clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A view of the Boston skyline, featuring Financial District skyscrapers, water, and a cloudy gray sky

Filed under:

An Eater’s Guide to Boston

Unofficial, highly opinionated information about the Bay State’s bustling capital

Boston’s Financial District.
| ESB Professional/Shutterstock

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Long dismissed as the home of chowder and baked beans, Boston has so much more to give. Sure, there’s plenty of food history worth exploring, but there is also a newer whirlwind of international influences to discover. This guide will deliver you straight into the ever-growing dining and drinking scene in Boston proper and some of its nearby suburbs.


Welcome to the Land of Seafood

While Boston is a lot more than the sum of its chowder-filled parts, seafood really is the star here, from several styles of lobster rolls to a huge number of dollar-oyster deals to outstanding sushi, not to mention the casual fried clam shacks that are especially prevalent north of the city.

Beyond seafood, other regional specialties include North Shore-style roast beef sandwiches, South Shore-style bar pizzas, and even oddities like the chop suey sandwich of Salem and the chow mein sandwich of Fall River.

The Boston area also has incredible pockets of food from specific countries and regions of the world. Chinatown and the North End (the latter featuring Italian food) are probably the best-known, but don’t miss, for example, the Vietnamese food in Dorchester, the Caribbean food in Jamaica Plain, or the Armenian food in Watertown.

For a quick snapshot of what Boston has to offer, start with some of its most iconic dishes: Do a taste test of two of the North End’s cannoli options, Mike’s and Modern. Likewise, try the pizza at the original North End Regina, and then hit up East Boston to compare Santarpio’s.

Head downtown to enjoy the perfect example of a modern New England seafood restaurant, Row 34, and follow dinner with drinks at one of Boston’s flashy new crop of cocktail bars. Find some space for a sticky bun at one of Boston’s Flour Bakery & Cafe locations, the baked Alaska at Oleana, and perhaps even some haggis at the Haven, Boston’s “Scottish headquarters” since 2010.

Where to Start on Eater Boston's Top Maps

Eater Boston publishes and updates maps several times a week, highlighting the best places in the area to eat some of the best food in town. There are plenty of obvious categories — pizza, burgers, brunch, and so on — but we also highlight neighborhoods, such as Boston’s South End and Cambridge’s Central Square; cuisines, such as Chinese food and Thai food; specific food and drink items, such as hand-pulled noodles and dumplings; and situations, such as date-night dinners, splurge-worthy tasting menus, and late-night dining.

There’s a lot to get through, so below, we’ve picked a few of our top maps — and a few points on each — to help prioritize your dining plans.

A view of Boston’s skyline, featuring skyscrapers over the water, at dusk. The sky and water are shades of deep blue and purple.
Downtown Boston at dusk.
Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/Shutterstock

Hot Restaurants: Updated monthly, the Eater Boston Heatmap highlights some of the hottest new restaurants; recent additions include the modern Portuguese restaurant Amar by a Michelin-starred chef in the swanky new Raffles Boston hotel in Back Bay, and the much-anticipated return of a Fenway dining legend: Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks.

Essential Restaurants: The Eater Boston 38 includes 38 of the area’s most essential restaurants across a range of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices, such as Tonino, home to one of the best plates of pasta in the city; Yume Wo Katare, a self-described dream workshop that also happens to sling some incredible bowls of ramen; and Celeste, an intimate Peruvian restaurant in Somerville’s Union Square.

Essential Irish Pubs: Boston still has quite a few excellent Irish pubs, although several high-profile spots have sadly closed in recent years. Start with classics like the Burren in Somerville’s Davis Square, Mr. Dooley’s in downtown Boston, J.J. Foley’s in Boston’s South End, and the Behan in Jamaica Plain. Then hit up new modern beauty the Dubliner, a standout by an acclaimed chef from Ireland.

Essential Brunches: Yes, iconic Cream of Wheat is a thing; try it at the Neighborhood in Somerville’s Union Square. Other vital brunch spots include Brookline Lunch in Cambridge, breakfast tacos and kolaches at Vincent’s, and the all-you-can-eat brunch set to the tune of live jazz at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen.

Pizza: Boston dabbles in numerous pizza styles, particularly wood-fired Neapolitan-leaning. Try that at places like Posto in Somerville’s Davis Square, Ciao in Chelsea, and Area Four in Cambridge’s Kendall Square — or the Neapolitan offshoot with an even puffier crust, canotto-style, at Si Cara in Cambridge’s Central Square. Also be sure to check out Sicilian slices at old-school North End spot Galleria Umberto, South Shore bar-style at Hot Box in Somerville’s Union Square, and Detroit-style pizza — a growing trend here — at Avenue in Somerville’s Ball Square. Then, check out the Pizza Hut meets high-end pizzaiolo vibe of Tenderoni’s, with a smaller spot in the High Street Place food hall downtown, along with a disco-themed full-concept restaurant in Fenway.

A vibrantly colored portion of ceviche is presented on a white plate on a white table, with a glass of beer on the side.
Ceviche and a beer at Celeste, one of the area’s most essential restaurants.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston

Burgers: Boston’s got ‘em all, from inexpensive flat patties to fancier versions for which people wait in lines. Local chain Tasty Burger, with multiple locations in Boston and Cambridge, is a great example of the former; try Bronwyn’s “bronburger” for something fancier. Hit up The Quiet Few in East Boston for creative colossal burgers made with patties of whiskey-infused brisket, short rib, and ground chuck.

Chowder: Even though the local food scene has come far in recent years, Boston is still known for its creamy clam chowder. Try a classic version at any location of Legal Sea Foods (of which there are approximately a million), or go a little more upscale at a place like the Banks Fish House in Back Bay, where the chowder includes Berkshire pork belly and chive oil.

Cafes: Get your caffeine fix with a side of waffles at Curio Coffee near Lechmere station in Cambridge, get serious about espresso at Gracenote Coffee in Boston’s Leather District, and snack on banh mi alongside Vietnamese coffee at Cicada in Cambridge’s Central Square.

Italian: Yes, you should explore Boston’s North End, but there are Italian highlights elsewhere in and around Boston, such as South End dive bar Anchovies, where you should try the chicken parm, and acclaimed South Boston destination Fox & the Knife, inspired by the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Essential Bars: Looking for a place to drink that’s not an Irish pub? Boston’s got plenty of other options, from renowned cocktail bars like Backbar to funky little wine bars like Rebel Rebel to old-school jazz clubs like Wally’s, and the memorable underworld-themed beauty Hecate in Back Bay.

Boston and Boston-Area Food Neighborhoods to Know

Boston’s many varied cuisines are often tied to distinct neighborhoods, each with their own special character. Want Italian food? Head to the North End. Find the best Korean food — including must-try twice-fried chicken wings — in Allston, the best Vietnamese food in Dorchester, the best French food in the South End, and the best Sichuan and Cantonese food in Chinatown. Here are six Boston neighborhoods to know, as well as a few important food suburbs to keep on your radar.

North End

There’s plenty of good Italian food in Boston outside of the North End, but the North End is effectively Boston’s Little Italy. Sit at the bar at Regina Pizzeria, one of the city’s titans, and eat a pie cooked in a century-old brick oven, along with a Peroni beer or two. Try a square slice and some arancini for lunch at Galleria Umberto, and be sure to get there early, because it sells out quickly. For dessert, stop in at Mike’s or Modern for cannoli and hit up Bova’s for a late-night lobster tail (the pastry, not the seafood). The Sunday macaroni at Carmelina’s — a neighborhood gem with a lot of love for red-sauce, grandma-style Italian-American food, and a stunning and affordable wine list — is full of meatballs and sausages and short rib, finished with a generous dollop of whipped ricotta. For something from the sea, head to the Daily Catch for a Sicilian dinner in an intimate setting or to Neptune Oyster for its beloved lobster roll.

Chinatown

If you’re in town for a night and you only have time for one meal, Chinatown is where you should go. Head to Dumpling Cafe for Taiwan-style pan-fried pork dumplings, sweet and spicy eggplant, and deep-fried pig intestines, or pop by Peach Farm — a late-night favorite among restaurant industry workers — for lobster with scallions and ginger, which is among the top bites in the entire city. There’s Mongolian hot pot at the Q, pho and other Vietnamese treats at Pho Pasteur, sushi at Avana and Irashai, kaisen don (and more sushi) at Tora, and great Cantonese at Hong Kong Eatery. Dim sum brunch at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe is also compulsory. If you’ve got any room left, explore these bakeries for mooncakes, pineapple buns, egg tarts, and more.

A plate with a blue border embellished by birds holds a portion of lobster with scallions and ginger
Lobster with scallions and ginger at Peach Farm in Boston’s Chinatown.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston

Dorchester

Dorchester, which you might hear referred to as Dot, is Boston’s biggest neighborhood, both by land and by population. If you haven’t spent any time in Dorchester, you really haven’t spent any time in Boston, either. Because Dorchester is so vast, its culinary offerings are many — one can find great Dominican, Jamaican, Southern soul food (at a roller rink, no less), and Trinidadian (don’t miss Singh’s Roti), not to mention an excellent brewery with barbecue on-site. But if Dorchester is known for one cuisine type, it’s Vietnamese. Dorchester is home to a well-established Vietnamese community, especially near where Dorchester Avenue and Adams Street converge near Fields Corner. There are so many great Vietnamese restaurants in Dorchester, but Banh Mi Ba Le is a must. The banh mi is served on fresh bread that is shatteringly crisp on the outside and pillow-soft on the inside. Get the grilled beef, which is marinated with lemongrass and is floral and salty and sweet and perfect. The sweet and highly caffeinated Vietnamese iced coffees fuel a day of exploring, too.

East Boston

East Boston boasts some of the area’s top Mexican food (and the nicest waterfront views of downtown Boston). Make sure to stop at Angela’s Cafe for the mole poblano. Eaters will also find Colombian food in abundance here. There’s also excellent Australian food in the form of meat pies at Seabiscuit; superb Somali food at Tawakal Halal Cafe in Maverick Square; and some of the city’s most beloved pizza at Santarpio’s on Chelsea Street. Don’t miss Jeffries Point whiskey bar the Quiet Few — a spot that has carved out a cozy niche for itself in the neighborhood — as well as newer Next Door, one of the many playful speakeasy-themed spots to popup in recent years.

Allston

Few neighborhoods boast a street with as many culinary riches as Allston’s Harvard Avenue. Add Brighton and Commonwealth avenues to the mix, and it’s clear that Allston is a feast, and Korean food is what’s on the menu. Find one of the city’s best fried chicken sandwiches at Fiya Chicken, and then head to Coreanos for kimchi fried rice and bulgogi tacos. Kimchipapi Kitchen is serving Korean-Japanese-Hawaiian fusion (its version of poke is exceptional) that is not to be missed, while Korean Garden is the spot for barbecue and bibimbap. And be sure not to sleep on the soju-filled watermelon at Myung Dong 1st Ave., served with a side of K-Pop. But Allston isn’t just about Korean food; it’s also home to one of the best Thai restaurants in the city, S & I; a fun taco spot, Lone Star Taco Bar; and some classic dive bars, like the Silhouette and Model Cafe.

South End

A drinker would be hard-pressed to find a better neighborhood bar than Delux Cafe. Its walls are covered with old records, and there is a Vegas-era Elvis lamp constantly holding court at the end of the bar. The half-chicken is miraculous, as is the burger, both of which come out of what has to be one of the smallest kitchens in Boston. If dive bar food isn’t what you’re after, no bother: The South End is a smorgasbord, especially with regard to French cuisine. Feel très Parisien under the awning on the sidewalk in front of Petit Robert Bistro, or eat whole branzino in the greenhouse-like back room at Frenchie while sipping on some interesting biodynamic wines. Mida and SRV are serving lovely Italian food, with the latter focused especially on Venice, while Anchovies is the spot for Italian American food, cheap-ish beers, and a killer espresso martini. Coppa is also a mainstay; don’t miss the cavatelli with slow-cooked broccoli and chicken sausage. And Bar Mezzana is the spot for crudo and pasta. (See, not all of the Italian food is in the North End.) The neighborhood’s also a stronghold for Spanish cuisine: Try the inimitable Toro (Coppa’s sibling) for paella and grilled corn; Estragon or Barcelona Wine Bar for tapas; and Atlántico for a seafood-focused look at the whole Iberian Peninsula accompanied by excellent Portuguese wines. Keep globe-trotting with extraordinary Greek at Kava Neo-Taverna and eastern Mediterranean at its sibling spot Ilona.

Cambridge and Somerville

Boston proper isn’t the only show in town, of course; its neighbors Cambridge and Somerville — most of which are easily accessible via public transportation — are culinary destinations in their own right.

Try the gochujang Bolognese at Pammy’s in Cambridge’s Central Square, and pop into Brick & Mortar — just down the street — for a cocktail and some good vibes on vinyl. Pagu is the spot for Japanese- and Spanish-influenced small plates, and if you’re after sushi, Cafe Sushi has one of the best omakase situations in Greater Boston.

In nearby Kendall Square and East Cambridge, find Afghan food at the Helmand that is out of this world (get the mantwo, which is a pastry shell filled with onions and beef, topped with carrots, yellow split peas, and a rich sauce); cheap beer and Nashville hot chicken at State Park; bagels, pastrami, smoked fish, and other Jewish delicatessen and appetizing delights at State Park sibling Mamaleh’s; and outrageous hand-pulled noodles with beef at Silk Road, one of the only Uyghur restaurants in the region.

Khao soi — a yellow curry with chicken, egg, lime, crispy noodles, and more — is served in a traditional Thai-style bowl decorated with a rooster. The bowl sits on a yellow surface.
Khao soi at Dakzen in Somerville’s Davis Square.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Inman Square is home to Puritan & Company, a fantastic restaurant focused on local New England fare, as well as Momi Nonmi (a delightful little izakaya), Punjabi Dhaba (an extraordinarily good South Asian restaurant), Oleana (home to the most romantic patio in town), Zuzu’s Petals (a cell-phone-free wine and dessert bar), and many excellent others.

Just north of Cambridge is Somerville, which is home to several of Greater Boston’s best food neighborhoods, including Davis and Union squares. Drink a beer the size of your head on the patio at Mike’s in Davis, or head to Dakzen for truly unbelievable Thai street food. Union is just a hop, skip, and a jump away and is home to one of the most exciting food and beverage hubs in Greater Boston: Bow Market. Grab a beer from Remnant Brewing or a glass of wine from funky wine bar Rebel Rebel, and snack on roast beef sandwiches and South Shore-style bar pizza Hot Box, poutine from Saus, peanut butter chili crisp cookies from Korean American bakery Nine Winters, and fresh seafood from Blue Fin. Beyond Bow Market, you should probably also try a doughnut from Union Square Donuts, ceviche from Celeste, and a cocktail from Backbar or Barra while you’re in the neighborhood.

Beyond

There’s much to explore in other Greater Boston suburbs, too, and these are also accessible by public transportation, whether by the T (Boston’s subway system), bus, commuter rail, or a combination. Brookline, for example, has outstanding cocktails paired with Sichuan cuisine at Blossom Bar; a unique Thai restaurant, Mahaniyom, with a menu you won’t see anywhere else in the area; a Spanish mainstay, Taberna de Haro; fantastic wood-fired pizza from Stoked; and countless other dining options.

Nearby, take a food crawl through Newton, paying particular attention to sibling spots Sycamore, Little Big Diner, Buttonwood, and newcomer Jinny’s Pizzeria. Check out Newton’s village of Nonantum, too, for Italian food galore.

North of Newton, Waltham has a concentration of great dining spots on Moody Street, including Italian at Sweet Basil and Cuban at Gustazo. Elsewhere in Waltham, Taqueria el Amigo is a local favorite for tacos; try the al pastor.

South of Boston, Quincy is jam-packed with excellent Chinese food (try East Ocean and Chili Square) and Vietnamese food (try Pho Pasteur), as well as fried seafood (Tony’s Clam Shop and the Clam Box). Another Quincy must-visit is cocktail bar Idle Hour, which features a creative comfort food menu with options like Southern fried pork chops and a killer burger.

Reservations to Make in Advance

You’ll generally be able to find somewhere to eat at the last minute in and around Boston, even on peak nights out, but there are a few restaurants you’ll want to book as far in advance as possible.

In Boston proper, plan ahead for Row 34 (seafood in Fort Point), O Ya (high-end omakase in the Leather District), Toro (tapas in the South End), Mariel (Cuban downtown), and Contessa, a glitzy Italian destination located on a Newbury Street hotel rooftop. Note that one of the city’s most notoriously busy restaurants, Neptune Oyster, takes walk-ins only, so go at an odd hour if possible.

Mussels, shrimp, and clams sit atop a skillet of rice and vegetables
Paella at Toro in Boston’s South End.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston

In Cambridge, Italian stunners Giulia and Pammy’s both book up early, as well as eastern Mediterranean mainstay Oleana. If it’s graduation week or another big event at Harvard or MIT, you’ll probably want to lock down a Harvest reservation pretty early as well. (You’ll want to be especially proactive about reservations in general during any major school events around Boston — move-in and move-out periods, big sports events, etc.) In Somerville, Oleana’s sibling Sarma gets quite busy, and tiny Peruvian spot Celeste is a must as well.

Note that even if you can’t get a reservation for your desired spot, a little flexibility goes a long way. At most restaurants, you may have luck showing up right at opening and grabbing a bar seat (most restaurants serve their full menus at the bar).

Head Out of Town

Part of the beauty of Boston is its proximity to a wide variety of travel destinations that’ll satisfy beach fans and mountain enthusiasts alike. Massachusetts has Cape Cod, of course, but there are plenty of other coastal places to visit as well. And New England cities like Portland, Maine; Kittery, Maine; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire are an easy drive away.

Overhead view of a cruller with a white glaze. It sits on white tissue paper on the surface of an aged picnic table.
A cruller at Lil’s Cafe in Kittery, Maine.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Visit Eater Boston’s New England travel landing page to find maps, guides, and food crawls throughout the region. You’ll find out where to eat and drink in Mystic, Connecticut (beyond the Hollywood-famous Mystic Pizza), how to eat your way through Portland (and elsewhere in Maine), which New Hampshire beach is perfect for a booze crawl and air-brushed T-shirts, why neighboring cities Portsmouth and Kittery are an absolute joy to visit, and lots more.

Follow the News

Eater Boston is updated multiple times every weekday with breaking news stories (restaurant openings, closures, etc.), features, maps, and more. Here are a few ways to stay in the loop:

  • Simply keep an eye on the Eater Boston homepage. New stories generally show up near the top and flow down toward the bottom of the page as they get older, while several important recent stories remain pinned at the top for some time. Also, check out our big sibling, Eater.com, for national and international food news.
  • Subscribe to our newsletter, which goes out weekday evenings and includes links to the day’s top stories, older features you may have missed, and interesting stories from other Eater sites.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Get in Touch

Have questions not answered here? Want to send in a tip or just say hello? Here are a couple of ways to get in touch with the Eater Boston staff:

Weekend Recommendations: A Greek Party in the South End and Black Friday Beer Bashes

Eater Guides

How to Celebrate Hanukkah in Boston

Eater Guides

Where to Eat at Boston Logan International Airport