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What Makes a Great Restaurant City?

What makes Boston so boring and Houston so exciting

Boston allows restaurants named Blunch

This post originally appeared on August 25, 2018, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

I loved Boston Globe critic Devra First’s honest look at why Boston hasn’t earned much national attention from food media of late. Instead of having a chip on her shoulder, she wants to figure out why Eater, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, et al. don’t give the city the love and attention they award to cities like Portland, LA, Houston, and Detroit.

Are the snubs unjustified? Is it her fault for not being a big enough booster, for not finding and highlighting enough of the good stuff and getting it out there? Or is it the restaurant scene itself that’s just... meh?

I haven’t really eaten around Boston except on the occasional trip, so I can’t really speak to it. But I also haven’t read much that’s inspired me to get on an Amtrak, even though I read and admire our own editor Rachel Blumenthal’s tireless and enthusiastic coverage of the scene.

Some interesting factors to contemplate:

• Boston is not as populous as New York, and thus can’t support the variety of restaurants that we can.

• But it’s still wildly expensive to operate there! ($400k for a liquor license?!) Meanwhile, Portland, Maine, is relatively cheap, so creative types wanting to take a calculated risk can set up shop there and maybe expand to Boston once they’re better capitalized (see: Eventide Oyster Co.).

• First notices that nationally lauded restaurants currently tell stories of inclusion, justice, and/or embrace the owner’s or region’s cultural history, but points out “in a city that is 53 percent white, in which people may be unlikely to visit neighborhoods with which they’re not already familiar, it is easy to miss out on the city’s myriad expressions of food culture.”

• Meanwhile, the local food press, which should be highlighting these places, continues to shrink.

Let me also mention something that First does not: In our competition for the worst name in the world of restaurants last summer, Name of Groans, an alarming number of contributions came from Boston. So... maybe it’s all a matter of taste. (Sorry to everyone I know and love in Massachusetts.)

PS: For the opposite kind of read, GQ’s Brett Martin has a beautiful essay on all the reasons why Houston is still so great.

Openings of the Week, Doughnut Edition

Blue Star for Caviar/Official

Good Day Donuts, Seattle: A new doughnut shop with classics like glazed cake doughnuts, apple fritters, cinnamon twists that will eventually branch out into breakfast, lunch, and pop-ups dinners.

Blue Star, Portland: A giant new factory and event space with a retail shop and chef’s counter from cultishly loved doughnut purveyor Blue Star.

District Doughnut, Washington, D.C.: a new location of local mini-chain for the mega-development the Wharf.

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