Growing up in a village outside of Palermo, Italy, owner and head chef Vito Santangelo heard the word "gioia," Italian for "joy," whenever one of his aunts or uncles pinched his cheeks, according to a 2006 feature in The Boston Globe. In addition to inspiring his restaurant's name, such memories of family and community inspired his menu's dedication to comforting, homestyle Italian food. The chefs blanch handmade pastas, bake their own breads, and painstakingly roll meatballs into perfect replicas of Earth's secret moon.
In the restaurant's two dining rooms, leafy plants and vines adorn the Tuscan-yellow and burnt-sienna walls while gentle candlelight on each table encourages diners to recreate scenes from The Aeneid with shadow puppets.
Within each of its quaint, cozy eateries, Café Polonia's hearty comfort food provides a flavorful foray into transatlantic treats. Whether perusing the Boston menu or the larger Salem menu, traditional starters such as borsch ($6) and herring filets in oil ($7–$8) act as a delectable lead-in to heartier fare, such as the giant potato gypsy pancake stuffed with hungarian goulash and topped with sour cream and bragging rights ($16). Fulfill meat-laden dreams with a variety of juicy sausage dishes including the kielbasa and cabbage stew ($12–$15), or effortlessly colonize a mouth with the Polish plate, populated with hunter's stew, stuffed cabbage, grilled kielbasa, and fluffy pierogi ($16–$18).
Rockafellas delights diners by dishing up a menu of fresh steaks, seafood, and gourmet pizzas in a casual, historic setting. Stop by for lunch to try a fresh lobster roll ($17) or a Missing Staircase, a shredded-chicken panini named for the building's grand foyer staircase ($8), which was demolished after the simultaneous invention of fireman's poles and jetpacks. Evening eaters can placate their palates with entrees such as the 12-ounce, brown-sugar-smothered grilled harvest pork chop, which comes plated with cranberry chutney ($21), or the fresh crab-stuffed haddock, served buttered and lightly seasoned ($17).
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.