Beach Street in Chinatown is so-called because it really was a beach. Today it’s a warren of shops and Asian eateries.
On the other side of the river, true foodies can visit the Irving Street house where America’s cuisine queen Julia Child lived. Less than five minutes’ walk from there is R.F. O’Sullivan & Son, the beloved Somerville burger bar where the half-pound burgers are “never squished.” You need two hands to hold them.
Over in the South End, the corner of Tremont and Clarendon Streets has been one of the epicenters of Boston dining for decades. Fondly remembered Icarus, Hamersley’s Bistro, and Saint Botolph restaurants no longer exist. Instead, grab a pizza at PICCO (pastry chef Rick Katz’s “pizza and ice cream company”) and onion soup and steak frites at Frenchie, a new, casual, wine bar from Loic Le Garrec (of Petit Robert Bistro fame) and sommelier Sandrine Rossi. Addis Red Sea has been serving affordably delectable Ethiopian fare to a diverse, well-traveled clientele since the 1980s. It remains as delicious (and friendly) as ever.
In the North End, Boston’s Little Italy, Daily Catch dishes up the best, fried calamari, squid ink pasta and calamari meatballs in a room so small you’re essentially eating in the kitchen. Go down the alley next to Bricco and then down the stairs into Bricco Paneterria, maybe the best bread bakery in Boston. At Ristorante Lucia, feast on the Italian-American classics the ‘hood is known for, like chicken Marsala, veal Parmigiano and shrimp Francese. Check out the reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel mural on the second-floor ceiling.
Beach Street in Chinatown is so-called because back when it was first settled it really was a beach. Today it’s a warren of shops and Asian eateries, its sidewalks crowded with hawkers selling everything from fresh fruit to knockoff athletic wear. At Pho Hoa, they specialize in Vietnamese noodle soups and rice paper spring rolls. And, down by the Chinatown gate, Great Taste bakery and café makes the city’s best don tot egg custard tarts similar to the Portuguese pastel de nata you’d find in Macau.
A freshening stroll across the Harvard Bridge takes you towards Central Square, where India Pavilion, Cambridge’s first Indian restaurant, opened in 1979. Goat vindaloo, shrimp jalfrazee and lamb rogan josh are all worth an omnivore’s attention. Next stop, the Middle East, the legendary restaurant/nightclubs complex where you can enjoy hummus, kebabs and couscous, as well as cutting edge indie music (recently, Birthing Hips, Truth, Mint Green and Twin Forks).
In nearby Harvard Square, all bon vivants should pay homage at Grendel’s Den, the subterranean restaurant and bar that won a landmark 1982 Supreme Court case that allowed them to sell alcohol within 500 feet of a church, a legal challenge to blue laws in nine states. Grendel’s’ vegetarian and vegan friendly menu of soups, salads and comfort fare is half price between 5 pm and 7:30 pm nightly.
No Where Boston Culinary Trail excursion would be complete without a walkabout of Allston, with its student residents and many inexpensive, international restaurants. At StreetFood Revolution, the young owners are committed to uncompromisingly authentic Chinese street food including mega-hot mala soups you can individualize with chicken gizzards, tripe, tofu skin and enoki mushrooms. You should also visit Berezka International Food Store—a Slavic eats emporium—to stock up on pickles, smoked meats and the cheapest caviar in town for the ride home.
Other locals may tell you we missed a spot or two, but no Boston foodie trail can ever be truly definitive—there’s always something new to discover just around the next corner. With apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail ... of crumbs.”
GLOBAL KITCHEN From top, detail from the mural at The Middle East restaurant; China Pearl in Chinatown; soup at StreetFood Revolution in Allston. Previous page, StreetFood Revolution