Boston's Hidden Restaurants

Transcript of Online Panel Discussion, September 2, 2010

Topic: Cheap Eats in College Areas Around Boston

Below is a transcript of a live online panel discussion on cheap eats in college areas in and around Boston that took place on Thursday, September 2, 2010. The panel included Christine, the National Community Manager and Boston Editor for; Tom of BostonTweet; and Carol, the publisher of Vinetown a seasonal food/wine blog. The hour-long chat included talks with the panel on restaurants found in various areas popular with college students, followed by viewer participation. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]

Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hello, everyone, and welcome to a discussion on cheap eats in neighborhoods around Boston that are popular with the college crowds!

Marc H.: This is our fourth discussion, and this time, we have a handful of folks on our panel who you might have heard of. The format is the same as the previous discussion, as we will address each topic (in this case, a specific neighborhood or area) first with the panel, followed by questions and answers from the viewers who are watching this.

Marc H.: Before we get going, I'd like those on our panel to introduce themselves. I'll start--I'm Marc, the founder and owner of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and the news-based blog Boston Restaurant Talk.

BostonTweet: Hello. I'm Tom of BostonTweet.

Christine Liu: Hi -- I'm Christine Liu. I live in Somerville and I work for Citysearch as Boston Editor and National Community Manager. I went to college and grad school in Cambridge, so I'm quite familiar with starving and student-ing.

Carol Yelverton: Hi. I'm Carol Yelverton, the publisher of Vinetown a seasonal food/wine blog. I teach communications at Emerson, BU and Middlesex Comm College.. I do PR, too!

Marc H.: Hello, Tom, Christine, and Carol! Welcome, and thanks for being part of the panel! We may have a special guest or two as the hour moves along, but we can probably get going.

Marc H.: So today we're going to focus on various areas in and around Boston that college students tend to spend time in. And we'll be looking at decent dining spots that not only feature inexpensive food, but also may be a bit under the radar.

Marc H.: The first neighborhood I'd like to talk about is perhaps the place that comes to mind most often when people think of college areas, and that's Allston. This section of Boston is packed with little independent and inexpensive restaurants, some of which are not all that well known. What are some places that come to mind in this area? I'll mention one to get us started--Shanghai Gate on Harvard Avenue near the Allston/Brookline border. It's a small sit-down place with excellent Chinese food at reasonable prices, and is just far enough away from the main drag to keep from getting overly crowded.

Carol Yelverton: Carlo's Cucina Itlaliana comes highly recommended. It's a little mom and pop place on Brighton Ave with great pasta. Joshua Tree on Comm Ave gets praise for its burgers...and of course, Sunset Bar and Grille has great nachos, chili and mahi mahi tacos. I like Brown Sugar on Comm Ave. Great Thai.

Marc H.: It's funny--when the original Brown Sugar was on Jersey Street, it seemed wildly popular with both critics and diners. But the newer one on Comm Ave. has almost become a hidden gem of sorts.

Christine Liu: Allston is the king of cheap, delicious eats -- no less for the ethnic diversity. The Super 88 (or is it C-Mart now?) food court is tops; I'm partial to the banh mi and noodle soup at Pho Viet's. Gitlo's dim sum is fresh and available around the clock. Yo Ma for Burmese food. Lots of international grocery stores to squirrel away food to zap, boil, and prepare at home.

Marc H.: I think Super 88 is now called Hong Kong Super Market now.

BostonTweet: White Horse Tavern has weekly specials with $4 chicken sandwiches and burgers every Sunday through Tuesday.

Marc H.: I've been meaning to get to the White Horse Tavern. It's a bit dive-y inside, no? Not that I have a problem with dives!

BostonTweet: Re: White Horse Tavern being dive-y - it's Allston Marc.

Marc H.: Heh, good point. I'm partial toward Common Ground for cheap food and beer in Allston, though it's not particularly dive-y.

Christine Liu: p.s. I will also back up Shanghai Gate. Super awesome - try the lion's head meatballs (they're just massive pork orbs cloaked in a 'mane' of cabbage).

BostonTweet: Soul Fire on Harvard Street is a great affordable BBQ place with an all you can eat wing special ($8.99) every Monday night.

Marc H.: Does anyone remember Reef Cafe on Brighton Avenue? It really saddened me when they closed. Nice people, and the falafel sandwich was one of the best specific dishes I've had in the Boston area.

Carol Yelverton: There's no shortage of beer in Allston.

Christine Liu: deep ellum isn't the cheapest (for allston standards), but it's worth it for a solid craft beer and parmesan truffle fries. it's so, so worth it.

BostonTweet: Common Ground is one of my favorite places in Allston. Speaking of cheap beer The Avenue has $2 drafts.

Marc H.: Since we have a number of areas to cover, let's open this one up to our viewers now. What are some of your favorite places for cheap eats in Allston that new (or returning) college students might not be familiar with?

Mmmm Pizza: Dok Bua on Harvard St in Brookline - outstanding Thai food.

Marc H.: Yes, Dok Bua is one of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area. Absolutely outstanding food.

Rachel: Also on board with Shanghai Gate -- divine. Hanmaru on Harvard Street for Korean (entrees comes with a bunch of side dishes), Mt. Everest Kitchen for an $8.95 Nepalese lunch buffet.

Mmmm Pizza: Genki Ya - also on Harvard St - very fresh can pretty much walk down Harvard st and take your pick - so many great options there.

Rachel: Cafe Belo on Brighton Ave. -- Brazilian buffet, pay by the weight of your dish. JoJo Taipei, also on Brighton Ave. -- try the three-cup chicken.

Christine Liu: brighton has el pelon (yay! resurrected!)

Marc H.: And Crazy Dough next door now as well, Christine! They just opened on that same block.

Rachel: Yes, El Pelon and Dok Bua are two cheap faves!

Marc H.: The next area we'll talk about is Davis Square, which is a very popular hangout for Tufts students, as well as students from Harvard, MIT, etc. Any hidden spots around Davis? And remember, Mass. Ave. in North Cambridge is only a few short blocks away! (I'm thinking of Joe Sent Me in particular--good tips, sandwiches, etc., and decent prices.)

Marc H.: And for those who don't know the area that well, Davis Square is in Somerville, just north of Porter Square in Cambridge....

BostonTweet: For the true college cheap eats Davis Square has Anna's Taqueria - $6 for a meal that holds you for 6 hours. Ball Square Cafe (closer to Tufts) is a favorite spot for breakfast and lunch.

Carol Yelverton: This isn't a hidden restaurant , but the sides at Redbones get hidden by all that meat. They are amazing, from collard greens to potato salad.

Marc H.: The sides are indeed great at Redbones. In the past I've had so-so meals there, but of late the food has been really good.

Christine Liu: ooh, my hood. Qingdao (no frills, order from the back of the menu) on Mass Ave, Greek Corner on Mass Ave, Guru the Caterer (near Teele), Renee's Cafe, Dave's Fresh Pasta (huuuge sammiches), Deli-icious, diesel cafe.

Marc H.: Qingdao may be my favorite place for dumplings, though Wang's in Magoun Square (Somerville) is up there as well.

Christine Liu: oh! the BBQ hash on the bar menu at redbones is the hugest steal ever. it's like a pound of spicy smoky meat for $3.99. no joke. it has saved my life more times than i'd like to admit.

Alison Arnett: Ooops. The conversation got away from me. Still in the Brighton area, remember the new Jacky's Table on Comm Ave (where Zocala's used to be) Good, very reasonably priced French food and (for over 21s) great French and craft beers.

Marc H.: Hey, Alison! I know you're not on our panel today, but if you feel like introducing yourself to folks, that'd be great!

Alison Arnett: Sure, I'm the former restaurant critic of the Boston Globe. Now I look for cheap eats because my expenses are no longer covered. Would college kids go much to Dave's (which is fantastic). There's a sweet Tibetan restaurant right on Elm -- what's the name of it?

Marc H.: Alison, you're thinking of Martsa on Elm. Very good food there, though I find myself at House of Tibet up the street (in Davis Square) more often because of the slightly easier parking situation.

Christine Liu: martsa on elm - and it is super yum.

Rachel: House of Tibet is outside the square, but it's worth the walk from Davis!

Carol Yelverton: Anna's has it nailed down for the three F's of college eating: Fast,Filling and Frugal. And good, too.

Carol Yelverton: I've heard great things about Dave's Fresh Pasta...good wine selections, too, right?

Marc H.: Haven't had wine from Dave's, but their pastas and breads are terrific.

Christine Liu: dave's has solid wine and beer selection - as well as frequent free tastings (usually thu/fri/sat).

BostonTweet: College means pizza and Mike's in Davis Square has a buy any large pizza on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and get a 2nd large cheese pizza for free deal.

Marc H.: On a warm summer night, you may find me sitting outside at Mike's with a beer (well, more than one) and some pizza. In some ways, Mike's is the perfect college hangout.

Marc H.: Viewers, what do you think? Any other lesser-known spots in the Davis Square area for cheap eats?

Mmmm Pizza: I hear Dave's Pasta is an excellent option. I've bought stuff and their market and loved it...but their sandwiches and prepared stuff look wonderful.

Rachel: Not exactly hidden, but Blue Shirt Cafe's spinach chicken wrap is cheap and great -- love the garlic aioli. Tu Y Yo not too far away.

Christine Liu: yes! and johnny d's has free pizza on monday as well as specials throughout the week.

BostonTweet: Christine: Johnny D's just eliminated their free pizza on Mondays. So sad.

Christine Liu: @tom - that is super sad. mike's definitely now has the scoop on mondays.

Christine Liu: how about istalbul'lu - turkish on holland ave! havent been but it looks great.

Christine Liu: how did i forget? rosebud diner. kitschy. perfect for a first date or hungover brunch. the building in the back does live music pretty much nightly.

Marc H.: Well, I think you've all covered Davis Square very nicely! Let's move on....

Marc H.: Harvard Square in Cambridge is, of course, a very popular area for college students, but it does seem to have more in the way of chains than Allston and Davis Square. What are some independent places around Harvard Square that are good for cheap eats? Again, I'm thinking more in the way of places under the radar.

Carol Yelverton: I've heard Lord Hobo on Hampshire Street is good for brunch and has a great brew selection.

Marc H.: Lord Hobo is closer to Inman and Kendall Squares, but definitely a popular hangout among college students, and yes, I've heard that the beer list is tremendous.

Christine Liu: i'd argue that lord hobo isn't really a cheap eats -- beers are ~$9, though 5-7pm everyday there's $1 oysters and $5 apps.

BostonTweet: I agree, Lord Hobo is a great beer bar but it's definitely NOT cheap. They had a week of $5 drafts but as Christine says beers are upwards of $9 - they are of course stronger but that's pricey (just like Publick House.)

Carol Yelverton: Yes, I understand we;re talking frugal here..I'll stop recommending Chez Henri, etc!

BostonTweet: Grendel's Den is one of my favorite places in Harvard Square for beer and very cheap food! Plus, all food is 1/2 price 7 nights a week from 5 to 7:30pm and 1/2 price Sunday through Thursday from 9pm-11:30pm.

Marc H.: Grendel's has been in Harvard forever, and yet remains a bit of a hidden gem, perhaps because of its slightly out of the way location. I used to go there a lot during my college days.

Christine Liu: i'll raise grendel's den (cheap food = saving grace) with shay's wine bar. also lots of indian and thai - try 9 spice or tanjore. also there's the egyptian falafel place (next to charlie's)... and yes yes the grilled cheese at charlie's!

Christine Liu: pinocchio's (just say "noch's") for sicilian pizza - two huge slices for $4.40. flat patties (used to be in garage, now in brattle sq). le's (formerly pho pasteur) in the garage. cafe pamplona for sandwiches. market on the square is 24/7 and has huuuuuge deli sandwiches made to order.

Marc H.: Has anyone been to the recently-moved Flat Patties? When it was in The Garage, it was a favorite of mine, though I haven't gotten to the new spot on Brattle Street yet.

Carol Yelverton: Chez Henri - to Alison's point - is not cheap but some of my students have gone there for special occasion dinner/dates...I love to sit at the bar and have a Cuban sandwich...

Christine Liu: darwin's ltd (2 locations, worth the 10 min walk from harvard sq either way) is tops. amazing sandwiches and great cafe.

Alison Arnett: How about Bgood? Harvard square is tough for sit-down but cheap eats because of the rents, I'd think.

BostonTweet: Yes, b.good is a great cheap eat in Harvard Square. So is Boloco, Felipe's and Crazy Dough Pizza in the Garage (which also has $4 pitchers of PBR).

Christine Liu: bgood! and oggi gourmet (in the holyoke arcade). clover's brick + mortar resto is on its way. and zinnekins DIY waffleness will be a tasty newcomer.

Marc H.: On to our viewers, and I noticed that one of them has posted about the aforementioned Flat Patties!

Mmmm Pizza: There's Flat Patties...nothing better than a smushed burger to keep a college kid going on a Friday night.

Marc H.: Hah, smushed is a good way to describe their burgers. And they are quite delicious, as least the ones I've had when they were at The Garage.

Patrick Maguire: I've enjoyed Tommy Doyle's just off Harvard Square. Has anyone been recently?

Rachel: Agree on Grendel's -- one of the best deals around. Felipe Taqueria on Mt. Auburn has massive burritos and stays open late.

Christine Liu: oh! i think the cheapest mixed drinks ever are at the cellar (downstairs, on mass ave). that is all.

Marc H.: Let's move back across the river to Boston's Kenmore Square, which is not only popular with college students (especially BU, BC, and Northeastern), but also with Red Sox fans. What do you think, panel members? Any hidden gems that students might like to check out?

Marc H.: And I will start this one--Woody's Grill and Tap on Hemenway Street (within walking distance of Kenmore) for their excellent pizza as well as their beer.

Christine Liu: la verdad - dollar taco tuesdays!

BostonTweet: La Verdad on Lansdowne has an abundance of affordable Mexican food with $1 tacos on Tuesdays. Eastern Standard definitely isn't cheap but they do have a cheap Late Night menu (starting at midnight) with most hearty dishes being under $5.

Marc H.: Two votes for La Verdad!

Carol Yelverton: And Eastern Standard is fun...

Christine Liu: the lansdowne has $1 oysters mon-wed -- also their weekend brunch is superfilling.

Marc H.: Have any of you been to India Quality on Comm. Ave.? One of my faves for Indian food, and very reasonable.

Marc H.: Viewers, do any of you out there have some favorite hidden cheap eats spots in and around Kenmore Square? Feel free to include Brigham Circle and the stretch of Comm. Ave. between the Kenmore and Allston....

BostonTweet: If you're talking Brigham Circle then Il Mondo and Penguin pizza have some of the best pizza in Boston - Penguin has a great draft list too. Mission Bar has 25c wings on Sundays.

Christine Liu: squealing pig -- same owner as penguin. great toasties.

Marc H.: The final section of the Boston area that I'd like to cover is Central Square in Cambridge, which is a treasure trove as far as cheap eats places are concerned, and a big hangout for both Harvard and MIT students. I'll ask the three of you on the panel very quickly for some picks around there, and then will move on to our viewers. Any suggestions?

BostonTweet: Moody's Falafel Palace and they're open until 3am.

Marc H.: 3am?? My guess is, that is a pretty popular place among the college crowd!

BostonTweet: Yes it is (re: Falafel Palace)

Marc H.: I'll mention one that I recently reviewed--Dosa Factory on Mass. Ave in the heart of the square. It is in the back of an Indian market, and has some positively huge dosas, as well as a variety of other Indian fare.

Carol Yelverton: Marc, you know where all the great Indian food is!

Marc H.: Not all of them! (Not yet, anyway!) :-)

Christine Liu: miracle of science for astounding satisfying burgers. i'll 2nd falafel palace. river gods! and inman sq has so many -- all star sandwich bar, city girl cafe, olecito.

Christine Liu: also now there's the new flour bakery #3. plus emma's pizza, clover truck (near the Kendall T stop), and the new voltage cafe will be open soon.

Marc H.: What do you know about Voltage Cafe? This is the first I've heard of it.

Christine Liu: all i know that owner lucy is super cool and driven, the space will be pretty ample, and will probably be a great fit for the area:

Marc H.: Let's open this one up to all of you out there, as we are quickly running out of time. Do you have any favorite under-the-radar spots in Cambridge's Central Square that college students might like to go to?

Patrick Maguire: Love Green Street.

Marc H.: Well, it looks like our hour is up (that went quickly!). Thanks to the three of you on the panel, and thanks to those of you watching this who posted some of your favorite cheap eats places. There will be another discussion coming up later in September (possibly centering around road trips around New England), so stay tuned!

Christine Liu: cheers.

Carol Yelverton: This was a lot of fun Thanks! Take care, everyone.

BostonTweet: Thanks Marc, aka Hidden Boston.