When it comes to dining out, some of the best hidden gems in the Greater Boston area can be found in food courts (such as those at the Porter Exchange in Cambridge), while every now and then you can also find them within a little grocery store or a large supermarket (Dosa Factory in Cambridge's Central Square and Kakkoii Sushi and Ramen in Malden both come to mind). And then there is Pikaichi, a restaurant in Allston that happens to be squeezed in between a supermarket and a food court. Sound strange? It isn't really, as this little Japanese eatery is actually a pleasant and comfortable full-service sitdown spot that also happens to have some terrific dishes at very reasonable prices.
Pikaichi resides in the Hong Kong Supermarket/Super 88 complex where Brighton Avenue forks off from Commonwealth Avenue, with the restaurant being located just inside the side entrance of the building where a walkway leads to the market to the left and entrances to the right that lead to the food court. While the food court itself consists of counter-service spots with general seating and are geared more toward eating and running rather than leisurely meals, Pikaichi definitely has less of a rushed feel to it, and is certainly quieter than the eateries just outside its entrance. A few tables are set up inside the space along with some counter seating in the back, and the fact that a lot of people do takeout at the restaurant tends to keep it from getting extremely crowded. The dining spot has a rather offbeat and fun vibe to it, with the centerpiece of the space being a sketch of a slightly goofy-looking dragon on one of the walls.
Those who frequent the aforementioned Porter Exchange in Cambridge should feel at home at Pikaichi, as it focuses on three items that can be found at the dining spots over there--rice bowls, curry plates, and ramen. The rice bowls--which are known as donburi--include three types, including one with a thick but tender piece of breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, another with deliciously-marinated boneless fried chicken, and a third with marinated chicken and a relatively hot chili mayo, while the curry plates also feature the breaded pork and boneless fried chicken options along with a basic curry rice option, which isn't really basic at all, as the house-made curry is spectacular. Ramen options at Pikaichi are a bit more extensive and varied, including two versions of savory miso ramen (a regular option with sliced pork and ground pork and a spicy option with sliced pork and shrimp), a couple of soy sauce ramen choices (one with shredded pork and shrimp and one with sliced pork), a salt-flavored ramen with sliced pork, and another salt-flavored ramen--this one with the addition of yuzu, or a type of Japanese lemon that gives it a citrus flavor. All ramen dishes have slightly chewy custom-made noodles, seaweed, and scallions, while most come with corn, and they can also be ordered with boiled eggs, butter cubes, and white rice. Side dishes here include the wonderful boneless fried chicken with chili mayo, rich-tasting deep-fried octopus balls, a seaweed salad, and spicy tofu, while drinks are limited to non-alcoholic options such as royal milk tea, Kona cofee, and melon cream soda.
Pikaichi is kind of in a no-man's land between a large Asian market and an area that is chock full of good eateries, so it can be easy to overlook. But this friendly little spot is among the better options for dining in Allston, and with free parking just outside the door, it is a good choice for both people who live nearby and those who are driving in from another part of the region. The place might not exactly be a household name--and its name can be difficult to pronounce, for that matter--but for those who like cheap eats dishes that are filled with complex flavor combinations, Pikaichi is a restaurant that needs to be checked out.
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