SALEM — With more than 60 restaurants, cafes and coffee shops crammed into the downtown of a city only a bit larger than the crowd at a Fenway Park sellout, it's amazing that more eating establishments haven't closed.
For the record, a bunch have gone out of business in the past year: Dodge Street Grill, Lakay Island, Coven and The Upper Crust Pizzeria.
What may be more remarkable, though, is that new restaurants have come along just as quickly to fill the void.
Gulu-Gulu, the popular cafe tucked behind the "Bewitched" statue, is taking over the lease of its former neighbor, Upper Crust, and opening its own version of a thin-crust pizza parlor.
Life Alive Urban Oasis & Organic Cafe, which also has sites in Lowell and Cambridge, has moved in where Coven was on Essex Street, and The Village Tavern will set up shop this summer on the Essex Street pedestrian mall in the spot vacated by the short-lived Lakay Island.
The one exception is the old Dodge Street Bar & Grill. It closed a few months ago and remains vacant. The liquor license is being bought by The Village Tavern, reportedly for $60,000, and the place is up for lease.
So what's the message in all this?
"We're still a hot spot," said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
"I think we really are the dining destination on the North Shore," said Jennifer Bell, manager of Salem Main Streets.
Whatever the verdict, the restaurant boom that began here about a decade ago appears to be marching on unabated.
The most-talked-about opening may be Flying Saucer, the name chosen by Gulu-Gulu owner Steve Feldmann for the pizza restaurant he plans to open in a few weeks.
The unexpected opportunity to expand came in February when the Upper Crust closed after its owner was found to have violated federal wage laws and, facing big fines, closed restaurants in Salem and Beverly.
Although Feldmann and his wife welcomed a baby this winter, the Gulu-Gulu owner still jumped at the chance to open a second, side-by-side business.
"We're going to keep it a pizza place," he said. "The ovens are there, and everything is built up for a pizza place."
Taking the name "Flying Saucer" from an old Ed Wood film, Feldmann said it will have a bit of a science fiction feel with a Gulu-Gulu culture. The restaurants already share a back hallway and bathrooms.
"I've heard from many people that they really miss having Upper Crust here," he said. The two restaurants "worked really well together."
Flying Saucer is currently undergoing renovations.
Life Alive, 281 Essex St., founded by Marblehead native Heidi Feinstein, bills itself as a cafe with "vegetarian food even a meat lover can crave."
Feinstein said the menu is "simple food," like prepared vegetables over whole grain rice with sauces. There will be a wheatgrass and juice bar.
With a background in therapy and healing, Feinstein said her mission is "more about connecting people to their potential and possibilities, and the food is the best way to do that."
Life Alive hopes to open by the end of the week.
Arthur Ingemi, who ran the former Beef and Oyster restaurant in Salem more than 20 years ago, is opening a new restaurant, The Village Tavern, with his son, Alex, at the spot on the Essex Street pedestrian mall where Lakay Island closed after less than a year. It is the former location of Asahi, a popular Japanese restaurant.
"I was very selective where I wanted to go," said Ingemi, a Salem native. "I know the location there. It doesn't have drive-by ... but that is overshadowed by the downtown itself, which, I believe, is a mecca for restaurants."
Ingemi said he was drawn by proximity to the Museum Place Mall parking garage, with a stairway and door that lead directly to the restaurant, and a location across from the Peabody Essex Museum.
The Village Tavern will have four distinct sections: a raw bar and sushi bar, a room with booths and an open grill, a long bar that will seat 40 for drinks or dinner, and a large outside patio.
The grill will cook everything from burgers and steaks to smoked ribs and brisket, he said.
"We want it to be a little bit unusual," he said.
The Village Tavern expects to open in July.
Also among the coming attractions is Orange Leaf, a local franchise of a national frozen yogurt chain, moving to the corner of New Derby and Lafayette streets next to Howling Wolf, a popular Mexican restaurant.
David Pierre, the franchise owner, said he picked the spot because it is visible and has plenty of parking.
"We think we're well-located," he said.
It is set to open June 1.