Beantown Bites: The Best Places to Eat in Boston

Chowder, lobster rolls and Boston cream pie might be what first come to mind when thinking about Boston’s food scene, but Beantown has a whole lot more to serve. World-class chefs, innovative cuisine and an oyster bar on practically every corner (sorry, tacos) take New England’s largest city beyond its baked-bean-centric nickname.

Photo By: Nick Caito

Photo By: Nick Caito

Photo By: Nick Caito

Photo By: Nick Caito

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Photo By: Nick Caito

Photo By: Nick Caito

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Photo By: Nick Caito

Photo By: Emily Hagen

Seafood: Select Oyster Bar

In a city teeming with seafood restaurants, it can be hard for any one to stand out, but Select Oyster Bar in the Back Bay, opened by chef-owner Michael Serpa in 2015, manages to do just that. Serpa, who earned wide acclaim as executive chef of Neptune Oyster in the North End, operates a sleek and sexy restaurant, where the focus is squarely on fresh seafood, not just the oyster it's named for. While dishes like an enormous Maine lobster salad and tasty seafood bouillabaisse are outstanding, raw seafood is where it's at. Dayboat scallop ceviche with lime, shallot and cilantro, or hamachi crudo with orange, Marcona almonds and radishes, taste exceptionally fresh and bright.

Pizza: Pizzeria Regina

Since 1926, the family-owned Regina Pizzeria has served tasty pies in North End’s Little Italy. Now run by the third generation of the Polcari family, Regina has outposts throughout Massachusetts. Happily the signature brick-oven pizza tastes the same at each location, though dining at the “original pizzeria,” where time seems to have stood still, is an experience all by itself. The pie is so beloved, the Boston Red Sox named it the team’s official pizza. Regina’s claims its secret to success is in its centuries-old crust recipe, light but tangy sauce and aged whole-milk mozzarella. Whatever it is, it’s pretty hard to stop at just one slice. Pizza aficionados love that you can order your crust according to preference, from light to well done, with no hassle.

French Twist: Frenchie

This snug little bistro in the South End is as authentically French as it gets, with owners who grew up in France, and a staff that seems imported straight from Paris, complete with accents. White-brick walls, tile and marble floors inside — plus a patio and a solarium strung with twinkling lights — make for an utterly charming atmosphere. The wine list features a generous number of wines by the glass, most of them French, and the menu boasts dishes like escargot garlic toast, which will make you forget avocado toast was ever a thing. Follow it up with delicate mussels in a white wine broth, perfectly cooked drumstick coq au vin, silky foie gras and classic steak tartare. If you didn’t know you were in Boston, you’d swear you were in a little bistro in the City of Lights.

Chowder: Legal Sea Foods

Clams, garlic, salt pork, onions, flour, clam broth, fish stock, potatoes and light cream: Nine simple ingredients make up one of New England’s most-iconic dishes, offered at one of New England’s best-known restaurants, Legal Sea Foods. The first Legal’s, as locals call it, opened in 1968, next to the Berkowitz family’s fish market (which opened in 1950). Still family-run, Legal’s now has restaurants up and down the East Coast, but its chowder, which was served at almost every Presidential Inauguration since 1981, is probably its most-famous dish. Rich and creamy, chockful of clams, it is essentially New England in a bowl.

Barbecue: Sweet Cheeks

Boston has not historically been known for its barbecue, but Top Chef contestant Tiffani Faison made great strides when she opened Sweets Cheeks several years back. Based in Fenway, the restaurant is a casual, boisterous place to dine, with ribs, chicken and other smoky mainstays served on metal trays lined with butcher paper. Drinks arrive in mason jars. Faison’s biscuits, accompanied by honey butter, inspire an almost cult following, but the Texas-style barbecue is the star here. Heritage-breed pulled pork, St. Louis pork ribs and chopped brisket can be ordered alone or in combo trays. Classic sides, like mac n’ cheese and collard greens, complement the meats. Try to save room for the outstanding butterscotch pudding, if you can.

Icon: Marliave

The black-and-white tiled floors, the tin ceiling and the Prohibition-era cocktails at Marliave harken back to another era, which is exactly when the historic restaurant opened. Henry Marliave, a French immigrant from Paris, opened his namesake restaurant in Downtown Boston in 1885, and though it has had its ups and downs over the years, it remains a delightful throwback to another time. Now owned and operated by Scott Herritt, who also owns the nearby Grotto, Marliave skews French, with escargot, French onion soup and steak frites on a menu that also includes osso buco, Berkshire pork chops and pasta. A twice-daily oyster happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. and again from 9 to 10 p.m., brings in both after-work crowds and late-night diners.

Oyster Bar: Island Creek Oyster Bar

Island Creek Oysters show up on menus across the city, pretty much anywhere oysters are sold, but there’s something especially satisfying about slurping them up at their namesake restaurant in Kenmore Square. At any given time, there are more than a dozen oysters on offer, not just Island Creek’s Duxbury-harvested varieties. Oysters from up and down the New England, from Maine to Martha’s Vineyard, as well as Prince Edward Island, are usually available. For those who want more than oysters, all the seafood here is outstanding. The crudo and tartares are always remarkable; Maine lobster appears in a roll, on a salad and in a soup; and daily specials highlight the freshest local catches. Service here is also excellent, with everyone well-versed in the seafood, including the sommelier.

Neighborhood Joint: Brassica Kitchen + Café

Tucked into a row of businesses across from the Forest Hills T station in Jamaica Plain, this is precisely the kind of restaurant where everybody knows your name — and what you drink. They probably also remember what you ate last time and have something you should try this time. Chef-Owners Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta, who made their mark as pop-up chefs at Wink & Nod in the South End, may keep things casual here, but with food and drinks that are anything but. The décor is cozy, with all the wood counters, tabletops and shelves made by Kruta using wood re-purposed from an old farmhouse. Dishes like buttermilk-brined fried chicken and the Brassica burger, with a smoked green tomato and secret sauce, elevate the standards. The creative cocktails are excellent here, too.

Hot Spot: Cultivar

Shortening the distance from farm to table, Cultivar’s kitchen staff can pluck fresh produce and herbs from the on-site hydronic garden any time of the year, ensuring diners know exactly where their vegetables are coming from. Chef Mary Dumont, who spent almost a decade at Harvest in Cambridge, serves “modern American garden cuisine” at Cultivar, which is located in the Ames Hotel in downtown Boston. Dishes like the burrata salad, with English peas, radishes, hazelnuts, brown-butter breadcrumbs, pea greens and grilled bread, taste as good as they look.

Cocktails: Eastern Standard

Well-crafted cocktails are a hallmark at Eastern Standard, where the bartenders are very serious about their trade. Located around the corner from Fenway Park in Kenmore Square, the popular and bustling spot, which is reminiscent of a grand European brasserie, has been a neighborhood favorite since it opened in 2005. The bar area centers around an enormously long white marble bar, with red leather stools and cozy banquettes. Those lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar are treated to a front row seat as the bartenders whip up libations for the massive dining room.

Modern Italian: Sportello

One of the restaurants in Boston powerhouse chef Barbara Lynch’s portfolio — which includes No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, Menton, Drink, Stir and The Butcher Shop — the casual and chic Sportello in Fort Point Channel is what Lynch calls a modern Italian trattoria. The restaurant evokes a diner, with a U-shaped counter in the middle offering views of the kitchen. At lunch, a two-course prix-fixe menu is the way to go, with minestrone or a chicory salad, followed by Lynch’s signature tagliatelle bolognese or braised rabbit pasta. At lunch and dinner, all the pastas are made in house and change with the seasons, including gnocchi, black garlic pappardelle and tortelloni. They are even better with a glass from the all-Italian wine list.

Classic Bakery: Mike’s Pastry

Expect a long line no matter the time of day at this iconic North End bakery, where cannoli fly out the door by the dozen, and have since the bakery’s opening, in 1946. The classic pastry shell, stuffed with ricotta cheese, is packaged in a signature white box tied with string, which thrills anyone who receives one as a gift. Cannoli filling flavors run the gamut, from plain (but tasty) to the more exotic Nutella and limoncello. Other delicious pastries include biscotti, cookies and lobster tails, an American version of the Italian sfogliatelle ricci, a pastry stuffed with a combination of whipped and pastry creams.

Late Night: Dumpling Palace

A city where the subway stops running by 2 a.m., Boston isn’t known for its wealth of dining options after midnight. Luckily, Dumpling Palace bucks the trend, serving until 3 a.m. Located in the Back Bay and the sister to popular Chinatown’s Dumpling Café, Dumpling Palace takes its name seriously. The namesake dumplings shine here, including delicious soup dumplings, little purses filled with broth and meat. Crowd-pleasers like scallion pancakes and pan-fried wontons, as well as a variety of noodle and rice dishes, round out the lengthy menu.

Supper Club: The Beehive

Few spots can host top-notch live music every night of the week with absolutely no cover charge, and also serves excellent food and drinks. That’s what makes The Beehive so special. Located in the South End, in the Boston Center for the Arts complex, this artsy restaurant andclub occupies a sprawling two-level space decorated with local art that rotates often. Live entertainment includes jazz, blues, cabaret, burlesque, country, R&B and more. The menu is eclectic, with dishes like lamb moussaka, duck au poivre and pan-seared salmon. Come early for dinner, then settle back to enjoy the show. The weekend jazz brunch, which runs from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., is wildly popular.

Doughnuts: Blackbird Doughnuts

Blackbird Doughnuts gained a cult following pretty much the day it opened its doors in the South End in 2015. Part of the Gallows Group, which also owns Gallows and the Banyan Bar + Refuge restaurants, the bakery’s scratch-made creations include seasonal flavors like Salted Toffee, Pumpkin Boston Cream Bismarck and Cherry Cobbler. Even Grammy Award-winning singer Adele loves them: She gave the Boston Cream Bismarck flavor a nod during a concert at TD Garden in 2016. A new outpost of the doughnut shop recently opened in 2017 in Fenway.

Italy by Way of Venice: SRV

SRV, which stands for Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, or Most-Serene Republic of Venice, transports diners to Italy with plates of pasta made from house-milled flour, and various tasty cicchetti, or small bites, including pork and beef meatballs, shrimp-studded polenta and salt cod with black bread and herbs. Risotto, whether flavored with mushroom, fish or lobster, is always outstanding and worth the 25 minutes it takes to make. Located in the South End, the cozy restaurant — run by chefs Michael Lombardi and Kevin O’Donnell — has collected rave reviews and awards ever since opening in 2016.

Hot Lobster Roll: Mare

The battle for lobster roll supremacy in Boston may be stressful for restaurateurs, but it’s a delicious research project for diners. Variables include the type of roll, whether the lobster meat is hot or cold, and if it’s served with mayonnaise or not. For the purist, Mare in the North End offers a top-notch version, made with the meat of a two-and-a-half-pound lobster and nothing else, served in a brioche roll made fresh daily at sister bread bakery Bricco Panetteria. Snag a seat on the patio for great views, cozy fire pits and a glass of wine to enhance enjoyment of your lobster roll.

Dive Bar: Bukowski Tavern

This little spot, tucked into the outside corner of a parking garage in the Back Bay on top of the Massachusetts Turnpike, meets all the requirements of a classic dive bar: It’s cash only, it’s got an exhaustive beer list, it features dishes like “white trash” cheese dip, the music is loud and the staff can be friendly, or not, according to whim. Can’t pick a beer? Spin the beer wheel and live with the consequences. Regulars can join the “mug club” to earn their own mug (which is then hung from a hook on the ceiling) by drinking their way through the beer list within six months.

Greek: Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar

Chef and Restaurateur Michael Schlow has long been a fixture on the Boston food scene, with a roster of well-acclaimed restaurants under his belt and a slew of awards to his name. Doretta is his Greek-inspired Back Bay restaurant, serving contemporary Mediterranean flavors. The mezze menu includes small, sharable plates, such as feta-stuffed figs with lamb bacon and pomegranate molasses, and grilled octopus with capers and onion. But those who make a full meal out of starters would miss dishes like the wild mushroom moussaka and lamb shank with orzo and green olives.

Steakhouse: Grill 23

For more than 30 years, Grill 23 & Bar has set the bar for what a steakhouse should be, and while it has the requisite white tablecloths, enormous portions and servers clad in formal jackets, the beef is what really matters. It comes from a farm in California that raises vegetarian-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free cows, which makes a difference in the taste of the beef. Seafood and produce, however, are sourced locally. A perfect meal here might be a plate of raw oysters, the 14-ounce dry-aged prime New York strip, sides of broccoli rabe gratin and truffle oil tater tots, then the sublime coconut cake to finish.

Tacos & Tequila: Loco Taqueria

This lively South Boston restaurant always feels like a party, with a giant bar in the middle of its large room. The tequila and mezcal menus likely also have something to do with that. Those who can’t settle on one of the dozens and dozens of choices can go for one of the flights, such as the bartender’s favorites or the Tour de Mexico. Fun and inventive mixed drinks include the Rainbow Dragon, a mai tai made with tequila. Tacos range from a somewhat traditional Baja-style fried fish, with charred jalapeno, pineapple aioli, pickled cabbage and avocado, to the fun General Tso’s Taco, with sweet and spicy glaze, pineapple rice, sesame and cilantro. The raw bar is outstanding, with gorgeous dishes like oyster ceviche topped with passionfruit, mango, pineapple, pomegranate, habanero and citrus.

French: Deuxave

Deuxave has everything you could want in a French restaurant: a gorgeous setting, well-informed servers and spot-on food. Chef-Owner Chris Coombs opened this contemporary French restaurant in 2010 in the Back Bay to wide acclaim and it’s as good as ever. Start with the nine-hour French onion soup (the richness of the broth is worth the intensive prep) and dive into the spiced Long Island duck breast with huckleberry jus, sautéed bulgur and a kale salad. Allow your server to suggest wine pairings — they know what they’re talking about here.

Southern-Style Brunch: Buttermilk & Bourbon

If Southern food — including puffy beignets, buttermilk biscuits and fried chicken and waffles — is your idea of a perfect brunch, then Buttermilk & Bourbon awaits. The latest enterprise of Chef Jason Santos of Citrus & Salt and Back Bay Harry’s, Buttermilk & Bourbon firmly embraces Southern sensibility with a creative spin. Bananas Foster pancakes, deviled egg toast and bruleed grapefruit switch up brunch standards. Pair the food with a pitcher of hurricanes or something from the DIY bloody Mary bar, then end with a soft-serve mimosa (watermelon sorbet and a split of Champagne).

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