International Flavor Close to Home

In Lowell, Foodies Can Eat Their Way Around the Globe

It’s every foodie’s dream: travel the world and sample local cuisine from a variety of countries. But it’s probably not the best time for Americans to be traipsing around the globe. And who really has that kind of time and money, anyway? There is, however, a good way for the good citizens of the Merrimack Valley to practice for that bucket-list trip.

Dine in Lowell.

The state’s fourth largest city has a wild array of international restaurants, and in many ways its dining scene is unlike any other city’s in the area.

For example, it isn’t easy to find a Thai restaurant in the Mill City. Why? Because the numerous Vietnamese and Cambodian eateries in Lowell offer Thai specialties, and that has largely forced the actual Thai dining spots to flee to nearby suburbs.

Also, the city seems to have an affinity for a certain piggyback culinary culture. Garcia Brogan’s (131 Middlesex St., (978) 446-0005, has a Mexican restaurant on one side of its space and an Irish pub on the other. Where else can the same party order Guinness beef stew and chicken tortilla soup? A short walk away is the petite S&S International Food diner at 191 Appleton St., (978) 970-3700, which advertises Lebanese, American and Brazilian fare. Or maybe visit Sizzling Kitchen at 478 Merrimack St., (978) 221-5705, where Italian, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese specialties are served all the time.

How should you begin a gastronomic trip through the Mill City? Start with Merrimack Street. Blue Taleh (15 Kearney Square, (978) 453-1112, is the pre/post hot spot for any event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium or the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Their menu features Thai and Japanese fare, as well as sushi.

Just a block away is Miya (16 Merrimack St., (978) 323-7878,, with more sushi and a Pan-Asian menu. Walk a bit farther and El Potro (124 Merrimack St., (978) 455-2840, will tempt you with its Mexican fare. Newly opened and instantly popular, the 1981 Ramen Bar (129 Merrimack St., (978) 970-1981, leans toward Japanese specialties, but with a modern fusion twist.

1981 Ramen Bar. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

Keep working your way down Merrimack Street toward city hall and you’ll encounter Bishop’s Legacy (143 Merrimack St., (978) 686-4482,, which serves a smart mix of Middle Eastern and eastern Mediterranean specialties. Baba ghanoush, anyone?

And sometimes, of course, you just want a good ol’ American meal of ribs, burgers and steaks, which is why Cobblestones of Lowell (91 Dutton St., (978) 970-2282, is a longtime downtown mainstay, or 50 Warren at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center
(50 Warren St., (978) 934-6920,

Even more possibilities are just off Merrimack Street. Two of the best Greek restaurants in the state are a quick trek from each other on Market Street. The Olympia (453 Market St., (978) 452-8092, and the Athenian Corner (207 Market St., (978) 458-7052, have been going at it for years, and that means good food and very competitive prices at both.

Tremonte Pizzeria (44 Palmer St., (978) 453-1110, has quickly become a family favorite, and across the street, the new American cuisine at Fuse Bistro (45 Palmer St., (978) 323-0424, never fails to intrigue.

Lowell has the second-largest Cambodian population in the country (after Long Beach, Calif.), so it’s no surprise that you can’t swing a baseball bat in the city without hitting at least two Cambodian restaurants. It’s all but impossible to cite all of them.

Start with these: Senmonoram (1671 Middlesex St., (978) 275-0024); Peephup Tmei (278 Branch St., (978) 937-2919); and Simply Khmer (26 Lincoln St., (978) 454-6700, Bizarre Foods guy Andrew Zimmern visited the last spot. My Cambodian friends insist the preceding two have the most authentic cuisine.

Have you always fancied sampling larb, arguably the national dish of Laos? Not a problem in Lowell. Head to Zabb Elee (586 Westford St., (978) 441-0014).

The Portuguese/Brazilian community is also well served in the Mill City. How about a steak on a stone served with a nice fried egg on top? Then you’ll want to visit Cavaleiro’s (573 Lawrence St., (978) 458-2800, or Friends (350 Market St., (978) 453-8285,

Life Alive. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

The Oasis Grill (912 Gorham St., (978) 452-0833) offers Brazilian specialties in a buffet-style format. It may be the only place in Lowell where you are charged according to the weight of your dish.

Have a hankering for dim sum? Then China Star (1733 Middlesex St., (978) 856-7780, is your kind of place. Pho 88 (1270 Westford St., (978) 452-7300, and the Pho Dalat eateries (1575 Middlesex St., (978) 275-0022, and 475 Chelmsford St., (978) 453-3303, do a nice job with Vietnamese soups. Sample one and you’ll be addicted.

Good Italian food has long been the specialty of Ricardo’s Café Trattoria (110 Gorham St., (978) 453-2777,, which also
features one of the best bars in the city.

When nothing sounds as good as shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash, you’ll want to drop into The Old Court (29-31 Central St., (978) 452-0100,

Priya (1270 Westford St., (978) 454-7777, always seems to be packed with fans of Indian fare.

Life Alive (194 Middle St., (978) 453-1311, is the ultimate vegan dining spot.

And we’ve only just started. Lowell also has a thriving diner/pizzeria/food truck/comfort food scene that will have to be considered at a future time. Dine globally, eat well, sample things you’ve never had before … and never leave Lowell. For foodies, it’s a great time to be living in the Merrimack Valley.


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