Boston’s Feed ’Em Trail: A Newcomer’s Eating Tour

Charming Boston — where the accent is uncouth, every intersection is a memorial square and not everybody knows your name — has plenty to offer in terms of history and the food scene. 

By: Lindsy Gamble

Photo By: Coppa

Photo By: Coppa

Photo By: Sofra ©Carla Richmond

Photo By: Sofra

Photo By: Yuri Bredbeck

Photo By: Yuri Bredbeck

Photo By: Ana M. Reyes Photography ©Ana M. Reyes Photography

Photo By: Jeff Nace

Photo By: Myers + Chang

Photo By: Myers + Chang

Photo By: Shawn Cameron

Photo By: Shawn Cameron

Photo By: P.K. Blinders

Photo By: P.K. Blinders

Photo By: P.K. Blinders

Photo By: P.K. Blinders

Boston’s Feed ’Em Trail: A Newcomer’s Eating Tour

One thing newcomers to Boston always do is walk the iconic Freedom Trail, literally a painted red line leading you from Revolutionary site to site. Alternatively, you’ll find here Boston’s Feed ’Em Trail, an invisible line guiding you to restaurants that are doing something a bit unconventional. With the help of the local food experts below, you can discover establishments that are not only terrific, but unique and authentically Boston too. There’s Tony Maws, chef, restaurant owner and wine director from nearby Newton; Devra First, restaurant critic and food reporter for The Boston Globe; and Corey Johnson, chef, consultant and native New Englander. We hope you’ll see past the lobsters, baked beans and doughnuts.

Coppa

253 Shawmut Ave.

In the posh-restaurant-laden South End lies a small enoteca and Italian eatery called Coppa, known for its nose-to-tail cuisine. There, notable chef and restaurateur Ken Oringer and vegetarian-turned-charcuterie-virtuoso Jamie Bissonnette transform antipasti, wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas into innovative small plates for brunch, lunch and dinner. (An aside: Oringer won Iron Chef America, and punk-rock-loving Bissonnette won Chopped, at one point tenderizing a slab of meat with his fists.) 

Must-Try Dishes at Coppa

“When I have adventurous foodie friends visiting,” says Johnson, “I love to take them here for a Coney Island Strong Man (a high-class shandy) and a Bone Marrow [white pizza with marrow, roasted tongue and fresh horseradish]. It's mind-blowingly delicious!” Not to rest on its offal or wine laurels, the menu will also please the noncarnivores and cocktail imbibers in your party.

Sofra Bakery and Cafe

1 Belmont St.

No trip to Boston is complete without a visit “across the river.” Chef Ana Sortun, one of the country’s “best creative fusion practitioners,” and distinguished Pastry Chef Maura Kilpatrick found their inspiration while visiting Turkey. Their tapestry-lined Cambridge cafe, Sofra (meaning “hospitality”), delivers Turkish, Lebanese and Greek delights. 

Must-Try Dishes at Sofra Bakery and Cafe

The savory menu encompasses colorful, traditional dishes of the shawarma, meze and flatbread variety, with much of the produce coming from Chef Sortun’s family farm. The extensive pastry menu is exotic and familiar at once, from baklava to chocolate Earthquake cookies to Persian graham sandwiches. Maws recommends the often changing but always exquisite egg special for breakfast, such as the Turkish Breakfast (soft-boiled egg, cucumber, tomato, olives, feta, yogurt and spoon sweets). Prepared foods, staples and exotic spices are also available. Not up on your Middle Eastern vocab? A glossary of offerings and ingredients lines the menu.

Tres Gatos

470 Centre St.

If you like your meals with a side of vinyl and a scoop of fiction, check out quirky Tres Gatos. In Jamaica Plain — a greener, artsier, more diverse neighborhood of hipsters and activists — you’ll find the first (and only) full-service restaurant/book and music store. Inconspicuously ensconced in a double-decker house, the colorful interior wears many hats: tapas/pinchos restaurant, wine bar, bruncheonette and shop. 

Must-Try Dishes at Tres Gatos

Peruse the eclectic book and music collection or take in the frequent live music after ordering a sherry, aperitivo or Spanish wine. Accompany that with the Lamb Bocadillo, Tortilla Española and a new favorite: Carrots & Pork Belly, with agave nectar, chile flakes, buttermilk vinaigrette and cilantro. Says Chef Nevin Taylor of their new approach, “This summer, we heightened our focus on local produce and cooking seasonally.”

Neptune Oyster

63 Salem St.

In the quaint, bustling North End of Boston, home to Irish, then Jewish and finally Italian immigrants, you’ll find any number of trattorias and pasticcerias. Oddly, one stronghold of this Little Italy over the last decade has been Neptune Oyster. This intimate and always-busy Parisian-style bar features a couple dozen seafood dishes and a raw bar with 12 types of oysters. 

Must-Try Dishes at Neptune Oyster

Manifold oysters necessitate a broad, savvy wine list and a team of prominent shuckers, so much so that they’ve become a bit of a local legend; consider it tableside entertainment. Although the lobster roll has a following, it’s the buttermilk johnnycakes with honey butter, smoked trout tartare and California sturgeon caviar that Maws covets. This app “is worth the wait, every time,” he says. “[Neptune is] my wife, Karolyn's, favorite place to go on our precious few nights out.”

Myers + Chang

1145 Washington St.

Born of a pair of intellectual-turned-restaurateur spouses, Myers + Chang is “a funky indie diner setting offering … [a] very personal interpretation of Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese specialties.” In an attempt to fill the void of fun, hip Asian restaurants in Boston, James Beard nominee Joanne Chang and her husband conceptualized this creative amalgamation of Taiwanese soul food and Southeast Asian street food. 

Must-Try Dishes at Myers + Chang

Using some family recipes, high-quality local ingredients and lighter sauces, a unique menu of novel small plates has been forged. They’ll accommodate just about every dietary restriction and satisfy desirous dim summers, lunchgoers, cheap dates and dinner seekers alike. Arrive early in the day for the Fried Egg Banh Mi with sweet soy-glazed bacon, or stop by later for the Chicken + Rapini Stir-Fry, Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) and Tiger's Tears beef salad.

The Franklin Cafe 

278 Shawmut Ave.

Fancy having dinner after a Sox game? Settle in at the inviting and subtly artsy Franklin Cafe by 1:30 a.m. and anything off their New American menu is fair game (there are gluten-free and vegetarian menus too). 

Must-Try Dishes at The Franklin Cafe

Johnson says this hidden gem is where those in the restaurant industry eat: “It’s perfect for those in the biz who want a plate of roasted chicken or steak frites and a beer after cooking on the line all night. It's dark and intimate and just right.” Accompany those hearty, comforting dishes with a craft brew or cocktail from notable beverage manager Joy Richard, a protector of “nearly extinct cocktails.” Or order off the seasonal wine list that is 100 percent choreographed with the food and reflects the state’s only fraction-over-wholesale pricing program. If your party’s large, reserve a family-style suckling pig dinner at the Southie location.

Bogie's Place

21 Temple Pl.

In the slowly gentrifying but still gritty area known as Downtown Crossing, off the Boston Common, there sits a lively gastropub serving up burgers and a lot of sass. And in the exclusive back room of this pub sits an improbable but bona fide high-end steak joint. The 23-seat, bare-bones hideaway, named Bogie’s Place after Humphrey, hearkens back to the days when gentlemen drank stiff cocktails with dignity and certain rules were followed (note: Adults only! No cell phones!).

Must-Try Dishes at Bogie's Place

Expect steakhouse classics with “Hook It Up” additions, plus specials like pastrami-bacon compound butter or baked potato with crispy pig’s ear. Also available: an extravagant Russian-style caviar service and several martini options, with accoutrements like essential lemon oil or a sachet of herbs. Make reservations, and ask for the foie gras torchon, wedge salad and New York strip dry-aged 30 days. 

KO Pies

87 A St.

How often do you discover an entirely new cuisine? Chances are you will at KO Pies, New England’s “first Australian-inspired food business.” A shout-out to the knockout food and Aussie phrase “’ken oath” (politely translated as “sure enough!”), KO is a casual, colorful eatery dedicated to a staple of the Aussie-born owner’s native cuisine: the savory personal pie.

Must-Try Dishes at KO Pies

First opts for the Pie Floater (any signature pie plus mash, mushy peas and gravy), but seafood, sandwiches and exotic comfort foods are also available, along with novelties like Vegemite and Tim Tam ice cream. The menu and other details, from the accents to adornments to fondness for the suffix “-ie,” help maintain authenticity, even down to the convivial atmosphere. Note the deliberate lack of Foster’s here as well. Take a water taxi to their shipyard location (a great detour to/from Logan Airport) for stellar views and a variety of adult beverages.

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