A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well in Jamaica Plain
Once dubbed the “Eden of America,” Jamaica Plain still evokes a kind of verdant getaway from the bustling towns and neighborhoods to the north. With idyllic Jamaica Pond and a large chunk of Frederick Law Olmstead’s seven-mile Emerald Necklace located within its borders, JP can feel like an all-too pleasant respite from the city.
In that same spirit, Jamaica Plain’s eclectic population of artists, writers, political activists, and musicians have established a wholly unique commune free from the banal. Diverse boutiques and indie shops have snuffed out chains and the blight of big business. Fine dining and casual restaurants stray from the norm, serving everything from Cuban mofongo to Scottish haggis and Lebanese batata harra. And unlike Somerville, a community analogous to its youthful demographic, “Jamaica Plain is still not too expensive,” says Brian Rae, executive chef at Centre Street Cafe.
“It’s just the best little neighborhood,” Rae says. “We’re definitely young and laid-back, and I think the area really benefits from not being connected to any one school. If you’re around Harvard or MIT everything seems to revolve around being close them. Here, we’re not on the way to anywhere. We’re surrounded by parks and green land, and we’re pretty insulated.”
We asked Rae and longtime JP resident Tiffani Faison (Sweet Cheeks Q) to take us around to their favorite places to eat, whether for a casual take-out meal at home, a quick bite before hopping on the T, or a more intimate fine dining experience. Here are their picks for the best burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and yet-undiscovered pho hotspots in all of Jamaica Plain.
Faison: Many moons ago, this was Perdix. Krista Kranyak bought it from Tim Partridge and has successfully turned it into a neighborhood classic. She expanded the space to include a bar a few years ago, which has allowed a more casual, impromptu dining experience. It’s one of my favorite places in the winter because it’s beautifully lit, intimate, and has a true neighborhood vibe. The wine selections are unique, the food is seasonal and honest, and the staff is always wonderful and knowledgeable.
597 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-524-8810 or tentables.net.
JP Seafood Cafe
Faison: No JP list would be complete without including JP Seafood. It’s reliable, close, and great for the money. From time to time, they have had uni so spectacularly fresh I’ve nearly fallen out of my seat. I also love the Ok-Dol Bibimbap. The crunchy rice on the bottom of the bowl mixed with the hot tang of gochujang is so satisfying, it’s inspired countless trips from my house. I live only 20 yards away, but still!
Rae: This is a cool little spot that used to just be one small storefront. Recently, they purchased the space next to it and made this really modern bar with a huge community table. The sushi is really freaking good! And for some reason, that’s something that’s hard to find in Boston. All the food is great—especially the deep fried green beans—but the sushi and sashimi are what I go for. Check out the caterpillar roll and the mackerel nigiri.
730 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-983-5177 or jpseafoodcafe.com.
The Blue Nile
Faison: I’m a sucker for Injera. I also just like eating with my hands, particularly veggies that are craveable. This tiny little nook is reliable for a great meal that doesn’t break the bank and it keeps me from feeling like a jerk when I inevitably eat too much. As a general rule, I really like Ethopian food and the Vegetarian Revenge for two people provides all the variety I need.
389 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-522-6453
Wonder Spice Cafe
Rae: Wonder spice is great for both eat-in or takeout. When we were setting up the restaurant [Centre Street Cafe], I would eat lunch there all the time, but in general it’s me and my wife’s go-to place for Thai at home. I get a lot of stir noodle dishes like the pad thai and drunken noodles. But the dish to really look out for is this thing they call “Crispy Fish,” which is just super fried white fish pieces served in a really garlicky sauce with green beans and broccoli. It’s so awesome!
697 Centre St., Boston; 617-522-0200
Faison: When Dave Doyle added a full service Spanish restaurant to his book and music store in 2011, he filled a giant hole that we didn’t even know we had. I can’t imagine JP without Tres Gatos now. It has so seamlessly become a landmark in the neighborhood. Last year Nevin Taylor took over at the helm with great success. It’s such a fun thing to watch a talented young chef stretch their wings right in front of you. The menu isn’t as large anymore, but there aren’t any misses, so you don’t miss all the options.
Rae: There’s nothing better than looking through old records and sipping on wine while waiting for a table. I’ve always liked the food at Tres Gatos, but I think Nevin [Taylor] has really been doing a phenomenal job since he took over. My favorites dishes are the lamb bocadillo with cilantro salsa verde and the stewed pork with tomato and egg at brunch. Also, the tortilla española is so good, I don’t think they’ll ever be able to take it off the menu. I think the neighborhood would honestly freak out.
470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-477-4851 or tresgatosjp.com.
El Oriental de Cuba
Faison: Just before the rotary, there are a smattering of Cuban restaurants. El Oriental de Cuba is the best one. Their Cuban sandwich is a thing of beauty: crunchy and crisp on the outside with hammy, porky, mustard-y goo on the inside. The ham and chicken croquettes are also a favorite along with the specials that are posted along the walls. They have been an institution in JP for many, many years and are just about the nicest people I’ve ever met. They also double as my sometimes coffee shop. Grab a cafe con leche to-go in the morning.
416 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-524-6464
Rae: This is one of my more recent discoveries. They’ve been in Jamaica Plain for a while, but I just started going there about a year-and-a-half ago, and the food is really solid. My wife and I had been trying to go there for a long time, but they’re closed on Mondays, which is usually the only day I have off. They have this amazing fried chicken on Tuesdays, but they tend to sell out of it really quickly. They also have these amazing fish cakes on their brunch menu that are served with Boston baked beans and a lemon aioli. I crave it every weekend now.
763 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-522-0145 or veeveejp.com.
Faison: This is my absolute favorite cafe in JP. Korinn Koslofsky owns this adorable little spot. If you haven’t had her popovers, you haven’t lived. All of the pastries and sandwiches are delicious and the coffee is perfect. They’re always running creative seasonal drink specials and the staff is kind and truly reflects the neighborhood. Oh, and the breakfast sandwich is one of the best bites in Boston—house-made brioche, bacon, maple rosemary sauce, cabot sharp cheddar, and egg. It’s unbelievable!
284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain; 617-524-7890 or ulacafe.com.
Rae: Canto 6 is the little bakeshop on Washington Street that’s right near my house and on the way to the T. Every morning they put out this huge spread of things they’ve just baked: three different kinds of croissants, baked doughnuts, stuffed brioche, fresh scones, and streusel. I like to stop by on my way to work for an espresso and a cranberry oat bar. I always try to get a ham and gruyere croissant, but they’re so good they’re usually sold out.
3346 Washington St., Jamaica Plain; 617-983-8688 or canto6bakeryjp.com.
Rae: The Haven is a standout pub with traditional Scottish food. I like it because it’s this tiny little den where you can grab a beer and hide from the world, because it’s located in this weird corner of JP. The Finnan Haddie croquettes with pepper aioli are phenomenal and the burger may be the best in all of Jamaica Plain. It’s always cooked perfectly and it’s topped with a bacon-onion marmalade and this house pickle sauce, which is just really good. The Scotch egg is also legit. I used to eat a lot of Scotch eggs when I worked in Vegas. There was a great English pub around the corner from where I worked, and I would go there after hours specifically to eat their Scotch egg. The Haven’s version is the only one I’ve tasted since that’s been on that level.
2 Perkins St., Jamaica Plain; 617-524-2836 or thehavenjp.com.
Faison: This is one of my favorite spots for a quick and easy dinner. It’s roasted chicken and it’s cheap. I order the chicken with two sides, usually rice and sweet plantains, then grab a big salad from Whole Foods across the street. Always grab some extra of their vinegar-y sauce. The whole meal is $17. You can’t beat it.
358 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-522-5201 or alexchimis.com.
Rae: This place opened up sometime around October of last year. They really do awesome pho and banh mi sandwiches, so everyone from our restaurant has been eating there a lot. I love the Pho Dac Biet with rare beef and tripe. I like things spicy, so I add in a bunch of my own sliced jalapenos, cilantro, hoisin, and lime juice. The broth is just awesome and spiced perfectly. They obviously toast their own fresh spices because it really comes through when you take a big whiff.
707 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; noodlebarn.com.
Centre Street Cafe
Faison: Speaking of Dave Doyle and Tres Gatos, he recently bought Centre Street Cafe and transformed it from a brunch spot with a mind-bogglingly long wait, to a beautiful and sweet Italian spot. I’ve only been once since it reopened, but it has all the early indicators of being a real gem. Keith Harmon and Brian Rae, formerly of Rialto, are heading up the front. So, I couldn’t feel luckier that it’s a stone’s throw from my house. Brian’s meatballs and his pasta dishes are all really good.
669A Centre St., Boston; 617-524-9217 or centrestreetcafejp.com.
Rae: City feed is the spot for great sandwiches. They do this hot-pressed ham and cheese with mustard and a whole pickle spear, which is just awesome. I love to swing by in the morning for coffee and one of their breakfast sandwiches on English muffin. They also just started selling beer, so when I have a day off, I’ll go by and grab a sandwich and a 22 ounce bomber and just waste away the afternoon.
672 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-524-1700 or cityfeedandsupply.com.