Boston’s Chinatown isn’t as Chinese at it used to be. With rising rents and all the trappings of Boston’s development boom Chinese populations have shifted to surrounding cities like Malden, Newton and Cambridge. The largest of these diasporas live in Quincy so it’s no surprise that the South Shore’s become a dining destination for East Asian fare.
Quincy is big so I decide to limit urban wanderings to the commercial centers of Wollaston and North Quincy. The Wollaston stop puts me at the corner of busy Newport Avenue and sleepy Brook Street which sports a hidden half-block of shops and restaurants. Fairy Café is a welcoming place with walls painted bright yellow and a friendly staff who know their regulars on a first name basis. I have a hot tea and an order of soup dumplings ($3.95) which are predictably delicious. Filled with ground pork and a warm broth, it’s hard to go wrong. I’m a little obsessed with black Chinkiang vinegar these days and, like a kid who only eats vegetables drowned in ketchup, I sometimes order dumplings just to have some. The vinegar adds just the right tart tanginess to every bite.
I’m in an adventurous mood and feeling the need to prove I’m not such a gringo so I order the salt and pepper duck tongue ($8.95). As it turns out, I am too much of a gringo. The little tongues come out deep fried and spicy with a scoop of minced garlic on the side. They’re crispy and sort of pop in my mouth. I appreciate this dish, but the blend of juicy fat and tough tendons doesn’t work for me. Do I get points for trying?
It’s short walk over to Hancock Street, Quincy’s main drag. It’s a gorgeous day so I’m happy meandering along the road. There’s a lot of interesting things going on here. Halal meat shops and restaurants, Irish Pubs, Indian restaurants and a place called Dunkin’ Donuts (I hear it’s going to be huge). But East Asian restaurants dominate the real estate with all kinds of offerings like sushi, shabu-shabu and dim sum.
After surveying the scene I head to Chili Square. This place is a can’t miss. It’s a tiny space with a scratch kitchen focusing on healthy, authentic Chinese dishes. It features esoteric items like pigs ears and gizzards along with the more familiar noodle soups and pulled noodle dishes. I order the Lanzhou beef noodle soup ($10.95) with thin sliced beef and homemade rice noodles. The broth is light - not at all fatty - and super flavorful with just a bit of spice (by request). The noodles are really excellent too, fresh and not too soft. A fantastic dish.
Heading back into the sunshine I walk along Hancock towards North Quincy. It’s a semi-residential stretch until I hit the commercial center at the corner of Billings Road. I bang a left and pop into another tight quartered spot, Saigon Corner. It’s stuffy and hot in here reminding me of the cramped underground food court under the Golden Mall in Flushing, Queens. It’s the kind of place where you can smell everyone’s lunch and hear their conversations. I grab the last available table and order the fish ball ho fun. At six dollars, it’s hard to beat the value on this noodle soup. The food here is simple, reasonably priced and satisfying. I doctor up my broth with a little chili sambal and a touch of black vinegar (I have a problem). In a weird coincidence, everyone clears out of the restaurant as soon as my food arrives so I get to spend some quality time with the super friendly staff, commiserating about the restaurant business.
I’ve reached peak noodle soup and can’t continue. It’s a short walk to the T where I’ll have a seat and digest all the way back to Somerville. I start feeling jealous of a friend who just bought a house in North Quincy because, if you’ve read this far, then you've figured out that I think Quincy’s pretty cool. It’s thriving, diverse and close to the beach. But let’s keep this between us, ok? We wouldn’t want word to get out.
Chili Square - 666 Hancock St., Quincy, 617-478-8888, facebook.com/chili-square
Fairy Cafe - 16 Brook St., Quincy, 617-773-8888, facebook.com/quincyfairycafe
Saigon Corner - 24 Billings Rd., Quincy, 617-770-9333, facebook.com/saigon-corner