What to Eat in Nashua

Leaving the house is a rare event for Nashuans, but in case you decide to try it, here’s a short guide to eating in the city.

Hipp hipp hurra! Konstnärsfest på Skagen - Peder Severin Krøyer

Nashua residents drinking. This is foreshadowing.

Breakfast & Bakeries

Every day starts with coffee. If you live in New Hampshire and don’t start your day with coffee, Jet Blue has $49 flights to Florida and you’re welcome to leave any time.

Riverwalk Cafe has the best coffee in Nashua, roasted in house, and is the correct place to start your morning. Entering the cafe places you in a warm and bright blue room, with food coming out of the kitchen while coffee is roasted next to you. Walk past this scene and enter a darker and larger room with walls made of bricks and a wall of alcohol, which you mentally bookmark for later. Or now. There’s no shame in the mimosa. Light filters in from outside, from the ceiling, from lights inside of bottles. Forks dangling upside-down next to your head while you order. You wonder if the decor is intended to represent the confusion of waking up. Order your coffee and go sit in the blue room, next to a large framed print of John Lennon screaming at a piano.

For an even more psychedelic coffee experience, ask for a Hungarian. Never get one to go.

The diner experience is to be had at The City Room. The menu is neither special nor interesting and the coffee is bad, but the staff are very friendly and you can ask for anything. If you eat here, go to Riverwalk afterwards for coffee.

Bagel Alley is your neighborhood drug dealer for oversized bagels. Just like your other dealers, they only work in cash. They sell a few other things, but the inside silently screams “do not buy anything here but bagels.” New Yorkers will be disappointed, obviously, because they’re disappointed with everything.

Pressed in South Nashua has a very industrial feel, which I don’t like, but the highly reliable service justifies the look. Pressed’s food is the most interesting in Nashua for breakfast and lunch. Try the Medusa or Shakshuka. The Zohan and Sabich are also fantastic.

Jajabelles are the masters of everything sweet, right down to the people themselves. They also have some savory pastries like Spanakopita. They do not have pastitsio, no matter how many times you ask. They do holiday ordering if you want to get 100 cookies or a plate of baklava for your family.

There are zero good bread bakeries in Nashua. The Dutch Epicure in Amherst is your best bet. Wednesday only they bake anadama bread (sourdough with cornmeal and molasses). Buckley’s Bakery in Merrimack also has good bread.

For really interesting breakfast spots, you’ll have to leave Nashua:

  • Riverhouse in Milford has some great creations. (Afterwards go to the excellent Union Coffee for coffee)
  • Hilltop Cafe is in an old farm-house in Wilton and especially nice in the summertime
  • Black Forest Cafe & Bakery has a good brunch on Sundays only. Also the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, complete with a whiskey-cube-sized marshmallow.

Fancy

The pickings for quality dining in Nashua are slim, but there are more good dinner options than breakfast options.

MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar is the obvious choice for “New American” or Ameri-French food. It’s owned by Michael Buckley, who also owns Surf across the street (and a second Surf in Portsmouth), Buckley’s Great Steaks in Merrimack, and Buckley’s Bakery and Cafe in Merrimack.

All of Michael Buckley’s restaurants are worth trying, though in recent years MT’s is guilty of simplifying their menu to the point of boredom. (Also, Buckley, Giard, if you’re reading this, why did you drop the glorious pesto fries for these dry-mouth inducing “cheddar dusted” fries? And why would you ever describe cheese as something you can dust with.) Right now the menu at MT’s is pretty good and its easily the best restaurant downtown (or Surf if you like fish).

At both MT’s and Buckey’s the burgers are made from steak trimmings and are the best in the area. At MT’s get the Tournedos (Actually most of the Summer 2017 menu is great). At Buckley’s, split the French onion soup with your lover and get the little filet au poivre. Both places also have daily specials which are usually the most interesting options. Any lamb option that comes up is a good choice.

Stella Blu is the other good option for fancy food at night. Lots of small plates to choose from, so bring a friend or two and split several dishes. The menu is varied, the service is quick, the cocktails are good. It’s not on their drink list, but ask for a wagon wheel: Woodford Reserve bourbon, amaretto, peach schnapps.

The menu at Pig Tale looks promising but the the restaurant does not play the part. The atmosphere radiates a feeling of disbelief, as if you’re not really in a restaurant, but on a stage with actors where everyone is pretending to be in a restaurant. It’s hard to describe. Anyway I like their pizzas, but I’ve also had the worst poutine of my life there. If you want sublime poutine you have to drive 2 hours to Duckfat in Portland. Maybe Pig Tale is worth more exploration, I don’t know.

For Greek and Italian you have Giorgios (get the arancini, gyro appetizer, pasta specials) and Cucina Toscana (modest Italian). Do not go to Fratellos Italian Grille, it is pseudo-Italian rubbish. Besides “grill” in Italian is “griglia,” so quit with the pretentious spelling.

For really good and interesting Italian you’ll have to leave Nashua. Tuscan Kitchen is half an hour away and quite good, Filho’s Cucina in Groton is another nice Italian spot.

For seafood you have Surf, obviously, but also Sushi options: Takumi is fancy, Yoshimama is not. Both are good. Sushi anywhere else in Nashua is not advised.

You might be tempted to go to the Cape for fancy seafood, but this is a mistake, because then you’d be on the Cape: Surrounded by idle rich people who have declared their lives pointless and set up camp on an uninviting peninsula, soaking themselves in sun, apathy, and liquor. Portland Maine is always the better pick.

(Tip for New England newcomers: The proper way to eat seafood is less than a mile from the coast in a seedy shack that just says “Clams” and the sign doesn’t light up. Maybe there’s a string of buoys outside on a rope.)

Bedford has a few fancy places that I’m on the fence about including. I’m sure you know the names. Portsmouth, obviously, is the capital of good fancy food in New Hampshire, but now we’re getting quite far.

 

No Frills

We can’t be bourgeois all of the time, and while Nashua may or may not do “not fancy” well, they do it often.

Main Street Gyro is a go to place for gyros, obviously. Try the bifteki. If you’re starving, get the side of feta too. It is exactly what it says it is. Similar and under-rated Lebanese food (shawarma, falafel, etc) can be found at Cedars Cafe, which is sadly not downtown or I’d go there all the time.

Have you ever been famished and desperately in need of energy, so you eat food, but after eating the food you feel slightly closer to your death instead of further away? That’s Riverside Barbecue.

California Burrito is an excellent and more authentic version of Chipotle run by great people. It’s my default for a no-frills lunch.

The only Mexican I’d step into in Nashua is El Colima, which is not an endorsement, I’m just saying everything else is worse. Go to El Rincon in Manchester if you want Mexican food.

For good pizza you’ll have to stray outside of the city slightly. Angela’s Coal-fired Pizza in Tyngsboro is very good. MT’s and Giorgios (Merrimack and Milford) make great pizza too.

The Peddler’s Daughter is your typical Irish pub and probably shows up on Google Maps with tags like “popular with locals”, for whatever that’s worth. The vibe is comfy and there’s no hope of getting a small meal. It sounds like a paradox, but Peddlers has both the largest and the worst beer list. Their liquor options aren’t impressive either, I don’t think they’ve ever stocked a bottle of wine that they paid more than $5 for. One time in a whiskey mood and keeping my expectations low, I asked for Wild Turkey. The bartender looked and said “We have Old Crow.” My college degree allowed me to observe that these are both whiskeys named after birds, but drinking confirmed other differences.

The Nashua Garden sells sandwiches and beer. The place appears run-down from the outside, and from the inside too for that matter, but they really do care about the product they’re selling. It’s one of the few places to get a decent meal late at night in Nashua, and can be fairly quiet (downstairs) late into the night. They clean their tap lines regularly, and I want to say they have a good beer selection but I swear 90% of them are always IPAs.

Codex, Stella, MT’s, and Buckley’s are other good places to drink. Codex and Stella do mostly cocktails, MT’s has great wine with an OK spirits selection, and Buckley’s has both a fantastic wine and whiskey menu.

If you’re a true drink aficionado you could join one of the many secret liquor tasting clubs, if only you knew the password. No I won’t tell you a password. Unless you’re part of the “old Hollis men who drink nice wine” club, then maybe we can exchange passwords.

Asian

I have categorized food as either fancy, not fancy, or Asian. This is not my fault. For Americans, “Asian food” typically represents the fanciness of far-group exotification with the completely unfair expectation of no-frills price points. (Sushi excepted, but I already covered that.) I blame my countrymen for largely ruining Thai and Chinese food with the “it has to be cheap” expectation.

Takumi is good Japanese. Yoshimama has good sushi as I said before, and they do have ramen, but the ramen quality has declined. It used to be a great cut of rare beef and now you are served slivers of something gray. If you’ve never been to Takumi before, try sharing several appetizers with friends: beef tataki, edamame, and tempura.

The only good Chinese in the city is Shanghai Osaka. Their menu has an “Authentic Chinese” section and they usually have a second menu with more authentic chinese specials. If you like spicy food, try the mapo or sirloin in chef’s chili sauce. The eggplant is also good.

Fantastic Sichuan Chinese food can be had “nearby” in Billerica, at Sichuan Gourmet. The correct way to eat real Chinese food is to bring lots of friends, order lots of dishes, and share everything. Start with: dan dan noodles, bamboo in spicy sauce, wontons in chili oil, basil eggplant, baby bok choy, dry shredded beef with chili, and ma la lamb.

Shira Kiku has great Korean staples (and ramen) and the staff are super friendly. If you’ve never had Korean before, get the stone pot bibimbap, preferably with beef. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the menu.

Giant of Siam on main street is your average Thai place and has been a Nashua staple since I’ve been alive. The prices are cheap and the owners are super nice. Sweet Ginger in Merrimack has more interesting options, but the atmosphere seems to scream “I’m in a strip mall between a liquor store and a highway” (you are). All of the duck options at Sweet Ginger are good.

For really good Thai you’ll have to travel all the way to Camden Maine (Long Grain).

Nashua has three Indian restaurants: India Palace and Taj India, which have dishes characteristic of north Indian food: Chicken tikka masala, lamb, lots of cream. Both are good. If you’ve never had (north) Indian before, order chicken tikka, saag paneer, and garlic naan. For south Indian there’s Udupi: Vegetarian only, dosas, some very spicy options, and (last I went) the best buffet out of the three.

Food at the Pheasant Lane Mall

Have some self-respect and stay hungry.

The Sublime

Sadly, nothing. I’ve tried to make this not very negative, which is why I’ve avoided mentioning a lot of places. Fact is the interesting food scene in Nashua is non-existent and seekers of truly transcendent meals must looks elsewhere. Even the decent options are under-used: MT’s doesn’t bother to open for lunch any more. I’m not sure who to blame for this, but the presence of more banks than restaurants might be a tell. At least in the case of Saffron Bistro which lost out to Ameriprise, which is kind of like a bank, except they specialize in scamming old people.

Originally I considered writing What to Eat near Nashua, but in doing so I’d hardly mention anything actually inside Nashua, so it was too depressing.

Rest in Peace, Cooking Matters and Saffron Bistro.