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Good Swill Hunting

A Foodie’s Guide to Eating and Drinking in Boston and Beyond

By Winnie Yang


There are some of us that eat to live and then there are those of us that live to eat. Being notorious for a food obsession some might consider extreme, I am frequently mistaken for a food snob. Quite the contrary, in fact, I am the least picky eater I know. I’ll eat just about anything - as long as it’s good. Unfortunately, there are those that would interject here, protesting that one can’t possibly eat well all the time, that one simply can’t afford to. Such people simply confuse Good Food with its very distant relative Fancy Food, or with the completely unrelated and often total stranger, Expensive Food. While I am not averse to ordering the pan-seared flank of wildebeest with osetra caviar-fennel gelÉe and blood orange foam, sometimes there’s nothing better than Easy Cheese on Wheat Thins.

As a foodie, I often go to great lengths to find a good meal and I devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to what I eat (see my Web page for proof). Knowing this, many people often come to me for suggestions and recommendations, and nothing pleases me more than sharing my discoveries with others. That is, one of the few things possibly better than eating is telling other people what to eat.

In my years at MIT, I’ve managed to compile a sizeable list of favorites - some close to home, others a bit out of the way. This is by no means a comprehensive list, as I’m still in the process of eating my way through the city. And by all means, if you feel I’ve missed something worth mentioning, send me an e-mail. In no particular order:

Coffee ice cream sandwich is the best ice cream flavor at Tosci’s. There are those proud and vocal members of the burnt caramel camp as well, but I remain steadfast.

Grilled Buffalo chicken sandwich at Courses, with a slice of provolone and extra hot sauce on the side.

#17 (small) and #31 (with beef and the flat rice noodles) at the Harvard Square Pho Pasteur.

The Green Lady (salmon filet with creamy, spicy curry) and country-style pad thai at Brown Sugar CafÉ (Fenway).

Chocolate chip scone at the MIT Coffeehouse.

The honey barbecue chicken sub with a slice of cheese and the BLT on wheat with mayo at LaVerde’s.

The Story at Darwin’s (Harvard Square). A definitive sandwich best eaten perched on a stool at the butcher block tables. The Mount Auburn with swiss comes in at a close second.

The foie gras and warm chocolate pudding at Clio (Back Bay). Both velvety and rich. Both revelatory.

Miracle of Science does a mean veggie burger. Best washed down with a Magic Hat no. 9.

Octopus salad at Atasca (Kendall Square). Briny and tender, this is one tasty cephalopod.

I still haven’t summoned the courage to try a piece of one of those gargantuan cakes, but if I ever feel like I could pass up the blueberry pancakes at Greenhouse CafÉ (Harvard), maybe I will. Not too dense or too fluffy, these pancakes have nicely crisped edges and are loaded with berries.

Xiaolongbao at Taiwan CafÉ (Chinatown). I haven’t yet figured out how to eat these Shanghai-style soup dumplings without scalding myself or spilling half the contents onto my lap, but they keep me coming back to this little hole-in-the-wall. The oyster pancakes, though not like Mom’s, are not to be missed. Salt and pepper pork is quite tasty as well.

The Il Panino panini at Il Panino Express (North End), like the Darwin’s Story, combines the holy trinity of prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, but stuffs generous amounts of everything into a foot-long crusty Italian loaf slathered with a fruity and robust EVOO.

The Superburrito at Anna’s Taqueria. Apparently, some journalist for the New York Times took the four-hour Chinatown shuttle from Manhattan to Boston and back solely for one of these burritos. I personally find that completely ridiculous, but only because it’s hard to believe that there are no better burritos to be found in New York City. It is pretty damn good, though.

CrÈme brÛlÉe at The Dish (South End). I wouldn’t recommend anything else though.

Hirokimayaki at Kiyoshi (Brookline): the proprietor’s version of that delectable Osakan specialty, okonomiyaki. The menu claims these pan-fried noodles are “healthy,” but somehow, the shiny slick coating the noodles under that generous drizzling of mayonnaise leaves me thinking otherwise. The chicken skin and chicken bone yakitori also get the thumbs up.

Bertucci’s rolls.

Potato pancakes and banana-stuffed challah French toast at Zaftigs Delicatessen (Brookline). Everyone seems to offer a version of challah French toast, but none do it like the fat lady. The borscht is also a winner.

Belgian waffle at Neighborhood Bakery and CafÉ (Union Square, Somerville). Comes with the most delicious bowl of Cream of Wheat you’ll ever taste.

Lemon and sugar crepes at Le Gamin (South End). Also, the butter and sugar crepes.

N6 at Rod Dee II (Fenway): pan-fried rice noodles that are all greasy goodness. I’m also a big fan of the golden triangles here.

Butternut squash soup at Salts (Kendall). None better.

I have yet to find better lamb than the gigot À sept heures at Metro (Porter Square). In fact, there are few meat preparations offered in this city that could rival Amanda Lydon’s supernal dish.

Some people go to Wuchon House (Union Square, Somerville) for their bulgogi or the kalbi; I’m there for the tofu chigae. You know Korean food’s good when the sweat starts pouring and your nose starts running.

#1 at Boston BÁnh MÌ (Chinatown). BÁnh mÌ (pronounced “bagne-mee,” where “bagne” is like the French pronunciation of “champagne”) is one of the few miraculous results of colonialism: a Vietnamese sandwich that combines tangy pickled carrots and cucumbers with a rich pork pÂtÉ and slices of ham and other lunchmeats, all on a crusty, buttery, slightly toasted French baguettine. There are a multitude of versions, each with different fillings, but this is the standard.

Any kind of korma from Bombay CafÉ (Back Bay/Symphony). Be sure to specify “as hot as your grandma makes it.” Probably best to stick to delivery here.

The egg tart at Ho Yuen Bakery (Chinatown) has a tender, flaky crust and a silky custard filling with just a hint of sweetness. Yum.

Roti canai and kangkung belacan at Penang (Chinatown or Harvard). The first is an addictive, chewy fried bread, accompanied by a curry dipping sauce, while the other is sautÉed greens (water convolvulus) dosed with the distinctive, pungent Malaysian shrimp sauce.

I’ve found that the greatest failing of most high-end restaurants is the paltry bread offering: usually cold, anemic rolls the consistency of a wet mop. The breadbasket at Aujourd’hui (Back Bay), however, comes stuffed with crispy asiago cheese bagel chips, soft and doughy pretzel knots, walnut raisin rolls redolent of cinnamon and sugar, and a lovely, savory onion focaccia--all straight-out-the-oven-toasty-warm.

Pearl milk tea at the Chinatown Eatery. The counter here is bedecked with signs listing dozens of flavors of smoothies, juices and teas, some of which come with those gummy -- yet strangely appealing -- marble-sized tapioca balls. The extra-wide straws are definitely the best part and make the perfect instrument for launching the balls at unsuspecting passers-by.

Best flan, hands down -- Tu Y Yo (Powderhouse Square, in Somerville).

And last but not least, Joyce Lee’s kimchi-spam fried rice. Best with a hastily chilled, soft and fruity white (preferably from Best Cellars).