VISITING BOSTON? One Hound’s Guide to Historic Areas and Restaurants (Revised 8/2012)
I have gone to school and lived here 40 years and I really like to steer few-day visitors who are food-oriented>> towards great dining in attractive and historic walking areas- so they can have the best of both worlds. Below is a very long detailed piece I put together for visitors. *This is not a consensus guide, just my suggestions.* As you narrow down the list of possible restaurants for your Boston visit, do take the time to do an individual CH 'search' for each spot, so that you can read the most recent CH experiences there. And equally important- pull up their web menus and see what wows you!
Planning and Mapping Your Visit:
If and when you are ready to preview/try out various daily scenarios, you may find Google Map to be very helpful. 'Get Directions' enables me to fill in the brief name of potential locations ('Neptune Oyster', 'Fenway Park', 'Copley Plaza Hotel') and then to get a macro map of the city so I can see where all the different options are located vis a vis each other. Then I can switch the schedule/order of locations , or substitute one location for another, to preview a map of alternate scenarios. When I am ready to print my maps, I zoom in enough to show the street names, and then I print them. This process can also give you approximate travel times for walking, driving, etc.
Help Us Chowhounds Help You:
When you post an inquiry about your trip, many other Boston CHs will jump in with their own thoughts. It helps us (help you) if you include the period of your visit (particularly for Sunday brunch info and vacation closings info), the area or place you're staying (re:breakfast and other spots close to you), your planned transportation modes (re:car, taxi, T and walking), and any other info you can.We all want you to have some great food while you’re here! Also, if you are visiting other areas for day trips or extended touring, let us know so we can offer info to your posts on other non-Boston boards (i.e. Southern or Northern New England, The Cape, etc.)
**One Chowhound's Guide to Boston's Historic Areas and Restaurants**:Revised 08/2012
For the best preserved/most attractive/historic parts of our city, I would direct you to:
-- the North End/Waterfront/Quincy Market
-- Beacon Hill/Charles Street
-- the Back Bay: the Public Garden and the bordering Arlington and Beacon Streets;
Comm.(onwealth) Ave. and Newbury Street from the Public Garden to Mass.(achusetts) Ave.; and Copley Sq.
-- the South End
*North End/ Waterfront/ Quincy Market*
If at all possible. one must visit the original Pizzeria Regina in the North End. This is many local aficionados' fav pizza place, period. It is the original(and ONLY worthwhile) location of what is now a chain; most importantly, its pizzas taste like no others , partly because of the WWII oven they use, which is more than 'seasoned' by now. Regina's has a special place in my love because this thin crust pizza (ask for 'well done') tastes just like it did when I lived in Rome as a teenager. It is also a tiny, jam-packed, loud, FUNKY space; unique, not decor-changed since the 50's maybe. Unless you have no other option, don't go on a Saturday, and do go for early lunch or early dinner to avoid lines.
Regina’s is located on the outer edge of the compact North End, so after pizza, walk over to the Hanover St. (main drag) area and feel the history of this unique neighborhood. Its oldest extant buildings are from the 18th c.,when wealthy ship owners wanted to live near their ships, Boston being a bustling harbor town. Through the centuries, the North End has been peopled successively, by tight knit communities of Irish, blacks , Jews, and Italians. It has been Italian since the early 20th c. While harbor-dwelling yuppies have been 'encroaching' of late, there is still a lot of sidewalk life, Italian being spoken, bocce being played.
For a filling snack, Galleria Umberto Rosticceria, only open til mid afternoon, is unique for its cheap and filling large arancini, calzone and thick crusted Sicilian pizza by the slice.Long lines and cafeteria service. There are some wonderful gelato/cafes on Hanover St. I particularly like the gelato at Café Sport. Modern Pastry is across the street, with wonderful almond biscotti ,torrone, cannoli , and sfogliadel ( a very unusual 3 cornered hat of layered/crunchy pastry filled with a farmer's cheese/candied fruit mixture.) Avoid Mike’s Pastry.
For very upscale Italian dining, Prezza is highly touted. And the tiny jam- packed no-reservations Neptune Oyster is the temple of the freshest seafood, impeccably prepared for both traditionalists and foodies seeking creativity. While many CHs are adamant that the best fried clams are in Ipswich at the famous Clam Box, Neptune does a very good job with them (but not with clam chowder.) Lobster Rolls are a constant topic on the Boston board, and many advise that Neptune Oysters', as expensive as they are, are the best. (Others prefer Belle Isle and Yankee Lobster. ) For Italian food goods, Salumeria Italiana and Polcari's get raves. The North End is also home to the 18th c. Old North Church and 19th c. Seamen's Home . If you like to discover-by-walking, the end of Hanover St. away from downtown Boston- leads onto the waterfront area. This area is also architecturally and historically fascinating because it is very intact with its 19th c. granite and brick warehouses and wharves (now waterview condos).
With all I've described, you might find it worth your while to go to the North End/Harbor/Quincy Market area for early lunch, afternoon exploring and maybe dinner. You could incorporate the nearby Aquarium and IMAX, TD Garden and the Greenway. Both Regina's and Neptune Oyster are continually packed and no reservations. Best to hit them right when they open. You can also leave your name on a list and then stroll the fascinating area. The Boston Garden (now The TD Garden), home to the Boston Bruins and the Celtics, is a 5 minute walk from the North End.It houses a large shop and a small sports museum, and offers daily scheduled indoor tours. There is also a terrific walking tour company that has a North End tour and a Chinatown tour.
(**Street parking is near impossible in the North End, where 99% of it is Resident Parking Only. Throughout the summer, religious festival weekends turn the North End into quite the zoo.)
Quincy Market is Boston's 18th and 19th c. historic warehouse and market area.As a model of historic preservation coupled with successful commercial viability, its adaptive reuse was the prototype for most of the other U.S. 'Commercial Historic Restoration/Tourist Attractions'. Its large handsome brick warehouse and market buildings are now full of endless shops, restaurants and vendor carts. Foodwise, it’s o.k. for sampling some finger food or ice cream but not much more. However, the famous historic Durgin Park is a Boston institution where, if you order correctly, you can have a memorable time (lobster, clams, baked beans, Indian Pudding). Nearby are CH lunch favs Zo, Sultan's Kitchen , Sam la Grassa's(huge deli sandwiches) and Chacarero(Peruvian sandwiches). The area around Quincy Market, Government Center, and the Greenway (a new walking park recently made possible when our overhead transit system was dismantled) - is also rich with Boston's new Food Trucks, offering a myriad of ethnic and American Regional foods to downtown workers and visitors alike. The trucks travel throughout the city and have location schedules that change by day and time of day. In the summer, outdoor Farmers Markets are found throughout the city and suburbs, offering the best of local produce and specialty foods. (Boston's long awaited year 'round indoor market is scheduled to open near the Greenway in 2014.
***For a really memorable experience seeing 'Boston's Past and Present' simultaneously, head for the once-daily opening of the observation deck of the Customs House tower (with the bright blue clock face.) There you will have a 360 degree intimate overhead view of this oldest part of Boston adjoining the harbor. ***
Somewhat near Quincy Market, in the area of South Station(our major railway terminus), are two of Boston’s top rated and most expensive restaurants. OYa is perhaps the most creative Japanese influenced food in Boston, consistently listed in the top local restaurants. Menton is a silk purse prix fixe paean to European luxe and service perfected, owned by local girl-chef-made-good Barbara Lynch( whose empire includes No.9 Park and B&G Oysters and The Butcher Shop in the South End.) Casual bistros in the same area are Les Zygomates(oyster bar and traditional French food) and Blue Inc (innovative and playful with strong Asian and Latin influences), both also open for lunch.
*Beacon Hill and Charles St.*
Heading inland from the North End and the Harbor, and skirting the Boston Common, is Beacon Hill, Boston’s well preserved elite neighborhood of 19th c. brick townhouses. Louisburg Sq. is a private square of elegant brick mansions with its original cobblestone street surface and a Victorian- fenced resident-owned park oval in its center. Beacon Hill is also the location for our famous gold domed State House, various private men's and women's social clubs, and the headquarters for the Appalachian Mountain Club(AMC).
Running along one side of the base of Beacon Hill is historic Charles Street, an amazingly well preserved 19th c. brick streetscape full of antique shops, restaurants and boutiques. The no frills Paramount is a very popular neighborhood gem for breakfast and brunch, and Figs has good simple Italian pizzas, pastas etc. In a sea of Italian spots, Lala Rokh presents a calm intimate respite with Boston's best Persian food ( grilled and stewed lamb and eggplant taking the spotlight.) It's a quiet comfortable resting spot after a long day of walking. Its sister restaurant on Charles St. is Bin 26, for fine wines and Northern Italian. At the far end of Charles St., in the former 19th c. jail/now Liberty Hotel, is the new Italian hot spot, Scampo, from Lydia Shire, pioneer icon of Boston women chef/owners.
Away from Charles St., climbing up Beacon Hill near the State House, the intimate bohemian Grotto has excellent well priced and creative Northern Italian influenced food. Nearby and considerably more expensive is #9 Park, an arguably lesser version of its original self, a spare elegant Northern Italian spot , owned by local-girl-made-good and dining-empire builder, Barbara Lynch. On the back side of Beacon Hill, a 5 minute walk from the North End, is the impressively restored Harrison Grey Otis House museum, headquarters for Historic New England, which owns over 50 important New England 17th c. through 20th c. museum houses. Next to the Otis House is the Old West Meeting House. Both buildings were designed by famous architects and when built, were surrounded by rolling pastureland. Now they appear as two brick Federal era hold outs in a sea of 20th c. commercial and government buildings. Two other important Beacon Hill museums are the Museum of African American History and the Boston Athenaeum.
* The Back Bay: the Public Garden and the bordering Arlington and Beacon Streets;
Comm.(onwealth) Ave. and Newbury Street from the Public Garden to Mass.(achusetts) Ave.; and Copley Sq.*
At the foot of Beacon Hill and adjacent to the Boston Common, is the Public Garden. Originally used as a Rope Walk (an open space large enough to enable ship rigging ropes to be made in one continuous piece) the Public Garden became, in the Victorian era, a well ordered floriferous strolling park and the country's first arboretum. For elegant dining near the Public Garden, CH favs include Troquet (Boston's best wine list)and Bistro du Midi(which looks out on the Public Garden and also offers Lunch and Brunch.)
Make sure to experience one of Boston's most beautiful features: Comm(onwealth) Ave between Mass(achusetts) Ave and Arlington St.(adjacent to the Public Garden, the oldest arboretum/public park in the U.S. ) This part of Comm. Ave was designed after the Champs Elysees in Paris and is a 9 blocks long strip of tree, bench and statue- lined park with handsome 19th c. mansions and town houses lining both side and galleries , with many restaurants. Right around the corner from the Public Garden end of Newbury Street is Parish Cafe on Boylston St. with sandwiches designed by and named for many of Boston's best chefs .
In Copley Sq., famous for Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library, and the mirror glass John Hancock tower, you can enjoy a very tranquil and lovely lunch or tea in the library's cafe. For one of the most CH raved high end artisinal and farm-to-table dinners in Boston,visit l'Espalier, especially lauded for their tasting menus and chef's table dinners, and Sel de la Terre, a bit more casual but still elegant French inspired spot.
Between Copley Sq. and Symphony Hall , Brasserie Jo is a CH fav as a French bistro and Sunday brunch spot. Grill 23 is Boston's expense account temple to steak. At the Mass. Ave. end of Newbury St. is Sonsie, a handsome swank late night spot with a broad menu and loud bar, which is popular with the Euro crowd. Also near that end of Newbury St. are Deuxave and Island Creek Oyster Bar, the first known for innovative high end dining and the latter for its extensive raw bar and both traditional and innovative seafood.
The South End is Boston’s amazingly well-preserved and very large Victorian district, chock-a-block w/ handsome brick and brownstone rowhouses often grouped around pocket parks in the middle of side street cul-de-sacs. There is a large gay population , more and more young families, beloved dogs everywhere, myriad restaurants(mostly bistro style) and an active sidewalk cafe and strolling culture. Aquitaine is a handsome lively French bistro with great Steak Frites and both traditional and contemporary fare (also an excellent duck confit sandwich w/ melted gruyere for Brunch!) and top notch service. Four blocks away is Tremont 647 , its strongpoint being their fun Pajama Brunch, when all their servers, chefs etc. wear their pjs to work. Mike and Patty’s is a beloved neighborhood gem for breakfast and lunch, but it is more of a take-out space.The South End Buttery is a popular full service breakfast spot and bakery.The Gallows and Coppa are two recent bistros with many fans, the latter known for its 'snout to tail' menu and in-house charcuterie. Masa is a comfy Southwestern bistro, and Mistral, a dramatic bustling elegant space with French emphasis, popular with the expense account set. Mistral's owners also manage Sorellina ( like an Italian Mistral.)
For any visitor calling themselves a serious chocolate fan, the tiny ChocoLee shop may provide you one of your best Boston memories. This charming South End gem is the labor of love of famous Boston pastry chef, Lee Napoli, and there she produces a uniquely superior changing array of filled chocolates, truffles and barks.On weekends she also offers a small number of amazing croissants and fresh beignets.(* Her shop hours are limited, so call ahead.*) Another 'Don't Miss' food experience is Formaggio Kitchen, a fantastic food emporium packed into a tight space. Still known for its awe-inspiring selection of imported and domestic cheeses, Formaggio's imported artisinal Italian(and other) chocolates and sweets, vinegars and oils, French honeys, etc. can be a mesmerizing experience as well. They even bring in fresh bread from Paris' Poulin bakery!
On the southwestern edge of the South End is Toro, a deafeningly loud crowded Spanish tapas joint with possibly the best paella in town. Just outside the southeast corner of the South End, in the new SoWa district of swank condos, art galleries and restaurants, is CH fav. Myers+Chang, with a casual hip 'new Chinese' menu of small and large plates, with a famous bar program and weekend dim sum. Like East Coast Grill in Cambridge, M+C is a hot spot for locals, a great place to people watch and feel like one of the neighborhood, and super for Sunday brunch. Across the street is Oishii, with Boston's most expensive innovative sushi (not for traditionalists.)
Other Areas :
Dimsum carts or dim sum menu ordering: Winsor Cafe for the latter. China Pearl, Chau Chau City, Gourmet Dumpling House and Great Taste for the former. Peach Farm for meals.
Bakeries with many savories as well as sweets: Mei Sum, Eldo Cake House, 101 Bakery, Ho Yuen
Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches): 163 , Mei Sum
There is a terrific walking tour company that offers Chinatown tours:
*Fenway Park*//Kenmore Sq.
Next to our beloved old baseball park is a terrific Mexican taco place, La Verdad. Their tacos and tortas of carne asada(grilled beef), pescado(fried haddock),are the real deal and the best i have had in Boston (i'm not keen on some of their other types), and be sure to also get their refried beans and , in summer season,their fresh corn coated with queso fresco, spices and lime. For more upscale and seafood before a game- there is the wildly popular Island Creek Oyster Bar(upscale and seafood)known for a large array of oysters and a signature Lobster Roe Noodles Short Rib dish. A five minute drive away is our amazing Museum of Fine Arts, world famous for its substantial collections of French Impressionism, American paintings and decorative arts, and Japanese art. (The new Art of the Americas wing has just opened in 2011.) The Gardner Museum, Venetian Palazzo famous for its European art collection and flower filled Courtyard, is next to the MFA. Both museums have in-house cafes and restaurants.
Close to Central Boston:
If the Revolutionary War holds a particular draw for you, you may want to take the ferry over to Charlestown to see the Bunker Hill Monument and the Constitution.
I tend to think that Cambridge is to Boston as Berkeley is to San Francisco. And for some of Boston's best food gems, you have to go to Cambridge, particularly for Oleana and Craigie on Main, Toscanini's Ice Cream , Burdick's Chocolates and Iggy's Breads.
*Cambridge ,Harvard Square*-
Indian- Tamarind Bay, Tanjore
International Casual- Russell House Tavern, Park
Upscale Northern Italian- Rialto
Lunch: Sabra, Russell House Tavern
Pizza- Cambridge One and Otto's
Just outside Harvard Sq.:
Bergamot - elegant ,inventive
Strip T's- former Momofuku chef's exciting bold Asian inspired foods
and unique takes on homestyle American comfort dishes. Very casual.
(Limited)reservations a must or show up when the doors open.
Formaggio Kitchen(Huron Ave.) (see description under 'South End')
Iggy's Breads (Fresh Pond)- Boston's best artisinal baker of European style breads
(The sourdough based Francese is a killer!)
*East Cambridge, Inman Square*
Portuguese- Casa Portugal
Seafood, Mexican/Latin,BBQ- East Coast Grill (especially for their amazing abundant Sunday Brunch, a 25 year magnet for locals.)
Artisanal Farm to Table- Bondir, Oleana
Innovative Asian Small Plates- East by Northeast
Creative Turkish/Moroccan/Mediterranean- Oleana
Ice Cream- Christina's
*Cambridge, Kendall Sq.*
Contemporary International(many Farm to Table)- EVOO, Catalyst, West Bridge
American Southern- Hungry Mother
*Cambridge Central Sq.*
Craigie on Main- always listed in Boston's top tier; broad unusual menu specializing in meat and offal, but including seafood and vegetarian.
International Bistro- Rendezvous
International Flamboyant/Fun Girls Night Out- Cuchi Cuchi
Ice Cream- most innovative in the Boston area- Toscanini
Dim Sum- Mary Chung
*** Reservations are a Must!!(unless you are going solo) Make them as soon as you can and remember, you can always change them. A free web based reservation service like Open Table can be accessed 24/7. If they don't show the timing you want, call the restaurant ,as they often keep aside some tables.
Good report. Would add Hammersleys Bistro to the mix and
in your Beacon Hill section, a stop at Beacon Hill
Agree that adding Hammersley's would make sense. One other change, Gourmet Dumpling House is not Dim Sum (more Taiwanese w/Sichuan), so I would move it to the Peach Farm (other Chinese meals) sentence (I'm sure others will say add Dumpling Cafe and others to that sentence too, but that's not my fight).
I'll add two items in regard to Historic Areas and Restaurants in Boston.
In the Quincy Market area is the oldest and most historic restaurant in Boston, Union Oyster House. That alone deserves mentioning.
WORD...only order a dozen fresh shucked oysters at the bar and a couple of bottled beers, enjoy them and go somewhere else to eat.
Also worth a mention, and probably the second oldest, equally historic restaurant in downtown Boston is Locke Ober.
If there is anyone interested in Boston history, and a high end Bostonian dining experience, you should go and experience Locke Ober. The dinning room is ageless, and you can feel the history as soon as you step into the place. The menu is traditional high end steak and seafood, with JFK signature soup. Service for me has always been excellent.
Union Oyster House is open lunch through dinner.
Locke Ober is dinner only and located near the Park St. T station, off the Boston Common. For lunch in the Boston Common and Public Garden area, a few of Boston's best burgers are found at : J.M.Curley, Market, Stoddard's, and The Bristol Lounge in The Four Seasons Hotel (and Sel de la Terre,Towne, Asana and Back Bay Social Club in the adjacent Back Bay/Copley Sq.area.) For an excellent website devoted solely to reviews of Boston area burgers, see: