For much longer than necessary Boston had an inferiority complex with regards to its restaurant scene (baseball is another story) given its proximity to culinary powerhouse New York City. But fortunately just as the curse has been reversed, so too has Beantown, Boston having frown far more confident, and for good reason, in its gastronomic prowess. Eat up- because one of the capital’s other salient virtues is its walkability you’ll need the calories for your perambulations!
Bostonians are big fans of a morning meal, so make reservations or be prepared to stand in line for some of the more popular brunch and breakfast spots. For decades Mike’s City Diner has been pleasantly overwhelming, even for those with the heartiest of appetites what with its voluminous omelets, frisbee-sized, fruit-stuffed pancakes, and thick-sliced buttery cinnamon nutmeg French toast.
A terrific on-the-go breakfast option is Flour Bakery brain child of celebrity chef Joanna Chang. With four locations throughout Boston, Flour provides a rare combination of convenience and class given its par excellence scones, sticky buns, walnut banana bread, and cinnamon cream brioche.
Zaftig’s , recognized as one of the best Jewish delis in the nation, is a local favorite among residents in its Brookline neighborhood. Standout dishes include the “Empire Eggs” (two poached eggs on potato pancakes with smoked salmon, spinach, and hollandaise), corned beef hash and scrambled eggs, and boozy, beautiful banana-stuffed bourbon vanilla French toast with date butter.
For haute fare in the see-and-be-seen morning scene, head to Aquitaine, where the city’s well-heeled feast on French-inspired matutinal fare such as provençale benedict (poached eggs with avocado, roasted tomatoes, and hollandaise) or the omelette basquaise with ham, parsley, and gruyère.
Thanks to Boston’s sizable Cantonese population, Chinatown is the site of dozens of top-notch opulent as well as hole-in-the-wall dim sum restaurants. One of the best is China Pearl, where hundreds literally flock between the hours of 11 and 3pm each day to pick and choose from rotating carts vending a wide variety of BBQ pork buns, egg tarts, shrimp dumplings, and other dainties (try the chicken feet—seriously). Seating is communal so you just might find yourself the newest member of the party of the one of the many multigenerational families that hold court on weekends.
At Darwin’s Ltd., you can pick the best sandwiches in town as well as eavesdrop on harried Harvard students and hipster Cambridgians. Some of their best things between sliced bread include the very vegetarian-friendly “Hubbard Park” (hummus, avocado, apple, carrots, tomato, sprouts, honey mustard); the “Appleton” (chicken salad laced with apples, celery, raisins); and the “Story” (prosciutto, pesto, mozzarella, and vinaigrette).
You could go all the way to Boston and not have some lobstah and chowdah just for the sake of avoiding being a clichéd tourist. Or, you could embrace a stereotype and have a damn delicious fine time at Yankee Lobster Company, purveyor of lobster rolls and other plates (e.g. lobster macaroni and cheese) featuring New England’s beloved crustacean. Also noteworthy are their takes on traditional New England favorites such as clam strips, crab cakes, and stuffed haddock.
“Boston’s best pizza since 1926”? Thus proclaims Pizzeria Regina proudly, and you’ll believe them after sharing one of their brick oven pies loaded with freshly chopped ingredients. Go to the North End location for a most authentic experience, which just might include some lip from your waitress if you hem and haw too much over your order. And, speaking of which, the house special “Giambotta”, with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, salami, onions, and peppers, is an epic must-try; less heavy on the meat and more on the unctuous dairy is the “St. Anthony’s”, with parmesan, mozzarella, sausage, roasted onions, basil, and garlic sauce.
Though oft frequented by high-profile politicians (including former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney), Prezza, maintains a surprisingly mellow atmosphere that serves as a backdrop to inventive handmade pastas like pear ravioli with braised rabbit as well as appetizers like whole prawns fried and paired with Italian slaw. Save room for a sweet finale in the form of zeppoles, traditional Italian donuts.
The uber to the suburb of Somerville is worth it for the opportunity to go to La Brasa, if only to try the beef tongue crostini with black vinegar mayonnaise and pickled devil eggs with trout roe. And those are just the starters: the creativity continues with empanadas stuffed with swiss chard and quinoa crowned with a poached egg and the long island duck with maitake mushrooms and black garlic.
O Ya, is your best bet for seafood and sushi on more formal occasion, (and when price is no object). Their bluefin toro tartar, artic char with sesame brittle, and seared Spanish octopus are plated so beautifully you feel as if you’re attending an art installation rather than dinner. Stop Instagramming and just dig in before it gets cold.
But sometimes you just want a burger. Jim Curley, has you covered with their grass-fed thin patties (double up for only another $5) that serve as a base for (get ready), cheddar, Russian dressing, pickles, onions cooked near translucent and delectable on the griddle. While waiting for this beast, snack on the “Cracka Jack”, caramel candied popcorn with bacon and roasted peanuts.
Although visiting Boston in the winter can be dicey as frequent icy precipitation makes navigation challenging, one upside of the colder season is that it presents the excuse to warm up with a cup of molten hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick . Trust me, this is not the lame, watered-down cocoa unfortunately often proffered to small children but rather a rich, mellifluous potion composed literally of liquid chocolate and just a bit of heavy cream.
Treats on the other end of the temperature spectrum can found at Picco, People living in Massachusetts consume more ice cream than any other state in the union and are very particular about their ‘creams,’ raising the bar for parlors. Picco endures for its fabulous hand-churned ice cream in flavors both standard (vanilla, coffee, mint chocolate chip) and delightfully unorthodox (ginger, dark chocolate, banana) plus frappes (also known as ‘milkshakes’ in other parts of the country); sundaes with Scharffen Berger hot fudge; and “adult” cream sodas made with raspberry Belgian lambic.
However, if the only adult beverages you’re interested in are cocktails, never fear, for despite their propensity to gravitate toward beer, Bostonians have also become quite fond of mixed drinks. The Oak Room, replete with white jacket waiters and leather furniture I guarantee costs more than your engagement ring unless you’re a Kardashian, is the place to get a martini.
Grittier but also good is the Green Street Grill, where bartenders are eager to suggest drinks according to your preferences. The “De La Louisiane” (rye, vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters) is a heavy-handed tribute to creole country while the “Refuge” (aperol, tequila, lime, grapefruit, agave nectar) refreshing and dangerously quaffable.
I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, grew up in central Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and now calls Houston, Texas home. After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in English, I earned a PhD in Victorian literature from Rice University. I currently serve as a culinary consultant, food historian, and travel/food critic for various print and online outlets. My exploits can be found at www.brideyoleary.com.