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[Cheap Eats]

Faneuil Hall food court
Beyond the grease, there’s greatness

on the cheap
608 El Rancho Grande Restaurant Caesar’s Pizza & Subs Steve’s Kitchen Dok Bua

Okay, so you can’t go home again, but can you return to the Faneuil Hall food court (a/k/a the Colonnade)? For the child being led by the mitten — and the child in the adult who’s doing the leading — the fun of the place is all in the sensory overload: the bright logos and riotous displays; the smells of frying, bubbling, puffing things; the overflow of calls, cries, and laughter. But all too often the nostalgic thrill and magic of this neon wonderland dissolve with the first taste of some deceitful tidbit, comely on the outside but stale and greasy to the core. To salvage the experience, let Nancy and me be your guides.

Nancy’s a homeless woman who asked for the remainder of my $9 lobster roll, but pushed it away after two bites, sniffing, " It’s crab stick. " After we agreed that some hummus smacked of plastic, I asked her what she’d recommend instead. " The chowder, " she assured me, " is very good. "

And so it was. Boston Chowda Co.’s signature item actually tastes as though some thought went into its preparation; each velvety spoonful of my small-but-sufficient cup was studded with goodly chunks of clam and potato ($2.75). And from there I managed to discover a few other honest goodies. There’s the Monkey Bar’s orange-and-cream shake ($3.50), a luscious homage to the Creamsicle. There’s the chicken shwarma at West End Strollers, glowing red with the spice rub that supplies its smoky kick. Mine topped a plain green salad ($5.71), but the specialty is featured in several dishes, including wraps. Then there’s the Bombay Club: though no match for its highly respectable parent in Harvard Square, it does have on-site tandoori ovens in which to prepare decent dosas ($6–$7) — thick, fluffy Indian wraps — and the chicken biryani ($6.50), when freshly made, is quite succulent. I even dug Al Mercatino’s cheese-tortellini pasta salad with broccoli and red peppers, bathed in a caesar-esque dressing ($5.50). As for dessert, the chocolate-buttercream brownie at Kiwert & Forbes ($2.95) is just this side of fudge in its rich moistness, with surprisingly fresh and light frosting.

If you still can’t decide, look for Nancy and ask her for advice.

Issue Date: January 3-10, 2002

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