The landscape of Massachusetts is dotted with old industrial cities, including one 30 minutes north of Boston that still has the look and feel of a factory town. And Lawrence is also known as the “immigrant city,” with people from all over the world moving here over the past 150 years or so, helping make it one of the most diverse communities in the state. This, as you might expect, makes for some great dining options, including a number of Italian restaurants, countless Mexican, Central American, South American and Caribbean eateries, and a good number of Asian restaurants as well. A handful of places are mentioned below, with most being independent businesses that are popular mainly with locals.
For some, Café Azteca (180 Common Street) is the cream of the crop when it comes to restaurants in Lawrence, with this downtown spot serving delicious Mexican dishes in a cheerful atmosphere filled with local beautiful artwork. If you like chiles rellenos, tamales, burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, taquitos, quesadillas and fajitas, Azteca does great takes on all of these and they will make you quickly forget about the Mexican chains out there that serve these dishes.
Located in a pocket of the city that is considered to be Lawrence’s “Little Italy,” Napoli Pizza and Subs (79 Common Street) may look like your typical takeout joint but some of the offerings are really special. Sure, you can get hot and cold subs here along with Italian-style thin-crust pizza, but Napoli also serves delicious slices of Sicilian pizza as well, and its menu includes outstanding meat pies, spinach pies and broccoli pies, making it very difficult to decide what exactly to order.
Part of a local group of Salvadoran and Mexican street food spots that once had a location in Somerville, Tacos Lupita (505 Broadway) is the perfect place to go if you want a quick bite for short change and you’re on the north side of the city near the Methuen line. If you’ve never had a gordita (savory stuffed pastry), a mulita (basically an overstuffed quesadilla), or a torta (Mexican sandwich), Tacos Lupita is a must-visit, and you can also order burritos and tacos as well.
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Most restaurants in Lawrence are well off the highway, but if its convenience you want, Lee Chen Chinese Cuisine (230 Winthrop Avenue) is literally within sight of Route 495 and while it’s on a rather plain-looking strip of road that’s full of chains and gas stations, this restaurant is anything but generic. Slightly upscale but also casual and family-friendly, Lee Chen offers something for everyone, with its menu including a mix of spicy Sichuan dishes and old-fashioned Chinese-American fare.
Breweries seem to be popping up all over the place these days, and Lawrence is no exception, as Spicket River Brewery (56 Island Street) is a relative newcomer that also happens to reside in a rather interesting location. Housed in an historic mill complex that's actually on an island between the Merrimack River and the North Canal, Spicket River Brewery is loaded with charm, including a cozy patio nestled among the shadows of the beautiful old buildings.
One of the greatest types of fusion you’ll have is when South American and Asian foods are combined, and Japu Restaurant (4 Union Street) is one such place, offering Japanese cuisine with Peruvian influences (also known as “Nikkei”). Located on the same island as Spicket River Brewery, Japu boasts a gorgeous interior within one of the mills while its outdoor patio overlooks the water, and its menu features sushi along with chicken teriyaki, empanadas, noodle dishes, ceviche and much more.
Another waterside spot is Salvatore’s (354 Merrimack Street), a casual upscale Italian restaurant that is located in a massive old mill building along the Merrimack River. A dining spot that actually started off as Sal’s Pizza, Salvatore’s is a perfect date-night place or a place to go with groups of friends or co-workers, and its spacious digs allow for easy social distancing while its scenic riverside deck is definitely the place to be when the weather is nice.
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Lawrence has some great options for Caribbean food, and Pollo Tipico (190 Lawrence Street) is one that’s not all that easy to find but well worth seeking out. Hidden away in a small commercial pocket north of downtown, Pollo Tipico is a favorite among locals for Dominican fare, with its menu including such items as mofongos and tostones (both of which are a must if you like fried plantains) along with rotisserie chicken, fried fish and goat stew.
Napoli isn’t the only place in Lawrence that offers Sicilian pizza, as Tripoli Pizza and Bakery (106 Common Street) — which is basically across the street in the city’s aforementioned Little Italy neighborhood — also makes trays of it for hungry patrons looking to get a slice or two. And while Tripoli is known in part for its pizza, it is also an old-fashioned bakery that sells Italian cookies, cannoli, scali bread, cakes and an array of pastries.
If you’re looking for a more upscale Latin American restaurant, Terra Luna Cafe (225 Essex Street #1) should be on your short list of places to go. Located in the heart of the downtown area, Terra Luna sits in a gorgeous space with lots of old wood and exposed brick, and its menu includes such items as coconut shrimp, stuffed lobster, pan-seared red snapper, grilled skirt steak, fried pork chops and arroz con pollo, while all kinds of tropical cocktails can be ordered as well.