Chandler St., 338-5258). Are tables so sought-after because of its retro-cool ambiance or because it's the size of a shoebox? Probably a bit of both. You'll be surprised at the low prices for their imaginative and flavorful dishes.
Lighter afternoon fare can be had just across Columbus at Nashoba Brook Bakery (288 Columbus Ave., 236-0777), known for its creative sandwiches. Appleton Bakery Café (123 Appleton St., 859-8222) is a similar lunch-time alternative, offering sandwiches, pastries, and prepared foods. There are oddly few diners in Boston, but Charlie's Sandwich Shop (429 Columbus Ave., 536-7669) is a fine example. Its all-day breakfasts (try the turkey hash) pack the crowds in.
Brave the elements and wander farther into the South End for some of Boston's hard-to-find cuisines. Long-time neighborhood favorite Addis Red Sea (544 Tremont St., 426-8727) attracts flocks of diners for authentic Ethiopian food. It's one of only a few moderately-priced restaurants on the South End's most happening strip. Just past Tremont Street, where Dartmouth turns into West Dedham Street, homey Botucatu (57 West Dedham St., 247-9249) serves Peruvian and Brazilian food (plus a few Mexican standbys for the less adventurous). Expect to relax a while the service is leisurely. Hearty Cuban dishes are dirt-cheap at Miami Café (68 Aguadilla St., 859-8105), just off a less-hip part of Tremont Street. Bob the Chef's, a Boston institution, is the place to go for Southern food. The restaurant features live jazz Thursday through Saturday nights and during Sunday brunch.
The area near Symphony Hall (at the intersection of Huntington and Massachusetts Aves.) offers a few affordable alternatives. Moby Dick (269 Huntington Ave., 236-5511) serves up tasty Persian dishes, fast. On Westland Avenue, behind Symphony Hall, the Malaysian restaurant Tiger Lily (8 Westland Ave., 267-8881) offers well-spiced fare.
Most of your mall and airport favorites can be found in Boston. But before you set foot in Au Bon Pain, Chilli's, or the Cheesecake Factory, remember: You can always eat that at home. With the quality and variety of affordable restaurants in this town, why not forgo the familiar? Explore Boston instead, and enjoy the local flavor.
Adapted from “Cheap Eats in Boston” by Michelle Baildon, November 2004 NMRT Footnotes