Nestled among the usual suspects in the handful of streets that make up Boston’s Chinatown, the unassuming stark contemporary exterior of Shojo leads into a dimly-lit interior. I knew this restaurant would be different because it wasn’t advertising dim sum on the outside or painted in red and/or gold. Inside, the street art inspired graphics on the interior walls also conveyed the impression that this was not your usual Chinese take-out.
Shojo is an Asian fusion restaurant in the heart of Boston’s Chinatown. The tables are small and close together dimly lit by cage lights. There’s a hip bar area that sells craft beers, sake and creative cocktails. The executive chef, Mark O’Leary, has an established reputation for great food in other Boston restaurants. I discovered this gem thanks to my blogging friends, The Two Riveras, twins who are food bloggers with impeccable taste.
A contemporary exterior
Exposed brick walls, street art and cage lights. All very achingly hip.
I LOVED their kimchi fried rice. The kimchi is house made and had just the right amount of kick. Other fusion options are Shojiko Chicken Tacos, Duck-Fat Fries (in a spicy Sriracha aioli). You can get the fries ‘shadowless’ as well – a variation that is a meal in itself and the winner of Boston Magazine’s 2015 Starch Madness winner. Here’s a general recipe for Shadowless Fries if you feel like trying it yourself.
Kimchi Fried Rice – Amazing!
The plates are small and served tapas-style which is also very different from the heaping piles of food served in traditional Chinese restaurants. On the other hand, the Chinese sensibility of sharing plates is still maintained. Truth be told, I didn’t really want to share my kimchi fried rice but had to play nice with the Two Riveras. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to share the Shojonator burger either (a burger topped with kimchi Velveeta) which is on my list for when I visit Shojo next.
A small but select menu
Ramen with tiki cups – why not?
Shojo Boston is open 6 days a week (closed Sundays). The menu is available online although they do point out the right to change their menu if they feel like it. They’ve also been voted among Boston’s Best food and drink places by the Improper Bostonian. I loved Shojo so much I went back twice in the one week I was in Boston earlier this year.
Street art inspired walls
It’s a fun new take on Chinese food for a younger crowd. I’m not surprised that they don’t even bother to open on a Sunday when traditionally you go out with the family for dim sum. The family dim sum scene is so not their style. Yet, the flavours are traditional and not out of keeping with the neighbourhood. Although try hard, I have to say I loved it.
This post is linked up with City Tripping and Wednesday Wanderlust.
I’ve been on this mission to check out the Chinatown in whichever city I find myself. Earlier this year, I had a chance to check out Boston’s small but historic Chinatown.
Cool Facts About Boston’s Chinatown
- The Chinatown in Boston is the third largest in the United States. Only the Chinatowns in New York and San Francisco are bigger. Presumably the size is determined by population density because the actual area is only a few square blocks between the financial and theatre districts.
In the shadow of the high rise buildings
- Although this area is the only Chinatown left in New England, the neighbourhood increasingly is subject to gentrification. The swanky new high-rises being built in the neighbourhood attract non-Asians.
- Boston’s Chinatown was built on top of reclaimed land. Like many other immigrant neighbourhoods in the United States, the area was first settled by English settlers before they moved out to other areas. The neighbourhood has also welcomed other Asian immigrants especially the Vietnamese.
The times they are a-changing.
- Ping on Alley was where the first Chinese settlers set up a tent city. They had come east after helping to build the Transcontinental Railroad. As I mentioned in a previous post on Hell on Wheels Towns, the Central Pacific railroad had preferred hiring the quieter Chinese workers instead of the hard-drinking Irish hired by the Union Pacific railroad.
- The first restaurant in the area was called Hong Far Low. I just love that name (I know very childish of me). Also, how can you not love a Chinese restaurant called Double Chin?
Lots of body parts on this corner.
- The best reason to visit Chinatown is authentic Chinese food (as opposed to the Americanised chains like Panda Express or PF Changs). This June 2015 list from the Boston Globe gives their rundown of the best places to eat and what to order in the area. My favourite restaurant is Shojo (on the list) for a contemporary take on old favourites.
- There are still over 30 family associations in Chinatown. These associations were used by Chinese immigrants in the past to help them settle into their new homeland.
- The traditional Chinatown gate (paifang) is located at Beach Street and Surface Road. It was a gift from the government of Taiwan to mark the area’s centennial anniversary. It’s got a foo lion on each side of the gate as a protective symbol.
Cute but protective
- Right near the Chinatown gate is the new Rose Kennedy Greenway. One of the Greenway parks is the Chinatown Park. The park has lots of Asian-inspired planting (think bamboo), a water feature and a liberal use of the colour red. It’s a charming place to sit and eat the takeaway food you got in Chinatown itself.
A Photo Gallery of Boston’s Chinatown
A detail from the gate
A mural in a parking lot
McDonald’s with a pagoda roof – just trying to fit into the neighbourhood.
Colorful street art
Located in the historic centre of Boston, the Omni Parker House has been called the most haunted hotel in New England. As the oldest working hotel in the United States, its walls have seen a lot of history.
The original hotel, Parker House, was built by a man named Harvey D. Parker in 1855. It has had an illustrious 160 year old history some of which has given rise to the reports of hauntings.
Hauntings at the Omni Parker House
- The area may have been haunted even before the hotel was built on the site. In 1770, British soldiers got into a skirmish with some locals who were sledding on the hill where the hotel is now located. In the gunshots which were subsequently fired, apparently five children were killed.
Image: Rachel James
- Hotel room 303 was the inspiration for Stephen King’s short story 1408 about a haunted hotel room. The story was turned into the movie 1408 in 2007 starring John Cusack.
- After a travelling liquor salesman killed himself in room 303, guests kept complaining about the smell of whiskey and cigarettes in the room. Now the room is used as storage.
- Elevators sometimes stop on the third floor even if no buttons are pushed. Some people 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is visiting the third floor. He would meet other intellectuals of the day (such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes) on the third floor. They held a monthly meeting of the so-called Saturday Club to discuss important topics over a nice meal and lots of alcohol.
One of the four brass-door elevators.
- A well known 19th century actress, Charlotte Cushman, lived at the hotel for a period of time. She died of natural causes in her suite of rooms on the third floor as well.
- The hotel is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Harvey Parker. Visitors have reported seeing his apparition on the 10th floor asking them if they enjoyed their stay at the hotel. He clearly had perfectionist and control issues.
Image: Jason Mrchina
Other interesting trivia about the Omni Parker House
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow drafted the famous poem, Paul Revere’s Ride, here.
- Charles Dickens stayed at the hotel for two years. He gave his first reading of A Christmas Carol at the hotel. He hung out with the members of the Saturday Club.
Intricate ceiling decoration
- Future Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh worked as a pastry chef at the Parker Restaurant.
- Malcolm Little (known better as Malcolm X) bussed tables at the Parker Restaurant.
- The Boston Creme Pie was invented at the Parker Restaurant. This pie was invented by a fancy French chef who Mr. Parker lured to Boston with a salary of $5000 a year. This sum was astronomical when you realise other good Boston chefs at the time were making about $500 annually.
Image: Matt Kemberling
The Omni Parker House is located at 60 School Street in the Financial District of Boston. It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The location is terrific and an easy walk to many attractions. I personally found all the wood-panelling too traditional. I prefer my hotels more contemporary in style. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth a quick detour of the Freedom Trail to have a look at this historic hotel.
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The lucky owners of the L Street Tavern had just bought the bar a few days earlier in March 1997 when they were approached to use the bar as a movie set. The movie, Good Will Hunting, went on to become an Oscar-winner which launched the careers of its screenwriters, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, into the stratosphere. The L Street Tavern hasn’t done too badly either!
Although tourists now visit the bar, The L Street Tavern is definitely a local bar. I saw a handful of locals who looked like they propped up the bar on a regular basis (and had done so for quite some time).
The L Street Tavern is proud of its Irish neighbourhood roots.
I couldn’t decide if the Irish paraphernalia was still up from St. Patrick’s Day.
Then I saw the countdown to the next St. Patrick’s Day and decided that it was probably St. Patrick’s Day here every day.
Although the L Street Tavern has had a revamp in 2001, it’s still small and dark with a real neighbourhood feel. You won’t have a problem telling which booth was used for the filming of Good Will Hunting.
The classic scene from Good Will Hunting filmed here was when the genius character played by Matt Damon shows up a smug Harvard guy. I mean who wouldn’t root for Matt Damon in this scene?!
You can get food in from the two Italian restaurants across the street. I guess Southie despite being a real Irish neighbourhood still appreciates good pasta and pizza.
Open daily from noon, the L Street Tavern is located at 685 East 8th Street. Parking is limited because it is restricted to local residents. I went with On Location Tours who run regular Boston movie tours. These tours regularly drop by the L Street Tavern bringing customers and fanning the flames of its fame.