It is no secret that Allston is one of the best neighborhoods in Boston for lovers of ethnic cuisine, and it is also no secret that it is great for folks who are looking for cheap eats as well. Indeed, both Harvard Avenue and Brighton Avenue are lined with such places, including a favorite of Boston's Hidden Restaurants called Shanghai Gate (a tiny dining spot that is one of the best Chinese restaurants in all of Boston). Allston had also been home to another BHR favorite called Reef Cafe, which featured some truly outstanding Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare, but alas, that place is long gone, having closed in early 2009. Fortunately, another eatery featuring many of the same dishes opened a year later around the corner from the Reef, and Garlic 'n Lemons certainly seems to be every bit as good as that restaurant.
Like so many places in Allston, Garlic 'n Lemons is a rather small spot (though it's now twice as big since taking over the space next door) that looks like many other business in the neighborhood from the outside, and it also happens to be located on a section of Harvard Avenue (between Brighton Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue) that isn't really known for its dining establishments. Thus it is no real surprise that this little restaurant is just a bit under the radar, at least among those who aren't college students (of which there are many in Allston) or food critics. Garlic 'n Lemons is not a full-service restaurant--it has counter service only--and continuing with that overall theme, it looks a bit like a sub shop or a pizza place with one room being the ordering area and the other room having basic seating. Its relative lack of atmosphere make this a pretty popular spot for takeout especially with all of the students who live nearby, though more people do dine in now because of the expanded digs.
The food at Garlic 'n Lemons has been described as "Mediterranean-inspired Lebanese fare," which makes sense because the folks behind it have roots in Lebanon. And the menu is a simple one, really, with salads, roll-ups, kebabs, shawarma, and vegetarian items offered (there are a number of options for the veggie plates, by the way). Most of the food is scratch-made here, however, which helps turn these "basic" dishes into something special. A few highlights include a wonderfully crunchy falafel that is green on the inside rather than yellow (the color comes from the addition of parsley); grape leaves that are tightly stuffed with rice and a variety of fragrant herbs; a Greek salad that is done in the traditional Mediterranean way (it has no lettuce); a chicken shawarma plate that comes with slow-roasted meat that is carved off a rotisserie; a smoky baba ganouj that has a bit of a pudding-like consistency and is easily one of the tastiest that this writer has had in the Boston area; a burger kebab plate for those who might be looking for a true comfort food dish; spicy potatoes that are coated with a rich and slightly hot oil; and a creamy and smooth hummus that has quite a bit of garlic in it. Desserts at Garlic 'n Lemons include several different forms of baklava, with crushed pistachio nuts going nicely with the sweetness of the honey and rosewater, and a powdered cookie that is stuffed with pistachios. Prices are very reasonable overall, with most plates being around or just above $10.
There are so many inexpensive ethnic spots in Allston that it is easy to overlook the ones that are a bit away from the others, and this would probably include Garlic 'n Lemons. But this is a good one--perhaps one of the best dining spots in Allston, actually--and one that should not be missed, especially if you crave freshly-made Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes that won't break the bank.
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