6 Overrated Food Icons in Boston

By Scott Kearnan  |  August 11, 2014
Credit: Courtesy of Shake Shack

"Overrated" dining is in the eye (mouth?) of the beholder. So over the last week we took to Twitter to ask Boston: what places, plates and trends don't live up to the hype? Based on some of the responses, we've pulled together this list. Dead on? Off base? Tell us in the comments.

  • Pastries at Flour Bakery + Cafe 

    Why They're Iconic: Through cookbooks, her quartet of Flour spots, and her Asian-fusion restaurant Myers + Chang, chef-owner Joanne Chang has become one of Boston's biggest names. And those famous sticky buns? Hyperbole is merited. 

    Why They're Overrated: Let's be clear. "Overrated" doesn't mean "bad." It doesn't even mean "not good." More than quality, it refers to  the distance between "expectations" and "reality." With that in mind, some would suggest that this mini-empire slightly suffers from its own success. When the original South End location opened in 2000, it was a uniquely chef-driven cafe in a rapidly changing, upscale-trending neighborhood. Now the South End is flush with similar foodie-friendly options, like the lovely South End Buttery. And Flour has added three additional locations in Boston and Cambridge, where the bar for new eateries continues to be set higher and higher. Sweet success? Absolutely. Consistently good? Sure. But in a more crowded cafe market, there's sometimes a sense that Flour's long lines and fawning raves — "These scones are ah-mazing!" — rely in large part on a long-standing reputation.  

  • Credit: Courtesy Barbara Lynch Gruppo

    "Fancy" Lobster Rolls

    Why They're Iconic: Because this is New England, where an obsession (real or imagined) with lobster has become something of a culinary cliché. 

    Why They're Overrated: Because sometimes the price tags feel a little obscene. We love Barbara Lynch — but $29 for a relatively small roll at B&G Oysters? $27 for Neptune Oyster's famous take? Did King Midas make that mayo? Rolls are a charming way to enjoy a dialed-down, quick-serve version of a lobster feast. When price tags start to miss the point, we're tempted to take ourselves to a no-frills joints like James Hook & Co., where a $14 favorite does just fine.  

  • The "Speakeasy" Concept

    Why It's Iconic: Because the craft-cocktail renaissance made us nostalgic for old-timey establishments we never actually experienced. "Speakeasy" bars became ubiquitous. 

    Why It's Overrated: Because unless the establishment is actually unmarked (and, you know, illegal), "speakeasy" is a misnomer. And for a city with such a vibrant cocktail culture, there's no reason Boston needs to look solely to the past for inspiration. Something we're really excited for? The soon-to-be bar program from Clio alum (and Mr. Wizard of mixology) Todd Maul at Cafe ArtScience, opening soon near MIT by Dr. David Edwards, Harvard professor and founder of futuristic WikiFoods

  • Credit: Courtesy of Shake Shack

    Shake Shack

    Why It's Iconic: Since launching as a food cart in 2000, Shake Shack has received a lot of credit for kick-starting the fast-casual burger trend. It combined expeditious service with higher-end ingredients like Pat LaFrieda beef, the same meat used by parent company Union Square Hospitality Group at its upscale restaurants like Gramercy Tavern. The burger world has never been the same.

    Why It's Overrated: When Shake Shack opened its first Boston-area location in Chestnut Hill last year, it felt like a high holiday; a similar response greeted international outpost #40 when it came to Harvard Square last winter. Is Shake Shack good? Yes. But by now, plenty of locally based brands like Tasty Burger and UBurger have followed in its fast-casual footsteps and, depending on your taste, do it as well or better. A global chain by any other name...

  • Pizza at Santarpio's

    Why It's Iconic: A charmingly divelike dining room. A cash-only policy. Salty service. An always-motley mix of guests. "You gotta try it" cachet. East Boston's famed Santarpio's has everything you're looking for in an iconic pizza parlor. 

    Why It's Overrated: Bostonians love local legacies, and that Santarpio's is an institution is a big part of its appeal. (The place opened in 1903.) But local color only gets you so far, and though there are plenty of diehards who proclaim it the single "must-go" pizza destination for visiting out-of-towners, there's a not-too-vocal minority that asks: what's so special?

  • The North End

    Why It's Iconic: For good reason. It's Boston's oldest neighborhood, filled with history (oh hey, Paul Revere House) and a vibrant, storied Italian-American community. The densely packed restaurant scene bustles nightly. Plus, have you seen these streets? Postcard-perfect. 

    Why It's Overrated: We don't want to knock the North End. There are plenty of legitimately great restaurants, but the sheer number of eateries in such a small area dictates that the ratio of "awesome" to "eh" may favor the latter. If you don't know where you're going, it's a crapshoot — so check out recent North End neighborhood guide, which covers authentic favorites, the best of the tourist types (there's a place for those) and some of the more contemporary newcomers that are doing something different.