A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well in Watertown
Just west of Cambridge along the Charles River, Watertown has a strong history as a residential community. It dates back well before Boston settlers fled there during the Revolutionary War, and well before it welcomed one the country’s largest Armenian populations. But these facts inform the city’s current demographics. It’s still home to multigenerational families. It still boasts dozens of independently run, international markets, its shelves stocked with sacks of ground spices and grains, fresh produce, savory pastries, nuts, and dried fruits.
But Watertown is changing. In recent decades, it’s been a logical destination for young professionals looking to settle a little farther from the bright lights of Boston. On the restaurant scene, Strip-T’s led the charge in 2012, when Tim Maslow breathed new energy into his father’s sandwich shop. It might not be Boston’s latest Brooklyn, but development is helping to usher in new culinary interest: Garrett Harker’s there now with Branch Line; Gabriel Bremer is heading somewhere around the city later this year with La Bodega.
Carl Dooley, who grew up in North Cambridge, loves to eat in his adopted hometown. Here, the Table chef and recent Top Chef competitor breaks down Watertown’s old school and new school food scene.
I usually go there for prepared foods. My wife and I make a meal out of all the awesome spreads, breads, and snacks. I could live off of the whipped feta alone. They add a bunch of roasted pepper in there, and chili, and it has this super awesome, hummus-like texture. They bake these flatbreads with za’atar on top, so we grab a loaf of za’atar bread and some marinated olives. They have this really great roasted eggplant with chilis; it’s not quite a babaganoush, but it’s soft and spreadable and it makes for a great picnic, or with a bottle of sparking wine on the deck.
599 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, 617-924-3243, sevanboston.com.
Arax is my go-to for stocking the pantry with fragrant spices, funky pickles, and unique condiments. I always end up getting something I’ve never seen before. These Lebanese turnip pickles, with red wine vinegar and garlic; they sell it by the jar there, and it makes a great addition to Lebanese wraps with falafel. It has a cool funk from the turnip, it’s garlicky and acidic. It’s an awesome condiment for any sandwich. I took that idea, and we’ve done a cool turnip pickle with charcuterie [at the Table]. It has this really cool depth. They have this Iraqi date molasses; that’s the base of the granola bars we give out at the end of a meal [at the Table]. We joke, we call it the “Arax bar,” because of all the spices, the date molasses, the nuts we get there.
The thing I like about Arax, too, is all their spices are really fresh. When you get urfa chili, for example, it has moisture to it, and it’s really fragrant. The produce is fantastic, [too]. Arax is my first stop when I’m cooking dinner at home.
585 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, 617-924-3399.
We go for lunch, but it’s like, 3 o’clock. It’s perfect on my day off. I usually get the eggplant banh mi with fried tofu; it’s super satisfying. The Strip-T’s Caesar is classic, and the grilled romaine with oxtail is so damn good. All their cool izakaya vegetables: We were there last week, and I had these friend Japanese sweet potatoes, and the ramen, which is super, super umami. My wife really likes the ramen, I’ll get a sandwich, and all of a sudden, you have this lunch spread with all these really interesting components. It’s one of the best wine lists in town, too. We had this really funky, sparkling white from Limoges that I’d never seen before.
93 School St., Watertown, 617-923-4330, stripts.com.
It’s the most New York-style pizza anywhere in Watertown. It has this thin, crispy crust on the bottom, with nice chew on the outside crust. The sauce they use is well-balanced. I always go with eggplant, or banana peppers. I get it and walk home, then throw it in the oven for five minutes and the bottom crisps up again. It really feels like a New York slice of pizza.
605 Mt Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-5692, stellaspizza.com.
Branch Line is an awesome addition to Watertown, and one of my new favorite spots to open up. All of the small snacks and sides are interesting and perfectly executed, exactly what I crave on my night off. What stands out about Branch Line is the food is very straightforward, but it’s really well-seasoned. Like the avocado, with oregano and pickled mustard seed, it has these details that are seemingly simple, but delicious and also intriguing. It’s the little things that separate it from another brasserie. The rotisserie drippings with the bread; It’s cheffy stuff like that I appreciate.
321 Arsenal St., Watertown, 617-420-1900, branchlinearsenal.com.
My wife and I start off every weekend with a trip to Linda’s. The doughnuts are really good. Everyone talks about how light their honey glazed are; they’re super poofy. You can just tell they’re handmade. I always get the chocolate cake doughnuts, they have this crusty outside, but it’s not overworked at all. It’s still really cakey, without being chewy. It has a great texture.
It’s a nice, unironic doughnut shop with great doughnuts, they’re cheap. There’s no fanfare. It’s really satisfying. It can be a destination, but people in the neighborhood go there, and it’s a fun family scene.
[Editor’s note: This is in Belmont, but we’ll allow it.]
247 Belmont St., Belmont, 617-484-9844.
New Yorker Diner
My wife and I love getting breakfast at The New Yorker. The food comes out really quickly, it’s always really hot, and there are always, like, two women in there working their butts off running around. I like the vibe in there a lot. You appreciate the hustle: They’ve been there since 5 a.m., and I show up at 11. I like the side of surliness, too.
I usually go with two fried eggs, and I’ll put them on top of the French toast. And like, four cups of coffee. And read the paper. We always try to sit up at the counter. It’s not like Strip T’s, where it’s real Watertown, but there’s this cool vibe. [The New Yorker is] the opposite of trying to be cool. It feels like you’re part of the real Watertown community. It’s no frills, it’s just real.
39 Mt Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-9772.