The 16 Most Essential Boston Food Experiences
Go big or go home.
When it comes to our city’s dining scene, everyone’s focused on the shiny and new (we’re guilty of this sin, too). But fixating on the next big thing means we sometimes neglect the bedrocks of Boston’s dining scene. And what better time to pay homage to local legendary restaurants than during this time of upheaval? Honor your elders for making the city’s dining scene what it is today by visiting these Boston bucket list restaurants.
Did we even talk about fine-dining lobster rolls before Neptune’s warm butter wonder came along? The unlikely North End gem became an instant crowd pleaser when the kitchen reminded us that mayo isn’t the only way to slay a lobster roll. It’s not just the roll, though (and those fries, oh, those fries). The made to order clam chowder, the fried Ipswich clams, the regional fish entrees, and the daily rotating oyster selections all make this a spot worth the hour-plus nightly wait—a wait that has only grown during the COVID era.
How to order: Tables are first-come, first-served, or order takeout online
Then explore the rest of the city’s best lobster rollsVarious locations
Our lobster rolls might not necessarily have the same reputation as Maine’s, but Boston is hardly a slouch when it comes to this New England seafood staple. In fact, our city’s chefs revere the lobster roll as much as anyone, and have some pretty strong opinions on the matter. So go to Yankee Lobster Company for a classic cold one, Saltie Girl for another excellent hot roll, Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood for the new, celebrated roll in town, and Belle Isle Seafood for a simply massive, and massively delicious, entry.
How to order: Without hesitation
They’re all important in different ways, really: B&G Oysters. The Butcher Shop. Stir. Drink. Sportello. No. 9 Park, which is the foundational pillar in the Barbara Lynch empire. But Menton did something no other Boston restaurant has done in earning Relais & Châteaux status in 2012 —one of about 60 such properties in the U.S. The restaurant has done so much more, of course. It has introduced us to the inimitable pleasures of butter soup, for one (a dish sadly departed, at least for now). And it sold us on the absolute value of a chef’s whim tasting meal, for another. No aspiring gourmand should leave the city without experiencing Menton.
How to order: Reservations available Wednesday through Sunday
Craigie Street Bistrot was one of those spots you wanted to stay shrouded in secrecy, as chef and owner Tony Maws was doing revelatory French fare in a not-easily found basement space. But the secret was out for good when he moved into his bigger Central Square space, and the legacy cemented when the Craigie burger appeared on the cover of Bon Appetit. Wondrous as it is, that burger should never overshadow the nightly wonders coming out of the Craigie kitchen, whether it’s a chicken stuffed with dates and chicken sausage or an entire roasted pig’s head for two. The restaurant is currently closed for indoor dining, but Maws has pivoted once more by creating an outdoor dining area in the parking lot next door and serving family-style meals.
How to order: Reserve outdoor dining at Craigie Next Door, or order takeout and provisions online
Oh, no big deal, just the oldest restaurant in America. Union House has its critics, but we’re talking about a place that began shucking oysters in 1826, back when said bivalves were hella bigger than the ones we eat today and folks like Daniel Webster sucked them down on the regular. Go for the decor and the New England staples: steamers, clam chowder, boiled or baked stuffed lobster, and by all means the baked beans and Indian pudding. PS: The lobster roll happens to be one the best deals in town.
How to order: Make reservations via OpenTable or order takeout online
It’s nice to know that old-school Harvard Square hasn’t completely disappeared. Over more than four decades, this square workhorse has pushed farm-to-table ideals while training many a future celebrated chef. It’s New England cuisine the way both locals and visitors want it: dishes dictated by the seasons, ingredients like lobster and halibut done to the nines, and charcuterie and cheese at every meal. Come summer—especially this past summer—a spot on the garden terrace is still one of the most coveted tables in the city.
How to order: Make reservations online for Wednesday through Sunday or order takeout or delivery online
Back in 1937, the lines likely weren’t as long, but the throwback experience at this Beacon Hill luncheonette makes it an enduring classic. It’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner (or breakfast for dinner, or lunch for breakfast), with most dishes prepared on the griddle and all servings proving crazily ample.
How to order: Patio dining available or order takeout online
The place to go for a four-star nigiri education. It’s not as clandestine as it used to be—as of a few years ago, there’s an actual entrance right off Mass Ave—but Cafe Sushi still feels like one of the city’s great secrets. Savor some of the freshest nigiri around, including seasonal choices like Japanese barracuda and New Zealand king salmon. When the time is right, you’ll need to make a reservation and return with your most discerning dining partner for the market-price omakase, a many-course, small-plates meal savored over more than two hours.
How to order: Order takeout or delivery online
Pizza hop all over townVarious locations
Our pizza scene gets a bad rap—unjustly so. No, we’re not New York, but we’re not Los Angeles, either. In fact, between the stalwarts and the newbies, we Bostonians should be downright boastful about our pie scene. So hit up Santarpio’s, Armando’s and Regina Pizzeria for old-school delights, Galleria Umberto for the perfect Sicilian slice, Picco for the perfect charred crust, Posto and Pastoral for wood-fired Neapolitan pies, and Scampo for a celebratory lobster pie.
How to order: With an eye towards leftovers
There’s never a bad time to go to Myers & Chang, the city’s stalwart for comfort Chinese. Seven nights a week, the menu serves up spice, crunch, and umami in the form of all your favorites: dan dan noodles, pork and chive dumplings (Joanna Chang’s mom’s recipe, natch), tea-smoked pork spare ribs, twice cooked lamb belly stir fry, and many more. The restaurant also offers prix-fixe takeout menus of some of their favorite dishes—and a bottle of wine is included. The dim sum brunch menu is full of crispy, umami delights and is served until 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. In other words, Chang and Christopher Myers have created a please-all-palates neighborhood restaurant.
How to order: Make patio reservations online or order takeout (including cocktails and wine to go) via UpServe
The city’s paleo patriarch has been giving us our daily protein for almost four decades now, and it isn’t even close to slowing down. This place is expense-account central with a three-figure wagyu striploin kicking off the menu. The a la carte cuts are the stars here, with the 100-day-aged ribeye and the Kobe cap steak being the star of the stars—and you have to love that $72, two-pound steamed lobster add-on. If you’re not willing to pay more for dinner than you pay for your monthly heating bill, there’s always the clam chowder and classic wedge salad, or the newly introduced Sunday lunch, which includes steak frites and a crab cake sandwich.
How to order: Make reservations via OpenTable or delivery available via Caviar
Come to the North End on a Friday or Saturday night—in normal times, that is—and, snow or shine, predictable queues snake along the narrow sidewalks outside The Daily Catch. You can still get the experience at its reopened Atlantic Avenue location. The menu is a study in Sicilian seafood delights, from lobster fra diavolo to squid ink fettuccine served with alfredo or puttanesca sauce. Add in some wine and the patio water views on the patio, and you might find yourself shedding some of that pandemic stress.
How to order: Make reservations online for Thursday through Sunday or order takeout online
Find out why burgers are a Boston obsessionVarious locations
Somewhere along the way, burgers became the city’s dining obsession. Maybe it started with Craigie on Main and its Bon Appetit cover burger, or maybe it was the decadent patty entry at Eastern Standard. And of course, landmarks like Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, Charlie’s Kitchen, and RF O’Sullivan & Son have been feeding our beef fetish for decades. But the tipping point might have come with the secret burgers at the likes of Drink and Alden & Harlow.
How to order: With an eye towards fasting later
Did you think even twice about Turkish spices before Oleana came along? Ana Sortun’s second spot, Sarma, might get more of the buzz—and rightly so—but it was Oleana that first opened our eyes to a different kind of Mediterranean fare: fragrant, spicy, delicate. Oleana has also proven the world’s greatest date spot for vegetarian couples, given that the majority of meze plates are meat-free. And anyone who has spent more than a year or two living in this town has almost assuredly enjoyed at least one celebratory meal on the twee patio.
How to order: Make patio reservations online or by calling 617-661-0505; order takeout or delivery via Toast
This is where we learned just how fun tapas can be. Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette put a modern twist on Barcelona tapas, using seasonal and regional ingredients to deliver so many favorites including salt cod fritters, garlic shrimp, braised beef tongue, and of course the grilled corn with aioli, all perfectly complemented by the Spanish wine list. And the dinnertime no-reservation policy has only kept its light shining brighter—where else do you see people drinking cocktails at 4pm on Tuesday afternoon to nab the first tables of the evening?
How to order: Reserve patio dining via Resy or order takeout and delivery online
This Ken Oringer jewel completely upended our notions of what sashimi could be—and then did it all over again when it took over sister restaurant Clio and expanded its repertoire. The 100-seat izakaya has currently moved its operations outdoors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy wagyu beef dumplings, lobster poutine, and foie gras mousse alongside the classic nigiri menu and the revelatory sashimi offerings. The sake program is also operating at full speed. We eagerly await the day when late-night ramen is a thing again.
How to order: Make reservations for outdoor dining online or order takeout and delivery via Toast
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