It may not be the Back Bay, but this commercial necklace running from Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle contains more than a few culinary gems
BY RUTH TOBIAS
Where to find it
An Tua Nua, 835 Beacon, (617) 262-2121
Audubon Circle, 838 Beacon, (617) 421-1910
Elephant Walk, 900 Beacon, (617) 247-1500
Sol Azteca, 914A Beacon, (617) 262-0909
St. Mary’s Street
Taberna de Haro, 999 Beacon, (617) 277-8272
Ginza, 1002 Beacon, (617) 739-2322
Savoy French Bakery, 1003 Beacon, (617) 734-0214
Chef Chang’s House, 1004-1006 Beacon, (617) 277-4226/2834
Café Han River, 1009 Beacon, (617) 739-6221
O’Leary’s, 1010 Beacon, (617) 734-0049
Japonaise Bakery and Café, 1020 Beacon, (617) 566-7730
Via Via Café, 1032 Beacon, (617) 264-2266
Temptations Café, 1038 Beacon, (617) 739-2030
Sushi Express, 1038 Beacon, (617) 738-5658
Busy Bee Restaurant, 1046 Beacon, (617) 566-8733
Coolidge Corner/Summit Avenue
Fugakyu, 1280 Beacon, (617) 734-1268/(617) 738-1268
Boca Grande Taquería, 1294 Beacon, (617) 739-3900
Chinatown Seafood, 1306 Beacon, (617) 232-9580
Boston Daily Bread, 1331 Beacon, (617) 277-8810
Gourmet India, 1335 Beacon, (617) 278-2121
Bombay Bistro, 1353 Beacon, (617) 734-2879
Kaya, 1366 Beacon, (617) 738-2244/2255
Bangkok Basil, 1374 Beacon, (617) 739-1236
Shawarma King,1383 Beacon, (617) 731-6035
Lucky Wah, 1391 Beacon, (617) 232-3838
Thai Garden, 1393 Beacon, (617) 730-3888/3830
Coolidge Corner Café, 1398 Beacon, (617) 730-5511
Ana’s Taquería, 1412 Beacon, (617) 739-7300
Athan’s, 1621 Beacon, (617) 734-7028
Café Nicholas, 1628 Beacon, (617) 739-1114
The Fireplace, 1634 Beacon, (617) 975-1900
Anam Cara, 1648 Beacon, (617) 277-2880
Golden Temple, 1651 Beacon, (617) 277-9722
B&D Deli, 1653 Beacon, (617) 232-3727
Dalia’s, 1657 Beacon, (617) 730-8040
Emack & Bolio’s, 1663 Beacon, (617) 731-6256
Indian Café, 1665 Beacon, (617) 277-1752
Eagle’s Deli, 1918 Beacon, (617) 731-3232
Pino’s Pizza, 1920A Beacon, (617) 566-6468
Presto Pizzeria,1936 Beacon, (617) 232-4545
The Wrap & Smoothie Bar, 1940 Beacon, (617) 739-0340
Bangkok Bistro, 1952 Beacon, (617) 739-7270
Atrium Café, Holiday Inn, 1200 Beacon, (617) 277-1200
Jae’s Café and Grill, 1223 Beacon, (617) 739-0000
Rod Dee, 1430 Beacon, (617) 738-4977/9002
From a diner’s point of view, Beacon Street seems like an ironic moniker. Hardly beckoning from afar, most of the restaurants that line the way from Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle are so small and unassuming they’re practically invisible. Sure, there are exceptions: the Irish pub An Tua Nua, with its bright-red-and-yellow façade, and the lovably gaudy Golden Temple come to mind. But since the rule is modesty and economy, it’s hard to know from the outside what Beacon’s eateries could possibly have to offer on the inside. A hungry newcomer, therefore, may want for a little guidance, whether in the way of a roll, a wrap, or a three-course repast. Here, then, are some pointers for navigating your way down the street, from breakfast to dinner, funky to fancy, ethnic to everyday American, and back again.
As it happens, some of Beacon Street’s most easily overlooked places are also some of its nicest. It’s partly a question of location: because the outbound Green Line C-branch trolley runs underground from Kenmore Square to the St. Mary’s stop, riders never catch a glimpse of the dining destinations around Audubon Circle — including the one named for the intersection itself. While Audubon is a popular nightspot, its low-key façade can go unnoticed when bar-hoppers aren’t spilling out the front door. And yet, come noon, the sleek but welcoming space — all wood and black lacquer — accommodates a small, casual lunch crowd. An equally small, casual menu puts a lighthearted spin on standard bar food with charmers like thick, chewy Asian potstickers served in a Chinese take-out container ($6.50) and roasted-vegetable quesadillas ($6.50). Audubon’s sandwiches, such as the hot-pressed green apple, Brie, and watercress ($6.50), also satisfy.
The genteel Elephant Walk is likewise an established evening favorite that deserves consideration from the gents and ladies who lunch. With their cheery yellow walls, sheer curtains, bamboo furniture, and array of elephant carvings, the airy dining rooms evoke some sort of colonial manor in a tropical clime — as does the French/Cambodian fare. Recently revamped to reflect chef Nasda de Monteiro’s love of the light and the bright, the menu now includes vegan selections and offers half-portions of the heavier French items. But Elephant Walk still serves classics like the Salade Cambodgienne ($5.95 small/$6.95 large) — a nutty, herby Asian coleslaw with chicken. Meanwhile, the breaded, pan-seared tuna ($14.95/$24.95), bathed in a peppery cream sauce and cushioned among lush, fried pear-filled ravioli, must be the most sumptuous dish for miles around.
A few doors down, tucked away in a split-level space at the base of a private building, is Sol Azteca, one of Boston’s few upscale Mexican cafés. From colorful tiles and wrought-iron lamps to folk-art carvings, all the right elements are in tasteful place at Sol. In summer, the brick patio dishes up late sunsets. The food, however, shines steadily enough to carry diners through the winter, counterbalancing the belly-up stuff of Tex-Mex with the more sparkling dishes of coastal Mexico, such as sea scallops sautéed in a sprightly tomato-cilantro jus ($18.25), and puerco en adobo, pork loin marinated in tart orange juice snapping with chipotles ($16.90). You’ll notice that nearly every table boasts an order of fresh guacamole ($6.60) — assuredly, the adage "When in Rome ..." never rang more true (except perhaps in Rome).
Next we arrive at the cluster of eateries that lends the intersection of Beacon and St. Mary’s its verve. Here you’ll find both Korean take-out and wood-fired pizza; both coffee to wake you up and sherry to wind you down — the former at either of two bakeries (or three, if you count Dunkin’ Donuts); both cheap and chichi sushi (at, respectively, the underground Sushi Express and the urbane Ginza, with its sake selection and kimono-clad staff of lovelies). To one side, there’s the bare, take-out-only Savoy French Bakery, which has been serving an array of unusually puffy croissants — and not much else — until noon or until they run out, whichever comes first, for 20 years. To the other side is Japonaise Bakery and Café, which also may not offer much in the décor department but dazzles in the goodie realm (virtually all of which are in the tolerable range of $2–$4). If you harbor any doubts about Asian pastries, your first an pan ($1.30) will be a revelation — not unlike challah in its eggy softness, it’s unlike anything else when it comes to its adzuki-bean-paste filling, zesty with a touch of sweetness. Unexpected flavors also crop up to keep more traditional items on their toes, as with white-chocolate scones and the gently spiced green-tea layer cake.
Dinnertime options around St. Mary’s are wildly diverse as well: if you pop into the dimly lit, traditional pub O’Leary’s for ultra-hearty Guinness beef stew ($9.95) one night, you can hit Taberna de Haro for tapas the next. A pretty little cupboard of a place on the corner, the kind you could walk by 10 times before noticing it, Taberna nonetheless enjoys widespread culinary cachet with a menu that is arguably Boston’s most lustily Spanish. Robust, salty, meaty — even when they’re vegetarian — these little plates have essentially the same function as beer nuts: they’re meant to enhance the drinking experience in rounds, not as courses. Particularly racy are the cazón en adobo or marinated, fried shark ($9.50); papas arrugas, potatoes roasted with cumin, paprika, and cinnamon ($7.50); and the sizzling gambas al ajillo, shrimp sautéed with a slew of garlic ($12.50) — all of which leave pools of spicy oil for sopping up with hunks of bread. As for beverages, though the sangria here is good, the wine list is uncommonly so, and does the food greater justice.
The night after that, you can do as the early birds do at the Busy Bee Restaurant. As slices of Americana go, this one’s à la mode; it opened in 1943 and doesn’t appear to have changed much since, with its genuine lunch counter, stools and booths cushioned in turquoise vinyl, and a good-old-boys menu listing numerous specials — nearly every one of which is a broiled chop of some kind, all for under $9. The Bee conveys more homey integrity than irony in dishing up such where-are-they-now pleasures as grilled liver and onions ($5.75).
Next stop, Coolidge Corner. It seems every other storefront for blocks on either side of the Beacon-Harvard intersection belongs to some humble ethnic eatery or other (with the exception of the fancifully festooned Fugakyu, which could benefit from a little humility now that the quality of its once luscious and innovative sushi has sunk in inverse proportion to the size of its dinner crowd). Assuming your expectations are reasonable, it’s hard to go wildly wrong around here. Take Kaya, a windowless place that tends to be dismissed by suspicious or just-incurious diners who’ll pass right by any restaurant they can’t see into. In fact, this Korean-Japanese outlet — there are two others in Greater Boston — is rather pretty on the inside, pavilionesque with blond wood, rice-paper fixtures, and landscape paintings. And if the menu strikes some bizarre notes, it’s all for the best, especially with respect to appetizers such as sautéed gingko nuts ($4.95 for a bowlful), which taste something like chickpeas, only more buttery, with a lightly bitter aftertaste. Even more eye-opening are the hakata potatoes ($3.95), which are cooked, sliced into thick peeled rounds, and served cold with a bright pink sauce made from cod roe that is by turns spicy, briny, sweet-tart, and salty; it’s not so much an acquired taste as a gut instinct. Speaking of guts, real daredevils can go for the gold here with "eel guts," or broiled eel liver ($3.95), followed by abalone porridge ($11.95) — or any number of similarly kinky delicacies.
Then there’s Coolidge Corner Café, which, though it does have windows, presents its own mysteries. Not only is the Italian sub shop Asian-run, but its interior is equally hodgepodge, combining red-and-white checkerboard tiles with black faux-marble columns and dried-flower sprays. And yet, for all that, the food isn’t half bad, especially for the prices. Be sure to try the made-to-order calzone, heavy on the spinach, onion, feta, and cheddar ($5.25).
Still, if you can’t go wrong, you can go more right in some places than you can in others. Fans of Rangoli in Allston, for instance, will feel right at home within the russet-and-tan walls of its sister restaurant Bombay Bistro, for here, too, are wonderfully tangy chaat papari — or potatoes, chickpeas, and wheat chips in yogurt-tamarind dressing ($5.50) — and rogan josh, a lamb curry with serious depth ($10.75). The best dishes at Bangkok Basil, meanwhile, boast the qualities of the Thai café’s namesake ingredient; for instance, there’s a subtle green sweetness to both the basil soup ($2.95) and the lunch specialty called graprao ($4.25) — ground chicken, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and basil sautéed and served in a sauce somewhere between gravy and broth, rich in flavor but light in consistency. What the place itself lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in, uh, weekend karaoke.
Issue Date: December 5 - 12, 2002
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