The 20 Essential Asian Restaurants*
…and the can’t-miss dishes that will have you trekking all over the city.
This is the rare restaurant that focuses on two cuisines—in this case, Thai and Vietnamese—and does both equally well. So go ahead and try a little bit of everything: vampire-slaying papaya salad, spicy ground chicken pad gra pow with basil, and complex cinnamon beef curry (pictured below) from the Thai side, and the sweet-and-sour canh chua soup and bun noodles topped with spring rolls and pork from the Vietnamese portion.
177 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 617-262-5377, phobasil.com.
The pork-and-leek and vegetarian dumplings tend to get most of the attention at this northern Chinese specialist on Mass. Ave. (you can purchase them frozen to go), but there’s lots more to love here—most of it involving cilantro. The herb can be found accenting dishes like fragrant cumin lamb and, stems and all, in a plate of pork and bamboo shoots. Cilantro even gets stuffed, along with beef, into a flaky flour pancake to create an Asian take on the hamburger.
2382 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-492-7540, qingdaogarden.com.
S&I to Go
How can you tell the pad si ew here is good? The flavor-packed wok char (and dusting of black pepper) that you’ll find on each wide noodle and slice of Chinese broccoli. Other standouts include the ground-chicken larb—studded with enough chilies to make you grateful for the accompanying mouth-calming sticky rice—and the chili-sauced crispy duck with basil.
168A Brighton Ave., Allston, 614-254-8488, sandi.thaifooddirect.com.
The Lion’s Head casserole—a softball-size meatball in an umami-rich broth—makes for an impressive starter. But the crown jewel of the chef’s-specials menu is the “sizzling eggplant in pork-and-garlic sauce.” Picture two whole Chinese eggplants, hissing with heat, on a foil-wrapped platter, gill-like slits stuffed with ground pork and sausage, all doused with a garlicky sauce. Add scallion jellyfish and cucumbers with ginger sauce, and you’ve got one of the best meals in town.
204 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-566-7344, shanghaigateboston.com.
It’s easy to breeze past this Japanese restaurant’s unassuming orange awning, but seek it out, and you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful selection of traditional dishes—cloudlike cubes of lightly fried agedashi tofu; zaru soba, or buck-wheat noodles with a sweet-salty soy-based dipping sauce; and broiled hamachi kama (yellow-tail collar) packed with so much meat, you can pick it off the bone like a rack of pork ribs.
9 Babcock St., Brookline, shikibrookline.com.