Estrella Bakery - I've tried the empenadas twice. When they are still hot (even warm), they are quite good. Small, crispy, thin crust, not too greasy. The chicken is my favorite. It reminds me a bit of Cuban recipes that have a hint of sweet (orange juice?). The beef is good as well. The jamaican style beef patty went in the trash. Horrible. Hot dishes look interesting, but like other latin/caribbean restaurants, they tend to sit out all day in chafing dishes. Get it fresh and it might be interesting. Nice service.
Alex's Chimis - I can't get past the roasted chicken. My this is soooo good, highly seasoned and salty. Love the rice with pigeon peas - great flavors - plus the fried plantain is one giant, whole piece. Also boiled yucca, banana and more. About $8-9 for a 1/2 chicken and you get two big meals. Ordering can be a bit tough, even for a direct girl like me.
Zon's - this might be my favorite neighborhood place. I love, love, love sitting at the bar. Staff are warm, friendly, like the most gracious dinner party hosts, making sure everyone gets introduced. And oh, the food is great. Tried the mac and cheese (wow), turkey burger with portabello and gruyere (another winner) and the mashed potatoes are rocking. My favorite may have been a beet salad - mixed greens lightly dressed, cubed beets, (caramelized?) onions, spicy pepitas and a thin blue cheese dressing drizzled sparingly over the top. Yum. They have some weekly deals - I think Tuesdays there is a discount on burgers, meatloaf and mac and cheese - plus a couple of other midweek deals. Nice pricing on beer and wine selections, too.
Hi-Lo - I like it. Perfect source for all the dried beans, hard to find canned ingredients, varied selection of spanish and portuguese olive oils. Frozen fruit in sheets - just like they use at El Oriental to make the batidos. Great for protein shakes at home. The large caribbean avocados are great and ripen really well. Lots of interesting dairy products including some oatmeal drinks, lots of region-specific cheeses, interesting yogurt. (Confession: I'm a junkie for the strawberry yogurt "juice boxes" for kids.) Everyone says 'oh, I'd never buy meat there' - good advice to follow or overly wary? Much of it looks fresh.
El Oriental - The cuban is good, but when I really crave that sandwich, I'll still go to Chez Henri. I do like it far better than the one at Montrose Spa, but I've not yet tried Miami Cafe's version. They offer a simple breakfast, which is very hangover friendly, including a giant pressed cheese sandwich, also simple scrambled eggs with chourico. Cafe con leche is the bomb and when you have it dining in, it comes in a nice big open mug. I'm only allowed to have it on the weekends, because I will easily over-indulge.
JP Licks - The only place you can get a decent cup of dark roast, as far as I can tell. Alternatively, a really bad cup of coffee can be had at City Feed.
Centre Street Cafe - Had a good brunch here, and I really like that they have some healthy menu items. As people say, portions are huge. I haven't had anything that I'd go out of my way for yet, except for their biscuits, which are pretty awesome.
Costello's - I've said it before, I'll say it again: chili cheese fries. The burger is decent, certainly juicy, but I'd go elsewhere if I were having a major craving (probably The Druid for me). The mac and cheese was darn good, too.
Arbor - I've had a couple of really great meals here. Service can be hit or miss, depending on planetary alignment? Wonderful, perfectly dressed salads. I've tried their fattoush and beet salads. Both excellent and worth a repeat visit. Tuna tartare was a little strong on onion for me, I'd pass on that next time. Good soups. Entree portions are big. I've had an excellent piece of fish there - you can customize the sides to go with certain entrees. I recall having the provencal (a nice ratatoille), but there are two others that I cannot recall, one might be middle eastern inspired. The grilled tofu entree is tasty and plentiful. Friend had dessert - I'm not a big sweets person - but wow this was fantastic. A rice pudding with cherry and port reduction, or some such thing. I had to exercise extreme restraint. Nice wine selections and I've heard good things about the cocktails, but haven't indulged yet.
Blue Frog - Delightful woman behind the counter, coffee was tolerable, brioche roll went in the trash. Don't need to go back.
James Gate - I like the pub, but the food is merely passable and I would prefer to go elsewhere. Not quite as much a neighborhood-y feel as Dogwood or Zon's, IMHO.
Harvest Coop - Talk about a love/hate relationship. Bulk items are worth it. The raw almonds here are the tastiest I've had, really. Good source for healthy frozen foods/dinners, fancy yogurts, and "healthy" snacks, but OUCH is the produce expensive and already heading past it's prime for the most part. And some of the eggs are over $4!? C'mon.
Dogwood - Love the feel of this place. Very much a neighborhood spot. Some nice beers on tap, more by the bottle. Wine by the glass (some seemed a little pricier than they should be?). Friendly and attentive service at the bar. People rave about the pizza but I don't think it's worth a special trip. The crusts are not particularly thin, and each of the two times I tried them, the flavors didn't really pop and I needed more salt. For thin crust pizza I'd head to Emma's or Cambridge One. Dogwood does offer a lot of specials, and plenty of healthy alternatives. Early Saturday is family night, so unless you're bringing the kids, steer clear! I want to try their burger and some of the salads.
High on the to-do list:
Cha Fahn, especially the weekend dim sum. The menu looks so very interesting.
Ten Tables - it's been a while since I've been in.
Yely's Coffee shop - hopefully to be tackled very soon.
Where I need help:
Where the @#$%^ can I find a decent grocery store!? Or separate markets for produce vs. meat. What about fish? Right now I'm resolved to get a zipcar and head to Market Basket in Somerville every two weeks. My skin crawls each time I have to go to Stop and Shop. It's really expensive, so is Roche Bros., though a better shopping experience. I've been thinking about taking the bus over to Dudley to go to Tropical Foods, but that place can be hit or miss with produce.