Lucy's Ethiopian Café
The endless recession may be crimping our dining-out habits, but 2010 continued to showcase Boston as a great place for frugal fressers. Some highlights from another year On the Cheap:
BEST GETAWAY TO A FAR-OFF PLACE The traditional coffee ceremony at Lucy's Ethiopian Café near Symphony, whose meticulously hand-made coffee, served with impeccable sociability in the lovely back room, brings a rare taste of the Horn of Africa in the heart of the city.
BEST REMEDY FOR TOO MUCH FRIDAY-NIGHT FUN Weekend soups at Taqueria Jalisco in Eastie, including the gentle, pho-like pozole, fierce and gamy menudo, and beguiling bírria, a complex stew of chilies and beef. It's a bargain-priced spa treatment in a bowl.
PROOF THAT RETAIL AND RESTAURANT CAN CO-HABIT The peace is made at Dosa Factory, a solid Indian counter-service place tucked in the back of Shalimar Gourmet Foods in Central Square. Street-food snacks like mirchi pakora (batter-fried hot green peppers) are especially fun and satisfying.
BEST FAMILY-FRIENDLY PLACE (TIE) Restaurante Montecristo and Mi Pueblito, two big, noisy, casual Eastie restaurants blessed with big menus of delicious, hearty, nice-priced Salvadoran/Guatemalan fare.
BEST SHAME-FREE FAST FOOD The quality burgers and dogs at Lee's Place in Newton Centre, which proves that a quick, under-$5 lunch doesn't have to feature megacorporate chain dreck.
EXCELLENCE DESPITE AN IRONIC NAME Harvard Square's Falafel Corner, which does an underwhelming falafel but a gorgeous lamb shwarma: chunks of meat (not a ground-meat loaf) sliced off the vertical rotisserie, crisp at the edges and tender inside — perfect.
MOST POTENT LEFT JAB Luis de Haro's Las Ventas, a gourmet grocer/deli, located to the left of brother Julio's Estragon in the South End, makes bocadillos (sandwiches) from first-rate imported Spanish meats and cheeses. Offerings like the Mallorca — sobrassada (paprika-spiked chorizo pâté), goat cheese, greens, and alioli — are astonishing.
BREAKFAST DISH OF THE YEAR French toast at Dot2Dot Café in Dorchester. The daily brunch at this charming indie features a gorgeously rich, super-eggy version using the chef/owner's great house-made brioche, served with quality bacon and pure maple syrup.
BEST REASON TO KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED It's nearly invisible in the corner of the (boring American) Plaza Deli near Government Center, but Café Latino and its huge, exceptional version of pernil asado — Puerto Rican marinated and roasted pork shoulder — is worth ferreting out.
BEST UPGRADE AT A LOCATION Sichuan Gourmet, serving a fine, ferocious, traditional version of the fieriest of Chinese cuisines, a superior successor to Brookline's venerable but tired Chef Chang's.
Here's wishing you more fine food at popular prices in 2011!