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1. Best basil/pine nut pesto in Boston 2. Best overall restaurant in Boston

My husband and I will be in Boston for 2 nights. One night we would like to try the city's best basil/pine nut pesto. The other night we would like to have a very memorable dinner. Although we live in the LA area, our favorite restaurant is Chicago's Alinea. I don't know that we need to indulge in a dinner as extensive as Alinea's multi course extravaganza, but just to give everyone an idea of what we are looking for. Thanks so much in advance!

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  1. Welcome in advance! The only thing we have remotely like Alinea is OYa, or Asta. do a search and you will find recent threads.

    If not there, my strong rec for our most unique experience- is Oleana in Cambridge. Turkish trad and innovative. and lovely outdoor patio if you arrive before they open.
    I know of no place 'famous for its pesto' but i'm sure others will chime in.

    (* btw, OT a bit but if you love Alinea, you might enjoy seeing the new DVD, Spinning Plates, which has some long amazing coverage of Grant A.)

    1. i would second OCs O Ya or Asta and also like Uni Bar.

      I must say that i like Oleana but do not love it.

      I also know of no place famous for pesto but you could get the roasted lobster at the Summer Shack or get clam bellies at Island Creek Oyster Bar.

      1. What do you want this pesto on - pizza, pasta, seafood, meat, crostinis?

        14 Replies
        1. re: Taralli

          pesto seems like such an 80s thing. can't remember the last time i saw it on a menu.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I'm referring to northern Italian cuisine. I thought there might be some small old school Italian restaurant that was well known for their version of pesto sauce. It's ok if it doesn't exist, I was just hopeful.

            1. re: Daisylily

              The very special cuisine of Piedmont is done at the intimate Erbaluce, with the much respected Chef Charles Draghi. You might want to check their website.

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                Pesto is from Genova so Draghi might not have it. Honestly there aren't any good pestos that come to mind. The only place I've seen it on a menu is a couple of places in the North End that I wouldn't recommend.

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  Not sure Erbaluce would rank in the top 20 places I'd send someone from out of town, but he does decent Northern Italian. I've had a few really lackluster meals there and fewer amazing ones, though.

                2. re: Daisylily

                  pesto isn't from the north. :)

                  when you say "old school" do you really mean a red sauce joint? there are about a billion threads on here for that.

                  erbaluce is divisive among locals because it's a very modern spin on the cuisine of the region. i love it and am blown away each time by the exquisite attention to detail. also a very well-curated all italian wine list.

                  come to think of it, have had pesto a few times as a garnish on the house-made mozzarella at scampo. those plates are seasonal and change often, but the star is certainly the cheese.

                  otherwise prezza is my go-to for top-notch italian.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Pesto (AKA "pesto genovese," as in "from Genoa") isn't from the north? Did somebody move Genoa when I wasn't looking?

                    1. re: Allstonian

                      it's northern coastal, yes, but to me northern italian cuisine is more along the lines of veneto, alto adige and friuli. even emiglia-romagna.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        They don't have loads of pestos in those areas? I had more than my share of pine nuts in Emilia-Romagna, and walnut pestos too.

                        1. re: QuakerInBoston

                          what's served now may have little to do with traditional dishes.

                          basil wasn't growing much of the year in the dolomites, whereas genoa has a mediterranean/subtropical climate and is sunny most of the time.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            No, that's fair but I guess I'm contrasting it against what I've had in Southern Italy, where pestos were far less common. I'd say pesto was as common in E-R as it was in Genoa when I was there.

                  2. re: Daisylily

                    "Old school Italian" in Boston generally refers to places that specialize in southern Italian cuisine, often fairly Americanized. (What other folks in this thread are calling red-sauce.)

                  3. re: hotoynoodle

                    I don't recall seeing on the menu if anyplace decent either.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Huh, I see it all the time. (Then again, I really like it, so I notice it. Don't really have a top-tier recommendation, though -- I'm actually more likely to order it at less-snazzy places as it's harder to screw up than other favorites.)

                      I really like Rabia's for a less-expensive red-sauce North End choice, and they list pesto gnocchi on the current menu -- not sure I've had their pesto, but I know I've had their gnocchi and found them excellent. They're not anything unusual or out of this world, so they don't get much chow buzz, but they're always solid.

                  4. This is certainly not a "best of" recommendation, but the pesto at Al Dente in the North End is very tasty and very reasonably priced. It's a simple, casual place. If you're driving, you can get validated parking at the Parcel 7 garage in the Haymarket building.

                    1. Assuming you can't get a great pesto, are you looking for a more casual, Italian meal the first night?

                      For a memorable meal, O Ya (Japanese) or Menton (French) are your best bets. Both are quite expensive but you'll get that multi-course experience with innovative preparations. Not Grant Achatz-level of experimentation but memorable in their own right.

                      Menton is cool because you can go to Drink, a high end cocktail bar that is owned by the same restaurant group and settled in directly below the restaurant, afterwards and they'll even hold seats for you at the bar if you ask them towards the end of the meal and you'll walk through the massive kitchen to get to the bar the "hidden" way. Makes for a pretty memorable night, I think.

                      1. We've had very good pesto at Villa Francesca on Richmond St. in the North End. They are open for lunch, and I believe they still have it on there menu.

                        1. I had delicious pesto recently at Rendezvous. It was used in their lasagna and it was sensational :)

                          1. I recently had the following dish at Carmelina's in the North End ("Little Italy") and can say that it was one of the best plates of pasta I've ever had:

                            Tonno con Pesto Siciliano-
                            Bites of Ahi Tuna sautéed with cherry tomatoes and garlic, finished with pistachio pesto, served with garganelli. – $14/$20

                            Note: pistachio pesto, not pine nut. Really delicious and loved Carmelina's in general.

                            For your special meal, I also recommend Asta.

                            1. I think Il Panino has the best pesto I've had outside of Liguria.

                              1. For good old school Italian, look into Rino's in E. Boston, no pesto but, excellent offerings. You'll need to get there early as there are no reservations for parties under 6. Nothing like this in LA. Just a short cab ride from the city.


                                4 Replies
                                1. re: treb

                                  treb, I'm pretty sure I've had pesto at Rino's as part of a dish. Boy, I wish they'd put the specials menu online. Anyway, it's a good suggestion.

                                  1. re: bear

                                    I believe you're correct, I've seen a pesto dish on the specials menu.

                                  2. re: treb

                                    and be prepared to wait; there are - No Resevations.

                                  3. There is nothing like Alinea anywhere, definitely not here. That being said, I would put my vote in for L'Espailer being the best overall restaurant (although OYa, etc. may be more progressive). Interesting take on Italian (although definitely not old school) who's chef just won a James Beard yesterday is Coppa. They do seem to have "Little bell pasta with artichokes, peas and nettle-pistachio pesto" on the menu, which sounds nothing like 80's pesto, but pretty awesome.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ScotchandSirloin

                                      i just had drop-dead great lamb tartare at coppa. i am now strong like mongol horde.

                                    2. Dante, in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, does a nice housemade pesto on pasta, and I think that would be my first recommendation. I like Erbaluce a lot, but the menu changes extremely frequently; if you want Draghi's take on pesto you'll have to call, make a reservation and ask for a special request in advance.

                                      Carlo's Cucina Italiana in Allston, Abbondanza in Everett and Rino's Place in East Boston are my favorites for casual Italian. I know Carlo's has pesto on their menu, not sure about Abbondanza. The advantage of the first two is that there's not the punishing wait of Rino's --- all three are nice, fun places.

                                      O Ya, Menton, Clio, L'Espalier are all wonderful, ultra-luxury places in Boston. I would add Asta (especially has it has a bit of an Alinea-like flair), Craigie on Main, Journeyman (again, a bit of molecular flair), Bondir, Oleana to the list of other possibilities for you. You can find more about all of those places on other threads.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: lipoff

                                        when youall talk about pesto, you do mean a puree mix of basil, garlic, evoo, parm, pine nuts, yes? I had pesto tonight from a southern Italian chef, and it was a sauce, like a pesto mixed w/ beschamel but thinner. it was certanly a disappointment to me. weird, cuz i have always thought that pesto was pesto........

                                      2. Pasta Beach has pesto on the menu, but I haven't tried it.