At 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, the first person who will greet you at the dimly lighted, hip and lively Lulu’s Allston is not a hostess, but a no-nonsense bouncer checking IDs. Welcome to Allston. Once inside, a friendly waitperson will set you up at a high-top in the bar area, a table in the bustling dining room, or a plush booth in the back for larger parties. The crowd is young, the wall of windows thrown open to the gritty street, the food is perfectly suited for noshing with cold local beer or well-made cocktails, until the kitchen closes at 1 a.m. Lulu’s is targeting the areas grown-ups, patrons who like their beer to be craft, and prefer their Frito chili pie topped with local cheddar and filled with wild game.
That Frito chili pie ($12) is the kind of decadently delicious grub one craves as the air turns crisp and kickoff approaches. A generous helping of buffalo and wild boar chili is topped with sharp cheddar, sour cream, scallions, and of course, crunchy Fritos. We offset the hearty fare with a refreshing summer salad ($11) a big plate of local greens, grilled asparagus, goat cheese, maple roasted walnuts, and dried cherries, lightly dressed with a slightly sweet vinaigrette. Those same flavors pop up on an asparagus and goat cheese flatbread ($10) with caramelized onions and fig balsamic reduction — crisp but a little bland in this incarnation. The Mexican Cheetos ($3), however, are anything but; fried, puffed up wheat wheels are coated with a salty orange powder (indistinguishable from the substance found in Kraft macaroni and cheese pouches) which makes for an addictive bite. They come with a side of tangy Buffalo sauce for dipping, but we like them better naked.
That sauce on the wings ($10), though, is dynamite. Classic hot-vinegar-butter on crispy, unbreaded wings, with a side of blue cheese and the obligatory veggie sticks.
Other bar snacks, from the “bites” section of the menu, include truffle tots ($3), classic tater tots with a rich garlickly mayo. We didn’t taste the truffle, but didn’t miss it (and haven’t we had enough of the truffle oil trend ). Be sure to order warm soft pretzel rolls ($3), four buttery, bite-size, salt-covered munchkins that are made even more delicious with the addition of Justin’s cheese sauce ($1).
A version of the cheese sauce also appears under the “Mains” section of the menu. The short-rib mac and cheese ($12) isn’t as gut-busting as it sounds, but a simple lack of seasoning holds it back from great comfort food potential. Executive chef Sarah Wade has marked the menus to identify vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free choices, and the meat-free menu items are hardly an afterthought. The Thai quinoa black bean burger ($11) might be the most interesting veggie-friendly patty we’ve tried. Spiked with red curry and coconut milk, and topped with a secret sauce, it’s satisfying and avoids the heaviness of many grain-based burgers. With porky, fat-infused ramen all the rage, including a vegan ramen noodle bowl ($12) is a bold choice — one that pays off here. The umami-packed miso-soy broth is teeming with fleshy roasted portobellos, bright greens, and toothsome rice noodles for a satisfying soup.
The desserts disappoint. Chef’s doughnut holes ($6) are dense with a side of chocolate sauce that overwhelms. We excitedly crack through the sugar crust on Vermont maple creme brulee ($6) but our spoons meet an unset custard. Grandma’s warm caramel apple monkey bread with cream cheese sauce has good cinnamon flavor but a dense, dry texture, like day-old Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. I’d recommend a liquid dessert: The Tully Rubia cocktail ($10) a bittersweet blend of tequila, grapefruit, and Aperol, makes for a lovely digestif or aperitif, and everything in between.
In her first Boston kitchen (she previously cooked at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich in Connecticut), Chef Wade is bringing a lot to the table, from down-and-dirty drinking food to satisfying vegetarian options, all wrapped in a fun, loungey atmosphere; Lulu’s feels like Allston’s answer to Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Cambridge. We’ll be back soon, to check out the enticing weekend brunch offerings: s’mores pancakes ($11), vegetarian “hipster Benedicts” ($12), and a mimosa bucket ($30). Note to self: Don’t forget your ID.Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.