As we head into our second year of the pandemic, there is definitely some light at the end of the tunnel by way of vaccines, a drop in new cases and warmer weather helping get people into the great outdoors. In the restaurant world, takeout and delivery still seem to be popular options, however, which — in many cases — means independent dining spots that tend to focus a bit more on cheap eats.
One of the best places for doing so can be found in a northern suburb about 10 miles north of Boston, with Woburn being a small city that has a lot of food options from “ma and pa” type places, especially as you get away from Routes 128 and 93 and the chains near those highways. Also, as the sun continues to get higher in the sky and the temperatures get increasingly mild, taking to-go food to outdoor spaces is becoming more and more of a feasible option, and Woburn has a good number of terrific areas in which to do so.
The city of Woburn has traditionally been mostly a close-knit working and middle-class community, and even though development along Routes 128 and 93 has brought in a lot of business and has helped bring both Woburn and neighboring Burlington into the limelight, the city remains a mostly laid-back place with multi-generational families and old-fashioned businesses. It is also a bit of a bridge between the wealthy inner suburban communities of Lexington and Winchester and the slightly more rural outer suburbs to the north such as Wilmington, which helps give it a very diverse dining scene — and one that includes independent eateries even along and near the busy highways near its northern and eastern borders.
Woburn Center wasn’t always a bustling place, but it now features a treasure trove of dining options with a little something for everyone. The northern edge of the downtown area is home to The Restaurant, a Greek spot that is known in part for its cafeteria-style method of ordering where you grab a tray, tell the people behind the counter what you want and continue along to the cashier area. Highlights are many, including Greek salads, spanakopita, moussaka, pastitsio, wings and burgers.
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Just across Main Street (which is also Route 38) is a very different but equally good spot called Bayberry Café, an Asian eatery that focuses on vegan dishes and is a popular takeout spot. If you like Singapore noodles, they have a great version of it here, and their steamed dumplings, scallion pancakes and spicy basil fried rice are outstanding as well.
Heading a short ways south down Main Street will bring you to Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Café, a casual quick-service place that is known in part for their sublime hand-pulled noodle dishes and soups, though their lamb and pork flatbread sandwiches are well worth getting, too.
Continuing down the street into the heart of the center, you’ll find Zaika Indian Bistro, a friendly family-owned restaurant that serves mouthwatering dosas along with classic takes on chicken tikka masala, lamb biryani, saag paneer, a fish vindaloo and so much more.
Just before Woburn Common is Tremonte, a casual upscale restaurant that focuses on northern Italian food and is really the type of place that is perfect for dining indoors because of its cozy atmosphere, though you can also do takeout as well.
Just down from Tremonte is 3 Country Bistro, which, as you may have guessed, offers three different types of cuisines — Japanese, Korean, and Thai — though you’ll also find dishes traditionally found in other Asian countries, including a marvelous Indonesian fried rice. (Their sushi and pad Thai are also very fine.)
Finally, just south of the common is Roma’s Bakery and Deli, an old-fashioned Italian food spot that’s known in part for their Sicilian pizza slices and their scali bread and is a perfect place to go for takeout.
Woburn Center tends to have the highest concentration of indie restaurants to check out, but several good eateries can also be found both north and south of the downtown area. A couple of local faves reside along Route 38 heading south toward Winchester, including Louie’s Pizza, a cash-only place that is considered one of the best spots in the entire Boston area for New York-style thin-crust pies. Further down is one of several roast beef joints in Woburn, and Bill and Bob’s is a good one with options being a junior, big, and super beef and yes, ordering "three-way" (mayo, sauce, cheese) is the way to go.
On the other side of town are a mix of independent restaurants and chains near Route 128, and a beloved Chinese restaurant called Sichuan Garden II is just on the other side of the highway near where Route 38 and Alfred Street meet. Sichuan Garden has some excellent food for both dine-in and takeout, but the space is perhaps known more for The Baldwin Bar and its legendary cocktail options, with restaurateur and mixologist Ran Duan being nationally known for his mind-blowingly good drinks.
A few minutes east on Washington Street in Cummings Park is an Indian restaurant called Godavari, which tends to focus on southern Indian fare and was traditionally a very popular spot for office workers pre-pandemic, but continues to be a fave among locals in both Woburn and the nearby towns of Reading and Stoneham.
While the northern and eastern edges of Woburn have extensive industrial and commercial areas, much of the city is residential and suburban-feeling with a mix of large and small outdoor spaces mixed in. A few such spots are perfect for bringing takeout food from one of the many restaurants found here and enjoying on a pleasant day, with the obvious choice being Horn Pond a short distance southwest of downtown. A massive city park that includes a beautiful body of water by the same name, Horn Pond is home to endless bogs and wetlands, a “mountain” that was once home to a ski area and a number of trails and walkways for all levels — and if all you want to do is sit on a bench and eat a quick lunch, parking in the lot on the south end of the pond or along Sturgis Street or Arlington Road on its north and east edges will give you countless options to do so.
A much smaller (but no less dramatic) outdoor space is Rag Rock, which is a few blocks north of Horn Pond and features another “mountain” also known as Mount Mianomo. The views from the summit are breathtaking, and it really isn’t much of a walk up from Bacon Street to the south or Hillside Avenue to the north which makes it a relatively easy picnic/takeout option if you don’t mind short but steep hiking trails.
West of Horn Pond and heading toward the Lexington border is a bucolic but rather hidden space called Shaker Glen, which is accessed from a trail off Summit Street (near where Route 3 and Lexington Street meet) and which features a gorgeous ravine and a bubbling brook and is about as peaceful a spot as you’ll find in the city.
An area that isn’t quite as remote-feeling but which is a particularly easy space for an outdoor lunch is the Tri-Community Greenway, which cuts through Winchester, Woburn and Stoneham, with the Woburn section being found on either side of Washington Street and south of Montvale Avenue. While a perfect trail for a bike ride, there are also plenty of little nooks and crannies where you can escape for a short time with a good book and some good food.