July 4th dinner in the Thick of Things
I've had a good time reading through the board and planning our 5 days in Boston over the 4th of July week. We're coming up from Florida in part to experience the festival atmosphere on July 4. We're a couple in our 40s with two sons 12 and 14, and would like to plan on a dinner on the forth somewhere that takes reservations, has a lot of character, is alive with and nearby the crowds, and provides a step-up from the street food we could get outside (the more steps-up the better), but nothing remotely formal.
For reference some of the other restaurants that look appealing for the rest of our stay include Gennaro's, Warren tavern, Toro, Beehive, and Santarpio's.
some places to check out if you are on the cambridge side of things are: Catalyst, Area 4, Firebrand Saints, The friendly toast, Cambridge Brewing Company.
All of these are in the Kendall Square area and are walking distance to the river for the fireworks and a very short walk from the Kendall Sq T stop. you will have to check their holiday hours status, though.
The Warren Tavern is in Charlestown, Toro and Beehive are in the South End, santarpio's is in East Boston and Gennaro's is in the North End. If, by the "thick of things...nearby the crowds" you mean the 4th of July crowds, those will be clustered in Back Bay and in East Cambridge, as that is where people go to watch the Fireworks. None of your named restaurants are in those areas. That said, I love Toro for tapas, the food is great and it is has a hip, lively atmosphere. Go early to avoid a wait. Beehive also has a lively vibe, but I have only been for drinks. The South End is a great place for dining with lots of locals and good food. Definitely check in advance and make reservations for the 4th itself as there are lots of visitors for the Fireworks and some places closed. Also, look at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square. It fits your criteria and you can walk to a viewing place for fireworks. They have more than just oysters.
It may be hard to find places on the fourth that will be open. Eastern Standard will be most certainly, they take reservations, the food is reasonably good (there will be something for everyone on their menu) and should be busy and convivial that day. It is also not too far from the esplanade, if thats where you are headed afterward.
It might be interesting to find out which of these places is open on 4th of July, since maybe you could actually eat at one of them.
Also, are you planning to watch fireworks? If so, from where? There are obviously advantages of eating close to the viewing area (i.e. you wouldn't need to go far to get to fireworks after) but there are disadvantages too (i.e. crowds). You could maybe strike a balance by eating somewhere a bit removed from the crowds, but still within a 20 minute walk.