Checked out the empanadas at Via Latina and they weren't good enough to make me want to go back. Nice little deli and store with Brazilian groceries. The sandwich menu was standard fare - I didn't see any unusual sandwiches on the menu so I got two empanadas. One beef and one chicken. As reported, it was good size and the dough was crispy. The filling was just some flavorless ground beef - the dominant taste was salt. The chicken was a round ball of fried cornmeal - 90% cornmeal and flavorless chicken. It was fun exploring the store and trying the empanadas, but I wouldn't go back just to get that.
Disappointingly bland food. Had dinner at Temazcal last week (on the night of game 7 of the Stanley Cup). A very nice visual experience, but the food was nothing special. It was a gorgeous evening and one big wall opened up looking out on the bay. We arrived around 6:30 and had no problems getting a table. Using iPads to look at the menu was unique, but not necessarily any better than regular menus. Ordered one of their special cocktails to start. A little pricey at $14, but a very strong pour of the alcohol. We split an order of guacamole for an appetizer and focused on the main entrees.
I ordered the roast suckling pig and my dining companion (DC) ordered the lamb. I was hoping that it would be a whole suckling pig. I was slightly disappointed when they told me that it wasn't a whole suckling pig. What they do is bring a roast pig on a cart to your table and then they'll carve off 6-8 oz of meat from anywhere left on the pig ($32). Since my DC wasn't willing to order the whole pigs head when we dined at Craigie on Main, this was my chance to try all the parts of the pig that you see Andrew Zimmer eating on Bizarre Foods. So when they brought over the roast pig, I asked the waitress to carve off cheeks, jowls, an eye ball, some brain, some skin, and then some regular meat from the shoulder and rib areas. The waitress was having problems finding and carving the pieces that I wanted, but fortunately, the chef was in the area. He pulled the head off the roast pig and quickly gave me all the different pieces that I requested. In addition to the meat, they give you some thick corn tortillas, rice and beans. As I tried all the different cuts of meat, it all tasted the same soft, mushy, bland flavor. My impression is that the pig was roasted in a manner that caused the meat to steam and then they roast the skin at the end to turn it a crispy brown. My DC commented similarly about her lamb ribs being flavorless. The serving portions were plentiful, but I had hoped for more character to the food. Dinner tab for two including one round of drinks and tip was around $130.
Overall, there was nothing special about the food that would cause me to go back. I would go back for the atmosphere and a drink at the bar, but not for mexican food.
Visited Pierces on 06-28-10. Not bad, but not great BBQ. Not good enough to cause me to go back. Pulled pork is their specialty and their sauce has strong vinegar overtones, but not the pure vinegar type NC bbq sauces. The pulled pork has a good level of smoke flavor. Made for a decent pulled pork sandwich, but I've made better in my smoker at home.
The ribs were a disappointment. The ribs were tender to the point of being mush-like - similar to pulled pork texture. The ribs were a uniform color with no evidence of a smoke ring and no semblance of bark on the bbg. The smoke flavor was much less pronounced on the ribs. I'm speculating thatt the ribs were either steamed before smoking or slightly smoked and then cooked in foil rest of the way to achieve that texture without a smoke ring and bark being present.
The sides were a real disappointment. Everything comes served in prepackaged plastic serving containers. You get a little container of mac-n-cheese and cole slaw. They tasted okay, but just getting these prepackaged containers made it feel like airline food. The hush puppies were like lead.
Definitely a disappointment because I was expecting great bbq.
I went to the Minuteman Technical High School Fife and Drum restaurant in Lexington for lunch today. This restaurant is run as part of the culinary arts program. To go there, you need a reservation. Today, I called an hour before lunch and was able to get a table (781-861-6500 x270). However, another time I tried to get a table and they were completely booked. They have about 20 tables in the restaurant. I went on a Friday when they have a buffet. The rest of the week, they serve a couple different entrees. Friday is their most popular day. All the food is prepared by the students.
You park in the visitor’s parking area and go in the main entrance. Then up the stairs, straight back and to the left is the restaurant. You’re greeted by student hosts who take you to your reserved table. Every table is reserved with someone’s name on it. Even by myself, I had a small table. People don’t tend to share tables.
The student server takes your drink order. They offer a wide range of sodas by the can and served with a glass of ice. Then you can go help yourself to the buffet. Today’s buffet included a small salad bar. The hot foods offered were a carving station of roast beef, grilled chicken breast with a mustard sauce, and a baked fish. Sides included steamed vegetables, rice, and roasted red potatoes.
After you’ve finished your main meal, your server offers dessert and presents a dessert tray with 6-8 different selections including a cannoli, chocolate éclair, puff pastry with whipped cream and blueberries, chocolate mousse, and a pineapple cheese cake. From a baking perspective, that represented at least 3 different types of pastry dough. I’m impressed because most restaurants will only offer one or two types of pastry doughs in their menus. I went for the cheese cake because they can be difficult to make and I wanted to see how good their baking was. The cheese cake was good – not great and not bad. A smooth, dense, moist filling topped with what seemed to be a canned pineapple topping.
How do you judge the food prepared by high school students? The food is definitely better than what I was capable of preparing when I was in high school. Although this is a culinary arts program, it still is high school. I would consider the food to be good institutional food – along the plain and simple lines of what one might make at home. Carved roast beef is pretty much the same wherever you go. I went for the end-cut and it had a nice, rich flavor. The grilled chicken breast was dry and the mustard sauce was bland. There’s nothing fancy about rice, steamed vegetables or roast potatoes. Since it is a buffet, big eaters can keep going back for more.
For Friday’s buffet, it’s $7.95 for the buffet. Drinks and dessert are extra at $1 each. Sales tax is added on. The total bill is $10.65. The students are not allowed to accept gratuities, but you can leave a tip and it will go into a culinary student fund to help pay for a class trip. So with tip, the cost of my meal is similar to what one might pay if they went out for lunch at any other local sit down restaurant.
It was definitely worth going there at least once and I was impressed with what the high school students produced.
Today I decided to check out the lunch at the Fife and Drum restaurant at the Northeast Correctional Center (NECC) in Concord. Good, basic food and lots of it for the incredible price of $3.19 for lunch. A great deal and you get to meet a diverse group of people over lunch.
I’ve always heard that there was a restaurant in the correctional center up the hill by the Rt. 2 rotary in Concord and I finally visited it today. The restaurant is run by inmates in the minimum security facility and provides culinary training for them. I couldn’t find a website for the restaurant. There were a few reviews on the internet, but most of them were over a year old. So I wasn’t sure what to expect as I drove up the hill.
I got there a little before noon and the small parking lot was packed. It’s a small campus-like environment that feels low key and safe. The culinary program is run out of the main administration building (the first building on the left as you come up to the top of the hill). You go to the security window, give them your driver’s license and sign in for lunch. And no cell phones in the restaurant. Turn around and go down the hall to the right and the cafeteria is right there.
I went into the cafeteria and it was crowded. It’s a small cafeteria with 9 tables that seat 3-4 people per table. There are a lot of small groups of people sharing tables. The NECC staff is sitting in the row of tables by the kitchen so there really are only 6 tables for the public to share. It would be difficult to come here with a large group of people. There’s a woman with the cash box sitting at one of the tables. You hand her your $3.19 and she gives you a small, blank piece of paper that is used for taking your order. Then go squeeze in wherever you can find a seat – except for the tables used by the NECC staff. I managed to find a seat at a table with a regular and another group of first-timers – all from the Concord area. The “regular” told me that he comes here ever other day for lunch.
There is a menu on each table. After you sit down, an inmate will come over to take your order. The menu has a couple of choices and changes every day. There is one soup of the day and a salad that comes with every meal. Then there were two sandwich choices plus a hot entrée on the menu. The sandwiches come with fries. I went with the hot entrée which was braised, boneless short-ribs, mashed potatoes and string beans. The drink choices are limited – coke, diet coke, water or coffee. All the flatware is plastic because this is a correctional center.
The food is good, basic food. A large bowl of soup and the salad comes first. It’s a beef soup today. A nice clean tasting broth with chunks of beef in it – tastes homemade because the broth has a rich, fattiness typical of homemade stock. The salad is a simple bowl of iceberg lettuce with some carrot shreds and a few onion slices. The entrée arrives and it’s a big portion of braised boneless short ribs (or chuck) with potatoes and green beans. The beef was rich and tender. For dessert, there’s two choices today – chocolate mousse and lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately, they were out of the mousse so I went with the pie. The pie was just okay. It was a graham cracker crust with a mild lemon pudding filling topped with meringue. Overall, the entrée was the best part of the meal. I was completely stuffed by the time I finished lunch. And the large portions apply equally to the huge sandwiches. Two of the people at my table ordered sandwiches and they couldn’t finish them. They’re not likely to win a culinary award, but it’s very good, basic food and a lot of it.
A few other notes,… My understanding is that they’re open M-F, but closed on holidays like the upcoming Presidents Day. I’m not sure of the exact hours that they serve lunch, but I believe that it’s 11:30-12:45. I noticed that as people left it was easier to get a seat and there were several empty tables around 12:30. So you could try coming later and there will be more seats available, but you risk that they’ll be out of something on the menu. However, the limited numbers of seats creates a unique opportunity to meet other people over lunch. Today, I met two other Concord residents that were first-timers. I also met a “regular” that flew combat missions in a jet fighter in Korea. I’m definitely going back for both the lunch and the conversation.
Just got back from a week at Wellfleet. We cooked most of the time, but hit a few places mentioned on Chowhound and here are my comments:
Farland Provisions, Provincetown: Decent sandwiches, but a little on the expensive side for a sandwich. Good deli when surrounded by the restauarants and fast food choices in Provincetown. If this deli was in Boston, it wouldn't be noticeable. The sandwiches were decent, but not spectacular. Had the Racepoint roast beef sandwich. The "baked daily from RI" sourdough bread was dried out like it was day old. The roast beef was run of the mill roast beef. The horseradish sauce was good (mild - I would have preferred a little more sinus clearing zing to the sauce). I would go there because it's a better choice than the fast food joints found in the heart of provincetown.
Lewis Brothers Ice Cream, Provincetown: another place that would be unremarkable if in Boston. Had the black raspberry ice cream. Very smooth, but not much black raspberry flavor. If you tasted it blind, then it tastes more like vanilla than anything else.
Provincetown Portuguese Bakery: fried dough. Greasy, sugary, pleasure. We bought one and split it among the family. Glad we bought just one and split it because it was a little on the greasy side, but good.
Lobster Pot, Provincetown: Very good clam chowder. Overall, good meal in a family friendly environment. Had the baked stuffed lobster with the "clam bake" option that was equivalent to ordering a cup of chowder separately. More food than I could eat with salad, soup, mussels, and vegetables that come with it. Ritz crackers and shrimp dominated the lobster stuffing. The crab meat and scallops that were supposed to be in the stuffing were barely noticeable. I've had better baked stuffed lobster on the cape. The clam chowder was very good - as good as or perhaps better than Legal Seafood clam chowder. I'd go back for the chowder.
Mac's Shack: fried clams, fried shrimp, onion rings and fries. The fried shrimp were very good - meaty, crisp coating, not greasy. The fried clams were decent - not greasy. The onion rings were very good - some of the biggest onion rings I've gotten at a clam shack. The tartar sauce was heavy on the mayo so I mixed in some relish to make it closer to what I'm used to. Overall, good fried seafood - not greasy. However, Mac's Shack isn't at the same level as the Clam Box in Ipswich and for that matter very few places can match the Clam Box. However, it was nice to be able to find good fried seafood out on the cape.
Orleans Villa Pizza: good pizza - not great like Santarpios, but better than most pizza joints that you find in strip malls across the area. They offer both sicilian and traditional pizza. This seemed like a locals place as opposed to a tourist destination - with a steady stream of locals during the weekday. The "sicilian" is really just a thick crust and I wouldn't necessarily consider it a true "sicilian" pizza. The sauce was good, the crust was decent and the prices were right. They also offer a wide variety of pizza by the slice. Most of the locals were ordering pizza by the slice. I'd go there again.
My latest lunch adventures in Lawrence: La Rubia and Cedar Crest.
La Rubia: Sandwiches and “Natural” Juices. La Rubia is a new sandwich shop that opened within the past few months serving Dominican food and “natural” juices and another stop in my search for the best Cubano. The small, clean shop is located on Common Street - a few doors down from El Mofongo and Tripoli Bakery. Since it’s new, everything is very clean and bright. There’s plenty of counter seating – like sitting at a bar, but no tables. There’s a very limited printed menu of sandwiches and juices. However, while we were there everyone else was getting hot meals brought out to them from the kitchen - so there was more food to order, but no visible menu. The language barrier was a little more difficult to work around here because there wasn’t the usual counter loaded with warming trays full of different foods.
The cubano was good. Lots of pork, but the pork didn’t have much flavor. The standard cubano is shredded pork, some ham and cheese that were barely noticeable, and lettuce and tomato grilled in a sandwich press. I had to ask to get pickles and mustard added to the sandwich. The grill didn’t produce any grill marks so the bread had the crunchiness of being grilled, but lacked that toasty flavor. I would still rate the cubano at Caribbean Bakery as the best that I’ve found so far.
The natural juices were disappointing. I went in there think that “natural juices” meant that they were going to be taking fresh or frozen fruit and turning it into some sort of drink. I ordered a passion fruit natural juice. I was disappointed to see them pull a gallon jug of liquid from a refrigerator and pour it into a glass. It tasted like it was from concentrate or one of those canned juices that you see in the grocery store. A co-worker ordered a pineapple juice and was pointed to a bottle of Dole pineapple juice in the soda cooler. So unfortunately, there’s nothing special about the so called “natural juices” that they advertise.
Finally, the service was terrible. Maybe it was a language barrier, but language hasn’t been a problem at all the other Dominican places that I go for lunch. The woman working the counter was no more than three feet away from me, but she had a difficult time understanding a simple order for three cubanos. And when it came time to get the bill, after trying to ask her several times for the bill and being ignored, we finally stood up and got ready to leave to get her attention. The bill for three small cubanos and three drinks was $22.25 and was a good value.
Overall, I don’t see myself going back. The Cubano was okay, but the natural juices are nothing special and the service was terrible. After eating a number of cubanos, I’m starting to think - why should I waste my time eating mediocre cubanos when I could be eating really good chicharrones instead.
Cedar Crest: A classic diner and the food is what you’d expect to get from a diner. The interior is a classic diner with the tiled floors, leather stools and long counter. If this interior was in an old diner “car” it would probably get more attention. Even the employees seemed to be the kind of people that you would expect to see in a classic diner.
Whenever I go to a diner, one of my favorite things to order is a hot turkey sandwich with french fries and gravy on the fries. So I was happy to see that on the menu. The hot turkey sandwich was what I expected - real turkey with white bread loaded with gravy. The fries were a little over done, but you still can’t beat a hot turkey sandwich and fries all smothered in gravy. The only thing I forgot to do was to ask them to toast the bread.
The sandwich also came with a choice of vegetables and for that I got their cole slaw. Their take on cole slaw was a nice twist with a mild vinegarette. It was a lot of food – it was enough for dinner, let alone lunch, and I was stuffed when I left.
A co-worker ordered a bacon cheeseburger and onion rings and a diet coke. The bacon cheeseburger looked like one that you might make at home with two big strips of bacon.
The service was a little on the slow side. It seemed to take forever to get what was a fairly simple order. The total bill came out to $20 for two people not including tip. The food was good, but not the best value when you consider that you can get a great meal for $5 about 50 feet down the street at La Tambora. Maybe I’m being spoiled by the food and price/performance at all these Dominican places.
My search for the best Cubano in Lawrence begins. On my list of places to visit: Caribbean Bakery, Pollo Tipico, and Mt Vernon Variety & Deli.
Caribbean Bakery - Cubano: What strikes me most about this sandwich is the bread and the pork. I ordered a small Cubano with the “works” except no mayo. The crusty, grilled bread (with grill marks) and shredded pork shoulder are the dominant flavors in this sandwich. The sandwich was loaded with shredded pork. There is a slice of ham and slice of cheese, but they’re barely noticeable in the sandwich. The sandwich also has some shredded lettuce, thinly sliced onion and thinly sliced tomato, but they’re not adding anything to the sandwich. The small Cubano cost $5.50 and is plenty of sandwich for lunch. They keep a warming oven full of pre-made sandwiches, but if you order it to eat there, then they’ll make the sandwich fresh for you. An interesting feature of this place is that they offer similar sandwiches with beef or turkey or all three meats if desired. Overall, the sandwich was satisfying. I would have liked to have had more ham and cheese in the sandwich, but the shredded pork was very good.
One quick note for those of you that are familiar with this tiny strip mall that also houses La Tambora -everyone always used to park along the sidewalk in front of all the stores because there was so little parking. However, the Lawrence Traffic Control has started ticketing cars that park there. I saw someone get a ticket while I was eating lunch. So if you go to the Caribbean Bakery or La Tambora, I suggest getting a legal parking spot to avoid the risk of a parking ticket.
Mt Vernon Variety & Deli – Cubano: A good Cubano, but it could have been better if they put more pork in the sandwich. This is one of the friendliest places that I’ve encountered in my lunch adventures around Lawrence. I’ve only been there once before, but they welcomed me and treated me like a regular. (Maybe they don’t get too many Chinese women in their store during lunch time and I’m easy to remember.) In the mean time, all these other regulars are coming and going with a constant stream of chatter and jokes. The Cubano itself contained the shredded pork, pickle slices, ham and cheese. The pickles and ham were the dominant flavors in this sandwich. There was definitely more ham than the sandwich at the Caribbean Bakery. However, the pork, what little there was of it, was not really noticeable. The bread is Piantedosi bread (Infomaniac was right about this) and it is good by itself. The bread was grilled in a sandwich press, but it didn’t have the grill marks and the extra degree of toasty flavor that I found in the cubano at Caribbean Bakery. The sandwich was about the same size as the Caribbean Bakery. It was a little less expensive at $5. Overall, I’m all about the pork in a cubano and I would have to choose the cubano at the Caribbean Bakery as the better sandwich because it was loaded with pork. However, the two guys behind the counter at Mt. Vernon Variety & Deli are so friendly that you’ll walk out of there with a smile on your face regardless of the sandwich.
I went to Pollo Tipico looking for a Cubano, but they didn’t have one. Any other recommendations on who else might have a good Cubano to check out?
While I'm at it, here are my comments on the best Chicharrones in Lawrence:
In my lunch adventures around Lawrence, I’ve had the chicharrones at La Tambora, Jacquelines, El Mofongo, and Pollo Tipico. Pork chicharrones are one of my favorite foods. It’s pretty hard to resist deep fried pork with crunchy skin. At most places, the chicharrones are in some sort of counter display case so you can usually choose which piece you want. I usually order chicharrones with a wedge of lime, tostones, and sometimes a slice of avocado. Ask for a slice of lime if they don’t give it to you and squeeze it over the meat. Chicharrones and tostones are usually eaten by hand – don’t expect to get a fork and knife when you order them. For my tastes, the chicharrones at La Tambora and Pollo Tipico were the best. The reason why those rose to the top of my list is that they were crispy on the outside, but the meat below the layer of fat was moist and tender. Whereas the chicharrones at other places were somewhat dried out. And I’d have to give the top slot to La Tambora because the tostones are usually fresher, but Pollo Tipico has some pretty good chicharrones.
I was just up there for dinner last weekend and they told me that they're closing in mid-Dec. They told me the actual date, but I forget what the exact date is except that it was like a week or so before Christmas. I'd go get your fix of fried clams just in case one of us got bad information.
Latest comments (just my opinions) from my food adventures around Lawrence. This time: J&M Subs, Pizza King and Mt. Vernon Variety & Deli.
J&M Subs: Mentioned on this thread as one the best places in the area for steak and cheese subs. In my opinion, the steak & cheese was average – a good value, but nothing to get excited about. This is a small sub/pizza shop in North Andover. One small booth, two tables to fit two people and a counter means that getting a seat is a hit or miss proposition. The shop is clean, but there wasn’t anyone wiping down the tables between uses. I ordered a large steak & cheese for $5.75 and small fries for $2.50. My co-worker ordered an Italian with fries. The small steak & cheese costs $5 so one might as well get the large for the price difference. The large steak & cheese is a good deal at $5.75. Much bigger than the small/medium steak & cheese at Kings Subs at $5.89. They have a pile of sandwich steak sitting on the grill and they just add some cheese and you’re ready to go. The steak was kind of flavorless. I only got some flavor when I hit the cheese that was at the bottom of the bun. The steak in the Kings Subs’ steak and cheese sandwich tasted better, but both sandwiches pale in comparison to the steak and cheese at TC Lando’s in Acton. The order of fries is huge. One order was enough for two people. I couldn’t finish it. I work relatively far away from J&M Subs and I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back. It’s not bad, just nothing special to go out of my way for.
Pizza King: The best pizza that I’ve had in Lawrence (better than Napoli, Tripoli, and Sal’s). Great crust! Good sauce. Creative toppings. I went to Pizza King with two co-workers for lunch. It’s just a blank store front from the outside and the inside is equally sparse, but clean with several small tables and a counter eating area. We ordered a large sausage pizza with onions and a slice of the Turkey Club pizza for each of us to start. The turkey club pizza came with shredded lettuce and pieces of fresh tomato scattered across the top – like a sandwich. The most noticeable thing about the slice was the creamy cheese topping. There were bits of bacon scattered across the pizza, but no noticeable turkey. It didn’t matter because the creaminess of cheese was so good against light crisp pizza crust and the counterpoint of the crisp cool lettuce (I’ll bet it would be really good with fresh arugula instead of lettuce). The crust had that slight char that you usually only get with coal fired ovens. Their ovens looked like standard pizza ovens, but perhaps they were running them hotter than most other places to get that nice char to the crust.
It took a little while for our sausage pizza to arrive, but when it came out of the oven, we could see the steam rising off the top of the pizza because it was so hot. Again, the crust was the most noticeable thing about this pizza – light, crisp, slightly charred. The tomato sauce was good – clean, not too sweet. The sausage and cheese were standard fare. The crust is the reason why this pizza is so good.
Mt. Vernon Variety & Deli: This could be the best steak & cheese in Lawrence – at least that I’ve tried – and it all comes down to the bread. I’ve gone to Kings, J&M, and Mt. Vernon to try their steak & cheese sandwiches.
Mt. Vernon Variety & Deli is a small non-descript convenience store that stands by itself on a neighborhood street. Inside there are a few small aisles of groceries and a deli counter in the back. The two guys behind the counter are very friendly – after all this is a neighborhood convenience store. I ordered the steak bomb because someone else mentioned it on this thread. I also got a small order of fries to munch on while waiting for my sandwich. The fries were just okay. It took a little while to get the sandwich made. This isn’t a high volume place and they didn’t have a pile of sandwich meat sitting on the grill. The sandwich is big. The sandwich is made with loaves of bread from Tripoli bakery and it’s about one-third of a big French bread loaf. The steak bomb was filled with steak, ham, green pepper, red pepper, onion, and cheese. I could taste the flavor of the ham coming through. The sandwich was very moist and cheesy – much more so than the cheese steaks that I had at Kings Subs and J&M Subs. In a previous posting, I commented that I’m not much of a fan of Tripoli’s style of bread. However, in this steak & cheese sandwich, their use of Tripoli’s bread set this sandwich apart from the wimpy buns that Kings and J&M used. The Tripoli bread in the Mount Vernon steak bomb had a much better texture and flavor than the buns used by the others. If I had to summarize all three of these places, Mount Vernon Variety & Deli has the best steak & cheese, Kings Subs has the best french fries and J&M Subs gives you the most volume for your money.
As I was leaving, the guy who prepared my sandwich told me that their Cubano is their best sandwich. A good reason for me to go back again.
Quick comments from other recent visits:
• Got a visit in to Lawton’s before the building is potentially moved.
• I went to Napoli with a co-worked where we split a small pizza and some slices. I liked the individual slices better than the pizza – the crust was better to my tastes. They weren’t the same pizza. The slices were more Sicilian-like pizza. Afterwards, we went to Tripoli to grab some cookies. I saw that they make cannoli and fill them fresh to order. I ordered two to go. Very good cannolis because they’re filled fresh. The filling was a little dense, but a pretty good cannoli. I’m not a big fan of the bread or pizza at Tripoli, but fresh filled cannolis are good reason for me to go there.
For chinese bbq, my favorite place is Vinh-Sun on Beach Street. I go to this place because I've always gone to this one guy for chinese bbq in the 10+ years that I've been in this area. He used to own a small take out only bbq place across the street. It was just this small place with him and one other person that was always doing the chopping. And it was the main place to buy roast duck and roast pork in Chinatown. So it's great to see that he's been able to grow from this small business into a restaurant. Now whenever I see him in the restaurant, he's wearing nice clothes instead of working behind the chopping block. Whenever I go in, I'm always getting roast duck, cha siu (roast pork) and bbq pork (with the crispy skin). Just note that take out is cash only. There are now quite a few chinese bbq places in the area, but I haven't bothered to check them out. The most notable is that China Pearl has opened a bbq place downstairs. I'll still stick with Vinh-Sun because he's been making it for a long time and I like what he produces.
If you like chinese roast duck, try real chinese plum sauce (duck sauce) with it. My recommendation - get Koon Chun brand plum sauce (blue and yellow label, on a glass jar, in the chinese grocery store you'll have to rotate the jars to see the english because they always stick the chinese words facing out).
I'm cantonese and my preference is the Baked cha siu bao's is Eldo Cake House. Their steamed cha siu bao's are just so-so. I was just at Eldo on Saturday buying a dozen bao's and then going to my favorite Chinese bbq place for roast duck and bbq pork. Every bakery is slightly different and you'll have your own preferences. I mainly go to the bakeries for bao's. I suggest just going to a bunch of different ones and buying one of whatever it is you're looking for and then figuring out which bakery works best for you. That's what I did in my search for the best cha siu bao in Boston's chinatown and the baked cha siu bao at Eldo Cake House was the best result for my tastes. I also found a very good steamed cha siu bao at the bakery over near C Mart, but they weren't very reliable in terms of having them.
More comments from my lunch adventures around Lawrence: Cafe Azteca, King Subs, and the Sunbeam Bread Bakery Outlet Store.
Café Azteca: Okay Mexican food for Boston. As stated in a previous post in this thread, I used to live in San Diego and I'm frequently disappointed in the Mexican food around the Boston area. In San Diego, there is a chain of Mexican restaurants called El Torito that’s like going to the Appleby’s of Mexican food. It’s Mexican food that’s been generalized and the main reason people go there is for the convenience, the nice restaurant environment and the margaritas. While I can’t comment on the margaritas at Café Azteca, everything about Café Azteca reminded me of El Toritos in San Diego.
From the outside, you might think Café Azteca is a tiny place, but once you walk inside, it’s a very nice restaurant and surprisingly large. This is one of the few places that I’ve visited during lunch around Lawrence that actually has a hostess to seat you and wait staff to take your order. Like most Mexican places they immediately bring chips and salsa to the table. One of my co-workers commented that the salsa had no heat – which is fairly common for restaurant salsa in New England.
We ordered some tamales for an appetizer. They came with chicken, cheese and a mild green salsa scattered over the tamales. The strange thing was the tamale was simply a lump of steamed masa. There was no filling inside the masa. The masa showed the marks of having been steamed inside a corn husk, but it was simply a lump of steamed masa and I guess that was the “filling” that was spread over the tamales. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t order them again because a tamale is supposed to have the filling inside the masa.
Lots of different tacos, fajitas, burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, and quesadillas on the menu. However, they didn’t offer the carnitas or tortas that I usually look for at a Mexican restaurant. I went with the Tacos de Bistec al Carbon with corn tortillas because I figured that would be the closest that I could get to something that might resemble Carne Asada. I also asked for some jalapenos. The taco was okay. The beef had a nice grilled flavor to it. The guacamole tasted like it had some sour cream blended in with it and it was disappointingly soupy and detracted from the flavor of the beef. The jalapenos were given to me as a puree. I can’t remember ever seeing that before. The jalapeno puree had a little zip, but nothing like what I get with my homegrown chiles. The tacos came with rice and refried beans that I barely touched since we had tamales as an appetizer. Lunch including tip split among 4 people cost $16 each. The tacos plate cost $8 on the menu. So it’s priced accordingly for lunch at a nice restaurant.
Overall, the Mexican food at Café Azteca was good for Boston. It’s okay Mexican food that has been generalized for the average New England palate. In my opinion, Tacos Lupita has better tacos, but Café Azteca has a broader menu that provides more options especially for dinner. Within the Lawrence area, Café Azteca is certainly one of the best and few Mexican restaurants around if you’re not willing to drive down to Boston where there are more options or if you can’t cook Mexican food yourself. Café Azteca is a nice restaurant and a great place to go with friends when you to get together over Mexican food that is typical of what one finds in New England.
Sun Beam Bakery Outlet Store: I pass the Sun Beam Bread Bakery Outlet Store on Andover Street/River Road every time I drive to Lawrence for a food trip and I had to stop in to see what they had. If you’re a fan of Hostess snacks, then you have to visit here. All of your favorite Hostess snacks are here at a discount: Twinkies, Yodels, Devil Dogs, Suzy Qs, Coffee Cakes, Funny Bones. I don’t normally buy these snacks, but at these discounted prices it’s easy to break the rules once in a long while. Here’s an example of the pricing. A box of ten Twinkies has a retail price of $3.99. They sell for $2.39 at the outlet store. These are regular product. Then there’s a shopping cart with items that are close to their expiration date, but not expired. The same box of Twinkies in that cart sells for $1.39 because the expiration date is near. Who can refuse a box of ten Twinkies for $1.39? Besides treating my co-workers, I saved some of the Twinkies because I want to try deep frying them at home. I’ve seen deep fried Twinkies on TV cooking shows and the people are always raving about them. The outlet store has all sorts of breads and rolls at good prices – mainly Wonder Bread brand. A six-pack of Wonder Bread New England-style hot dog buns was $1.50. That’s a pretty good price – it’s less than or equal to the price of Market Basket brand hot dog buns that are usually the lowest prices available among all the grocery stores. At the front counter where you check out they had special deals on bread. There was a big loaf of sandwich bread for 49¢. There was also a wide variety of other items like cookies, cereal, and canned goods in the store. I was really surprised to see a limited selection of Bob’s Red Mill products – usually a premium priced product in the grains section of the grocery store. It was definitely worth a visit (and my co-workers absolutely loved the Twinkies).
King Subs: Okay sandwiches, but a little on the expensive side for a sandwich shop in Lawrence. Upon walking in the door there’s a line of people waiting for their sandwiches so I said to myself that this is a good sign that there are lots of people. Then the next thing that strikes me is that everyone looks like they work in an office. In all the places that I’ve visited for lunch in Lawrence, this is one of the few where it seems like all the men are wearing Dockers and button down shirts (business casual). Nothing against that, but it was just very noticeable how literally every customer looked like your typical office worker compared to the diverse population that I’ve seen at all the other places I’ve visited for lunch in Lawrence.
The menu comes across like a typical Greek pizza shop. I ordered a small steak & cheese and small order of fries to go. Total cost was $7.65. Then the waiting began. They didn’t seem overly concerned about cranking out my lunch. I could see that my sandwich was done and then they started the order of French fries. So I was little put off to see my sandwich sitting there on the counter getting cold while the fries were cooking and the staff was walking around joking with each other behind the counter because there was nothing else to do. The positive side is that the fries were hot out of the fryer and hadn’t been sitting around getting cold. I guess ultimately whenever I’m getting fries, I usually dig into those first so if one part of the meal was going to delay the other, then getting the fries last, but hot was the way to go for me.
And the fries were pretty good. They were normal size fries (not shoestring fries) and hot from the deep fryer. They tasted great as I munched on them on the drive back to the office. I thought that the fries at Harrison’s Roast Beef were better, but the fries at King Subs were pretty good for a place that is much closer to the office where I work.
Comments from repeat visits:
- La Tambora: Another good visit. Had the pork chicharrone and tostones. The pork was very moist and the skin was crunchy. The tostones were straight from the deep fryer and were outstanding! Much better than the tostones that one usually sees that have been sitting around in a warming tray.
More comments from my latest lunch time food adventures in and around Lawrence. This time: Lee Chen, Jim's Kabob Express, Mounir's Middle Eastern Restuarant, and La Cibaena Bakery. I would also like to comment that for every time that I visit a new place, I've probably gone to Jacqueline's for takeout Dominican food just as many times in that same timeframe - Jacqueline's has quickly become one of my favorite places in Lawrence.
Lee Chen: A typical suburban Chinese restaurant. Good Chinese food if you’re not Chinese. Acceptable convenience food if you’re Chinese. I’m Chinese (Cantonese) and it’s very difficult to find good Chinese food in the suburbs. I went to Lee Chen with some (non-Asian) co-workers. Lee Chen is very typical of what I’ve found in the suburbs. It’s a nice, clean restaurant with a pleasant interior. They have the same general types of dishes that you find in all the suburban Chinese restaurants. The menus have numbers next to the items on the menu so people can just tell the waiter what number item they want. They even had salt and pepper shakers on the tables – something you never see in a real Chinese restaurant. My biggest complaint about suburban Chinese restaurants is that they don’t serve very many Chinese vegetables. You rarely see standard Chinese vegetables like gai lon, bok choy, or dried mushrooms in the dishes. At Lee Chen, I got button mushrooms in the hot and sour soup, broccoli with my tangerine orange chicken, and a co-worker’s cashew chicken came with zucchini. The hot and sour soup was pretty good. It had a nice little hit of heat on the finish despite the button mushrooms. The tangerine orange chicken was acceptable, but I’ve had better in the suburbs. The portions were small, but the cost of rice has really shot up this past year and I imagine that it is difficult to keep the prices low on lunch time specials in a nice restaurant. The lunch special was a bowl of soup with an entrée and rice. Lunch including tip cost $9. I’ve worked in a number of areas around 128 and 495 and it’s rare that you find a good Chinese restaurant outside of 128. In my opinion as a person that likes Cantonese food, Ginger Court in Acton is one of the best Chinese restaurants that I’ve ever found in the suburbs. Unfortunately, Lee Chen falls into the overall category of average with all the other suburban Chinese restaurants. I would go there because it’s convenient Chinese food, not because it’s good Chinese food.
Falafel: Jim’s Kabob Express vs Mounir’s Middle Eastern Restaurant. I didn’t set out to do a falafel comparison, but it turned out that I had lunch at these two places two days apart. It’s actually a family affair with a brother that owns Jim’s Kabob Express and a sister that is an owner/chef at Mounir’s. Good falafel at both – Jim’s is less expensive, Mounir’s is better (more authentic in my opinion) and a little more expensive.
I had a late lunch at Jim’s Kabob Express on a rainy Wednesday. Jim’s is a small non-descript building located on Merrimack St (near Sal’s) that’s easy to miss as you drive by. I would call Jim’s a clean, sandwich shop. It’s a small, clean shop with 4 small booths and a counter where you place your order. The place was empty when we walked in, but that could be because it was rainy and after the main lunch hour. The people behind the counter are really friendly – including the owner Jim. My co-worker and I ordered falafel plates. We also ordered a skewer of chicken kabob. I couldn’t go to Jim’s Kabob Express without trying some sort of kabob. The falafel plate was a platter of non-descript salad, smothered in some sort of dressing with falafel across the top and some pita bread on the side. The exterior of the falafel was nicely brown, but perhaps a little too browned because they were a little on the firm side. The inside of the falafel was fine. For my first taste of falafel in Lawrence, it was good and it felt like a healthier alternative to all the other foods that I’ve been indulging in, in Lawrence. The salad was smothered in dressing that was tangy. There was more salad than either of us could eat and just too much dressing smothering the salad. Next time, I would order the salad dressing on the side. The chicken kabob was good – moist, a little smokiness from the grill, and just the right amount of saltiness (I wonder if it was brined). The falafel plate cost $7. Good value and a lot of food.
I had lunch at Mounir’s Middle Eastern Restaurant two days later. I was originally intending try Sam’s Steak Out, but they were closed. Since I was parked in front of Mounir’s, I decided to give it a try. Mounir’s is more of a restaurant than Jim’s Kabob. Mounir’s has a small counter up front, a couple booths, and then a long dining room that stretched into the back. The place was also empty when I walked in for a late lunch that Friday. I decided to order the falafel plate here too because I like falafel. The falafel plate was a small bed of salad on a platter with falafel spread across the top with tahini sauce spread lightly across the salad. The most immediate thing I noticed about this falafel plate is that it just tasted more authentic middle eastern to me. The salad was a mixture of greens with some sliced radishes and pieces of tomato scattered across the plate. The tomatoes were incredibly ripe – just like ones you might pull from your own garden instead of the flavorless tomatoes that most restaurants serve. The falafel were tender. Everything was drizzled with just the right amount of tahini sauce and there was fresh parsley scatted across the top of everything. Just the right combination of salad with tahini sauce and fresh parsley with the falafel is what made it taste to me like it was more authentic. I’ve had falafel at lots of places and this falafel plate was very good. It’s not as good as Rami’s (perhaps the best falafel in the Boston area), but Mounir’s serves an excellent falafel plate. As I was talking to the woman who cooked my falafel she told me that her brother is the owner of Jim’s Kabob Express. And she said that her falafel is homemade – whereas many falafel places buy their falafel as a premade mix. The only downside is that the falafel plate cost $10 and that’s a little on the high side for my lunch time trips. However, I will definitely go to Mounir’s again when I have the urge for Middle Eastern food because the falafel is very good. For my tastes, Mounir’s has better falafel than Jim’s Kabob.
La Cibaena Bakery: Good hispanic-style bread. A great source for teleras to make tortas at home. They call it “pan del agua” (water bread) and it’s a great bun ideal for making tortas. I first noticed their bread on the grocery shelves at Jacquelines during my frequent lunch visits. I always peruse the grocery aisles at Jacquelines looking for special ingredients and brands that you don’t find in the huge grocery stores. And I came across the breads from La Cibaena Bakery. Since the bakery is located in Lawrence, I had to check them out. More of a wholesale operation, the bakery does have a small counter where they sell a few items on a retail basis. Located on Cross Street (north of 110), it is in an industrial looking building with a small entrance on the side of the building. You go into an unfinished room where they have bags of different breads piled on tables. They also had a cookie called a Coconut Simon. The bread is good. The Coconut Simon wasn’t that good – too firm and not very flavorful. I like their bread and I’ll keep buying it. Going to La Cibaena goes into a really busy section of Lawrence with a lot of traffic – for some reason, once you head north over the bridge on Broadway, the traffic seems to get really slow in both directions. So I’ll probably stick to buying their bread at Jacquelines instead of going to the bakery.
More comments/opinions as I continue to explore Lawrence during lunch time. This time: Harrison's Roast Beef, Top Donut, La Tambora, and Caribbean Bakery.
Harrison’s Roast Beef – North Andover. This isn’t Lawrence, but someone else mentioned Harrison’s on this thread so I’ll add my comments here with the rest of my lunch time food adventures in the Lawrence area. I went out to lunch with two other people from work and one recommended Harrison’s Roast Beef in North Andover. Nice size restaurant with good parking and plenty of tables. You order at the counter and then take your tray to a table. I ordered a small roast beef with horseradish, small fries and a cup of tea for $8. The sandwich was pretty small – smaller than the diameter of a McDonald’s $1 cheeseburger, but thicker with about 1 inch of thinly sliced/chopped roast beef. It was so thinly sliced that it appeared like a single mass of meat. My general reaction – a tender, but flavorless roast beef sandwich on a soft bun. There wasn’t much horseradish on the sandwich and I would ask for more next time. I didn’t get the “sauce” because most roast beef places tend to use the same James River barbecue sauce for their sandwiches. The small order of fries was decent size and they were traditional crinkle cut fries. The fries were very good – crispy, meaty, and not greasy. I’ve tried a few other roast beef places including Bedford House of Roast Beef (in Bedford) and Greg’s Roast Beef (in Wakefield). I’ve never been overly impressed with roast beef sandwich shops. The meat usually is sliced thin and piled into some flavorless mass. When I have roast beef or prime rib in a restaurant, I usually order an end-cut because I like the flavor that you get from the caramelization on the outside of the roast beef. You never get that in a roast beef sandwich at these shops. It’s always some mass of the tender, pink, flavorless meat. I’ve even had the beef on weck sandwich at Chris Schlesinger’s All Star Sandwich Bar in Cambridge and the best part of that sandwich was the weck bun. I wasn’t impressed with Harrison’s, but that could also come from my general lack of enthusiasm for the sandwiches that I’ve had at any of the roast beef places that I’ve visited. The roast beef sandwich at Harrison’s was about the same as any other sandwich that I’ve had at a “roast beef” restaurant and the value wasn’t very good at $8 for a small roast beef, small fries and drink. My lunchtime preferences still lean towards all the diverse types of foods in Lawrence.
Top Donut: Makes crullers, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get donuts from Top Donuts. In keeping with my exploration of food in Lawrence, I decided to buy a dozen donuts from Top Donuts instead of stopping at any of the Dunkin Donuts in the area that are on my way to work. I was wondering how an independent donut shop could survive with Dunkin Donuts on every corner in New England. Walking in to the shop, it was clean, but inside of the building felt kind of dated especially compared to what one has gotten used to seeing in a Dunkin Donuts. There were two people sitting at a table having coffee and a few cars lined up outside at the drive-in window - not the crowds that one usually sees at Dunkin Donuts. I’m not a coffee drinker so I can’t comment on the quality of the coffee. The donuts themselves were okay – not any better or worse than what you get at DD. They had a little more variety of donuts than what you might see at DD. The most noticeable thing for me was that they had crullers whereas DD makes the “stick” instead of crullers. One of the glazed donuts came with a thick coffee flavored glaze that was nice and unusual. They had all the usual donuts that you can find at DD: boston crème, jelly filled, glazed. Overall, I would buy donuts from them because I believe in supporting local business. However, it was several miles out of my way to work to go to Top Donut and I wouldn’t make a special trip just for the donuts.
La Tambora: Good Dominican food in a bright, clean place among a crowded strip mall. Like most of the Dominican places I’ve gone to, no one speaks English unless they have to. There’s a long serving counter with heated trays of food. They had more varieties of different foods that I could see behind the counter than what I’ve seen at the other Dominican places that I’ve visited around Lawrence. Unfortunately, there’s no menu so I couldn’t tell what anything was other than the obvious roast chicken, and rice and bean, and plantain dishes. I asked another customer what it was that he had just ordered and he told me that it was goat and that it was very good. So that’s what I got. The goat stew served over rice and beans. My first time eating goat. They serve up a huge platter of rice and beans and topped it with the goat stew. The goat was very tender and the sauce was the dominant flavor. You couldn’t tell that you were eating goat. Overall, it was very good. The food was as good as El Monfongo The meal was a good value at $5 and they seemed to have a lot more variety than other places I’ve gone to.
Caribbean Bakery (in the same strip mall as La Tambora): A small bakery/sandwich shop. At lunch time, it seemed like most people in the bakery were ordering sandwiches and I didn’t see anyone else ordering baked goods. A co-worker told me that they have good flan. So I picked up some flan and variety of other baked items to bring back to work. They’re a small bakery with a small baked goods display. There’s not a very large selection of items. The majority of the items were baked with puff pastry in different forms and with different fillings. It seemed like pineapple, apple and strawberry were the two primary fillings that they used. A small bakery like that probably can’t afford to work with too many different types of dough or fillings. The flan itself was okay. I’ve had better flan, but it’s usually at a restaurant. At least you can buy an individual serving of flan at the bakery which is unusual in itself. I might go back some day to try their sandwiches. They had Cuban sandwiches on the menu and a number of other interesting sandwiches. The baked goods were standard fare. Nothing to rave about other than the ability to get a serving of flan if that’s what you wanted.
I've never seen them in the store. I grow them myself. They're fairly easy to grow, but the deer tend to like both the leaves and the berries. They're ripe right now, so this would be the time to try to find them in any store.
I bought fresh sour cherries (from NY) at Whole Foods this Saturday. $7 for 1.25 lbs. In the produce section with all the refrigerated prepared fruit.
Two more entries in my lunchtime adventures exploring food in Lawrence: El Mofongo and Tacos Lupita. Again - just my personal opinions.
El Mofongo – Dominican home-style cooking: good, simple food. I visited El Mofongo twice. It is a small shop with a few tables located on Common Street a short walk from Tripoli Bakery. Everyone speaks Spanish and everything is written in Spanish, but the paper menu at the counter has items in English and Spanish. On my first visit, I didn’t know what to order so I got some braised pork chops in the front counter display that looked good along with rice and beans to eat there. They serve up your order on a tray with real plates and tableware which is a nice touch in a small place like this. The pork chops, rice and beans tasted like simple, good food that one might make at home. The meal also comes with a salad that is 95% iceberg lettuce and a mild white vinegar dressing – nothing special. On my first visit, I really didn’t know what anything was despite the English descriptions on the menu. On my second visit, a few co-workers joined me including one from Puerto Rico who helped me understand the menu. We all shared a little bit of everything. I ordered the Locrio de pernil (roast pork shoulder with rice) because it was on the Thursday Specials. From what the others ordered, I tasted roast chicken, roast plantain, red beans and rice, and pigeon peas and rice. My overall comment holds for all these dishes – good, simple, home-style food. Here are a couple of closing thoughts. There is no air conditioning and the place can get fairly warm on hot days even with the front door open. The owners prefer to speak Spanish. So if you don’t speak Spanish, don’t expect much help in figuring out the menu. The owners are friendly enough, but they didn’t want to, or were too busy to help someone figure out what to order. Of course, I just looked at the English on the paper menu and it took my co-worker to point out the obvious that half of the menu is dedicated to daily specials (Especial del dia) and the other half of the menu is dedicated to the daily menu (Menu diario). Once I realized that, it was pretty easy to understand the menu and what you can order. Overall, I recommend El Mofongo as a place with good, simple, home-style food.
Tacos Lupita: Very good tacos,…. for Boston. I lived in San Diego for a few years and I frequented the local taco stands where I sat with migrant farm workers and had some of the best carne asada and carnitas that I’ve ever had. Since moving to Boston, I’ve never found Mexican food that could compare to San Diego. Based my experiences in San Diego, I always look for a couple things when I go to a taco stand/store. If they have Tortas on the menu, then I consider it a real taco stand. When I walked into Tacos Lupita and saw that they had Tortas, I said to myself that this could be good. Then I always try to compare taco stands based on the quality of their carnitas – unfortunately, no carnitas here at Tacos Lupita. And finally, I look for the pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos that are found in every taco stand in San Diego – unfortunately, none of that here either. I ordered a carne asada Torta and an al pastor taco because of the references to al pastor on Chowhound. Side story – after picking up my order at the cashier, I turned around with two plates in my hands and a customer talking excitedly with a friend and waving his arms knocked my taco into my jacket in the split second that I turned around. So I wound up with al pastor taco and guacamole all over my jacket. The counter lady rinsed out my jacket and the man bought me another taco. A little side excitement in a lunchtime adventure – back to the food. The tortas was just okay. The teleras bread tasted a little too much like white-bread. Maybe if they had toasted the teleras a little more, it might have taken the edge off the white bread hamburger bun taste. The carne asada was okay, but a little on the dry side. There was no noticeable heat from the jalapenos in the sandwich. The al pastor taco was better than the carne asada tortas. For a small taco, it came pretty well loaded and was quite filling. Two al pastor tacos could have been enough for a lunch meal. The al pastor was good, but the chile flavor wasn’t that distinctive. Again, no heat from the jalapenos. What’s with these wimpy jalapenos. Overall, good tacos for Boston, but not good enough to be one of my first choices for food in Lawrence. I don’t go to a lot of taco places in Boston because I’m always underwhelmed. For my tastes, I like El Pelon Taqueria near Fenway Park as one of the better taco places in Boston. I still need to go to Café Azteca to see if the Mexican food is as good as everyone says.
I see Chorizo all the time in the grocery store. Try Market Basket. However, I haven't been very impressed with the chorizo in the grocery stores and usually make my own.
It's going to be difficult to find a 1978 in a local wine store, but I agree that Marty's is one of the better places if someone would have it. If you're willing to drive to NY, Zachy's is a good, but expensive source for older wine. I believe that 78 was the famous California Cabernet vintage that beat Bordeaux for the first time in a tasting. If you check wine vintage charts, the thing to be looking for is a 78 Cabernet from California. If you have a friend that lives in NH, you can order wine and have it shipped there, but it's not a great time of the year to be shipping wine because it's so hot and the shipping companies could expose your expensive bottle to some very high heat in transit. It's "illegal" for me to sell wine from my personal collection. I have a 1979 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered, but you're looking for 1978. You should also be very careful where you buy the wine from to make sure it has been stored properly. Check the fill to see how much air space is in the bottle and ask how the bottle was stored. You would hate to spend a lot of money on vinegar. And even if it looks good, there's no guarantees when you're buying older wine. If your brother is a wine enthusiast, he would probably also appreciate any other really fine bottle of wine that you got even if it wasn't from 1978. Good luck.
My comments on the next three places I've visited in my lunchtime adventures in Lawrence. These are just my personal opinions.
North End Deli: A decent Italian deli in Lawrence. They offer a wide range of hot meals, hot subs and cold subs and carry a limited selection of Italian grocery items. The deli has a number of small tables that were filled, but people constantly came and went so you could eventually get a table. The menu has everything that you might expect in an Italian deli serving hot and cold sandwiches and a limited number of hot entrees. One of the specialties is their “famous jumbo rice balls.” These rice balls are arancini that are the size of softballs. While I like arancini, an arancini the size of a softball just didn’t seem appealing to me. There are too many different things on the menu to assess this place fairly in one visit. I ordered the veal parmesan sub at $7.25. The sub was good. What made it good was that it was real veal – pounded thin surrounded by a thin bread coating. The rest of the sandwich was what you would expect in a hot sub – decent bread and sauce. I’m always looking for the small local joint in my food adventures. If I had to choose one place in Lawrence to go for lunch, I would probably choose someplace else a little bit more “distinctive.” However, if I was in the mood for an Italian sub or sandwich, then I would definitely go here.
Jacquelines: Jacqueline’s Grocery Store next to Jacqueline’s Accounting business on Broadway. What a great find. This is what I call local food. Going into the back of the Hispanic grocery store, there is a food service counter where people line up for the fried chicken and empanadas. Everyone seemed like a local and was really friendly. They have a number of hot entrees as well, but I focused on the chicken and empanadas and ordered some of each. They also have a warming tray of French fries that most people went for, but I decided to go for something with more local flavor and went for the “yellow” rice. After I ordered the yellow rice, a man behind me smiled ordered the same. The chicken is good. It’s not a Kentucky-fried kind of chicken. Their fried chicken has a very thin coating of seasoned salt/herbs. It was very moist and tasted more like homemade than what you get at Kentucky-fried. The seasoning salt was a little on the salty side, but I didn’t really notice it until I was almost finished eating my chicken. For the empanada, I ordered a Jamaican beef pie. They didn’t have any in the warming case so the counter lady pulled some out of the freezer and toss them in the deep fryer. The empanadas are fried so they’re crispy. Personally, I would have a preferred a baked empanada. The filling was nothing special. In my opinion, it’s worth trying the empanadas, but the chicken and the yellow rice were the stars of my meal. Next time I go back, I’ll probably try some of the other hot entrees in the kitchen. Also, it was very affordable at $1 per piece of chicken or per empanada. The Jamaican meat pie was $1.50. The yellow rice was only available in a fairly large portion for one person at $2, but it was good. Note – this is take out only. There is no seating.
Pollo Tipico: Okay food, but disappointing. My expectations were too high. Deep in the heart of Lawrence, this is one of the first neighborhoods in my lunch adventures where I felt a little nervous. As a single Asian woman, the busy street in what seemed to be a purely Hispanic neighborhood and everyone looking at me as I walked in the door of the restaurant made me feel a little out of place. I imagine that they might feel the same if they were to walk into a small store in Chinatown. It wasn’t a big deal, but it didn’t have the friendly atmosphere that I experienced at Jacquelines. The restaurant itself had a small seating area and a line of people at the counter where you place your orders. There was no menu. Just a sign on the wall with a few specials. I ordered the # 1 chicken special – ¼ chicken, rice and pigeon peas, and a salad for $5.50. And I had to try the fried plantains and ordered a side of that for $1. I really wanted to swap out the salad for the plantains in my #1, but they wouldn’t make the change. The chicken itself was okay roast chicken. A little dry, but no better or worse than the roast chicken you can buy at the hot deli area of your local grocery store. The rice and pigeon peas was exactly that – a huge serving of white rice with a cup of pigeon peas that I poured over the rice. Nothing special here either. They did give you the option to choose between yellow rice versus rice with pigeon peas. The salad was some shredded lettuce with one piece of cucumber and two slices of tomato with a mild white vinegar dressing. The salad wasn’t even worth eating other than to taste the dressing. Finally, the fried plantains were okay (basically the plantain version of French fries), but a little like lead on the way down. Behind the glass display on top of the counter, they had fried pork ribs, some sort of steak, bbq ribs, and empanadas. If I were to go here again, I would try the fried pork ribs because the roast chicken was nothing special. For chicken, I would choose Jacquelines over Pollo Tipico.
I work nearby in Andover and I'm working my way through this list of recommended places to eat in Lawrence. I'm a decent cook and baker. I'm always looking for good inexpensive local joints as well as the occaisional high-end restaurant. These are just my personal opinions as a person who enjoys preparing and eating good food:
- Lawtons: classic hot dog stand. Deep fried dogs are good and cooked to order. Takes a little time to get your order, but worth it. Ordered the $5 special: 2 dogs with an order of fries that was so large that it was difficult to finish everything. Got one dog with the works (onion, mustard, relish) and the other dog with chili. I've visited lots of "famous" hot dog stands in the northeast and I would say this place is pretty good: Good dogs, limited selection, good fries, great value
- Tripoli Bakery: Not very good pizza. Tasted like pizza from a chef boyardee pizza kit. Pizza crust was terrible. Pizza sauce was overly sweet. I bought one of their breads. The bread had a soft, fine crumb like an enriched bread. If you have kids that like wonder bread texture, then this is for you. If you're an artisan bread baker, then don't even bother. This is like white bread with a firmer crust. The only nice thing is that they have a huge parking lot. Just not my style either the pizza or the bread.
- Napoli: very good Sicilian pizza. I ordered plain cheese pizza by the slice. They didn't seem to offer pizza by the slice with toppings. So next time, I'll order a small pizza with some of the various toppings that they offer. I did order a slice of meat pie. I ordered meat pie at Napoli and Tripoli. In both cases, it was served as a layer of dough around a slab of "mystery" meat. Not sure what the meat was. Maybe it was some sort of mild sausage. I had never seen "meat pie" until visiting Napoli and Tripoli in Lawrence. While both sounded appealing, the meat stayed with me the rest of the afternoon. I guess I'm just not a fan of meat pie because plenty of other people came in and ordered slices of meat pie.
- Sal's Pizza: Good value. Okay pizza. Order pizza cafeteria style and they slice off a quarter of one of their huge pizzas, cut it into two slice, and re-heat it. The only downside is that you wind up with two huge slices of the same kind of pizza. I wish that they would let you mix slices. Ordering two "quarters" of a pizza, while affordable, is just too much for me to eat. The pizza itself is okay. Not great. Not bad. Better than going to Dominos or Pizza hut, but not legendary pizza like going to Santarpios by Logan Airport. If I had to choose between Sals, Napoli, and Tripoli in Lawrence, I would go to Napoli.