While Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline have a huge number of restaurants well worth going to, another city that is a must-visit for food is a short drive to the north.
Indeed, Lowell is one of the most underrated places for dining out in the region, in part because of its incredible diversity of choices, including everything from Southeast Asian to Latin American to Greek and so much more. Choosing just ten restaurants to consider is not the easiest thing to do, but the dining spots below will give you a taste of what you’ll find in this fascinating old city.
Lowell indeed has a wide variety of options for cuisines, and if you want to choose from a few all under one roof, Sizzling Kitchen (602 Merrimack Street) may be your best bet. An Asian fusion restaurant of sorts, this eatery on the outskirts of downtown offers dishes with Thai, Vietnamese and Korean influences, and you can also order Italian items as well, with its menu including such items as chicken marsala, beef teriyaki, kimchi stew, shrimp pad Thai and pork vermicelli.
Lowell has its fair share of Greek restaurants and food shops, and the Olympia Restaurant (453 Market Street) is a longtime fave for delicious Greek comfort food dishes. Located within walking distance of Sizzling Kitchen — and next to an outstanding food shop called Sophia’s Greek Pantry North — the Olympia offers such tasty dishes as fried calamari, stuffed grape leaves, pastitsio, moussaka, gyros, baked lamb and stuffed peppers.
Many diners come to Lowell for its array of Southeast Asian restaurants, and Hong Cuc Grand Eatery (11 Grand Street) is surely one of the best. A takeout spot located near the end of the Lowell Connector, Hong Cuc is all about banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), with options including beef, chicken, pork and fish along with daikon, cucumbers, onions, carrots and mayo, all stuffed into a French baguette. (Other offerings include egg rolls, spring rolls, and bubble tea.)
Right in the heart of Lowell’s charming downtown area is 1981 Ramen Bar (129 Merrimack Street), a cozy eatery that will make you quickly forget about the late-night ramen that you may have eaten too much of in college. Here you’ll find exquisite takes on this warm and comforting noodle dish with broth options including chicken, pork and miso, while the menu also has such items as shumai, bao, gyoza, edamame and wings.
Its name may make you wonder exactly what kind of restaurant it is, but Good Thymes (1278 Gorham Street) is your classic old-school neighborhood restaurant that is family friendly and gives you a lot of food at low prices. This spacious dining spot in South Lowell has all kinds of old-fashioned dishes including chicken croquettes, a roast turkey dinner, country fried chicken, shrimp scampi, a seafood casserole and for dessert, strawberry shortcake and grape nut pudding.
If it’s hot dogs you want, Elliot's Famous Hot Dogs (37 Elliott Street) is where you might want to go, as this little hole in the wall just south of downtown is where locals go for steamed dogs that you can buy with little more than pocket change, and can be ordered with such options as cheese, chili, bacon and sauerkraut. If you’re looking for something other than a hot dog, Elliot’s also has options such as burgers, steak and cheese, ham sandwiches, BLTs and grilled cheese.
While perhaps not a household name outside of the Lowell area, Simply Khmer (26 Lincoln Street Unit #1) is wildly popular among locals, and it did get some national attention about ten years back when TV celebrity Andrew Zimmern gave the place a visit. Hidden away on a side street in a tiny strip mall, Simply Khmer offers some of the best Cambodian food in the local area, with all kinds of rice, noodles and seafood dishes served, including some that pack a lot of heat.
Lowell has a decent number of Central American, South American and Caribbean restaurants, with Gary’s Tipico (26 Andover Street) being a place that focuses mainly on the latter. This bright and cheerful eatery on the banks of the Concord River offers all kinds of Dominican dishes including shrimp ceviche, mofongo, rice and beans, grilled hanger steak, paella and whole red snapper, along with margaritas and other fruity drinks.
Old-fashioned diners can be tough to come by in the Greater Boston area, but Lowell has a number of them, including the Cameo Diner (715 Lakeview Avenue), a bustling spot north of the Merrimack River that’s popular with both locals and students at nearby UMass Lowell. Longtime customers can be found sitting on the stools along the counter or in the booths, enjoying heaping helpings of hash, omelets, egg benedict, pancakes, French toast and more.
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One of the most interesting restaurant spaces in Lowell is Coffee and Cotton (250 Jackson Street), a café that resides on the fourth floor of Mill No. 5, a restored mill just west of downtown that is also home to a farmers market, a handful of shops and a theater. The pandemic has unfortunately affected the businesses here, including Coffee and Cotton, which is currently open only on weekends for takeout, but when its indoor area reopens, you’ll find yourself in a homey space with great views of Lowell National Historic Park.