Boston

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"No Name Restaurant"

15 1/2 Fish Pier, open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Two courses from $10

Established in 1917 and located out on an actual working pier, the No Name has long been the secret haunt of locals and knowledgeable tourists who walk or drive the extra mile from Boston's South Station for fresh seafood at wholesale prices. Don't let the spare decor put you off: what the No Name saves by not updating the furniture it passes directly to you in the form of a true bargain.

We recommend warming up with a copious cup of the hearty seafood chowder ($1.75). The main courses, beginning at $7.95, are pretty basic - something recently snatched from the ocean, then fried, broiled, or sauteed to order and accompanied with garlic bread and your choice of two: french fries, rice, corn on the cob, or tangy, colorful coleslaw. The plates of fried shrimp ($8.95), and broiled mussels and scallops ($10.95) are heaped high, and the filets of bluefish, swordfish, or salmon ($10.95) are generous. By choosing something from the lighter side, such as the fried scrod sandwich ($5.50) or a clam roll ($8.45), you'll leave just enough room for the tempting homemade pies - Boston cream, blueberry, apple, strawberry rhubarb, or cherry ($2.50).

D'Amore's

76 Salem Street, open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. From $8.95 for entree, salad, and coffee

Lines form nightly outside the famous Italian eateries along Hanover Street in Boston's North End, but for our money, D'Amore's on nearby Salem Street is the most authentic choice (think of the movie Moonstruck). This small, friendly establishment is situated on a corner, allowing for open-air dining in the warmer season and window seats for practically everyone year-round.

Chef Armando Carbone serves traditional Italian fare, but to perfection - especially his sauces, which benefit from his penchant for fresh herbs and caramelized onions. Pasta dishes begin at $7.95 for a simple marinara and range through homemade gnocchi at $8.95 to progressively more intricate combinations of regular and sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and artichokes at $11.95. Bubbling hot eggplant parmigiana ($9.50) comes with a side of pasta for a good, filling deal. Chicken and veal cacciatore, orvieto, and diavolo are more expensive, beginning at $11.95. All dinners are prefaced with a salad and a basket of bread, but if you're really hungry, the thick minestrone at $3 per bowl is chock-full of sweet vegetables and worth a try.

For the best buy at D'Amore's, consider dining in the late afternoon or early evening (Sunday through Friday), when early birds have a choice of nine different entrees served with soup and salad, coffee, tea, soda, or wine, all for $10.50. This is a seasonal offer, so call first (617/523-8820) to confirm times.

Restaurant Marche Movenpick

800 Boylston Street, 7:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. From $10

Centrally located near Copley Plaza, one "T" stop from the Museum of Fine Arts, this unique dining venue is a great option for anyone needing to express a little freedom of choice. March, is a 37,000-square-foot international food marketplace tastefully landscaped into stations by cuisine - sushi, crepes, pizzas, stir-fry, grilled meats, salads, desserts - where chefs make your food right before your eyes, and often per your instruction.

As you enter Marche, each member of your party is given a "passport," upon which the station chefs will later stamp a record of what you've ordered. You are then collectively shown to a table (cloth napkins and all) and invited to browse the market and collect any constellation of courses you desire. During our last visit, one of us opted for a small Caesar salad ($2.49), a filet of grilled Atlantic salmon with teriyaki sauce ($8.99), and a monstrously large and chewy oatmeal chocolate-chip cookie (99[cents]), while the other began with sushi (six pieces of freshly made unagi maki for $4.99), continued the Asian theme with a large chicken-and-vegetable curry noodle soup for $4.99, and then splurged for a dinner-plate-size banana chocolate crepe ($5.29). Though technically a cafeteria, its unobtrusively attentive waiters who keep water glasses full and whisk away trays and depleted dishes provide just the right touch of restaurant pampering.

Pho Pasteur

At 119 Newbury Street, Boston, or 35 Dunster Street, Cambridge, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. rest of week. From $8.90 for appetizer, main course, and tea

Pho Pasteur has long been a favorite among budget-conscious students in Cambridge's happening Harvard Square, but a newly opened second restaurant on Newbury Street brings these wonderful Vietnamese delicacies to the heart of Boston's swanky shopping district.

Pho, a beef-, chicken-, or fish-based noodle soup flavored with just the right amount of scallions, onions, and cilantro, is the specialty of the house, though many dishes - our favorites among them - stray from this formula. For starters, the spring rolls here are delicious and come in several varieties (fried or steamed, vegetarian or minced shrimp and/or pork) served with a light, sweet dipping sauce ($3.95). Another good appetizer, curi ga ($4.95), an aromatic, creamy, curried chicken soup with loads of tender carrots and potatoes, is served with vermicelli noodles on the side and is almost a meal in itself. Main courses are all priced reasonably from $4.95 for a small sized pho to $8.95 for banh hoi: marinated grilled beef, pork, or chicken with vermicelli and vegetables wrapped in rice paper. If you're dining with friends, we recommend sharing-pairing a bun dish, a delicately flavored vegetable and noodle stir fry ($5.95-$6.50), with thit hoac, a traditional Vietnamese casserole of caramelized pork or sliced fish in a rich, sweet broth over rice ($7.95).

Iruna

56 JFK Street in Cambridge, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. lunch, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. dinner, closed Sundays. From $8.50 for soup and entree, less for a tapas meal

You really shouldn't visit Boston without paying homage to the revered codfish, so we suggest a Spanish twist on it at Iruna. Another favorite among starving students, this unpretentious restaurant is hidden in a quiet alley off Harvard Square. Most patrons choose to sample the many tapas dishes, both fritas (cold) and calientes (hot), which range in price from $3.25 to $5.95 for such items as scrumptious olives stuffed with tuna or anchovies, tender calamares a la vinegreta, or the Basque specialty bacalao ajoarriero (the famed codfish and shrimp stewed in a piquant tomato sauce). All tapas are served with a basket of soft, fresh bread to soak up the sauces and marinades.

Don't miss the excellent soups - gazpacho ($2.75) or garlic soup ($1.75), the Basque version of French onion soup. The omelets burst with ingredients like cured ham, asparagus, shrimp, or chorizo sausage and are served with soup or salad - a real deal for less than $5.75. Full entrees, also served with soup or salad, change daily but often include carne guisada, a thick meaty stew ($6.75), chicken stuffed with fresh herbs and rice ($8.25), and lomo de puerco estofado, slices of pork in a mushroom sauce ($8.25). Whether you choose to nibble at tapas or go whole hog, homemade flan ($3) or chocolate mousse ($3.25) offers a nice way to round out the meal.

The ubiquitous Philly cheese steak

Chopped steak. An Italian roll. Cheez Whiz (or sometimes provolone). That's all there is to the cheese steak, yet this humble sandwich reigns supreme in the City of Brotherly Love. The cheese steak is a true delicacy of the region, Philly's equivalent of clam chowder in New England or crawfish in New Orleans, and no self-respecting carnivore should visit the city without spilling a bit of it down her shirt (an inevitable consequence of that first juicy bite). On a recent visit, we had a marathon tasting of the city's top five contenders, traveling in four hours from stand to stand to compare.

We vote hands-down for Pat's King of Steaks (Ninth and Wharton Streets, $5.50 for the goods), for its crusty rolls, tender steak, and oh-so-gooey cheese. And there's a perverse sort of fun to be had in shielding yourself from the biting wind as you sit at a picnic table on the cracked pavement, hunk o' meat in your fist, staring at signed photographs of President Clinton, Cher, and Pia Zadora (cheese steak aficionados all, it seems).

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