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Cut mango, sliced cucumbers, sausages, and other meats form a spread atop banana leaves in a kamayan-style Filipino dinner.
A kamayan feast at Tanám
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

12 Boston-Area Restaurants for Unconventional, Messy First Dates

Break the ice while getting your hands dirty with these nontraditional first date options

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A kamayan feast at Tanám
| Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Buck tradition with these first date ideas: You’ll be pretty much guaranteed to have a messy, eventful evening if you’re up for it. Whether you’re indulging in slurpy noodles, saucy barbecue, enough garlic to knock out a vampire, or — gasp — corn on the cob, there’s no hiding behind politeness at these restaurants. What better way to break the ice and hurdle right over any first date awkwardness? Pack some floss and moist towelettes if you’re worried, but try to let go and have fun.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Redbones Barbecue

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Nothing like a face full of barbecue to say, “This date is going well.” Start with fried pickles and jalapenos before going all-in on a plate of ribs at this classic Davis Square spot. Of age? Add a margarita slushie. Here are some additional Boston-area barbecue options to peruse.

A red car covered with Redbones-themed art is parked outside of Redbones in Somerville.
Redbones in Somerville’s Davis Square
Tim Sackton/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yume Wo Katare

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Porter Square ramen destination Yume Wo Katare makes for an eventful first date spot: For one, there’s almost always a line, so there’s plenty of time to chat while waiting for a seat. For another, it’s a slurping good time — and an extra garlicky one at that. And finally, at the end of the meal customers are invited to stand up and share a dream or goal with the rest of the restaurant — that’s right, this spot will give you the opportunity to shout your dreams from the rooftops with a first date beside you. What could be more adventurous than that? (Looking for other ramen options? Look no further.)

Ramen noodles and slices of pork are stacked impossibly high in a white bowl, topped with ample garlic.
Ramen at Yume Wo Katare
Yume Wo Katare [Official Photo]

Ticketed Somerville hot spot Tanám, a communal Filipinx American dining experience, is an all-in, all-hands first date destination if you opt for the Wednesday night kayaman feast and forego utensils, getting to know not just your date but also your fellow diners, up close and personal.

Cut mango, sliced cucumbers, sausages, and other meats form a spread atop banana leaves in a kamayan-style Filipino dinner.
Tanám kamayan feast
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Craigie on Main

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Craigie on Main, a fine-dining mainstay in Cambridge, could easily fit the bill for a classic first date. But turn things from classic to a bit more adventurous by ordering the full pig’s head for two people. The hulking head is cooked slowly, served with bibb lettuce, spicy pumpkin sambal, and boudin noir-hoisin sauce. Like the famous burger, it’s been on the menu for years.

Two cooks work in the open kitchen at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, with a marble bar and high-top chairs in front of it and part of the dining room visible in the background.
Craigie on Main
Craigie on Main/Official Site

Buff's Pub

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This long-running Newton pub is old school. Get 10 or 20 wings with a choice of flavor — be it classic Buffalo (what the place is known for), maple hot, or Sriracha barbecue — and don’t forget the wet naps. Note: Buff’s is cash only.

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

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Widely regarded as one of the prime locations for procuring Xi’an hand-pulled noodles in the Boston area, Gene’s is also extra garlicky, ensuring a double whammy of indelicacy for any first date. Plus, it’s a very small, very casual spot, and it’s cash only. Afterward, stroll through nearby Chinatown to window-shop for dessert options at bakeries and bubble tea shops.

A black plastic bowl of thick hand-pulled noodles, heavily dusted with chile powder and topped with greens and a generous dollop of garlic. A wooden skewer of lamb pieces sits across the rim of the bowl, which is on a Chinese Zodiac placemat on a red tray
Hand-pulled noodles with a lamb skewer at Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Holly Crab

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More utensil-free dining awaits first dates in Allston. Holly Crab delivers buckets of spicy seafood that’s really best enjoyed messily (although with a bib and gloves if you so choose). It’s part of Boston’s growing scene for Cajun- and Viet-Cajun-style seafood boils.

Wide angle of the Allston restaurant Holly Crab with gray walls and dark tables
Holly Crab
Dana Hatic/Eater

Saltie Girl

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All manner of seafood should be on the radar for a Saltie Girl date. For a truly adventurous first foray, opt for the seafood tower, full of oysters, clams, shrimp, and crab. There’s even a “royale” option with caviar and sea urchin, if you want to take it that far. It’s a sea feast worth sharing, with some inevitable wrangling of shells and raw bar sauces. Check out other seafood tower options here.

Two platters of raw bar items on ice sit on a metal stand atop each other
The “royale” seafood tower at Saltie Girl
Saltie Girl/Official Site

Cornish Pasty Co.

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Simple in concept but generally unwieldy in practice, pasties on the menu at Cornish Pasty Co. are beasts (delicious ones) to tackle on a first date. The brave can eat these handheld meals as such, or opt for knife and fork. Try the classic bangers and mash pasty or the meatball version, and get one of the restaurant’s rotating cocktails while you’re at it — perhaps with a coquito (a combination of Fireball, white rum, creme de cocoa, RumChata, and heavy cream). There’s good beer to be had here as well.

A big, doughly lamb vindaloo pasty from Cornish Pasty Co sits on a white plate.
Lamb vindaloo pasty from Cornish Pasty Co.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Legal Harborside

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Can’t get up to Maine to eat whole lobsters at a seafood shack on the water somewhere? It’s not quite the same vibe, but you can head to the flagship Seaport location of the ubiquitous locally born seafood chain Legal Sea Foods, Legal Harborside, and take in some pretty water views. The three floors have different menus and ambiances; you can get whole lobster on the more casual first floor. Get buttery, get messy, get to know each other while tearing apart lobsters.

Can you handle the spice? It’s a risky game to play, but Hojoko’s wasabi roulette makes for a potentially painful spicy adventure. Among six pieces of Hojoko’s hamachi and shiso roll, one has two grams of wasabi (compared with one eighth of a gram on the other five). There’s no way to tell which is which — take a bite at a time and see. The roll comes with a side of horchata, served in a baby bottle, for whoever gets the big does of wasabi.

A colorful painted mural of a cartoonish sumo wrestler covers a brick wall leading towards the entrance of Hojoko in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood
Hojoko
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Like Craigie (see above), Toro could be pretty standard first date fodder — the popular tapas spot is a South End staple. Liven things up by getting one of the signature dishes, a typical first date no-no: corn on the cob. Toro’s take on elote (street corn) is slathered generously with alioli and cotija and is virtually impossible to eat delicately. Round out the meal with a giant shared portion of paella.

Four ears of corn, charred and topped with aioli, cotija, and lime wedges, sit side-by-side on a plate
Maíz asado con alioli y queso cotija at Toro
Andrea Merrill

Redbones Barbecue

A red car covered with Redbones-themed art is parked outside of Redbones in Somerville.
Redbones in Somerville’s Davis Square
Tim Sackton/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Nothing like a face full of barbecue to say, “This date is going well.” Start with fried pickles and jalapenos before going all-in on a plate of ribs at this classic Davis Square spot. Of age? Add a margarita slushie. Here are some additional Boston-area barbecue options to peruse.

A red car covered with Redbones-themed art is parked outside of Redbones in Somerville.
Redbones in Somerville’s Davis Square
Tim Sackton/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yume Wo Katare

Ramen noodles and slices of pork are stacked impossibly high in a white bowl, topped with ample garlic.
Ramen at Yume Wo Katare
Yume Wo Katare [Official Photo]

Porter Square ramen destination Yume Wo Katare makes for an eventful first date spot: For one, there’s almost always a line, so there’s plenty of time to chat while waiting for a seat. For another, it’s a slurping good time — and an extra garlicky one at that. And finally, at the end of the meal customers are invited to stand up and share a dream or goal with the rest of the restaurant — that’s right, this spot will give you the opportunity to shout your dreams from the rooftops with a first date beside you. What could be more adventurous than that? (Looking for other ramen options? Look no further.)

Ramen noodles and slices of pork are stacked impossibly high in a white bowl, topped with ample garlic.
Ramen at Yume Wo Katare
Yume Wo Katare [Official Photo]

Tanám

Cut mango, sliced cucumbers, sausages, and other meats form a spread atop banana leaves in a kamayan-style Filipino dinner.
Tanám kamayan feast
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Ticketed Somerville hot spot Tanám, a communal Filipinx American dining experience, is an all-in, all-hands first date destination if you opt for the Wednesday night kayaman feast and forego utensils, getting to know not just your date but also your fellow diners, up close and personal.

Cut mango, sliced cucumbers, sausages, and other meats form a spread atop banana leaves in a kamayan-style Filipino dinner.
Tanám kamayan feast
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Craigie on Main

Two cooks work in the open kitchen at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, with a marble bar and high-top chairs in front of it and part of the dining room visible in the background.
Craigie on Main
Craigie on Main/Official Site

Craigie on Main, a fine-dining mainstay in Cambridge, could easily fit the bill for a classic first date. But turn things from classic to a bit more adventurous by ordering the full pig’s head for two people. The hulking head is cooked slowly, served with bibb lettuce, spicy pumpkin sambal, and boudin noir-hoisin sauce. Like the famous burger, it’s been on the menu for years.

Two cooks work in the open kitchen at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, with a marble bar and high-top chairs in front of it and part of the dining room visible in the background.
Craigie on Main
Craigie on Main/Official Site

Buff's Pub

This long-running Newton pub is old school. Get 10 or 20 wings with a choice of flavor — be it classic Buffalo (what the place is known for), maple hot, or Sriracha barbecue — and don’t forget the wet naps. Note: Buff’s is cash only.

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

A black plastic bowl of thick hand-pulled noodles, heavily dusted with chile powder and topped with greens and a generous dollop of garlic. A wooden skewer of lamb pieces sits across the rim of the bowl, which is on a Chinese Zodiac placemat on a red tray
Hand-pulled noodles with a lamb skewer at Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Widely regarded as one of the prime locations for procuring Xi’an hand-pulled noodles in the Boston area, Gene’s is also extra garlicky, ensuring a double whammy of indelicacy for any first date. Plus, it’s a very small, very casual spot, and it’s cash only. Afterward, stroll through nearby Chinatown to window-shop for dessert options at bakeries and bubble tea shops.

A black plastic bowl of thick hand-pulled noodles, heavily dusted with chile powder and topped with greens and a generous dollop of garlic. A wooden skewer of lamb pieces sits across the rim of the bowl, which is on a Chinese Zodiac placemat on a red tray
Hand-pulled noodles with a lamb skewer at Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Holly Crab

Wide angle of the Allston restaurant Holly Crab with gray walls and dark tables
Holly Crab
Dana Hatic/Eater

More utensil-free dining awaits first dates in Allston. Holly Crab delivers buckets of spicy seafood that’s really best enjoyed messily (although with a bib and gloves if you so choose). It’s part of Boston’s growing scene for Cajun- and Viet-Cajun-style seafood boils.

Wide angle of the Allston restaurant Holly Crab with gray walls and dark tables
Holly Crab
Dana Hatic/Eater

Saltie Girl

Two platters of raw bar items on ice sit on a metal stand atop each other
The “royale” seafood tower at Saltie Girl
Saltie Girl/Official Site

All manner of seafood should be on the radar for a Saltie Girl date. For a truly adventurous first foray, opt for the seafood tower, full of oysters, clams, shrimp, and crab. There’s even a “royale” option with caviar and sea urchin, if you want to take it that far. It’s a sea feast worth sharing, with some inevitable wrangling of shells and raw bar sauces. Check out other seafood tower options here.

Two platters of raw bar items on ice sit on a metal stand atop each other
The “royale” seafood tower at Saltie Girl
Saltie Girl/Official Site

Cornish Pasty Co.

A big, doughly lamb vindaloo pasty from Cornish Pasty Co sits on a white plate.
Lamb vindaloo pasty from Cornish Pasty Co.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Simple in concept but generally unwieldy in practice, pasties on the menu at Cornish Pasty Co. are beasts (delicious ones) to tackle on a first date. The brave can eat these handheld meals as such, or opt for knife and fork. Try the classic bangers and mash pasty or the meatball version, and get one of the restaurant’s rotating cocktails while you’re at it — perhaps with a coquito (a combination of Fireball, white rum, creme de cocoa, RumChata, and heavy cream). There’s good beer to be had here as well.

A big, doughly lamb vindaloo pasty from Cornish Pasty Co sits on a white plate.
Lamb vindaloo pasty from Cornish Pasty Co.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Legal Harborside

Can’t get up to Maine to eat whole lobsters at a seafood shack on the water somewhere? It’s not quite the same vibe, but you can head to the flagship Seaport location of the ubiquitous locally born seafood chain Legal Sea Foods, Legal Harborside, and take in some pretty water views. The three floors have different menus and ambiances; you can get whole lobster on the more casual first floor. Get buttery, get messy, get to know each other while tearing apart lobsters.

Hojoko

A colorful painted mural of a cartoonish sumo wrestler covers a brick wall leading towards the entrance of Hojoko in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood
Hojoko
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Can you handle the spice? It’s a risky game to play, but Hojoko’s wasabi roulette makes for a potentially painful spicy adventure. Among six pieces of Hojoko’s hamachi and shiso roll, one has two grams of wasabi (compared with one eighth of a gram on the other five). There’s no way to tell which is which — take a bite at a time and see. The roll comes with a side of horchata, served in a baby bottle, for whoever gets the big does of wasabi.

A colorful painted mural of a cartoonish sumo wrestler covers a brick wall leading towards the entrance of Hojoko in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood
Hojoko
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Toro

Four ears of corn, charred and topped with aioli, cotija, and lime wedges, sit side-by-side on a plate
Maíz asado con alioli y queso cotija at Toro
Andrea Merrill

Like Craigie (see above), Toro could be pretty standard first date fodder — the popular tapas spot is a South End staple. Liven things up by getting one of the signature dishes, a typical first date no-no: corn on the cob. Toro’s take on elote (street corn) is slathered generously with alioli and cotija and is virtually impossible to eat delicately. Round out the meal with a giant shared portion of paella.

Four ears of corn, charred and topped with aioli, cotija, and lime wedges, sit side-by-side on a plate
Maíz asado con alioli y queso cotija at Toro
Andrea Merrill

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