Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe [CLOSED--MOVED TO WOBURN]
257 Littleton Road (Route 110), Chelmsford, MA 01824
Too many times it is said that once you go outside of the Route 128 belt in the Greater Boston area, top-quality restaurants are nearly impossible to find. And while it is true that the outer suburbs (and beyond) might not be chock full of destination dining spots, if you look hard enough, you can find a pretty good number of outstanding eateries, including one such place northwest of Boston called Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe. So how good is this shoebox-sized restaurant just inside Route 495? Well, more than a few food writers and bloggers rave about the place and are willing to make the trip up Route 3 or Route 2 to get there, and the buzz that is happening over a second Gene's recently opening in downtown Boston is so great that long lines will be a distinct possibility over the coming weeks and months there.
Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe doesn't look like a whole lot from the outside or the inside; driving by it, the place can easily be mistaken for a basic Chinese takeout spot that serves such items as spare ribs, Peking ravioli, and sweet and sour chicken, and its rural location on a mostly wooded section of Route 110 gives no clue as to what Gene's is all about. Inside, however, there are hints that this is much more than a place to go for Chinese-American fare, including the fact that much if not most of the clientele is Asian, which is almost always a good sign at an Asian restaurant. The partially-open kitchen behind the ordering area also gives clues as to why this isn't your ordinary Chinese restaurant, as folks in the back can be seen smacking dough on the counter until it is stretched, then pulling strips of it into noodles that go into a pot of boiling water (more on this later). The dining area inside is a bit tight, with a handful of tables pushed close together, but if the weather is nice, there is an outdoor patio to the right with a few picnic tables complete with umbrellas for shade.
The menu at Gene's is pretty limited, but customers don't seem to mind because what the restaurant does have to offer are food items that you will probably remember long after eating them. The foods offered here tend to be found in the central part of China (Xi'an, to be exact), with dishes served that might be unfamiliar to some. Appetizers at Gene's include one very memorable item in particular--the lamb skewers, which are seasoned with cumin and chili powder and browned perfectly on the outside without being too dry on the inside. The "flatbread" part of the restaurant's name comes from the hearty and filling little sandwiches that can be ordered with seasoned beef (lean and tender) or pork (the tastier choice, in this writer's opinion). And then there are the noodles--the menu includes a house noodle soup that is filled with thin noodles, vegetables, and a chili oil-based broth; cold noodles, which come with sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, and other veggies; chilled noodles (only offered on weekends) with wider and flatter noodles than the soup, along with sprouts, steamed gluten, and a hot and sour chili and garlic sauce; and a dish simply called "hand-pulled noodles," which are warm flat noodles loaded with garlic, chili, and cumin, and have vegetables mixed in. Each option is quite different from the others, with the soup being an obvious choice during the colder months, and the hand-pulled noodle dish perhaps being their signature item (and this writer's favorite). The menu also includes a savory lamb stew, veggie spring rolls, and some Chinese-American items such as chicken fingers and crab rangoons. Drinks include a sweet chrysanthemum beverage that is perfect on a hot summer day.
Gene's Chinese Flatbread Company is a must if you're serious about good food, with the only downside being that it is nearly impossible to get to from Boston is you don't have a car. But that will all soon change, with the aforementioned second location recently opening on Bedford Street near Downtown Crossing, with folks who live or work in the city now being able to start finding out what all the fuss is about when it comes to this fantastic eatery seemingly in the middle of nowhere. [NOTE: Gene's is cash-only.]
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