It’s Saturday night on Newbury Street. We’ve managed to circumnavigate an idling black limo and several jaywalkers in search of a parking space, but our 6:45 dinner reservation is upon us, and my husband is getting frustrated.
“This reminds me of La Rambla,” he grumbles as we cruise along, referring to the Barcelona tourist strip where restaurant hosts stand at the edge of the sidewalk, clutching menus, attempting to lure impressionable passersby into their mediocre establishments like carnival barkers. We pass a group of people yelling at Siri about a shoe store, a few half-empty restaurant patios, and a man talking to a parking meter about LSD.
Yes, the strip is sometimes knocked as being too touristy. Too busy. A lowest-common-denominator culinary wasteland that caters to bewildered shoppers and confused college students eager to try out their first credit card.
But there are some Newbury Street establishments that rise above the rest: for value, for charm, for sheer deliciousness. And, helpfully, they’re all in the same block. Head toward Gloucester Street, intrepid diner, and do not stray.
Patisserie on Newbury
This subterranean shop closes at 7 p.m., so sneak down the steps before dinner to grab goodies for later. At 6:45, a line snaked out the door. I filled my bag with pain au chocolat ($3, house-made), plus a baguette ($4) for tomorrow’s French toast. There’s also German chocolate cake by the slice ($5), red velvet cupcakes ($4 and huge), and macarons of many persuasions.
257 Newbury St., Boston, 617-670-6040, www.patisserieonnewbury.com
Dinner and drinks: Casa Romero
Creative license: Casa Romero isn’t technically on Newbury Street. It’s in an alley right around the corner. You’ll know you’re there when you see the white flowery tile bearing a message: “Bienvenidos A Esta Casa.”
It’s protected by a heavy door that serves as a portal to another, better world. Push it open, and you’re in a magenta-and-orange-painted wonderland. The dining room vibrates with a low-level hum — it’s busy but not crowded, and a smiling hostess offers me a choice of tables either on the lantern-strung patio or inside. (Note: Your entire party needs to be there for an al fresco table. I’m ultimately denied, gently, because my husband has dropped me off to circle the block for the 100th time.)
But I’m not handed a buzzer, or shooed toward the bar, or forced to elbow aside a four-deep barricade of hostile businessmen just to sandwich myself against the host stand.
Instead, I’m immediately squired to a wee brick nook right off of the courtyard — perfect for conducting illicit business or having the first real conversation with your spouse all week. You’ll be close enough to hear your waiter discuss the merits of the Zac Brown Band with a nearby table, and nobody will mind if you interject to talk about Paul Simon instead. Everyone here seems friendly and decompressed, psychic miles from the maddening throngs around the corner.
Get a chile relleno appetizer to begin, lightly fried and swimming in a tomato chipotle sauce, with two little buds of sour cream on top. At $10, it’s a rare neighborhood bargain — and it could be your entire dinner. Our smiling waiter recommends seafood enchiladas next, and he watches appreciatively as I scrape the remaining tomato chipotle sauce from my appetizer plate onto my entrée portion of rice.
“I don’t blame you. That’s a very good idea,” he says. No shame in it — we’re (almost) the only people in this little pink room.
These enchiladas are splashed with a springy cilantro sauce, but ask for a side of mole, too. It’s thin and tangy instead of rich and tarry, nice for chip-dunking. About those chips: They’re sturdy but thin. You’ll want more.
Service is warm and maybe just a little slow, a welcome respite from spots where they’re itching to turn a table. This place has been around for 40-plus years for a reason. It’s not trying too hard. Instead, there are nice little touches everywhere: an $8.95 three-course kid’s menu with soup or salad, deep-fried taquitos, and ice cream with mango sauce and sprinkles; a $24 three-course early bird special that isn’t stingy in the least (shrimp flautas, enchiladas, flan); and a lunch menu that runs until 4 p.m. Toddlers get free rice and beans, and there are plenty of little people out on that sunny patio.
Throw back one of 12 kinds of margaritas (there are non-alcoholic ones, too) and steel yourself for the crueler world that awaits just outside.
30 Gloucester St., Boston, 617-536-4341, www.casaromero.com
Dessert: Emack & Bolio’s
Shake Shack for shakes. FoMu for plant-based ice cream. Lady M for confections. Amorino for gelato. Sweet options abound on this street, but after dinner we beeline just across the block for good old-fashioned ice cream at Emack & Bolio’s, one of the few places that has existed here for decades. It’s our very own hippie Ben & Jerry’s, launched in Boston in the 1970s by a rock ’n’ roll lawyer named Bob Rook, who fed dairy to people like Aerosmith and the Cars.
There’s a good-karma vibe at the second-floor shop. In a neighborhood dotted with juice bars and vegan desserts — which have their place, don’t get me wrong — it’s reassuring to visit a store that still sells a “midnight munchies” hot fudge sundae and a vanilla “freak frappe.” As for artwork: No signs here telling you where your kale is from, though there is a framed photo of Dee Snider eating a cone, an original shop sign from 1975, and a framed “Best Warm Weather Drink” award from the Boston Globe Magazine, presented in 1994. As for the ice cream? It’s terrific. The Beantown Buzz, espresso ice cream spiked with espresso beans, is as strong as any coffee you’ll find at Barrington or Pavement down the block.
290 Newbury St., Boston, 617-536-7127, www.emackandbolios.comKara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.