Living in Boston for the last 21 years, Ming Tsai has been able to watch the city’s dining scene ascend. “When I arrived and opened Blue Ginger, we had steak houses and seafood and plenty of restaurants, but no really good, cutting edge restaurants,” he says. “The city has finally really matured and we’re a top-5 dining destination.”
Tsai was part of the culinary revolution which remade the city. With his restaurant Blue Ginger, he excelled at an East-meets-West style of cooking that propelled him to host a hit PBS show, Simply Ming. After two decades, he closed Blue Ginger, now focusing more on his casual Asian-gastropub Blue Dragon, where he offers a more rustic take on his style of cooking. He serves dishes like buttermilk tempura fried chicken, Carolina BBQ potstickers, and Thai chile pimento cheese. “We have a great cocktail program, specials on the blackboard like pubs in England, and all house-made dumplings, noodles, and wontons.”
Since he’s such an integral part of the Boston food scene, we figured he’d be the perfect guide to Beantown. So we caught up with Tsai—who will be cooking at Robb Report’s Culinary Masters this September—to talk about his favorite places to eat in Boston, from fine dining to casual. Here’s what he had to say.
Gourmet Dumpling House
As chefs, as much as we love fine dining and big, multi-course meals, honestly, sometimes what we really want is a bowl of noodles from Chinatown. The place I frequent the most with my wife and two boys is Gourmet Dumpling House. It’s on Beach Street in Chinatown and they have all these beautiful handmade dumplings: garlic chive, shrimp, vegetarian and more. My son and I also really love the beef with horn chilies—it’s super spicy. We also love the special they have sliced fish Sichuan style. It’s a bowl of snow cabbage with white fish in this broth that has this Valdez slick of chili oil on top. You try it and your mouth is burning, but Sichuan peppercorns start to numb you so you can eat even spicier. Gourmet Dumpling House is tremendous.
I love all of Ken Oringer’s restaurants. Coppa is his Italian charcuterie and pizza place. Little Donkey, his newest one, is cuisine of the world with dishes like matzoh ball ramen. His Japanese place Uni has fantastic sushi. And Toro, his tapas place, is my favorite. He’s partners in Toro with Jamie Bissonnette and they have locations in New York and Dubai also. They’re famous for their paella, which they make to order and is so delicious.
I really like Tiffani Faison—when I closed Blue Ginger, my pastry chef went over to Tiger Mama. Her food is so spicy, and legit Thai street food. I had a beef dish there once with Thai red chilies that blew your head off. I loved it. But I like to sweat when I eat. Order the most traditional stuff she has on the menu when you go in.
This is my go-to seafood spot. Row 34 is by Jeremy Sewall and it really is the best place for fried clams. He’s someone who lets New England seafood shine. He’s not overdoing anything and he’s not trying to change it and I really like what he does. And he does a great lobster roll. I prefer the warm butter lobster roll to the traditional mayonnaise. That definitely a go-to.
Joanne Chang of Myers and Chang—which makes delicious Taiwanese food that’s super spicy—she also has a bake shop, Flour Bakery, and there are like seven of them now. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but they make the best sticky buns ever. She’s great.
The chef here is Chinese but he trained with Nobu and makes superb Japanese food. His coolest dish is his smoked Hamachi. The Hamachi comes out and there’s this dome of smoke on top of it. He lights the binchotan and when you lift up the lid, the smoke hits you and this sashimi is there. You put it in your mouth and it just melts—so delicate you can barely pick it up. It’s lightly smoked, barely warm, and just a great dish.