City Guide: Boston
No matter where we are, other than Boston, it usually only takes a few words out of David’s mouth before whomever we’re talking with asks if he’s from Boston.
His usual response is yes, a hundred years ago, but we go back often.
You won’t get a list of the best duck-boat tour operators in Boston from us, but you will get plenty of great places to eat and drink. We like to go often enough to have more great recommendations than even the Bostonians (they’re a tad provincial about their neighborhoods).
We love Boston. As I mentioned, David is from Boston and has been seeing a lifetime of transition there. I’ve been going at least once or twice per year for nearly 20 years… And the town never gets old.
Our Go-To Place is:
Around Boston Common
Boston Common is such a great gathering spot in the city. It’s touristy and always seems crowded, even on a miserable winter day, and the combination of the Common and the Public Garden is a great green heart for Boston. And staying around the Common gives you a great central location to explore.
- XV Beacon: Our favorite—a little dated, but timeless, with great service. And chocolate-dipped strawberries.
- The Ames: Not far from XV Beacon and a little hipper in design.
- The Liberty Hotel: Still a cool design, converted from an old jail, but the location at the end of Charles Street isn’t as close to walk.
- The Boxer: Close to North End, it has good proximity, but not a great location.
- The Four Seasons: A close, safe, higher-end choice.
In terms of restaurants, those around the Common are the not most notable in the city, likely because rent is probably ridiculous. There are a few great options, though, some in hotels.
- 9 Park: Barbara Lynch owns this town, and this is still one of the best small, sophisticated bars for champagne and a nibble.
- Mooo: A decent steakhouse with a good bar in the XV Beacon, but the room is tired and in need of a distinctive identity.
- Cultivar: Claiming local sourcing and seasonal cuisine, it’s the newest restaurant in the Ames Hotel.
- Haley Henry: A great cocktail bar, a newer favorite in the city.
- Yvonne’s: A swanky supper-club-style joint in what was one of the most historically known restaurants in Boston (Locke Ober).
- Union Oyster House: Everyone has to go, probably just once. It’s an experience.
Nearby Beacon Hill is heavy on the neighborhood places, and everyone who lives nearby will name a different favorite if you ask—it’s one of the most fun neighborhoods to walk through, so wander around until you find something good. We like Grotto and the Red Hat.
Our funniest meet-and-greets have been in:
The North End can feel immediately touristy, if only due to the sheer volume of people (thanks, Paul Revere, Old North Church, Freedom Trail, and co.). But it has legit Italian roots, especially when you can find Frank Pasquale (creator of many North End joints) sitting at the end of one of his bars, talking about the old days.
The fun here is to wander in and out, grabbing a drink here and there, and indulging in oysters, pizza, and cannoli—but as always, we have a few suggestions.
- Neptune Oyster: The city’s best and (unfortunately) most popular oyster bar.
- Bricco: Fun contemporary Italian, and where we met Frank. The sister place down the street, Quattro, is also great for lunch.
- Mike’s Pastry: One of Boston’s go-tos for cannoli.
- Modern Pastry: The other contender in the city’s cannoli battle; this one gets our vote.
The new-growth neighborhood is:
Seaport/Fort Point Channel
This area transformed from a blighted port for container ships and the backwater of the city to a convention area, which is now becoming a legitimate neighborhood. The most notable part is all the great restaurants.
- Row 34: Oyster-eating for professionals.
- Sportello: More Italian, more Barbara Lynch.
- Blue Dragon: Small plates that blend Eastern and Western cuisine. Ming Tsai, and the menu is pretty creative
- Drink: One of the original unique cocktail bars, and an originator in its time.
- Menton: Barbara Lynch’s finer-dining contrast to Sportello.
The place we always walk through to get to something else:
The Harbor Waterfront
The Harbor/Waterfront area also has a great many tourist attractions (ferries to the Cape, the New England Aquarium) and a cool general waterfront vibe. There are a couple of big-dog hotels (the Intercontinental and the Boston Harbor Hotel) and not a lot of restaurants, but don’t miss O Ya (an incredible sushi experience, now with a NYC outpost) and Trade.
The place the North Enders say they never get to:
The South End
Tremont Street is the spine of the South End, which has evolved over the last 15 years to become a great neighborhood with renovated brownstones and some great food. It’s actually only about a mile from the North End, but if you ask anyone from that side they’ll say they never get over there. The South Enders say the same thing about the North End.
- B&G Oysters: Yet another of the town’s best oyster bars.
- Butcher Shop: B&G’s sister charcuterie/wine bar, at the same intersection.
- Aquitaine: A Parisian-style wine bar.
- SRV: Italian-inspired, with smart design and not to be missed.
- Myers + Chang: One of the more popular Asian places in town since it opened (several years ago).
- Toro: Arguably the best-known place in the area, but not our favorite.
- Bar Mezzana: Great hospitality, flawless execution, coastal Italian.
All Roads Lead to Fenway in the:
Via the crowded Newbury Street. If you want to stay nearby (not our recommendation—just go to a game and get out), the Mandarin Oriental is the best and most expensive choice (or the Taj closer to the Public Garden). If you want a boutique experience near Fenway, the Verb is there, but it’s odd at best.
Get off Newbury to find a few good restaurants—the last few years have seen the opening of better ones in the area:
- Select Oyster Bar: More oysters.
- Island Creek Oyster Bar: More oysters.
- Buttermilk & Bourbon: A decent choice for fried chicken and all its friends.
- Porto: Relatively new Mediterranean from Trade owner (and Beard winner) Jody Adams, with a lot of energy.
- Eastern Standard: A well-run restaurant Beard-recognized for stellar service, always packed.
- Tiger Mama: Insane décor, flavorful Southeast Asian dishes.
Where all the new restaurants are opening and staying open:
Cambridge and Somerville
There are a lot of great restaurant choices, but it begs the question whether it’s worth the (albeit pretty short) drive. What makes a place destination-worthy? If you want to be near enough to suck in some Ivy League air, you can stay at the Charles Hotel and walk to some of the restaurants that definitely are:
- Juliet: Charming and awards-riddled.
- Tasting Counter: The place to go if you like the long, notable tasting menus.
- La Brasa: It’s in East Somerville but worth it for the huge wood-fired oven and always-changing menu.
- Little Donkey: The casual concept from Toro’s owner, and one we like much better.
- Craigie on Main: This one put Cambridge on the restaurant map with the now-closed Hungry Mother.
- Loyal Nine: Must-do seafood.
- Les Sablons: Island Creek’s Frenchie sister.
- Waypoint: Coastally inspired food, worth a stop if you’re in the ’hood, but not a destination if you’re not
- Puritan & Co.: Spins on traditional New England cuisine.
Our favorite cab ride ever was from:
East Boston and Charlestown
Back to downtown. As the crow flies, it’s probably a few miles, and you can see it. But when we were at one of our favorites places ever, and in the city of Boston, Santarpio’s, (pizza that’s old-school in the best way, an oasis in the midst of tasting menus, foam, tweezers, and celebrity chefs), we had to take a cab back to “the city.” The cab driver was said, “All the way back into the city, huh? I never get over there, this will be exciting for me.” The total fare was about $5.00 and it took about 6 minutes. Yes, provincial indeed.