L.A. guy, visiting Boston later this year, needs advance recommendations
I'll be in Boston twice later this year: in late May, with my wife, for the son's college graduation (also known as: NO MORE GIANT CHECKS!!!), and then again in October, for a reunion of my old military unit. I'm not sure how much dining-out time I'll have on either visit, but hey -- it can't hurt to make a list. During the first visit we'll be staying in Cambridge, but we won't be limited to Cambridge because we'll be handy to a red line T station. I don't yet know where the reunion will be, but a downtown hotel is most likely. Again, though, given Boston's public transit system, I don't feel that I'll be limited to that immediate area.
Since Boston is famous for its seafood, I'd appreciate recommendations along that line -- but by no means limited to the seafood genre, as I love to try whatever is excellent wherever I visit.
Any suggestions from you Bostonians?
Overall, I tend to consider Boston a bit underrated as a chow town, but ironically, when it comes to seafood, I actually find it overrated. I don't have any specific gripes about any of the old stalwarts of the Boston fish scene (Legal Seafood, Anthony's Pier 4) or their newer counterparts (Summer Shack, Great Bay) per se; they're perfectly enjoyable for what they are, but if I came all the way across the country for it, I think I'd be a little underwhelmed.
As classic seafood restaurants go, my favorite is probably East Coast Grill in Inman Square, Cambridge. Very high-quality ingredients, skilled and honest cooking technique, fun and boisterous atmosphere. Certainly one of the best raw bars in town as well. I always find the prices about $5 higher per entrée then I feel is really fair (especially considering the casual digs), but there's really no arguing with the quality. Each dish tries to (and usually succeeds at) epitomizing its genre; the fish and chips even comes in a paper bag. Fairly credible other items too, such as BBQ.
Especially since you're from the LA area, the other seafood rec I'd offer is to check out any of several Portuguese eateries in the same area, which will be not only delicious, but also something you can't really get back home. Grilled sardines, fisherman's stew; these places really know their seafood. Two Boston board favorites are O Cantinho and Atasca. The latter is better in good weather, given its nice outdoor patio.
Setting seafood aside, I think Boston, and perhaps especially Cambridge, excels in the realm of small, artisinal, upscale restaurants; to me, they really reflect the city's [over-]educated pedigree. A few of my favorites around Cambridge: Craigie Street Bistrot, Salts, Chez Henri.
No need to go to a "Seafood" restaurant. I think Boston's great strength with seafood is that any good restaurant can be relied upon to deliver fresh, competently prepared fish. I've had some of my best fish bites at Rendezvous in Central Square Cambridge. But really, go to any top rated place and order fish.
For seafood there is always Legal Seafoods but most on this board would probably recommend Neptune Oyster (North End), B & G Oysters (South End) or East Coast Grill (Inman Square in Cambridge). Out of the 3 my favorite is Neptune Oyster (note that they don't take reservations).
Since you'll be in Cambridge you might want to check out O'Cantinho (Portuguese) or Muqueca (Brazilian fish stews) in Inman Square. Cafe Baraka in Central Square is great from Algerian-Tunisian and I've also really enjoyed Rendezvous...Mediterranean inspired dishes using local ingredients. Cambridge also has some great ice cream: Toscanini's in Central Square and Christina's in Inman Square.