Friday, January 30, 2009

Food in Unusual Places: Villa Mexico Maximizes Real Estate in Beacon Hill

Today we have a guest blogger! Ben Margolis is my most frequent dining companion and often patiently puts up with my note-taking and photo-taking during meals. A big fan of food trucks, street meat, and other interesting locations, he's going to be writing occasional posts about Food in Unusual Places. So without further ado, here is Ben's account of his recent gas station lunch. -Rachel Blumenthal

When I first heard about the highly praised burrito place in a gas station on, I knew I had to check it out. You see, I have an unnatural pull to Food in Unusual Places, which is my column as the new guest blogger on Fork It Over Boston. Walk across the street from Mass General Hospital and enter the Grampy's gas station building, then look to the right. The cheerful cook will welcome you into the restaurant; smile back at her, glance up at the menu and tell her what you would like; there aren't too many choices. On my visit today, I got the pair of tacos for $4.50, with chorizo sausage and no cheese. For juice or soda, you need to pay at the convenience store register on the other side of the store. You pay for the Mexican food, cash only, at the Villa Mexico counter. They actually usually have their own fresh-squeezed juices, but the market's offerings in late January didn't meet their standards.

You can watch your food being cooked. There is a shiny griddle where they carefully warm up the corn tortillas for the tacos and cook the uncased, homemade chorizo, as well as toast the burritos after they are wrapped tightly. You have a choice: get it to stay or to go, which is odd because there are only three seats in the establishment. I got it to go, and they neatly tied a baggie with a napkin and utensils. However, it was too hot and delicious smelling to travel the cold distance back to the office.

I unwrapped the steaming aluminum foil with and picked up one of the perfectly shaped tacos with a salty, pungent aroma. The texture was great - soft and moist, yet sturdy. The tortilla was not too mealy; it had just enough corn flavor to avoid a distracting blandness. The lettuce and tomato were fresh and cool. The chorizo filling was spicy and salty, a nice contrast to the tortilla. Served on the side, salsa brought it to a new dimension with its sweet, peppery flavor. Adding too much of the stuff will overpower your taco. If there's something preventing it from being mindblowing, I would have liked there to be another ingredient, such as onion, cilantro, parsley, or shallot. I like soft tacos to be flavor-bombs. A little bit of complexity goes a long way. In previous experiences, I had the burritos, which were even better than the tacos. Chips and salsa are also a strong point. Anyway, a truly admirable effort takes place here, and I left feeling healthy, much better than I expected when I first had the notion to go here after reading the online commentsphere.
Address: 296 Cambridge St. (Beacon Hill) in Grampy's Gas Station (near Charles/MGH stop on the Red Line, Bowdoin on the Blue Line, and Science Park on the Green Line)Phone: (617) 957-0725
Villa Mexico Café on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bangkok Bistro

How could I have neglected the restaurant I find myself at almost weekly (or sometimes even more often, embarrassingly enough...)?

Bangkok Bistro sits right on a corner of Cleveland Circle, where it's been since 1988. Its outdated sign and awkward pink exterior don't exactly beckon to passers-by, but the cheap and filling lunch combos do. For about $8 on any day but Monday, you can get spicy tom yum soup, an appetizer, and an entree between 11:30am and mid-afternoon (I think the cut-off is 3pm, but I'm not positive.) Dinner's great too, but I find myself drawn there more often for the great value of the lunch combo that usually leaves me enough leftovers for at least one more meal.

The soup is spicy and warming, especially enjoyable on a frigid winter day as you sit by the window and watch everyone slip around on the slushy sidewalk. (Sorry for the cheesy alliteration; it was not intended.) It's covered with mushrooms though, so if you're an extreme mushroom-hater like I am, be sure to ask for it without them.

My typical lunch is drunken noodles with chicken, and I usually get crispy wontons for the appetizer (delicious little fried goodies stuffed with ground chicken and shrimp and served with a sweet dipping sauce.) Although there have been some inconsistencies - a few visits where the meal was on the bland side - the drunken noodles are almost always full of flavor. The basil is the best part.

A lot of people seem to think the ambience is tacky, but I think it has some charm, aside from the broken booth seat on the left side that I usually end up sitting on. The decor might be a little tacky, but I always find it a welcoming break from the cold, full of tasty, quick food and friendly servers.

I just had some leftover drunken noodles, and they were great. This is a huge compliment from me, because I usually really hate leftovers.

Anyway, if you find yourself in Cleveland Circle around lunch time, be sure to check out Bangkok Bistro.

Address: 1952 Beacon St, Brighton (Cleveland Circle stop on the Green Line C or Chestnut Hill stop on the Green Line B)
Phone: 617.739.7270
Bangkok Bistro on Urbanspoon

What do other bloggers think? Check out:
Les Gourmands du South End - Bangkok Bistro: Thai Food at its Best

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mt. Everest Kitchen

You should really just skip this whole blog post and head over to Mt. Everest Kitchen immediately because it's awesome. It's also under new management, so if you've been there in the past, now would be a good time to give it another try. I hadn't been there before, but our server, who just took the restaurant over from his uncle, said that he had redone the interior and was in the middle of revamping the menu.

Not only did my friends and I get to try tasty Nepali food, we also got to learn about the culture. Our server (and the new owner) - I think his name is Amrit - kept bringing out complimentary dishes for us to try as he taught us all about the food, how it is made, how it differs from other similar cuisine, etc.

We started out the meal with Mo-mo (dumplings) - one order of meat dumplings, one veggie. Each order came with one soup. There were four of us and only two soups that were supposed to come with the dumplings, but our server generously threw in a couple extra soups so we could all have one.

We also got several orders of rooti, which we thought was like a "croissant-y naan." It looked and tasted like naan but with an extra flavor, sort of buttery.

While we were filling up on tea, bread, soup, and dumplings, Amrit also brought out some veggies in an orange sauce for us to try. I think the dish is called "achar" and it was a flavor I've never encountered anywhere else. If I'm looking at the correct dish on the menu, the sauce is a roasted sesame seed paste with cilantro, chili, and turmeric.

Finally, we moved on to the main dish, even though I think we were all pretty full already. Ben had a flavorful goat stew. He enjoyed it, but would have liked it to be a little more tender. Meredith had a chicken curry described as "typical Nepalese style" on the menu. It was similar to Indian food, but the Himalayan spices lent a unique flavor. Julia had a vegetarian dish of bamboo shoots and potatoes cooked with Himalayan spices, and I had a delicious lamb and potato curry.

Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, Amrit gave us yet another dish to try - a pumpkin dish. Did you know pumpkins grew in the Himalayas?? I'm not normally a pumpkin fan, but I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. It had the consistency of baby food, but we all found ourselves enjoying it immensely. "It would be a travesty if the baby food went to waste," said Julia as we were all on the verge of giving up on finishing everything.

The ambience was very cozy, featuring nice music and a mouthwatering smell. It was sadly empty the night we were there - no one else came or went throughout our entire meal. Please go check this place out! I really hope it succeeds.

There is a weekend buffet - I'm not sure if it's lunch, dinner, or both - so try a weekend if you're not sure you like Himalayan food. If you like Indian or Pakistani food, though, you'll almost definitely like this too.

Here's a fun fact - I was too busy stuffing my face to pay attention, but Julia recalls Amrit saying that in Nepal, they churn butter using bamboo stalks.

On our way out the door, Amrit gave us some sinus-clearing cloves which we chewed (and some of us spit out) as we walked down the street to the White Horse Tavern for pub trivia.

Address: 182 Brighton Ave in Allston (a pretty short walk from the Harvard Ave stop or the Packard's Corner/Brighton Ave stop on the Green Line B)
Phone: 617-254-4912

Mt. Everest Kitchen on Urbanspoon

What do other bloggers think? Check out:
Les Gourmands du South End: At the peak of good eats at Mt. Everest Kitchen!

A few quick notes before I start writing about food again...

Before I write about the deliciousness that is Mt. Everest Kitchen, just a few quick notes:

1) Sorry for my extended absence.  Grad school is wonderful, challenging, and soul-eating.  I'm now entering my second semester, so hopefully my time management skills have improved and I'll be able to squeeze in some blogging again.  Also, I'm taking Arts Criticism for one of my electives, so hopefully the skills I learn there will help me improve my food writing.

2) I'm probably going to abandon minibites, travelbites, the forkmeter, and other assorted icons/titles/things I've been doing to try to make the blog cute, at least for now, because they were taking up so much time that I began to dread writing blog posts.  I just want to write about food honestly and enthusiastically without spending time worrying about why the transparency doesn't always work on my fork icons, what is a minibite vs. a full review, did this post follow the same format as the previous ones, etc.  So, expect less organization and cute icons but more fun in the blog posts to come.

3) If you are a Boston-based food blogger, food writer, food critic, or any combination of those, please consider joining the Boston Food Bloggers & Writers social network by clicking on that blue icon on the upper left corner of the blog (or just click here.)

And now I will start writing about food again!  A post about Mt. Everest Kitchen in Allston will be appearing shortly :)
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