The secret to eating well in Boston on a budget? Go ethnic. Consider this your cheat sheet: 35 ethnic restaurants – and dishes – you can’t afford to miss.
Martsa on Elm
WHAT TO ORDER Papri chaat, $4.75 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD The word chaat describes a whole category of savory Indian snack plates based on fried dough. Martsa wins points for its authenticity, topping a salad of potato, chickpeas, and crispy wafers with not just the usual chutney and yogurt sauce, but also a bracing hit of chili and cumin and a sprinkling of black rock salt. You may never go back to nachos. 233 Elm St., Somerville, 617-666-0660.
SO YOU’VE GOT…$10
at Porter Square Books
WHAT TO ORDER Soft rolls, three for $6 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD When the Cambridge restaurant Indochine closed a few years ago, regulars lamented the loss of their luscious vegetarian summer rolls, which turned a tofu, noodle, and mushroom filling into a meaty, silky, virtuous treat. Now retired, the former owners still deliver rolls to this neighborhood bookstore café every day. And to see customers descend on the tray, you’d think it was a bank run. Get there before 1:30 to guarantee your take. 25 White St., Cambridge, 617-497-9464, portersquarebooks.com/cafe-zing.
WHAT TO ORDER Rice with butter and sumac, $6 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD The fragrant basmati rice (which accompanies Lala Rokh’s kebabs but can be ordered solo) is boiled, steamed, and baked to fluffy perfection. The hot granules are tossed with knobs of butter and sprinkled with dried sumac tableside, adding a tangy — and revelatory — bit of brightness. 97 Mount Vernon St., Boston, 617-720-5511, lalarokh.com.
New England Soup Factory
WHAT TO ORDER Chicken soup with matzo balls, $6.25 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD Cow parts, apparently. According to chef and co-owner Marjorie Druker, the secret to her chicken broth isn’t chicken at all, but veal bones, which contribute deep flavor notes that fowl alone can’t muster. Schmaltz-smeared matzo balls — lightened with whipped egg whites, yet still firm — elevate her take on this classic Jewish cold remedy. 2–4 Brookline Place, Brookline, 617-739-1695, newenglandsoupfactory.com.
WHAT TO ORDER Spicy dry-fried chicken wings, $6.75 (dozen) WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD A variation on Chinatown’s "spicy dry-fried" you-name-it (squid, shrimp, pork…), these are salty as hell, yet rely on crisp skin rather than breading for their crunch. Swapping out hot sauce and blue cheese for dark-charred garlic and fresh jalapeño, they’re arguably the tastiest wings in town. 58 Beach St., Boston, 617-338-1368.
WHAT TO ORDER Dolmades, $6.95 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD Blame the ubiquitous meze platter for giving stuffed grape leaves a bad name. A far cry from those dense, acidic "rice pickles" (served at least 40 degrees too cold), Steve’s leaves are thoroughly rinsed of brine, stuffed loosely with seasoned ground meat and soft rice, gently heated, then slathered with a warm, creamy avgolemono sauce. 316 Newbury St., Boston, 617-267-1817, stevesgreek.com.