By Rosemary Ford
Diners looking for a change of pace from cookie-cutter chain restaurants can turn to small, independent, local eateries — often called boutique restaurants — that offer distinctive menus, often ethnic.
"I think people are doing that; we definitely have the client base that continues to come in and visit us," said Tina Rimal, co-owner of The Hot Nepali, offering Nepalese cuisine at 42 Merrimack St. in Haverhill. "People are looking for good food, a good deal and some light entertainment."
And the best of the boutique eateries are finding that their unique atmosphere and cuisine can help them ride out a slow economy.
"Overall, we're doing well," said Joseph Najjar, owner of Mazaj, a Lebanese restaurant at 5 Ayers Village Road in Methuen. "People still go out and eat. They have to go out."
Here are some of the local boutique restaurants:
r The Black Water Grill, 43 Pelham Road, Salem, N.H.: Casual dining paired with fabulous food and a warm decor make for a unique dining experience. The seafood and pasta dishes always win rave reviews, and their Banana Berries Foster is legendary.
r Evenfall, Route 125, Haverhill: The eclectic restaurant with a reputation for its martinis recently started its "Roasting Hot Sundays" — a family-style dinner format featuring two roasted meats, three side dishes and salad.
r Marabu Cafe, 22 Union St., Lawrence: Sit outside this restaurant in its wonderful flower garden surrounded by bamboo torches and it won't be difficult to see why its so popular. Local favorites on the menu include a signature salad and crab cakes.
r AntiquiTeas Tea Room, Route 28, Londonderry, N.H.: At this cozy eatery, tea is served by the pot — enclosed in a beautiful tea cozy. It's a great place to savor your food, and perhaps browse a gift shop afterward.
r Lucciano's Cafe, 52 Gilcreast Road, Londonderry, N.H.: This quaint place is warm and inviting, with Italian music always playing in the background. The portions are generous and the prices reasonable.
r Inaka Japanese Restaurant, 160 Winthrop Ave., Lawrence: Generous portions and creative specials make this one of the best sushi places out there. The zen-like atmosphere is calming and the staff is friendly.
r Serene Restaurant, 12 Main St., Andover: It may be one of the new kids on the block, but Serene is quickly building a reputation in downtown Andover. With a cozy, welcoming atmosphere and menu filled with interesting Italian delights, it's a place worth checking out.
r Essex Street Grille, 25 Essex St., Haverhill: Reasonable prices and a trendy urban atmosphere makes this a hit in Haverhill's arts district. Regular diners recommend the tuna and scallops.