You want to be friends with Izzy Berdan, the creative director of Aquitaine Group and self-proclaimed “world activist.” The 39-year-old Texas native takes Bostonians on an aesthetic journey with South End staples like 500 Cinquecento, Gaslight Brasserie and Metropolis, but also brings music to their ears as a member of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Plus, he definitely knows his food.
We asked Berdan to share some of his favorite eats around the city — and he did not disappoint. In the most thorough edition of Eat like an Insider (possibly ever), we share his thoughts on not only where to eat, but exactly what to order, too.
Best late night meal?
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"I grew up in Boston in the late'90sworking in dance clubs in the Theater District and immediately fell in love with Chinatown! We popped around a number of restaurants but found a home in Grand Chau Chow's. Unfortunately, after a number of years they closed, but we followed the team to their new endeavor, New Golden Gate!"
Standard order: Spicy Fried Squid and Pan Fried Noodle Beef and Broccoli.66 Beach St.
Best meal under $5?
"If you understand the concept of traveling through food, you will love Yely'sCoffee Shop. It's a tiny corner in a building that will send you right back to Puerto Rico or the Dominican with a $5 plate! There are no menus, there are no signsand sometimes no one who speaks English. What they do have is a counter filled with amazing island food. Just go in, wait in line and when you get to the counter tell them you want a $5 plate and point at what looks good and they will assemble."
Standard order: Arroz con Gandules, Tostones, Chicharrones & Orejas.284 Centre St., Jamaica Plain
Best hidden foodie gem?
"Alden & Harlow — I am firmly aware this gem isn't hidden,but dammit — it's so freaking good! There is nothing I can say about this place that hasn't already been said. Just go… no really, if you haven't eaten there yet, go tonight."
Standard order: the entire menu.40 Brattle St., Cambridge
Best place to dine alone?
"Barbecue is a touchy subject for so many people, but fortunately for me, [owner] Tiffani Faison and I share the same thoughts on proper prep and cooking. So with all that said, I have very little control of myself with her menu. [At Sweet Cheeks],I find it best to just order over the phone and then when I pick it up I pretend like I’m throwing a party at my house. You don't know my journey!"
Standard order: Fat Cheeks Tray [with] Brisket, Ribs, Pork Belly, Cita's Broccoli Cheese Casserole, Coleslaw. Sides of Fried Green Tomatoes and Fried Okra with Jalapeño Ranch.1381 Boylston St.
Best place to catch up with friends?
"Gourmet Dumpling Houseis one of my favorite places in the city to sit around a table and scream at my friends. The wait can sometimes be 40 minutes. The dining room is cramped, and if you have nice clothes they will more than likely get a stain. It's loud. The menu isn't user-friendly. Food comes out when it's ready and not in any order. Sometimes you have to ask for things twice or just run and find someone to refill your tea and water. It's perfect! When patrons put up with all those things because of the food you make, you know you got something great on your hands. Also, it’s Chinatown, people!"
Standard order: At least one order of soup dumplings per person, Szechuan Fish, Salt and Pepper Pork Chop, Peapod Stem. 52 Beach St.
Most Instagrammable dish in town?
"First and foremost, I am a photographer, so it's all about light. If your goal is to get the best of both worlds: dinner food with perfect light, you're looking at a 5 p.m. reservation next to a window at [Aquitaine Bar a Vin Bistrot]. The other option is having a friend help you by creating a diffuser out of their dinner napkin and shooting the key light through that... you asked.
Now on to the food. This dish is currently only available on Wednesdays, but it is as gorgeous as it is beautiful: Coq Au Vin [with] crisp poussin,bacon lardons, mushrooms [and] pearl onions. I love the combo of texture and color on the dish, and also, it's so damn good!"569 Tremont St.