Today, Victoria Station in Salem is unique—but it wasn't always. In 1970, inspired by the landmark Victoria Station in London, three Cornell Hotel School graduates created a restaurant with English touches, such as a bright-red phone booth and authentic train cars they'd turned into dining cars. They opened up in San Francisco, and the business grew. By the 1980s, there were about 100 Victoria Station locations in the United States and around the world. Johnny Cash did a stint as their spokesman.
But the company filed for bankruptcy in 1986. Its rise and fall is documented in Tom Blake's book Prime Rib and Boxcars: Whatever Happened to Victoria Station? The waterfront Salem location was the very last to open, and it's the only one left.
Today, the restaurant has gone in its own direction, drawing inspiration from both the restaurant's past and its current surroundings. Classic New England cuisine and old steak-house favorites mingle comfortably on the menu. The chefs coat haddock in a seasoned cracker crust to bake and serve with chardonnay and fresh lemon juice, and the slow-roasted prime rib that made the original restaurant famous still has a place on the menu. Diners can also order up house favorites, such as lobster mac 'n' cheese with five-cheese béchamel sauce and cornbread shallot crumbs, or they can opt for an Angus burger.
Vic's Boathouse, a bar and lounge, opened in 2010. There, diners can request a local or craft brew, order a martini, or pick from the pub menu. The bar hosts nightly live entertainment, including open-mic sessions, live musicians, and karaoke, which makes for lively evenings without the expense of hiring a DJ for family dinner.
One might leave Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar, which was named this year's best new restaurant north of Boston by Boston Magazine, with some sense of the broad scope of Mexican cuisine, geography, and culture. That epiphany might come from the selection of 180 tequilas, which slip down in shots, release bell peals of clicking ice in glasses, or blend with lime in thick margaritas rimmed with salt. The tantalizing menu also parades traditional Mexican ingredients, though they are tangled into surprising configurations.
Red chandeliers glow, bringing to life the colors of chipotle peppers on plates at plush black booth seating, all beneath red wallpaper. In the tequila lounge, ample couches create a circle around red, candlelit tables for resting a glass of sangria or a mojito muddled with strawberries or cucumber. A row of inset shadowboxes displays the colorful lucha libre masks typically used in overblown battles and attempts to go out in public without being recognized as Kevin Bacon.
The Salem jail, built in 1813, was the home of countless criminals for more than a century; today, it's the home of The Great Escape Restaurant. "Gone are the days of just bread and water…now the meals here are big portions of pasta, seafood, and steak," according to a video by Phantom Gourmet. While previously alcohol was only available when it was smuggled in, today the Great Escape's bartenders mix up prison-themed cocktails like the Orange Jumpsuit and The Commuted Sentence. In addition, complimentary valet service seamlessly escorts guests to the dinner table.
Under high ceilings, black chandeliers illuminate a bar made from recycled cell doors, the jail's original thick granite floor, and cell bars that surround black leather booths. Exposed brick walls are decorated with pop art with cheeky sayings such as "If you can't do the time don't do the crime," though today's guests are more focused on fried calamari than rehabilitation.
Back when Cilantro opened in 2002, Boston Magazine praised the eatery for its "authentic, hearty, and diverse Mexican specialties," which they called "breaths of fresh air." More than a decade later, owner and executive chef Esther Marin still aims to keep her lunch, dinner, and dessert menus interesting, creating new recipes that infuse Mediterranean flavors into upscale Mexican dishes. Using only all-natural ingredients, she crafts entrees that range from cheese-stuffed meatballs in chipotle sauce to pork chops crowned with chihuahua cheese and pineapples. A selection of 48 tequilas wash down meals inside a dining room wrapped in exposed brick walls that keep diner’s conversations from escaping the restaurant.
Situated on Salem’s scenic Pickering Wharf, Capt's Waterfront - Premium Steak & Seafood Grill provides guests with picturesque harbor views from its upstairs dining room and deck or first-floor bar and grill. While catching sports games playing on the widescreen televisions, guests in the bar and grill can overlook the harbor while cozied up next to the fireplace. Upstairs, the main dining area offers an ideal atmosphere for a romantic date or special event, with a full wine list and meals of charcoal-grilled steaks, lobster, and other market-fresh seafood. On Sundays, brunch momentarily takes over the eatery, with specialties such as lobster eggs benedict and apple-and-cheese French toast box served with a Bloddy Mary bar and bottomless coffees or espresso drinks.
Jocelyn’s Restaurant's menus offer up healthy, reverently crafted Lebanese and American cuisine for lunch and dinner. Playful palates can begin a meal with bouncing kibbee balls, volleying seasoned ground beef, crushed wheat, and pine nuts and spiking hunger in the face ($8). Sea-sourced entrees include baked haddock topped with tahini, cilantro, garlic, and pine nuts ($18) and grilled shrimp skewers transfixing six jumbo shrimp with garlic-paprika spice ($21). Jocelyn's falafel plate satisfies stomachs with creamy ground chickpeas, seasoned and fried fava beans with tahini sauce, and promises of meat-free dreams ($15). The mixed mediterranean grill compiles one beef skewer, one chicken skewer, and two kafta skewers—a kebab comprising a mixture of lean ground beef and lamb—nicely charred over an open flame ($24).