With summer coming to a rapid close, Bostonians are road-tripping with a vengeance, which gives us an excuse to get out of town, too. We also wanted to pay some small tribute to our food-writing hero, LA’s brilliant Jonathan Gold, who died in July. While it’s impossible to match Gold’s lyrical, Pulitzer-winning prose, meticulous research and profound grasp of a thousand traditional foodways, we can honor his spirit by ditching our fancy-urban-restaurant beat for the kind of out-of-the-way joints that Gold especially loved and evangelized. With summer on the wane, now’s the time to get out of Boston and eat something new-to-you. Tell ’em the ghost of J. Gold sent you.
Husband-and-wife owners Bunsreng Sok and Seak Ly Kong operate this modest storefront a couple of blocks from Revere Beach. The delectable aromas hit the second you step inside: stir-fried meats, grilled fish, a battery of rich aromatics and spices (lemongrass, cardamom, chilies and funky prahok, the fermented fish paste). Take a tour of the fresh, insistent flavors of this underserved Southeast Asian cuisine with the fiery beef-and-peppers salad that is tiger tear ($12), a tangy/chili-hot salad of shredded unripe papaya with shrimp ($7.50), a beautifully fried whole fish in ginger sauce ($19) and a sprightly, chili-laden salad of pork larb with pepper, onion and mint ($11).
144 Shirley Ave., Revere (781-286-2554) Hours: Wed.-Mon., 9 am-8 pm; Liquor: None; Parking: Metered street spaces
It doesn’t look like much, this six-table storefront with orange stucco walls and a weathered linoleum floor, secreted in a residential neighborhood well away from Waltham’s famed main-drag restaurant rows. But it is hard to find more amazing traditional Mexican tacos in Greater Boston, starting with a plate of four tacos de cabeza especiales ($8), built from a double layer of soft corn tortillas, a rich and tender braise of beef cheek, classical sprinklings of chopped white onions, cotija cheese and fresh cilantro, and a “special” crown of fresh avocado slices. Alongside fine renditions of tortas, burritos and quesadillas, don’t overlook El Amigo’s brilliant chiles rellenos ($10) and the weekends-only hangover cure that is menudo ($6.50, small; $10.50, large), a restorative, tomatoey stew of beef tripe.
196 Willow St., Waltham (781-642-7410) Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 am-10 pm; Liquor: None; Parking: Free street spaces
At this wee strip-mall Thai eatery in residential Billerica, chef/owner Phummisat Arthornprachachid serves both the Northern cuisine of his native Chang Rai and the far-south dishes of wife/co-owner/general manager Dhanawan Liamthong, from her native Narathiwat near the Malaysian border. If the bland, overly sweet flavors of Americanized suburban Thai bore you senseless, proceed directly to this place for shockingly vivid, flavorful versions of tom yum soup with shrimp ($6), lime-zippy, chili-hot chicken larb ($7), a coconut-milk rich bowl of some-crisp, some-tender noodles in khao soi ($12-$15) and the brilliant fatty-chewy-crisp texture and mix of garlic, bright basil and chili fire in crispy pork basil ($13.50).
258 Salem Road, Unit 5, Billerica (978-362-1296) khaohomthaipho.com; Hours: Tue.-Sat., 11:30 am-9 pm, Sun., noon-9 pm; Liquor: None; Parking: Free lot
Chef/owner Zamir Kociaj originally hails from Albania, but learned to cook in Florence, Italy, and his picture-perfect trattoria is the only place we’ve found near Boston that nails the inventive, frugality-driven cocina povera of Tuscany. Kociaj starts with great ingredients and knows not to mess with them too much, creating heartwarming dishes like chicken-liver-pate crostini ($10), beautiful burrata ($14), the wondrous leftover-bread stew that is ribollita toscana ($9) and eight sublime pasta dishes—notably a stunning bucatini alla carrettiera ($17)—and a brilliantly simple grilled rib-eye ($28). Throw in some nice-priced wines and the warm hospitality of a genuine family-owned joint, and you can practically taste the Tuscan sunshine.
2 Lynde St., Salem (978-219-1188) firenzesalem.com; Hours: Mon.-Sat., 4:30-10 pm; Liquor: Wine and beer; Parking: Metered street spaces
The New England “Coney Island”-style of dressing the all-American wiener really mashes our nostalgia buttons: a small frank served on a pillowy, steamed, split-top bun, topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions and a sauce of spicily seasoned, finely chopped beef. Nick’s, located in the middle of rugged former mill town Fall River, looks every inch as careworn as its nearly 100 years would suggest, down to its seating: ancient grade-school desks. Beyond getting the essential armload of these lightweight, wolfable weenies ($1.40 each, six for $7), consider adding a stuffed quahog ($2), onion rings ($3), quality hand-cut fries ($2.25-$3.25) and a sweet, ice-cold glass of coffee milk ($1.50-$1.80). Non-dog-lovers should opt for the caçoila sub ($4.10), the Azorean-American answer to pulled pork.
534 S. Main St., Fall River (508-677-3890) nicksconey.com; Hours: Sun.-Wed., 10 am-midnight, Thu., 10-1 am, Fri.-Sat., 10-3 am; Liquor: None; Parking: Metered street spaces
Amid a ridiculously scenic, sleepy seaside farming village, this weathered-shingle diner is a rare hive of activity. Expect an old-timey lineup of midcentury culinary Americana, food that your great-grandparents would recognize and love: calf’s liver with bacon and onions ($12), a heap of littleneck clams over linguini ($14), a canonical, mayo-dressed lobster salad roll ($20) and the South Coast oddity that is the chow mein sandwich ($9), complete with a layer of crunchy noodles. The quintessential dish here is a five-high stack of plate-sized, thin, lacey-edged johnnycakes ($7), a breakfast pancake made from white-flint cornmeal with origins in native Algonquian cuisine; spring for the $2 real-maple-syrup upgrade or drizzle with the more traditional honey.
48 Commons, Little Compton, Rhode Island (401-635-4388) Hours: Mon.-Wed., 6 am-3 pm, Thu. and Sun., 7 am-7 pm, Fri.-Sat., 6 am-8 pm; Liquor: Beer and wine; Parking: Free street spaces