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October is by far the most popular time to visit Salem as the city's witch theme gets even more amplified than usual around Halloween, but if that's not your idea of fun, the city is lovely and much less crowded the rest of the year. In any other month, you'll have an easier time getting into restaurants and bars, and you won't have to navigate through throngs of costumed revelers. But whatever time of year you go to Salem, there's plenty to eat.
One quick tip before jumping into the food: Wear comfortable shoes. Salem is a beautiful old city — very old — and you'll find yourself walking on some historic brick sidewalks, which can be quite uneven.
Continue reading for information on where to find various types of food around Salem, including full-service dining, taprooms, coffee shops, ice cream, and more. Keep an eye out for bolded terms, which each link over to a relevant point on a map of Eater's top Salem picks. (You can also skip over to the map right here.)
Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
Seafood's an easy choice when visiting a coastal city, and Salem has a range of options, whether you're looking for moderately priced fried clams or a swankier lobster dinner. For a casual meal in the heart of town, look for the sign advertising "warm beer, lousy food, surly waitresses, rude bartenders, and cranky cooks" — you've found The Lobster Shanty (25 Front St.), the self-described "local dive bar that secretly has class." If you can snag a seat at the small, no-reservations spot, you'll find a crowd-pleasing menu that includes dishes like mac & cheese, lobster risotto, the catch of the day (baked or fried), a variety of burgers and sandwiches, and more. Note that The Lobster Shanty closes from January 15 to April 1 each year.
If you head out of the touristy area and over towards Salem State University, you'll find another classic seafood restaurant, Dube's (317 Jefferson Ave.), which opened back in 1961. This is the spot for when you're in the mood for fried seafood platters but also waiter service and a full bar.
For waterfront views and a steak-and-seafood menu, try Victoria Station (86 Wharf St.), the last remaining vestige of what was once a 99-unit chain. (In fact, this was the 99th location.) Its newer bar and lounge, Vic's Boathouse, serves a variety of pub snacks and plays host to live music, open mic nights, karaoke, and other entertainment. Go full tourist with the signature drink, The Wharf Rat — a rum, brandy, juice, sour mix, and Bacardi 151 concoction served in a souvenir glass.
A shrimp burger special (and water views) at Finz/Facebook
Nearby, you'll also get those harbor views at both Sea Level Oyster Bar (94 Wharf St.) and Finz (76 Wharf St.) Sea Level offers a huge menu that has everything from baked oysters, lobster rolls, and fried cod sandwiches to grilled cheese, steak tips, and seven types of pizza. Finz' menu is a little more tightly focused on seafood, with a variety of lobster options, a seafood paella, sole meuniere, and more. At either restaurant, you'll find a full bar and a fairly casual ambiance.
Want a little bit less casual? Your best bet is Turner's Seafood (43 Church St.), located at Lyceum Hall, serving up bouillabaisse, baked stuffed lobster, mussel and calamari fra diavolo, crab cakes, tuna burgers, and more.
For diners craving sushi rather than New England seafood dishes, try Opus (87 Washington St.) for sushi, small plates, and creative cocktails — and be sure to check out some live music downstairs, where you can also order from the full menu and play some arcade games. Right across the street, there's also Koto Grill & Sushi (90 Washington St.), serving a giant sushi menu alongside Chinese and Japanese appetizers and entrees. Koto also hosts live music and other entertainment. Closer to Salem State University, Okea Grill & Sushi (293 Jefferson Ave.) is a popular option for sushi, bento boxes, and bubble tea.
Breakfast & Brunch
Ugly mugs at The Ugly Mug Diner/Facebook
For an old-fashioned diner ambiance and menu, take your pick of Red's Sandwich Shop (15 Central St.), Deb's Diner, aka Pilgrim Diner (4 Boston St.), or Dotty & Ray's (112 North St.). They've all been around for decades, and each serves a range of breakfast and lunch classics, including omelets, pancakes, and beyond. (Red's Sandwich Shop, as the name implies, has a bunch of sandwiches on the menu, including chicken and eggplant parmigiana open face sandwiches, club sandwiches, and more.)
On the much newer side, Ugly Mug Diner (122 Washington St.) — which opened a couple years ago — offers diner classics with a twist (and yes, there are ugly mugs.) There's an Elvis Waffle, for example, topped with peanut butter cup chunks, bacon, banana, and whipped cream; "deluxe egg sammiches" with a variety of toppings; a "dueling crustaceans" dish that features crab cakes topped with poached eggs, hollandaise, and lobster aioli chipotle; a P.E.L.T sandwich ("pork explosion lettuce & tomato"); and more. Plus, there's beer, wine, brunch-friendly adult beverages, and plenty of non-alcoholic options, including NY-style egg creams, coffee, tea, and lots of flavored syrups that can be added to any drink.
And then there's Gulu-Gulu Cafe (247 Essex St.), which could easily fit into a number of categories on this page, but the artsy restaurant is an especially popular option for weekend brunch crowds. There are flavored lattes, spiked coffee and hot chocolate, mimosas and bloody marys, sweet and savory crepes (gluten-free available), Belgian waffles, and lots more.
Soppressata pizza at Bambolina/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
Eater's top pick for full-service pizza in Salem is Bambolina (288 Derby St.), serving up "neo-Neapolitan" pizzas with charred crusts, wood-fired at 925 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the menu's not too shabby, either; you'll be happy with any of the starters, from an heirloom tomato caprese to fire-roasted Castelvetrano olives.
Salem residents and visitors alike also rave about Flying Saucer Pizza Company (118 Washington St.), a funky restaurant with a "space pug" named Charlie for a mascot. The space theme is celebrated throughout the menu, which includes pizzas such as the Admiral Ackbar (clam chowder, cheese blend, bacon, and scallions) and the Mustafar (red sauce, cheese, ghost pepper salami, portobello, spinach, and parmesan).
And as of September 2016, there's another full-service pizza option — the growing Flatbread Company chain has expanded to the city with a wide range of customizable flatbreads, including gluten-free and vegan options.
Linguine with mussels and clams at Firenze/Facebook
Beyond pizza, Salem also has some fine options for Italian food. Firenze Trattoria (2 Lynde St.) — owned by Zamir Kociaj, who grew up in Albania before working in restaurants throughout Florence, Italy and eventually opening Trattoria Toscana in Boston — has been open for a few years now, earning love from locals and press thanks to its authenticity and hospitality.
The cozy Bella Verona (107 Essex St.) and Caffe Graziani (133 Washington St.) are also popular picks, as is the larger Adriatic Restaurant & Bar (155 Washington St.), which can accommodate private events. Adriatic's menu goes beyond Italy, touching on other parts of the Mediterranean region as well.
On the newer side, Trattoria Orsini (26 Congress St.) opened in the former Grapevine space in July 2016, serving modern Italian cuisine and featuring a seasonal garden-like patio on the water.
Pubs, Gastropubs, and American Comfort Food
Salem's full of comfort food, whether you're looking for a simple burger and beer or something a little bit more creative. The Naumkeag Ordinary (118 Washington St.) — opened by a couple alums of Coda in Boston — is the best-known "gastropub" in town, featuring a solid cocktail selection and dishes such as barbecue pulled pork poutine; Reuben sliders; smoked gouda mac and cheese; and a variety of burgers. (Note: During the off-season, Naumkeag doesn't have a full bar, just beer and wine. Check back in the summer for cocktails.)
Another option is the Olde Main Street Pub (121 Essex St.), a casual spot that serves dishes such as Korean-style duck wings with kimchi; a flatiron steak with bacon-gorgonzola mashed potatoes; and spicy fried pineapple shrimp with a chilled soba salad.
A special burger at Naumkeag Ordinary/Facebook
For a no-frills pub experience, try Major Magleashes (268 Washington St.), featuring steak tips, burgers, and Keno; The Tin Whistle (241 Jefferson Ave.), outside of the touristy area and offering darts, pool, and enthusiastic sports-watching crowds; and Village Tavern (168 Essex St.), which has pool and other games, a jazz brunch buffet on Sundays, and a prime rib burrito.
And in the former In a Pig's Eye (148 Derby St.) space, Mercy Tavern opened in April 2017, leaning more in the gastropub direction, courtesy of former Howling Wolf Taqueria owner Pat Schultz.
A Few Other Restaurants Worth Mentioning
Elk burger on a doughssant at Bit Bar/Courtesy of Beth Swan
Looking for arcade games, game-themed cocktails, and fun snack food with some creative twists? Try Bit Bar (50 Saint Peter St.), which opened in June 2016 in the Old Salem Jail with dishes such as an elk burger served on a doughnut/croissant hybrid glazed with black garlic icing; chorizo corn dogs; and avocado ice cream with a Sriracha caramel drizzle.
For margaritas and big portions of burritos, tacos, and other Mexican food, head to Howling Wolf Taqueria (76 Lafayette St.) — which recently got a takeout sibling in Marblehead.
Down the street, Scratch Kitchen (249 Derby St.) showcases local ingredients in scratch-made sandwiches, soups, salads, and more.
The Bambolina team debuted Kokeshi (41 Lafayette St.) in March 2017, featuring a spin on Asian street food, with dishes such as fried chicken ramen, octopus hot dogs, and miso aioli street corn.
And while Salem is largely free of big chains, a local outpost of international Korean fried chicken chain Bonchon (299 Essex St.) opened in late 2015 and has been well-received.
If your day is packed full of museums and other activities, a fast-casual meal may be more your speed. For a simple hot dog (with many options for toppings), try the no-frills Boston Hot Dog Company (60 Washington St.)
Seafood's always an option, too, particularly if you find yourself at Salem Willows Park— Cappy's and Clam Shack are both over there, serving up fried clams and the like.
Speaking of the Willows, it's also home to two Chinese restaurants, Genghis Salem and Salem Lowe, which both serve standard Chinese-American fare and one peculiar local delicacy: the chop suey sandwich. (Both restaurants do takeout; Genghis also has full-service dining available.)
The Thai dog at Boston Hot Dog Company/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
Back in the touristy part of the city by all the museums, other quick-service options include the vegetarian- and vegan-friendly Life Alive (281 Essex St.); you may know the self-described "urban oasis & organic cafe" from Cambridge or Lowell. Salem also has a New England Soup Factory (140 Washington St.), an easy choice for soup and sandwiches.
Depending on your schedule, you might be able to check out a special pop-up or two while you're in Salem. Rover Bagel appears at Bambolina (288 Derby St.) at various times, serving Montreal-style, wood-fired bagels. (The Rover team is opening a permanent spot in Maine in late 2017 but will continue popping up at Bambolina for a while; check Facebook for schedule updates.)
And then there's the mysterious Back Alley Bacon pop-up on Wednesday nights — Salem's porkiest secret. We're not ones to spoil the mystique, so you'll have to dig up the address and password yourself (yes, there's a password, and it changes each week.)
Plus, a pretty new pop-up to join the fray is Goodnight Fatty, which serves up late-night cookies ("fatties") at various events. The Goodnight Fatty crew recently locked down its own kitchen space, so expect a more aggressive pop-up schedule and other "top secret" developments soon. Check Facebook for updates.
One other local pop-up: Po' Boys & Pies, which serves exactly what it sounds like and pops up at places like Far From the Tree Cider and Opus.
Coffee & Tea
Iced tea and a chocolate-dipped madeleine at Jolie/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
There are caffeine options aplenty in Salem. Try Jaho Coffee & Tea (197 Derby St.), a Salem-based roaster that also has two Boston locations and a new one all the way in Tokyo, for free wifi, baked goods and gelato, and a wide range of beverages, including seasonal specials such as pumpkin lattes.
Front Street Coffeehouse (20 Front St.) is a popular choice, located right by the Old Town Hall. The artsy shop serves up a variety of coffee-related beverages, smoothies, sandwiches, and more. It's the perfect spot to grab a hot chocolate (with whipped cream, of course) to drink while strolling around town.
Red Line Cafe (188 Essex St.) is also a convenient coffee spot; it offers breakfast sandwiches, smoothies and frappes, crepes, and more, along with free wifi.
And Derby Joe (142 Derby St.) is a cozy choice for excellent coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and playing chess.
For those whose need for caffeine skews more in the tea direction, Jolie Tea Company (105 Essex St.), located across from the Hawthorne Hotel, offers a huge selection of intriguing teas, hot or iced, along with macaron pairings, tea flights, and high tea service. Plus, the space is adorable (don't miss the bathroom wallpaper.)
Salem is home to several excellent producers of booze. Far From the Tree Cider (102 Jackson St.) has a tasting room that's well worth a visit; get a flight to sample as many of the interesting cider varieties as possible, from pineapple jalapeño to toasted chai. Children and (well-behaved) dogs are allowed, and customers can bring in food or order delivery. There are also a few small snacks available for purchase. Currently open seven days a week.
The fairly new Notch Brewery & Tap Room (283R Derby St.) is excellent as well; it includes a great biergarten on the water, Skee Ball, and a long list of beers. Full pours only; no tasting flights. Notch has been contract-brewing for six years now, and this is its first permanent space of its own. Like Far From the Tree, Notch welcomes well-behaved dogs. For the winter, Notch is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open the rest of the week. Last summer, it was open daily, so stay tuned for expanded hours as the weather warms. By around April 2017, Notch will have added more space; the capacity will remain the same, but about 40 more people will be able to find a seat.
Notch Brewing/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
There's also Deacon Giles Distillery (75 Canal St.), which opened in late 2015 and produces a gin (Original Gin), rum (Liquid Damnation), and spiced rum (Friendship's Bounty). The tasting room — now called the Speakeasy Lab — is open Thursday through Sunday for cocktails (featuring the three spirits) as well as for purchasing bottles to go, and there are tours and tastings on Saturdays and Sundays. Children and dogs permitted, and there are plenty of boardgames available.
For those seeking a full meal along with some beer brewed onsite, Salem has a 20-year-old location of Beer Works (278 Derby St.), a local brewpub chain with outposts in Boston, Lowell, Hingham, and Framingham. The menu includes burgers and sandwiches, buckets of fries, beer floats, and more.
Baked Goods and Sweets
Kouign amann at Caramel Patisserie/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
Care for a French pastry or a loaf of bread? A doughnut or some vegan baked goods? Salem's got plenty of all of those. For beautiful French pastry perfection, try Caramel Patisserie (281 Essex St.), owned by French siblings Dimitri and Sophie Vallier. Inside the charming shop, you'll find macarons in many flavors (try chocolate mint or salted caramel), a variety of pastries, baguettes and croissants, espresso, and more.
A&J King (48 Central St.) is the place to go for breads and pastries of all kinds — sourdough loaves, brioche rolls, walnut sticky buns, blueberry muffins, and beyond. The popular decade-old bakery also serves espresso and sandwiches. Most ingredients are sourced locally, so the pastries change with the seasons — look for strawberry treats in June, for example, but not March.
Other baked goods options in Salem include Jodi Bee Bakes (7 Church St.), a vegetarian bakery and cafe (with a variety of vegan and/or gluten-free options) that serves pastries, quiche, soup, savory pies, and more; Ziggy & Sons' Donuts (2 Essex St.), a Salem tradition since 1964, serving up a variety of doughnuts — get there early for the best selection; and Coffee Time Bake Shop (96 Bridge St.), the place to go for bismarcks and, seasonally, pączki.
Peanut butter cup sundae at Dairy Witch/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
On a hot summer day — or any day, really — hit up Melt (60 Washington St.) for delightful ice cream in flavors such as potato chip toffee; salted caramel and sea salt brownie; and peach with blackberry sauce. It's a very short walk from the train station.
Elsewhere in town, there's Captain Dusty's Ice Cream (143 Derby St.), over by the House of the Seven Gables; it's part of a small local chain. You'll find classic flavors such as mint chocolate chip and peppermint stick, along with banana splits, ice cream sodas, and more.
At The Willows, E.W. Hobbs (207 Fort Ave.) has been open since 1897, serving various flavors of popcorn, as well as ice cream and saltwater taffy. The shop lays claim to selling the first ice cream cone in America back in 1906.
And if you've got a car, Dairy Witch (117 Boston St.) is a bit removed from the various touristy sections of the city, but the 60-plus-year-old ice cream stand serves up gigantic sundaes, its signature banana whipped frappes, and more.
Gibraltars from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
Salem is home to the country's oldest candy company, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie (122 Derby St.), which sells the country's oldest commercially made candies, lemon and peppermint gibraltars — which have the taste and texture of the after-dinner mints at your grandparents' house. The cheery shop also has a variety of other sweets, including fudge, brittles, taffy, and more.
There's also Harbor Sweets (85 Leavitt St.), which dates back to 1973 and features a line of "sweet sloops" — sailboat-shaped almond buttercrunch toffee dipped in white and dark chocolates and crushed pecans. These days, the company does a lot of online business and also distributes to stores all over, but you can still visit the Leavitt Street shop. Plus, tours of the factory are generally offered on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 11 a.m.
Looking for turtles — hunks of chocolate, caramel, and nuts? Turtle Alley Chocolates (now at 318 Derby St.) sells them in a variety of flavors, along with barks, peanut butter cups, fudge, and more.
Salem has a few highlights in the food and beverage retail space as well. Don't miss The Cheese Shop of Salem (45 Lafayette St.) — even if you're not a cheese lover. The shop carries, yes, a huge selection of cheeses, but there's also a fantastic beer and wine selection, every sauce or condiment you could ever need, assorted candy, and other specialty food items. It opened in mid-2015, courtesy of owner Peter Endicott, a longtime cheesemonger for the Concord Cheese Shop in Concord, Massachusetts.
Polonus (176 Essex St.), a European deli and ice cream shop, is worth a visit as well. It carries numerous Eastern European products, from deli meats to frozen pierogis. There are breads, babkas, and strudels of all kinds, as well as deli sandwiches, cheeses, and lots more.
A cheese plate from The Cheese Shop of Salem/Facebook
For fun kitchen and house items, as well as beer, wine, and assorted specialty foods, try Pamplemousse (185 Essex St.) — it's the place to go when your shopping list includes items such as madeleine pans, fancy cheese, black lava sea salt, and Hello Kitty spatulas.
Having a specific craving for chicken pot pie? Try Ken's Kickin' Chicken (130 North St.), a shop full of pot pies, soups, and other prepared foods.
And of course, there's Bunghole Liquors (204 Derby St.) for all your booze needs — and for souvenir t-shirts.
- The Ledger (125 Washington St.) — From Matt O'Neil of the acclaimed Blue Ox in Lynn comes a 200-seat restaurant in a former bank. Expect a raw bar, charcuterie, and more. It could open in late spring or early summer 2017.
- Smokin' Betty's BBQ + Bar (94 Lafayette St.) — Slated to open in spring 2017 from the owners of Flying Saucer Pizza Company and Gulu-Gulu Cafe.
- Zipline Tacos (160 Derby St.) — During lunch hour on Tuesdays, a zipline will send tacos from the Sea Level Salem kitchen to a park outside. (You'll put your order and exact change, cash only, in a beach pail that arrives in the kitchen by the same zipline.) Opening any week now.
- Salem Witchcraft Sites and Other Spots to See in Town, Mapped [Curbed Boston]
- Archive of North Shore Restaurant News [Eater Boston]
- Salem Haunted Happenings [Official site for Salem's Halloween festivities]
- Salem [Official site]
A few sights in Salem/Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater
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Header image of Salem houses: Shutterstock/edella