Boston's Best Gourmet Junk Food

By Scott Kearnan  |  June 24, 2014
Credit: Brian Samuels

Our palates have grown much more sophisticated since the days of downing Doritos and gobbling Gushers. But we still have a soft spot for those so-bad-they're-great junk foods everyone knows. Today, chefs are taking inspiration from the packaged-food aisle at restaurants around Boston — either incorporating junk-food items into polished dishes or using high-end ingredients to recreate their favorite junk-food classics. Here are some of the favorite examples we've spotted around town. 

  • Fresh Twinkie at Wink & Nod

    The pop-up duo known as Whisk has taken up semipermanent residence in the kitchen at this South End speakeasy, where they've come up with a delish dessert. Their homemade take on a Twinkie ($8) fills hazelnut sponge cake with brown-butter cream. 

    3 Appleton St.; 617-482-0117

  • Wild Game Frito Chili Pie at Lulu's Allston

    Chef Sarah Wade offers several quirky, junk food-evoking plates at this just-opened Allston newcomer. But we're particularly game for the wild game chili ($10) of boar and buffalo, set on a bed of Fritos chips.

    421 Cambridge St., Allston; 617-787-1117

  • Stacked Donuts & Trademark Tarts

    Stacked, founded by Top Chef and Barbara Lynch Gruppo alum Stephanie Cmar, and Trademark, launched by Mass Farmers Markets director of development Justin Burke-Samson, have recently been partnering on pop-ups under the shared moniker Party of Two. Stay on top of weekend schedules for the duo, which has recently appeared at restaurants like The Merchant, Commonwealth and Fairsted Kitchen. Their thoughtful, quirky takes on "lowbrow" fare like donuts and Pop-Tarts are something to behold — and inhale. 

  • The Future of Junk Food

    If you want ultracreative, chef-driven takes on junk food, this pop-up series is ground zero. It's the brainchild of jm Curley alum Sam Monsour (a recent winner of Guy's Grocery Games) and Mark O'Leary, formerly of jm Curley and O Ya. Recent installments at Emerald Lounge and East by Northeast have included treats like a "Snickers" bar that replaced nougat with chicken-liver mousse, a "Handi-Snack" made with foie gras, pear and a candied Campari stick and "Flamin' Hot Cheetos" of pig ears, uni and lardo. Tickets are sold out for tonight's chain restaurant-inspired outing at KO Catering & Pies, but keep an eye on social media for their next appearance from these trendsetters. 

  • Curley's Cracka' Jack at jm Curley

    Before launching The Future of Junk Food, Monsour was chef at this Downtown gastropub. And it continues to offer some inventive junk food-inspired dishes, including the now-signature take on Cracker Jack ($6): a bag of caramel-candied popcorn, roasted peanuts and bacon with a toylike trinket inside. 

    21 Temple Pl.; 617-338-5333

  • Mac & Cheese at The Tip Tap Room 

    There are some new toques in the kitchen at Tip Tap Room: Clio alum Douglas Rodrigues quietly stepped in as exec chef this year, and yesterday we learned that former BoMA chef Ryan Kelly, one of our recent 30 Under 30 honorees, has joined as sous. We can't wait to see what they have in store, but here's hoping they leave one of our favorite guilty pleasures: this take on the classic ($13) mac 'n' cheese that uses PBR beer cheese, crumbled Ritz crackers and actual Cheez-Its. 

    138 Cambridge St.; 857-350-3344

  • Sriracha Popcorn Shrimp at Legal Sea Foods

    You'll find this appetizer ($9.95) at all Legal locations. Popcorn shrimp is served with actual popcorn (kettle style) in a retro bag, accompanied by a side of spicy Sriracha mayo. 

  • Moxie-glazed lamb belly at Puritan & Company

    We've tracked down a few different restaurants that use soda as an ingredient, but our favorite is still chef Will Gilson's lamb belly ($14), slow roasted in a bittersweet Moxie soda and orange glaze. It sits on eggplant purée and a red pepper sauce.

    1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge; 617-615-6195

  • Ice Cream Sandwiches at Uni

    Ken Oringer's upscale sashimi bar cuts loose with its late-night ramen menu, offered Friday and Saturday nights from 11 PM-2 AM. Naturally pastry chef Monica Glass, a Food & Wine Best New Pastry Chef honoree in 2013, tweaks her typically sophisticated desserts to match, offering ice cream sandwiches ($3) with rotating flavors like Fluffernutter (strawberry cookies with peanut butter and fluff ice cream) and chocolate cookies sandwiching white-chocolate-mint ice cream. 

    370 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-536-7200

  • Classy Jell-O shots at Emerald Lounge

    As a kid, it was a mysteriously gelatinous birthday-party treat. In college, it was the harbinger of hangovers. We tip our hat to the Revere Hotel Boston Common, which this summer introduced a take on Jell-O shots ($6) that use "classy" (their word) combinations cocktail lovers might actually enjoy, including watermelon basil, blackberry ginger limeade and champagne sangria. They even come in mini martini glasses, and you can grab them in the Emerald Lounge or poolside Rooftop @ Revere

    200 Stuart St.; 617-457-2626

  • Oven Fried Ritzy Chicken at Modern Rotisserie

    Much as we love the massive variety of soups at New England Soup Factory, we're most easily baited to the Newton location's Modern Rotisserie concept. There the Oven Fried Ritzy Chicken uses coarsely crumbled buttery Ritz Crackers as a tasty and fun crust. It's drizzled with a side of tangy Carolina aïoli. 

    244 Needham St., Newton; 617-558-9988