Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Travelblogue: Bostonian Eats & Treats

I didn't stay in Boston long enough to do a long series of posts like I did while traveling in England, but I did stay long enough to discover some fabulous food and shopping areas. So this post will be dedicated to the spots I went to — some of them are very typically touristy, but they were still very enjoyable and definitely worth stopping by if you're new to Boston.

Newbury Street: This is one of the largest and most picturesque streets in Boston, lined with renovated brownstone buildings that have been converted into shops and restaurants. You'll find major chain stores like Best Buy and Urban Outfitters in the vicinity, along with some designer joints (including the Betsy Johnson store and a couple of high-end consignment shops). While things do get fancy in parts of Newbury Street, there really is something for everyone to enjoy.

Notable Newbury Shopping: One of my favorite places on this well-known street is the appropriately-named Newbury Comics. This is actually a chain that can be found throughout Massachusetts and parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire. But having visited the Cambridge location a few years ago, it's always been a place I associate with Boston and its surrounding areas. Newbury Comics is a fantastic place for music lovers and general pop culture nerds. There are used and new CDs, DVDs, and vinyls throughout the store and of course, there are also comic books for sale. Funky pursues, gag gifts, and posters can also be found in various corners — it's a fantastic experience for those of us who still enjoy browsing in record stores instead of ordering everything online. And the best part is, you might find albums you wouldn't easily find in other record stores for a reasonable price! My $9.99 copy of a Graham Coxon solo album has made me very happy.

Notable Newbury Ice Cream: If you're on Newbury Street, you should stop by J.P. Licks, another Massachusetts-based chain. Even though the store is subject to huge lines, they seem to move relatively quickly, and the ice cream is to die for. I had a chocolate chip milkshake that tasted like liquid cake and my friend had some lactose-free mango ice cream that tasted exactly like the fruit. Word of warning though: servings are pretty huge. Another friend seemed to alternate between joy and despair the whole time because her two-scoop ice cream cone was probably bigger than her head. But at least you get your money's worth!

Sunset Cantina: This Mexican/Southwestern restaurant and sports bar is well known for its margaritas and abundant menu. This is another place that serves extremely large portions, so you should really only go there when you're extremely hungry or in the mood to eat a lot. That being said, I had some of the best nachos of my life (with vegetarian chili for those who aren't into the meaty variety) at this place and I'd love to go back again. Also, it's a pretty large place with plenty of kitsch-inspired decor, providing patrons with a great atmosphere for socializing while indulging in food and drinks.

North End: This is one of Boston's oldest neighborhoods and it's also now the center of the Italian-American community. There are restaurants at every corner and you can help yourself to assorted offerings of pasta, gelato, and other tasty desserts when you're in the neighborhood. I was lucky enough to visit two of the North End's food establishments and as both of them were fantastic, I'll mention them here.

Savory: For dinner, my friends and I took a slight detour into one of the North End's side streets, in order to eat at Al Dente Ristorante, where the menu features a good amount of reasonably-priced items. The restaurant is charmingly cramped and makes you wonder how they manage to cook all the food they do in the little kitchen towards the back. But somehow, the restaurant's staff pulls it off, preparing fresh, flavorful food that will leave you happily stuffed by the end of your meal. My recommendation? The Chicken Cacciatore, which you can order with a pasta of your choice. The peppers and mushrooms accented my chicken and linguine perfectly and I actually found myself very close to finishing up the entire plate because I didn't want to waste the delicious ingredients.

Sweet: It seems that everyone must stop at Mike's Pastry for dessert and I will say that the items there live up to the hype. I had one of the richest chocolate chip cannolis ever and it was absolutely delicious. That being said, you should take note of the fact that Mike's is bound to be very overcrowded if you visit close to meal times. There are some tables for sitting, but the store gets so crowded that there are literally lines out the door while people order their desserts. It's best to do what my friends and I did: go in, order your dessert and take it to go. On the bright side, chances are you'll need some time after lunch or dinner to build up an appetite for dessert, so it's a win-win approach.

Quincy Market: This magnificent food court area, located in downtown Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, is perpetually crowded with people hovering around tables in order to get a seat. But it does offer a wide array of food, including breakfast items, Greek, Indian, and East Asian food. There are also dessert and smoothie places, and of course, you can always get some New England clam chowder. This is a great place to go, especially when people are in the mood to try different things. Case in point: I helped myself to a chicken kebab wrap and a smoothie, while another friend helped herself to some sushi and clam chowder in addition to her own smoothie.

It doesn't really matter where you go and it's not necessary to visit all the locations I've mentioned above. At the end of the day, you're bound to find plenty of places to eat and shop in if you're visiting Boston. As long as you're well prepared to do a good amount of eating, you'll be all set!

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