Pros: Inexpensive, child-friendly, interesting decor
Cons: Not worth going unless you are shopping for furniture, not the cleanest place
Finally - Ikea has landed in New England - Stoughton, MA to be exact. I had been to Ikea stores in Virginia and New Jersey but it sure is nice having one in my own backyard. One of the best parts about the Ikea experience is their in-store cafeteria. The food is pretty good but the prices are the best!
WHAT IS IT?
Ikea is a furniture store that basically sells furniture you have to put together yourself. Almost all the furniture you see in the store comes in shockingly flat boxes with the little metal tools you need to assemble it. Ikea also sell all kinds of home goods and have lots of fun things for kids. The store has tons of cool displays and is an experience in itself. The other cool thing is that the in-store restaurant has some tasty dishes for the whole family to try.
The Ikea restaurant is basically a cafeteria. You have to wait in line, grab a tray and your own silverware. Then you can push your tray along a railing as you select from several choices in cases in front of you - just like grade school. Toward the end of the line is a steam table with employees that serve hot food.
The cold choices include salads, smoked salmon and other seafood, some cakes and pastries. The hot choices include macaroni and cheese and usually some kind of chicken dish. However, the most popular thing by far is the Swedish meatballs. The Swedish meatball plates come in different sizes from 10 meatballs to 20 meatballs. The meatballs are pretty small, I can eat about 15 myself. They come with an optional creamy sauce that is very good. They also come with steamed potatos on the side but you can get mixed vegetables substituted if you ask. You also get a small portion of ligonberries that taste a lot like cranberry sauce. A self-service station offers soup, salad and rolls. The beverages are self-serve and include soda, coffee, tea and ligonberry juice.
The appearance of the food is okay - slightly better than you would expect in a cafeteria and not as good as a sit down restaurant. The quality of the food is just okay. The hot chicken dish tastes like one of those stir fry kits you can buy in the frozen section of the supermarket. The mixed vegetables that come as a side dish have clearly been previously-frozen but the variety of vegetables is good and they taste okay. The meatballs are by far the best thing on the menu. They have a unique taste and you can't easily get them elsewhere. Overall, I would put the quality of the food somewhere between McDonald's and Appleby's. However, the prices are so low, I think the quality of the food is pretty good for the price, and far healthier, than many fast food places.
I have to specifically mention the prices. I fed two kids and two adults for under $20. You can get a kid's dish of macaroni and cheese for 99 cents. I also saw a 99 cent breakfast advertised but haven't tried it yet. The prices are certainly one of the things that bring people to eat at Ikea.
There is no ambiance at the Ikea restaurant. It is a cafeteria and you have to take that at face value. After you pay for your food, you have to find your own seat. Patrons have to bus their own tables and don't always do a particularly good job. The Stoughton location has been busy the three times I have visited and it can sometimes be hard just to find a table. It is almost impossible to find a clean table.
Ikea advertises itself as a family destination so there are lots of kids in the restaurant including lots of high spirited little kids. All of the diners are Ikea shoppers and dress is extremely casual. The restaurant is loud and the lighting is bright.
The decor is made up mostly of Ikea furniture and lighting. The decor is bright with lots of white and it is minimalist modern. If you like the Ikea style, you will like looking at the decor in the restaurant.
Since this is a cafeteria, there is no real service. You have to get your own food and bus your own table. The few employees I have encounted seemed nice and eager to please.
I have to specifically mention cleanliness since the Ikea cafeteria has never been particularly clean when I visited. Patrons are supposed to clear their own tables and don't always do a good job. There don't seem to be enough employees to wipe the tables in between diners. The drink station always seems to be wet and generally messy. Happily, the food stations seem very clean.
Ikea bills itself as a family-friendly destination and the cafeteria is very family-friendly. The cafeteria sells baby food in jars. There is a bottle-warming station. I have seen free plastic bibs out occasionally. There are also lots of Ikea high chairs available. The kid's menu is very inexpensive - only 99 cents for a small plate of macaroni and cheese. There is also a section in the middle of the restaurant for kids to play.
They take credit cards.
There is no liquor - this is a furniture store not a bar!
The restaurant is all on one level and looks handicapped friendly.
There are some vegetarian choices.
The parking at the Stoughton location is crazy. There always seems to be a line of cars just waiting to get into the parking area. Since this location is new, the crowds may die down in time. Still, it can take up to 30 minutes to get into a parking space.
The Ikea cafeteria is great if you happen to get hungry while shopping at Ikea. The prices are low and the food is good for what you end up paying. I wouldn't go out of my way to eat at the Stoughton location, especially because the parking situation is so stressful. However, if you plan a trip to Ikea, I recommend going around a meal time so you can grab some of those yummy meatballs.
HUNGRY FOR MORE? TRY THESE BOSTON-AREA RESTAURANTS:
BOSTON: Radius; Caffe Vitoria; Excelsior; Jacob Wirth; Cottonwood Cafe; Imperial Seafood House; Sibling Rivalry; Flemings; 29 Newbury.
BROOKLINE: Mr. Sushi; Fugakyu; Takeshima; Tsunami; Anna's Taqueria; Zaftigs Delicatessen; Bangkok Bistro; Golden Temple.
NEWTON: Appetito; India Paradise; Blue Ribbon Barbeque; Ice Cream Works; Baker's Best; Bills Pizzeria; Cafe Nicolas; Union Street; OHaras; Yeradis; Johnnys Luchonette.
CAMBRIDGE: S&S Restaurant; The Japanese Mall; Jasper Whites Summer Shack; Dali .
WEST ROXBURY: Cafe Misono.
CHAIN RESTAURANTS: Not Your Average Joes; Bertuccis; Legal Sea Foods; Cheesecake Factory; Rainforest Cafe; Fire & Ice; Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse; Friendlys.
COFFEE, BAGELS AND DONUTS: Brueggers Bagels; Finagle a Bagel; Dunkin Donuts; Peets Coffee and Tea.