2023’s Best Restaurants in The Valley – Tom Duggan’s Notebook (1-23)

Tom Duggan: 1/23

Since the needless COVID lockdowns our Valley Patriot restaurant reviewers have found that many of the places we used to love are no longer providing good food or good service, or both. So, we just don’t go anymore.

However, we have also found that some restaurants we used to dislike, have stepped up their game and become the best go-to eateries. Therefore, we are updating our “Best Restaurants” list for our readers. If you do go to any of these places tell them we recommended them. Enjoy!


It’s hard to find a really good Mexican Restaurant in the Valley but we found a few that are worth visiting.

CASA BLANCA – 2 Essex Street, HAVERHILL – (978) 891-3889

Owned by the same family as the Casa Blanca in North Andover, the food selection, quality of food and quality of service is far better than any Mexican restaurant in the Valley. While most restaurants are using baby shrimps in their fajitas and other dishes, Casa Blanca in Haverhill is still using larger sized shrimps. We also liked the fact that their salsa dip was actually spicy hot.

The waiters and waitresses are very attentive but not overbearing and they don’t try to rush you out the door the minute you are done with your food. In 2022 we could not find another Mexican eatery that was as good and as pleasant as Casa Blanca in Haverhill. The other thing we liked about it was the price. We didn’t pay any more here than we did at any other Mexican Restaurant of similar quality with one exception. See our next review below.

MI MEXICO LINDO – 5 Pleasant St., METHUEN – 978-682-2271
It’s our go-to place because of the location in downtown Methuen and the fact that we have never ever had to wait for a table. We also love Mi Mexico Lindo for the prices. They have exceptional service by the wait staff, inexpensive drinks, and an in inexpensive menu ($2 to $5 less than other places). We recommend the Steak and Shrimp Sizzling Fajita, or the Carne Asada Steak dinner. You can’t go wrong no matter what you order.

PLAZA AZTECA – 552 Broadway – METHUEN, – 978-794-0908
We really don’t like chain restaurants because the food quality isn’t always up to par and they are constantly changing their menu choices as a gimmick to get new customers. But, the food and service at Plaza Azteca is so good it’s worth the revolving menu items and there’s usually a ten-minute wait if you go during lunch or dinner.

The prices are comparable to other Mexican Restaurants, but unlike others we didn’t have to ask for hot sauce to spice up any of their dishes. One of the most frustrating things about going to a Mexican restaurant is that what they call spicy usually isn’t spicy enough for us. That was not a problem at Plaza Azteca. There’s plenty of parking and it’s centrally located right off Rt. 213/Rt. 93 on the Salem NH border.


It’s one thing to go out to a restaurant for a quick bite, but it’s quite another to go out to a restaurant for a date, a business dinner, taking out the family, or just a nice night out. Here are our recommendations of the best fine dining restaurants in the Valley.

KITTY’S – 123 Main St., North Reading 978-664-4541
or 781-944-7448

It had been at least two decades since we went to Kitty’s in North Reading, mostly because it’s not in an area we frequent. But when I took a date to Kitty’s last summer we were actually thrilled by the experience. First, the waitress knew every single menu item and every side dish off the top of her head. We even quizzed her for fun, asking what side dishes went with what main dish and she was spot on every single time. That’s not easy to do given the fact that Kitty’s has, by far, the most extensive menu choices of any restaurant we have been to. What’s more, I am constantly frustrated by chefs who do not understand what “well done” means when I order my steak.

But the chefs at Kitty’s did. It was perfectly cooked. The most impressive part of our dinner were the exceptionally large portions. You would have to order two or three meals at another restaurant to get the amount of food you get in one dinner plate at Kitty’s. And if you like hot wings that are really spicy, Kitty’s has the hottest hot wings around. My date got the seafood plate and she took home more food than she ate in the restaurant. NO STICKER SHOCK!

The menu prices at Kitty’s is comparable to any other fine dining family restaurant you will visit. As a side bonus there was ample parking and the salads were better (and bigger)than anywhere else. Since we were there last summer, we have been back four or five times and I can attest that there is literally nothing on the menu to avoid.

SALVATORE’S RESTAURANT 354 Merrimack St, Lawrence,
(978) 234-7053

With a really spacious dining area and the best service in the Merrimack Valley, Salvatore’s Restaurant is one of our go-to places to eat because they have a very high quality of food. Located at the Sal’s Riverwalk complex, you can get take out as well as dine in and while the quality of Sal’s Pizza is second to none, you are paying less than at most pizza shops in the area. If you’ve had the takeout you really want to dine in with your significant other or your family. And if you visit any time but winter, you want to dine on the deck which overlooks the Merrimack River.

BEST DISHES: Since we eat here so often, we have tried everything on the menu and have some great recommendations. First, you have to try the butternut squash ravioli (topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce). Order a few appetizers though, because the portions are a little light. Not the case with Short Rib Stroganoff, (topped with rich mushroom cream demi-glace over pappardelle), or the shrimp scampi, or the Clams and linguini. By far our favorite dish is the veal marsala (with  with chef’s potato and mixed vegetables or asparagus).

For you salad lovers try the steak and blue, it’s marinated steak tips over a salad with blue cheese dressing and it’s amazing. If you have a family birthday coming up your best bet is a Salvatore’s gift certificate!

THE PHOENICIAN – 12 Alpha St. Haverhill (978) 337-1714

Many of you may remember how amazing the food and service was at Bishop’s on Hampshire and Lowell Street in Lawrence. There really hasn’t been a restaurant in the area that can compare, but the Phoenician does it wonderfully. French fries like you remember at Bishop’s and Lebanese food that rivals any eatery in the old country.

Fresh kibbe, stuffed clams that would make any beach restaurant envious, and an assortment platter of Lebanese items that is so good, if you close your eyes you can almost feel like you are back at Bishop’s.

You will pay fine dining prices but it is well worth every penny with large portions for your take home bag, the luxurious atmosphere and professional service.

LORETTA – 15 Pleasant St., Newburyport – (978) 463-0000

While there are a lot of great places to eat in Newburyport we were looking for dinner one night and stumbled upon, perhaps the best restaurant on the coast.

Loretta is right in the downtown area near the post office where street parking was a problem, but the food was so good it didn’t matter.

Now, those of you who like blackened swordfish know that everyone does it differently and most places don’t make it very well. It’s either too dry and too small, or worst of all too tough. So, when I ordered the swordfish at Loretta my expectations were pretty low. After all, it’s been a few years since I had a swordfish dinner that was good, it’s been much longer since I’ve had one that was exceptional.

Loretta changed that. Sitting on top of mashed potatoes with a caramelized onion gravy and a side of asparagus, it was blackened perfectly and the size of the swordfish steak turned out to be perfect, even though I thought it might be too small when they first brought it out. Prices were comparable to other restaurants and the service was exceptional!

Loretta is open for lunch from 11-3 (3-5pm food not served) and dinner from 5-9pm and Thursday through Saturday until 9:30. The bar is open from 11 AM until 11 PM.


It’s hard to find a good seafood restaurant in the Merrimack Valley with decent prices without going to the beach. However, we found a few places worth spending your money.

NEW ENGLAND SEAFOOD – 225 Merrimack St, Methuen
(978) 686-7494

While the bulk of their business is take out, there are a few tables for patrons to eat there. New England Seafood has some of the freshest seafood in the area, with exceptional prices. Our restaurant reviewers were very disappointed when local seafood places started scaling back on deep sea scallops, but when we went to New England Seafood they weren’t trying to pass off baby scallops as deep sea like so many other local restaurants. While some restaurants have decreased their food portions to save money, New England Seafood gives you a loaded plate for the same price as before the lockdowns and the best part, great french fries!

We recommend the deep sea scallops, fish and chips (far superior to others) or the blackened swordfish which is hard to find in most seafood places.

BOSTON CHOWDA – 109 Main St. North Andover
(978) 685-9610

They close early and mostly service a lunch crowd but Boston Chowda seems to have found a way to make clam chowder and lobster bisque better than any high priced restaurant you can patronize.

The portions of lobster and scallops in the lobster and scallop pies are very generous and they have daily specials that are always good.

On Fridays you would do yourself a favor by ordering the fish and chips but remember, they close at 7pm, except for Fridays when the close at 8pm.


LOTS OF EATS 1211 Osgood St. North Andover,
(978) 682-8888 or (978) 682-8889

We’ve never liked the Thai place in Andover that everyone raves about, and we’ve tried several other Thai places north of Boston but found them to be less than pleasurable. But, there’s a tiny little restaurant in North Andover on Route 125 that outdoes any Thai place we have ever been to. While the dining space is slightly cramped, the food and service make this a go-to lunch or dinner choice.

Our recommendation is the Ginger caramelized Shrimp (battered and deep-fried shrimps sautéed in Prik Pao sauce with fresh ginger, palm sugar, and scallion and comes with steamed broccoli on the side), and the Mango Curry (Scallops, shrimp, snap peas, onions, cherry tomatoes in Yellow curry sauce and mango cubes). We also recommend the Honey Crispy Duck (Pan-seared half duck with honey sauce and steamed broccoli).

In our next restaurant review we will focus on the exceptional food and service at the Loft on Osgood St. in North Andover, Shadi’s Lebanese food on Osgood St. in North Andover, or Tomo’s Japanese Steak House on Rt. 28 in Salem N.H., Shaking Seafood and Scola’s Seafood in Dracut.

If you have any recommendations for a restaurant review, feel free to email us at valleypatriot@aol.com ◊