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 (and fried fish sandwiches) 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 head to East Boston to compare Santarpio’s.
Visit the exciting strip of Congress Street in Boston’s Fort Point to enjoy the perfect example of a modern New England seafood restaurant, Row 34, and follow dinner at Drink, one of the top cocktail bars in the city (and beyond). 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, which reopened in a bigger space in summer 2022.
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 Cuban food and Thai food; specific food and drink items, such as hand-pulled noodles and dumplings; and situations, such as messy first dates, 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 you prioritize your dining plans.
Hot Restaurants: Updated monthly, the Eater Boston Heatmap highlights some of the hottest new restaurants, such as Bab Al Yemen, an exciting Fenway restaurant rectifying Boston’s lack of Yemeni cuisine, and the South End’s Yunnan Kitchen, which is expanding the city’s repertoire of southwest Chinese food well beyond rice noodles.
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 Dear Annie, a convivial Cambridge wine bar and pescatarian restaurant; Taiwan Cafe, an utterly reliable Chinatown staple; 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.
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, North Street Grille in Boston’s North End, and Lulu’s in Allston.
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. 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.
Burgers: Boston’s got ‘em all, from inexpensive flat patties to fancier versions for which people wait in lines. Local chain Tasty Burger, with five locations in Boston and Cambridge, is a great example of the former; try Bronwyn’s “bronburger” for something fancier.
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 B&G Oysters, where the chowder includes bacon lardons and spicy croutons.
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: Sure, you should explore Boston’s North End, but there are Italian highlights elsewhere in and around Boston, such as hidden gem Gran Gusto, tucked away in residential Cambridge with outstanding pizza and pasta; 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.
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 (perhaps the city’s best food neighborhood). Here are six Boston neighborhoods to know, as well as a few important food suburbs to keep on your radar.
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.
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 (although the schedule is currently lighter than usual due to pandemic-era challenges) — 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 — including sauteed duck tongues in Maggi sauce. 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.
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. More time to explore the neighborhood? Check out these breakfast and brunch options, as well as these dessert picks.
Getting to East Boston from pretty much anywhere else in the city can be a pain, but it’s worth it for the good eats, including some of the area’s top Mexican food (and 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 for an example of a newer spot that has carved out a cozy niche for itself in the neighborhood.
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 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.
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 New American 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. Beyond French and New American cuisine, Mida and SRV are serving lovely Italian food, with the latter focused especially on Venice, while Anchovies is the spot for Italian-American food and cheap-ish beers. 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 newcomer Atlántico for a seafood-focused look at the whole Iberian Peninsula. 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 (although dine-in service is on hiatus due to the pandemic).
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 Mamaleh’s; and outrageous hand-pulled noodles with beef at Silk Road, one of the only Uyghur restaurants in the region.
Inman Square is home to Puritan & Company, a fantastic New American restaurant, 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 anything from Filipino-American food from Tanám to roast beef sandwiches and South Shore-style bar pizza from Hot Box to poutine from Saus. Beyond Bow Market, you should probably also try a doughnut from Union Square Donuts, ceviche from Celeste, and a cocktail from Backbar, Casa B, or Barra while you’re in the neighborhood.
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.
Boston Glossary of Terms
These small, almost personal-sized pies are a hallmark of Boston’s South Shore (though some versions have definitely migrated north). The pizzas are thin — though not exactly cracker-thin — and the toppings stretch to the edge, so there is hardly an exterior crust. The cheese (the blend usually includes cheddar) forms a lacy, charred perimeter. Exemplary versions can be found at Lynwood Cafe in Randolph, Poopsie’s in Pembroke, and Town Spa in Stoughton.
Boston Cream Pie:
Origin stories are often apocryphal, but according to lore, this dessert — which is actually a custard-filled sponge cake, not a pie — was invented at the Parker House Hotel in the 1880s by a French pastry chef. Today, it’s best known as the official dessert of the Commonwealth. (Its close cousin, the Boston cream doughnut, is also the state’s official doughnut, because of course it is. Try one at any Blackbird Doughnuts location.)
Chop Suey Sandwich:
This sandwich is made with roast pork or chicken, onions, celery, and bean sprouts combined in a thick gravy, all served inside a humble, seedless hamburger bun. The miraculous fusion of American Chinese and cookout food used to be popular throughout New England, but Salem Lowe appears to be the last restaurant making chop suey sandwiches. Head to the Salem Willows park for some arcades and a seaside stroll; stay for a truly iconic North Shore bite.
Do not under any circumstances pronounce “chowder” this way, thanks. Do, however, get yourself a mug (or a bowl, or a head-sized bread bowl) of clam chowder. Note: Even though tradition may suggest otherwise, clam chowder is better in the winter than in the summer. Who wants a bowl of hot cream and shellfish when it’s 96 degrees and humid?
Pronounced “frap,” not “fra-pay,” this is what most people in the U.S. call a milkshake but people in Greater Boston definitely do not. For Bostonians, a milkshake is just milk and syrup, while a frappe consists of milk, syrup, and ice cream. And if you’re in the southeastern part of the state or Rhode Island, you might even hear someone refer to it as a cabinet (because that’s where the blender is stored). In other ice cream news, you may spot something referred to as a Hoodsie or Hoodsie cup; it’s a small cup of ice cream — half chocolate, half vanilla — that comes with a little wooden spoon. Delve deeper into regional ice creams in this glossary.
Yet another iconic North Shore treat, with yet another apocryphal origin story. The Great Marsh (especially the stretches in Essex and Ipswich) is roundly regarded to have the best clam flats in the world, and there’s no better way to eat those clams than dipped in batter and deep-fried. The dopest spots (the Clam Box in Ipswich, and J.T. Farnham’s and Woodman’s in Essex) can be found along Route 133 on Cape Ann.
Greek pizza isn’t pizza topped with Greek ingredients like kalamata olives and feta; it’s a style of pizza invented by Greek immigrants to New England (especially Greater Boston) in the middle of the 20th century, most often served at counter-service pizzerias using the naming scheme “[Town Name] House of Pizza.” At its best, Greek pizza has a soft, spongy interior crust and an almost deep-fried exterior crust. (In that sense, it is not unlike focaccia.) It’s topped with a blend of cheese that is heavy on cheap cheddar. If done right, it’s great pizza like any other regional variation is great pizza. If done poorly…
Parker House Rolls:
These catcher’s mitt-shaped buns are the ideal dinner rolls. Flavorful, crispy exterior; soft, pillowy interior; perfect crumb density for sopping up gravies and sauces. They were invented at the Parker House Hotel in the 1870s (probably by accident) and have since emerged as New England’s favorite dinner rolls. Try them at the Parker House, which remains in operation; at a New England-y restaurant like Puritan & Company; or at Beacon Hill steakhouse Mooo (or its new location in the Seaport District), which is more upscale than its cutesy name suggests.
When chef Joyce Chen of Joyce Chen Cooks fame opened her first restaurant in Cambridge in 1958, she figured it would be shrewd to appeal to the area’s Italian population. So she called her dumplings “Peking ravioli,” and the rest is history. They’ve since spread to menus at Chinese restaurants throughout the region.
Roast Beef Three-Way:
Yet another North Shore staple. Roast beef shops are ubiquitous north of the city, especially in towns like Beverly, Danvers, Lynn, Peabody, and Salem; local mini-chain Kelly’s Roast Beef popularized — or maybe invented — this style of sandwich and inspired mega-chain Arby’s. A roast beef three-way consists of thinly shaved roast beef topped with a slice of American cheese, barbecue sauce, and mayonnaise, served on a hamburger bun. (If you go big and get a so-called super beef three-way, it will be served on an onion roll.) Haters say adding lettuce is blasphemous, but haters are frequently wrong. Make it a four-way, folks.
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), Coppa (Toro’s Italian sibling 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.
In Cambridge, Italian stunners Giulia and Pammy’s both book up early, as well as Eastern Mediterranean mainstay Oleana — definitely book the patio if you can; it’s the most romantic spot in town. 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. Several Somerville spots require pre-purchase of tickets for their multicourse tasting menus, such as Juliet, Tanám, and Tasting Counter. (The first two have a la carte/walk-in options as well, but Tasting Counter exclusively serves its tasting menu.)
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.
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 get a drink on Nantucket, what the deal is with beach pizza, how to eat and drink in Portland (and elsewhere in Maine) like an industry pro, 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.
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