It has been a tough, tough week for those of us in Boston.
For me, I landed in Boston right around the time the lock-down was lifted, so thankfully we were able to catch a cab back to our home in Cambridge. Imagine our surprise when about 10 unmarked cruisers sped past our cab on Storrow Drive racing towards Watertown. We continued to hear sirens for several minutes, even after we got home.
Who could have imagined that the tenseness, craziness, and unbelievability of this whole week would finally reach some sort of closure in a couple more hours.
We were all relieved, and it was really, really nice to see Boston slowly coming back to life over the weekend. Going back to normal never felt so great.
In honor of my beloved city, I have written up a post detailing some of my favorite places to bring friends when they visit. I often get requests for where to eat while in Boston, and I’ve never really written up a proper post putting it all together.
So, please enjoy this write up of some of my favorite places to eat (plus a fun surprise at the end).
And if you have a chance, definitely come and visit!
1. Taste Boston’s Famous Seafood
Boston has fantastic seafood – everything from our dizzying array of raw oysters to the awesome lobster rolls and clam chowder. Try the incredible lobster roll at Neptune Oyster in Boston’s North End. Their hot lobster roll is especially famous, but everything there is really, really good. I personally love their oysters as well as the Johnny cake. The biggest negative about this place is that they don’t take reservations and the restaurant is tiny. Waits can easily stretch to a couple hours long. Thankfully, you can leave your phone number and they will call you when your table is ready. However, don’t show up too late. We’ve come and been turned away before because the line was so long they wouldn’t be able to seat us that night.
If you don’t want to wait at Neptune, Island Creek Oyster Bar is an excellent alternative because they take reservations (plus they are located a stone’s throne from Fenway Park). This place has a great selection of local oysters plus lots of tasty seafood options. Of course, it is also very popular, so book early! Other decent stand-bys for seafood include Legal Sea Foods (very fresh but simply prepared seafood and excellent clam chowder) and (for that fancier steakhouse-like experience), the Oceanaire.
2. Italian Food in Boston’s North End (+ pastries afterwards!)
The North End is a vibrant, food-packed neighborhood that is definitely a must-visit. Though most tourists will line up to eat at Giacamo’s or Pizzeria Regina, we prefer Mamma Maria, a place serving excellent Italian food in a cozy, townhouse-like environment; or the buzzing Prezza, who has one of the best bolognese sauces we’ve ever tried and an awesome lobster fra diavlo (but really, everything is fantastic).
For more casual, less expensive, but still excellent Italian fare, try Monica’s Trattoria or Antico Forno. I always skips dessert at restaurants in the North End because I love heading over to Mike’s Pastry or Modern for dessert. Don’t miss the awesome lobster tail at Mike’s (my favorite!) or the delicious cannoli at either location. Lines can get long on weekends, though you can sometimes avoid the lines if you opt for sit-down service at Mike’s (if there’s an open table).
3. A Splurge One Night?
Although Boston hasn’t been rated by the likes of the Michelin Guide, San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Restaurants list, or other lists that get passed around, we have our own fair share of fantastic fine dining options. Here are my favorites.
Watermelon Pearls and Oysters at O Ya
For a twist on Japanese food (one of my favorite cuisines), head down to O Ya in downtown Boston where Tim Cushman will delight you with his creative takes on sushi. Must try dishes include the fried Kumamoto oysters nigiri, grilled chanterelles & shitake mushroom “sashimi”, and the foie gras nigiri for dessert (yes, chocolate sauce and dessert wine). If you’re into sake, Chef Cushman’s wife Nancy Cushman is a certified sake sommelier and can create a great pairing for you.
Ken Oringer is one of the most famous chefs locally, and it’s not hard to see why. Both of his restaurants, Clio and Uni Sashimi Bar serve beautiful, creative, and well executed dishes. Clio is more traditional French, while Uni Sashimi Bar is a twist on Japanese cuisine.
A Course from The Ultimate Chef’s Tasting at Craigie on Main
For true nose to tail dining, check out the ever popular Craigie on Main across the river in Cambridge for overall excellent food. Chef Tony Maws is fanatical about the quality and the source of all his food, and it really shows. His burger is so famous and popular (even at a whopping $18), that it often sells out before 7PM (and you have to know about it to ask for it, since it only appears on the bar menu now). I’ve enjoyed everything from the casual brunch (best bloody Mary I’ve ever tried, by the way) to his “Ultimate Chef’s Tasting.” This guy’s got true talent, and it’s definitely worth trying his restaurant if you have a chance.
A twist on a Lobster Roll from Menton
For that refined, sophisticated high-end French experience, Menton is well regarded as the best option in the city. Barbara Lynch set out to even out-do herself in offering a new level of haute cuisine never seen in Boston. It seems like Chef Lynch has succeeded, even receiving the honor of being Boston’s first ever Relais & Chateaux recognized restaurant, an honor indeed. Menton offers various tasting menus inspired by local ingredients and interpreted with French techniques with influences from all different sorts of cuisines. We’ve tried several meals there, and have always been impressed by the food, ambiance, and service. It really is one of the best high-end restaurants in Boston.
For a more unusual, Mediterranean experience, check out Ana Sortun’s Oleana, which derives quite a lot of influence from Turkish cuisine. Chef Sortun’s husband is a farmer, and therefore the restaurant also strongly emphasizes the use of local and seasonal produce, produced with organic methods when possible.
Another fun and unique place is Scampo, an excellent Italian-leaning restaurant located in The Liberty Hotel, a former prison. The architecture of this prison makes this building pretty interesting to visit. The food at Scampo, from Boston’s well-known chef Lydia Shire, is also excellent.
Russell House Tavern
One thing that has spoiled me here is the plethora of really good gastropubs. I almost thing I take it for granted. Just in Cambridge alone, I only need to walk a few minutes to find a really good, reasonably priced pub where I can get excellent food and a great selection of craft beers. There are tons of these around, so I’ll just mention a few of my favorites. Keep in mind that I do live in Cambridge, so my choices may be a little skewed towards places that are convenient for me.
Russell House Tavern is something that’s almost too good to be true: a restaurant located at a prime location (the heart of Harvard Square) serving fantastic food at very reasonable prices. They have a huge bar in the lower level (great place to try to grab a seat if no reservations are available), and a great selection of draft beers. They emphasize local and seasonal ingredients, and the food is excellent.
Cambridge Brewing Company
I have a soft spot for Cambridge Brewing Company, one of our local microbreweries. They make a lot of fun beers throughout the year – everything from a pumpkin ale during the fall to a fun, smoky spicy hot pepper beer that we recently tried. The food is good, the ambiance is fun (try the tower of beer!), and sometimes they even have a jazz brunch on weekends, which is fun and relaxing. Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge still (in my mind) has the best rosemary truffle fries around, while Cambridge Common has a mean selection of beers (over 30 on draft) plus inexpensive (and solid) food. Puritan & Co. is helmed by a super talented chef and has great charcuterie and oysters.
One of our favorite go-to restaurants Bergamot falls more into the new American category, although they do have a small bar where we love to hang out. Bergamot has a fantastic $39 three course deal that they offer all the time. Chef Pooler is extremely talented and executes fantastic, flavorful dishes that change frequently due to the seasonality of ingredients.
Another favorite, Ten Tables in Cambridge, offers a warm and cozy ambiance in which to enjoy new American fare made from local and seasonal ingredients. In the summer, enjoy a lovely meal while sitting outside in Harvard Square at the Monday Club at Upstairs on the Square.
5. Best Casual / Ethnic Tastes
It was hard to cull down this list, so it’s a bit longer than the others. There are just a lot of good ethnic eats here!
For a unique style of rich, pork-bone broth ramen, try Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square, where you can try the unusual “Jiro”-style ramen not found in many parts of the US. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait in line outside to get into this tiny little place which only accepts cash. For hand-pulled noodles made in the style of Xi’an, drive far out into the suburbs to get a taste of Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe. Get the liang pi (weekend only), lamb stew, and handmade noodles, but skip the flatbread sandwiches.
My favorite Brazilian restaurant is Muqueca in Inman Square, which offers delicious seafood stews called moquecas. The mariscada is also excellent, and the yucca fries and cashew fruit drinks are just fun to try. My favorite not-so-hidden ethnic gem is Baraka Cafe, a North African Tunisian restaurant right on the edge of Central Square. Service can be a bit slow at this family owned restaurant, but the food is really good and (in my mind) worth the wait. Definitely try the cherbat, their signature Algerian style lemonade made with rose petals and North African spices.
One of the most famous burger places in the entire city is Bartley’s in Harvard Square. This place is almost an institution in the Square and often has lines going out the door on nice days. The burgers are named after various celebrities in fun, irreverent ways (often poking fun based on current events). They’re also pretty tasty.
One of my favorite local places for excellent salads and pizzas is Area Four in Cambridge right near MIT. I love the thin crust pizzas that they make, which often come with really creative toppings. Their salads are excellent, and are often made with more unusual seasonal ingredients, such as their shaved Brussels sprouts salad (yum). Emma’s in East Cambridge also makes great thin crust pizzas. Our favorite is the No. 4, which includes cranberries, potatoes, and bacon.
For excellent Southern American / French cuisine, try Hungry Mother in Cambridge. Reserve early, because this is one of those places that is virtually impossible to book same day reservations (unless if you want to eat at really odd times).
4. Don’t Forget the Sweets!
Toscanini’s Ice Cream
Boston is obsessed with ice cream and I really think we have some of the best ice cream in America. My personal favorite is Toscanini’s (or Tosci’s) in Cambridge, which offers an eclectic variety of flavors that is ever-changing. His brother’s place, Rancatore’s, in Belmont and Lexington also serves similar ice cream, though the flavors are more ordinary. Other popular places include Christina’s and JP Licks, but Tosci’s is my favorite.
One of my all time favorite baked items in the entire city of Boston is High Rise Bread Company’s vanilla loaf. I’ve even tried making it (though my version based on their recipe still doesn’t taste quite as good as the real thing, though it’s close!). Aside from all the wonderful breads and sweets that they sell, High Rise also makes excellent sandwiches. There are multiple locations in Cambridge, and it’s a fabulous place to have a relaxed lunch (though come early if you want to make sure you get a seat! I usually try to come before 12pm on a weekday).
The most famous bakery in Boston just may be Flour Bakery by Joanne Chang. Her sticky buns are the most famous. They were featured in a throwdown with Bobby Flay and won. Rumor has it that you have to go early otherwise the sticky buns run out, though I’ve seen them at the Central Square location as late as 6PM. The fresh baked bread here is excellent, and it makes the sandwiches especially tasty.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the really great restaurants in Boston. It’s a list of places that I would recommend to my friends if they asked me for advice. I hope you find it helpful, and feel free to comment below or email me with any questions.
Come support Boston!
(just for fun, in honor of Boston “coming back”, here is an animated video I made a couple years ago with vegetables building themselves into a Boston skyline)
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