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Traditional Boston eatery? Need multiple recs

Dinner recommendations? Not expensive or dressy, but something that says this is what represents Boston. We are adventurous eaters but our dining companions are not. Preferably not Italian as I can get that here in NJ.

Also need rec for seafood shack for lunch. Do any serve chowder?

We will be arriving after 11pm on Friday night, (late night apps?), going to Spectacle Island Sat morning, so need the shack rec, then dinner. Sunday morning need breakfast before leaving.


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  1. I know I am asking for many things that have been discussed to death here, forgive me, but I've read all the "fun restaurant for dinner" or "what's the best restaurant right now" threads and am just overwhelmed by the choices.

    Please help.

    1. where will you be staying and what is your budget? will you have kids with you?

      are you arriving via logan? or driving?

      6 Replies
      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Driving. Staying at the Kendall in Cambridge. 5 adults, no children. Seafood is fine as long as there is an option for one that doesn't eat fish. The Summer Shack in Cambridge might work for dinner but I was hoping for shack shack for lunch. We can drive to the shack shack. There is no parking for the ferry so we will have to get there via subway I guess, but that means subway to ferry, time on the island, ferry back, subway back to hotel, then lunch. What time do shacks usually close?

        The Union Oyster House is too expensive. I just want to come home after the weekend and say to myself, "So that is what Boston does best." Places that distinguish Boston/Mass from say NYC.

        1. re: Jerseygirl111

          if you want shack-shack, you might want yankee lobster. it's counter-service and paper plates and it is on the water. or you can drive north to essex -- clam box, etc. if you have time, that is the way to go. it's so pretty up there.

          union oyster house sucks.

          there is parking for your ferry, just not connected to the park service. the seaport area has lots. OR, you can take the red line (kendall) to the silver, which is not bad at all. and you can walk from there to yankee lobster. is it "bostons best"? no.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Yankee might be"on the water" but it's the back warehouse part of the building that borders the water and the self service takeout area with tables(both inside and outside tables) overlook the street and delivery trucks driving to and from the many area warehouses. No view whatsoever and I don't think the food is anything special.

            2. re: Jerseygirl111

              Do you mean the Shake Shack in Harvard Square?

              ETA: I'm guessing that's not what you meant. Nevermind!

              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                After you get off the ferry, you can walk south along the wharfs for 10 minutes or so and you'll be at James Hook Lobster Co. It's just a food truck of sorts, you eat outside, great lobster rolls. For a more upscale experience, walk the other direction into the north end and go to Neptune Oyster for similar seafood. Unfortunately the "this is what Boston does best" dishes are often seafood that isn't cheap.

                Another experience near your hotel that makes me think of Boston/Cambridge is the "piazza" of sorts at One Kendall Square. There's West Bridge (amazing cocktails, delicious seafood potage), Belly Wine Bar (if there are wine lovers in your group, this is the place for them. The blind flights are fun.) Cambridge Brewing Co. for beer lovers.

            3. Where are you staying?

              What do you think of when you think about a restaurant that represents Boston? What are you looking for?

              Most seafood places do serve chowder. Are you planning on eating right after your trip to Spectacle Island?

              We'll try to help.

              1. Hey Jgirl. For seafood "shack" (no actual shacks in Boston) and Boston-y try http://www.summershackrestaurant.com/

                Dinner? Boston proper can be expensive. I really like Island Creek Oyster Bar and Prezza, both would require reservations.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Carty

                  prezza is italian AND spendy, which she doesn't want.

                  as for "shacks" both james hook and yankee lobster are pretty close to shacks.

                2. The few traditional Boston eateries still open (Durgin Park, Union Oyster House) don't serve very good food. Parker House in the hotel is an historic restaurant in a very "luxe" setting. I've never eaten there so I can't comment directly. I don't think they represent Boston anymore at all.

                  Search for "lobster rolls" and you will get lots of recs for seafood places. There aren't many that really qualify as shacks in the city. Most pubs, bars, and certainly all seafood places all serve chowder (for better or worse).

                  Where are you staying (would help with app recs on friday night, might be difficult) as well as with Sunday breakfast before leaving).

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Madrid

                    Durgin Park is really good. It's one of the oldest restaurants in Boston and still has some of the traditional dishes that you rarely find elsewhere like Indian Pudding. I have often taken visitors there and we've never been disappointed. It's conveniently located in Fanueil Hall and has reasonable prices.

                    1. re: catsmeow

                      It's been awhile but I always enjoyed the Indian pudding. Last time I was there I ordered coffee jello and boy did that bring back memories. My grandmother always made coffee jello but I've never seen it on a menu anywhere.

                      1. re: Pegmeister

                        Coffee jello was my dad's favorite dessert. I don't think I've ever seen it any other menu either.

                          1. re: Jerseygirl111

                            Unflavored gelatin made with coffee instead of water. Some folks put a bit of milk on it. It's a New England thing. My mom always made it when we were kids. Coffee in any form was a sacrament in my house growing up! I was drinking coffee by age 6, coffee black by age 16!

                            1. re: kimfair1

                              I also think JELLO makes or use to make it as well. I'm pretty sure my mother use to get it.

                        1. re: Madrid

                          Agree, if you want a fun place go to Durgin Park.

                          1. re: Madrid

                            I should add that my brother and his partner lunched at Union Oyster House last week and said they had a suprisingly wonderful meal (and no they didn't partake of the raw bar). The conventional wisdom on this board is to avoid Union like the plague except for the raw bar, but perhaps some new leadership is turning it around?

                            1. re: Jerseygirl111

                              I would add Belle Isle Seafood in Winthrop/East Boston. It's short drive through the tunnel like you were going back to the airport. Belle Isle is right on the water, it's very casual and has all the New England favorites including what some people tout as the best Lobster Roll in Boston.

                                1. re: RoyRon

                                  Thumbs up for Belle Isle. No frills seafood joint in the best sense of the word. Killer as in 1lb. lobster roll. Baked seafood platter has about 1/2 lb of scallops 1/2 lb. of shrimp and a piece of hake in a cracker & butter coating.
                                  You place your order and they give you a funny lobster shaped beeper to tell you when your food is ready.

                                  They have some outside tables on the water that is good if it is not too windy.

                                  Bring cash and plenty of it. They have an ATM.
                                  The lobster roll is about $25. Compared to trendy Boston elegant place where $25 gets you 5 scallops it is still a bargain. For me it is a must go for lunch, not cheap but definitely a bucket list destination.

                              1. For lunch you could go to Courthouse Seafood. Pretty close to your hotel. Not a shack but similar in spirit. Cheap and excellent.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jajjguy

                                  and MUCH better food than most of the aformentioned places

                                2. You could try Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere. It's on the beach though not a shack. It has seafood as well as the roast beef sandwiches, which are also a Boston thing. It has turned into a local chain but go to the original one in Revere for the most character. I wouldn't say it's necessarily the best of its kind, but it is not too far from where you are staying (about 20 minutes without traffic) and is very popular. There is no indoor seating though. You order at the window and then take the food to the picnic benches across the street by the beach (under a large shelter) or sit on the sea wall or eat in your car. They also have some outdoor tables next to the restaurant.


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: wandergirl

                                    I second the recommendation. Kelly's is pretty Boston and one can get there on the blue line. There are some benches across the street overlooking the beach and in the shade. They have a good fried clam sammy and plate with full belly clams and their lobster rolls are quite good.

                                  2. The ferry to Spectacle Island leaves from Long Wharf. An excellent restaurant with a great harbor view, within walking distance of the wharf, is Daily Catch on Fan Pier (http://thedailycatch.com/seaport.html). It is Sicilian and specializes in calamari, but offers a good range of other seafood. Another good option, a bit farther but still within walking range of Long Wharf, would be Row 34 (http://row34.com), which specializes in oysters and is co-owned by the folks behind the Island Creek oyster farm.

                                    Boston is too crowded and expensive to have the sort of "seafood shack" that you might find on the coast North or South of the city. There are "shack-like" places in that same area, but most people here would not recommend the Barking Crab (http://www.barkingcrab.com).

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: owades

                                      I haven't been to Barking Crab lately and I know it doesn't get much love here.

                                      I did take a few out of town visitors a few years ago and the food wasn't bad. Not up to the best of Cape Ann but serviceable. chowder, steamers, fried clams, lobsters were fine.

                                      It certainly doesn't compare well to an ICOB or Neptune but I think it fits well for an inquiry for a clam shack meal in Boston.

                                      Many people love the experience of eating, overlooking the harbor and downtown in a fun atmosphere.

                                      1. re: 9lives

                                        I actually went to the Barking Crab twice last summer and we found it to be much better than years ago. We got steamers that were excellent and the fried clams were better than Yankee that, for some reason, gets a thumbs up from several on this Board. The setting is much nicer as well. I'm sure I'll get back there eventually this summer as well. It's as close to a seafood shack on the water as you're going to get in the downtown Boston/Seaport area. You can sit outside at picnic tables and it is set on a harbor inlet. There is table service...it is not self service.

                                    2. Sullivan's in Castle Island qualifies as a shack in my book. Also inexpensive and easy to park as long as it's not a gorgeous weekend (in which case you can still park, but it's a shlep)

                                      1. When I stayed there a couple years ago, the Kendall served a quite nice (and included) breakfast.

                                        If you want someplace close by, walking distance to your hotel, you might consider EVOO. It's good, convenient, and while I don't think its exactly "traditional Boston", it does serve local foods.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: ChinaCat

                                          Yes, the Kendall has a nice breakfast that was included when a family member stayed there recently. For drinks and late night appetizers, you might try Mead Hall or State Park which are nearby.

                                          There are a lot of good suggestions here. Boston also has a thriving food truck community so if you see any of them, take a look. Main thing- have fun!

                                          1. re: mvi

                                            you can still get excellent Portuguese food in Cambridge, which is very ethnic Boston, and close to your hotel you could try Casa Portugal in Inman Square. As to seafood shacks, Cambridge has one of the best of them: Alive 'n Kickin' which is funky, inexpensive and makes a great lobster sandwich (not a roll because they serve it on scali bread). Courthouse Seafood has been mentioned as a great stop not far from you and I agree. If you go to Courthouse, go a few blocks further up Cambridge Street to the Royale Bakery for some good and very Boston/Italian cream pastries.

                                        2. Fantastic! Thank you everyone! We are leaving Friday after work and we getting pretty excited.

                                          I'll post back after we're back and let everyone know where we ate and how it went.

                                          Thanks again!

                                          1. Home! I posted in another thread about all the local New England products we purchased while in Boston/Cambridge.

                                            We stayed at The Kendall and recommend it without hesitation. The offer a great breakfast.

                                            Our plan was to take the Ferry to Spectacle Island, then do lunch at the Clam Box, then later dinner at Summer Shack and ice cream at Toscaninis. Well the best laid plans and all...we never made it off the island and back to the hotel until 5:30, so we missed the Clam Box. We did eat lunch at the snack shop on Spectacle and the turkey sandwich with Brie and apples was excellent as was a meatball sub, quite unexpectedly. Also unexpected was the narration tour on the Ferry to the island. Apparently the hotels originally on the island were removed due to rowdiness on the part of the "Irish that like to drink alot." Wow.

                                            Summer Shack. We had five people. Myself, DH, DB, DSIL and DN.

                                            We had an assortment of 6 oysters from the board, 2.50 each, all were good.

                                            DH-ordered a Bloody Mary-it was undrinkable from the hot sauce, maybe they used a hot and spicy V8 or something but either way there was barely any tomato juice in it. I told him told him to send it back but he refused.

                                            Me & DH- had the clam chowder, which looked creamy but was not overly thick. Loaded with clams but the crackers served on top were hard as a rock.

                                            DB and family shared the Asian chicken wings and loved them. They had a sort of Teriyaki/Hoison sauce on them that was very tasty. I wish SS would have more descriptions on their menu.

                                            For our entrees:

                                            Me--Jaspers Roasted Lobster- the sauce was delicious but it is ridiculous that this is not cracked open for you. The tail and body were halved but the sauce is way too oily to be able to crack the claws and knuckles yourself. It was a MESS.
                                            DH--Fried Whole Belly Clams--let me preface by saying we love clams everyway but never had this prep. It did not work for us. The clams tasted bad, but I am not sure if some were actually bad or we just disliked them. I also didn't care for the liquid squish, sort of like Freshen Up gum from hell.
                                            DSIL- Fried Shrimp-what can you say? It's the same everywhere.
                                            DB--Steak tips-loved them, didn't eat the sauteed onions
                                            DN-Crab club sandwich-thought it was tasty but a little lacking on the Crab salad

                                            Overall the person that liked SS the most was my brother, the only non fisheater in our group. I would have rated it higher if the lobster was all cracked open.

                                            Afterwards we went to Toscaninis and everyone agreed it was fantastic, albeit expensive for ice cream. I sampled the grape nuts (fantastic) and Burnt Caramel (nope). Ordered Sour Cream (good) and Peanut Butter Banana (awesome). Also Ginger Molasses (awesome) and Pancake (very good).

                                            We ate breakfast both days at the hotel. Scrambled eggs, pancakes or French toast. Sausage, bacon, roasted potatoes, dry cereal, oatmeal, muesli. Dried fruits, including figs, fresh fruit: apples, peaches, watermelon, scones, pastries. Coffee, tea, OJ or pink grapefruit juice. Never had muesli before (cold oatmeal?) but it was fantastic. Nuts and fruit in there, it was wonderful.

                                            Overall had a great trip, Boston/Cambridge was great, thanks for all the recommendations!

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                              summer shack doesn't get much love on this board so am not sure how you wound up there? lol, i grew up with clam strips too, but WOW my first time having whole bellies, i never looked back. ;)

                                              glad you had a great trip and thanks for the report back!

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                A couple people recommended SS, here and on another thread. I am honestly starting to think the clams may have gone bad. It seems like something we would love. We eat clams every way imaginable, chowder, half shell, with pasta, stuffed, oreganato, strips, everything. So odd. But I haven't given up, I will try again someday. Lol

                                                1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                  I've never gotten good clams there. The few times I've tried them when either I got them or someone at our table got them, they weren't good.The only dish I get is the roasted lobster and I think that's gone downhill too.

                                                  1. re: catsmeow

                                                    Can you guys provide some clarification on the word "bad"?

                                                    Accusing a restaurant of having bad clams, in the sense of spoiled, is a little different than either

                                                    1) not liking whole belly fried clams or
                                                    2) having subpar clams

                                                    I'm not saying you did or didn't have spoiled seafood, but that's quite an important distinction and not one you should make without being sure.

                                                    1. re: Beachowolfe

                                                      The "bad" I'm referring to is that they were a wet gloppy mess....not bad in the sense that they were old. They were clumped together and had to be pulled apart. Not a good fry. The lobster roll I got there once had lots of cucumber as filler....looked like lots of lobster until I took a bite.