Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Boston Greats.
Boston’s best restaurants may be renowned for their top-notch lobster and clam chowders. But there’s a whole new food world nestled in the city’s labyrinthine streets—and those of its eclectic urban neighbors, Cambridge and Somerville.
A longstanding Turkish spot holds court in Inman Square. A posh Back Bay steakhouse draws crowds for its acclaimed wine list and lobster-studded mains. In Beacon Hill, a James Beard Award-winning chef impresses with her signature prune-stuffed gnocchi.
Massachussetts’s capital is indeed your oyster. Read on for a guide to 23 of Boston’s greatest restaurants that are just as diverse as the city’s global footprint.
Beehive (South End)
Brick walls, sumptuous drapes, and hand-painted murals complete the boho-inspired vibe at this subterranean South End landmark, once singled out as a must-visit by The New York Times. Jazz, blues, rock, folk, and everything in between fills its cozy nooks, along with hits from executive chef Ryan Skeen’s locally sourced menu. Choose from chicken wings served in one of three ways (with sesame chile, hot sauce, or smoked Turkish pepper) and main dishes including grilled salmon with parsnip puree, tabouli, and harissa vinaigrette.
No. 9 Park (Beacon Hill)
James Beard Award-winner Barbara Lynch’s name is synonymous with top-notch cuisine in Boston and beyond, and her fine-dining flagship made waves since it opened in 1998. No. 9 Park’s refined service, which pairs well with the tony Beacon Hill surroundings, is as much on display as the sophisticated French-Italian fare. Expect a six-course prix-fixe chef’s tasting menu and an a la carte menu featuring bar delights and Lynch’s signature prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras. No. 9 Park’s accolades stretch as long as its James Beard Award-winning wine list: The restaurant boasts an AAA Four Diamond Rating plus top awards from Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Boston magazine, and others.
Doña Habana (Roxbury)
Though owners Nivia and Hector Piña only opened this Cuban restaurant in 2016, their ties to the area’s culinary community run deep. They’ve helmed the Puerto Rican spot Vejigante Restaurant since 2012 and Dominican stalwart Merengue since 1994. The vibrant interiors at Doña Habana channel Old Havana with modern accents, featuring murals, bright walls, and sleek booths with handsome dark tones. The menu offers more than just the classic Cuban sandwich (though the mini Cubanitos are notable), with options including stuffed empanadas, house ceviche that zings with fresh lime juice, and standout paella. Don’t forget to save room for a mojito—there are 25 versions to choose from.
Krasi (Back Bay)
Krasi’s executive chef Valentine Howell scored a James Beard Award nomination as Best Chef in the Northeast in 2023. That will come as no surprise to anyone who’s tried his epic Greek feast at this Back Bay stunner. The experience includes one of every small plate from an extensive menu featuring Aegean classics such as calamari and tzatziki dip with freshly baked pita, plus lesser-known dishes including mastelo sifnos, or braised pork belly with fennel and gigandes beans. Krasi transports diners to the Mediterranean with just 52 seats, warm lighting, and blue-and-white accents galore, enhanced by one of the most extensive Greek wine lists in the country.
Bar Mezzana (South End)
Bar Mezzana was the anchor restaurant that kickstarted the revitalization of Boston’s Ink Block when it opened in 2016. Regulars come for chef Colin Lynch’s hearty coastal Italian dishes such as paccheri pasta with lobster, lobster crema, green onion, and tomato. Lynch also dishes up creative crudos, a skill he picked up while working at acclaimed chef Barbara Lynch’s Menton (though the two aren’t related). To that inspired fare, add a unique spritz lineup, and it’s no surprise the accolades keep rolling in, including one especially enthusiastic nod from Condé Nast Traveler.
Row 34 (South Boston)
This Seaport District favorite is steered by two-time James Beard Award nominee chef Jeremy Sewall and partner Shore Gregory. The brick-and-wood beauty received rave reviews from the likes of Bon Appétit for its celebration of seafood when it opened in 2013. Especially the most beautiful bivalve—the oyster—harvested fresh from Duxbury and shucked here by the bucketful. The mussels are magic, too, steamed in lager and served with grilled sourdough, as is the squid ink rigatoni with littleneck clams and smoked uni butter. You can spot the seafood displayed on ice in the treasure trove by the entrance, which lends a swish nautical vibe to the industrial space and sprawling patio.
Legal Sea Foods Harborside (South Boston Waterfront)
This Boston-born institution has 24 locations speckling the Eastern Seaboard like roe on toast. But the Seaport District flagship is a destination in itself, with three floors each offering a different experience—and prime water views. Expect a more casual experience on the first floor (read: fried clams and paper placemats), a haute experience on the second floor, and a third-floor roof deck that’s the place to be on summer evenings. Whether you’re looking for a lobster roll, raw bar staples, or signature creamy clam chowder, “Legal’s”—as the locals call it—has every base covered.
Amrhein’s (South Boston)
Boston has one of the country’s largest populations of people with Irish ancestry, and the Irish connection is on full display at Amrhein’s. The oldest restaurant and bar in South Boston (home to the city’s epic St. Patrick’s Day parade) has a history that stretches more than 130 years, confirmed by an antique wooden bar where locals and visitors toast with pints of Guinness. The food menu is mostly comfort classics such as gooey French onion soup, Parmesan haddock, and burgers, ideal for pairing with a local brew. Hot tip: Amrhein’s is one of the few restaurants in the neighborhood with dedicated free parking.
Abe & Louie’s (Back Bay)
Abe & Louie’s is renowned as a steakhouse, but the unsung heroes on the menu are enough to please even the most selective seafood connoisseurs. Like the hearty steaks—some tipping the scales at 40 ounces—the three- and four-pound lobsters here are intended for those with serious appetites. You’ll also find chunks of the Maine delicacy appearing in favorites such as buttery-crumb mac and cheese (one of the most-ordered sides), or swimming in lobster thermidor with mushroom and Cognac cream sauce. No matter what diners choose, there’s an ample selection of drinks including a robust spirits list, cocktails, locally sourced craft beers, and wines by the glass. The vintage list has won Wine Spectator’s Best Award of Excellence several times over since 2016.
Bricco (North End)
In a neighborhood brimming with Italian spots, Bricco’s bright flavors—delivered through the restaurant’s modern spins on regional Italian dishes—shine bright. Italian seafood staple octopus finds new zip with a ginger and jalapeño crust. The farfalle tartufate pasta is a savory land-and-sea symphony with lobster, fava beans, pancetta, and black truffle shavings. The inspired interpretations may encourage you to recreate the experience at home, which is easy, thanks to an adjoining grocery store, basement-level bakery, and nearby pasta and meat shop.
Casa Romero (Back Bay)
The bold orange and pink decor at this casual Back Bay beauty matches the cuisine: bright, rich, and surprising. Back when executive chef Leo Romero opened the spot in 1972, traditional Mexican cuisine was unheard of in Boston. But his dishes such as the camarones a la diabla (shrimp in spicy chipotle sauce) and the best-selling pastor tacos, filled with pork, pineapple, and cilantro, stand the test of time. When the weather is warm, the lively dining room overflows onto the patio, where diners throw back margaritas and smoky mezcal cocktails well into the night.
Grill 23 (Back Bay)
When owner Chris Himmel opened this steakhouse in 1983, Boston was a vastly different city, but the restaurant has upheld its four-decade reputation of excellence. The clubby steakhouse is Boston’s only spot to receive the Grand Award from Wine Spectator for its power-packed wine list. It also frequently claims the top honor as Boston’s best steakhouse from Boston magazine, with additional nods from Zagat and The Boston Globe. The plates served up within the old-school digs don’t disappoint. Come with high hopes for the filet and the 100 day dry-aged prime ribeye. Leave—very—full and satisfied.
Lincoln Tavern (South Boston)
Once a department store, this sprawling brick-walled space was reimagined as a laid-back neighborhood pub. Executive chef John Ross whips up tavern favorites such as wood-grilled sausage pizza with sharp pickled cherry peppers and fontina, as well as short ribs that are braised for 18 hours and served with truffle mac and cheese. Spice up midweek mornings with Monday through Friday brunch (one of the few of its kind in Boston), featuring breakfast pizza and Chronic Bacon, crunchy, maple-cider braised slabs with cornflake-crusted French toast bites.
MIDA (South End)
Chef and owner Douglass Williams knows perfect pasta. He spent years honing his skills with top Boston chefs Michael Schlow at Radius and then Jamie Bissonnette on the opening team at Coppa before breaking off on his own with this refined South End neighborhood spot. The housemade pasta has just the right bite and stars in dishes such as a rock shrimp carbonara and a hearty lasagna with short rib. Williams’s skills are gaining recognition outside the city, too: In 2020, Food & Wine named him one of its Best New Chefs. The James Beard Foundation named him a semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef: Northeast category in 2022; this year, he’s nominated as a semifinalist in the Best Chef: Northeast category, an honor also bestowed in 2020.
TRADE (Financial District)
Every dish at TRADE is a culinary odyssey. But the standouts might be the Boston-meets-Greece dishes, such as local haddock in kataifi with garlicky greens and dill (for a taste of everything, splurge for the Greek Feast, which serves up to four). It’s a tasty journey led by James Beard Award-winning chef and Julia Child protégé Jody Adams and restaurateurs Eric Papachristos and Jonathan Mendez. Olive trees, basket lighting, and fresh greenery are just some of the features that transport diners to Greece and its postcard-perfect isles. An enclosed-glass wine cellar overlooks the dining room and offers a glimpse of a list overflowing with crisp Santorini Assyrtiko and stone-fruity Moschofilero.
O Ya (The Leather District)
Wife-and-husband restaurateurs Nancy and Tim Cushman pull out all the stops for their snug Japanese spot, which has earned numerous accolades since its 2007 opening, including a James Beard Award and high praise from The New York Times. Instead of a la carte options, diners savor a nightly chef’s menu of sushi and cooked dishes that stretch for about 20 courses (though select favorites, such as the foie gras nigiri, can be requested separately). The nigiri, sashimi, and small plates might feature silky fish topped with white truffle or black olive puree, with chunks of king crab swimming in an uni bouillabaisse. It’s the kind of creative fare that reflects Tim Cushman’s road-less-traveled approach to sushi chefdom—he began his career as a musician before criss-crossing the world as a restaurant consultant, which included a memorable stint in Japan.
Union Oyster House (Downtown)
In a city known for its love affair with seafood, this historic spot has shucked oysters and served succulent, butter-drenched lobster since 1826, making it Boston’s oldest restaurant. Stop in for fresh local oysters with dollops of signature cocktail sauce alongside hard-shell New England lobster with all the fixings. The interiors are about as old-school as they come—rich wood tones, brick walls with exposed ceiling beams, a handsome bar with millwork—adding to the charm of this institution, named North America’s best landmark restaurant at the inaugural World Culinary Awards in 2020.
Uni (Back Bay)
When co-owner Tony Messina left the Uni kitchen after nine years in 2021, his business partner and fellow chef Ken Oringer knew he needed a powerhouse to fill some big shoes at this sleek Japanese-style izakaya. Enter executive chef David “Baz” Bazirgan, who is best known for Mediterranean spins on bistro fare. That means diners can expect some surprises on the omakase and a la carte menus—such as charcoal-grilled shrimp with black garlic tzatziki and a honeycrisp apple salad with labne—in addition to creative spins on sashimi such as scallops with bergamot. Bazirgan, no stranger to the cocktail scene (courtesy of previous stints at beloved bars such as Dirty Habit in San Francisco and Bambara in nearby Cambridge), ensures the drinks pair well with the food. Uni is the place to be for Japanese whisky enthusiasts or sake lovers in Boston.
Oleana (Inman Square)
Long before chef Cassie Piuma brought Middle Eastern spice to Somerville’s Sarma and chef David “Baz” Bazirgan accented the Bambara menu with Armenian flavors, chef-owner Ana Sortun led the charge at Oleana. Small plates like borek pastry stuffed with veggies, tomato brown butter, and yogurt with Turkish spices, and larger ones including maqluba (“upside down rice”) with green harissa, are aromatic Anatolian adventures. Thankfully, the commute to this urban escape—especially the delightful shaded garden—is a lot shorter than a trip to Turkey itself.
Puritan & Co. (Inman Square)
Massachusetts’s first English settlers had three basic ideals: self-reliance, industriousness, and simplicity. The foundations of chef-owner Will Gilson’s Puritan & Co. are strikingly similar, and he’s been putting out beautiful New England-inspired plates since 2012, with food sourced from local farmers. Gilson also grew up on a farm, where he first earned his chops cooking true farm-to-table dinners. Puritan & Co., the first of his empire (which also includes The Lexington, Geppetto, Cafe Beatrice, and Puritan Oyster), is an urban cafe serving modern American cuisine. Fluffy layered Parker House dinner rolls are an ode to a Boston staple while Berkshire pork belly and seared scallops offer creative spins on area classics with embellishments such as fennel and romanesco.
Alden & Harlow (Harvard Square)
James Beard Award semifinalist Michael Scelfo’s New American spot is set in a handsome subterranean space at Cambridge’s historic Brattle Hall—but the food is no basement fare. Shareable plates and larger options lean vegetarian with other New England-inspired favorites including grilled broccoli with squash hummus and grilled bluefish perked up with pickles and zesty remoulade. Instead of multiple spins on the pub grub classic, the single burger here is a thick, smoky black angus patty topped with secret sauce and a housemade roll, with only around 40 available per night.
La Brasa (East Somerville)
Before opening La Brasa in 2014, owner and executive chef Daniel Bojorquez cut his teeth with Boston culinary giant Frank McClelland at the iconic L’Espalier and Sel de la Terre. At La Brasa, Bojorquez updates steakhouse staples with inspirations from his homeland of Mexico. Cilantro chimichurri sings atop grilled flank steak, and even the humble baked potato finds new life in the form of a loaded fire-roasted sweet potato with goat cheese, pistachio, walnuts, and honey vinaigrette. The corn tortillas here are made fresh to order, and the scent of the wood-fire grill fills the hip, industrial space.
Dali (Ward Two)
Long before “shared plates” became mainstream, Dali was serving up tapas that were just as avant garde as their artistic namesake in a cozy Somerville corner. The cuisine here is indeed art: Savor scallops in saffron cream, fried saffron-battered shrimp with garlic and parsley sauce, and bacon with Manchego cheese, roasted pear, and a garlic onion relish. Those with more robust appetites can dig into several sizzling paellas, available as solo or shared portions. Whether you’re tucking in on a sultry summer night or warming up in the winter, Dali offers the ideal hideaway to pass time sipping sangrias, sampling a sherry flight, or even ordering a porró—the Catalonian wine pitcher has its own spout, so no drinking glass is needed.
Carley Thornell-Wade is a Boston-based food, travel, and technology writer who’s been to more than 70 countries and delighted in tasting the regional delicacies of each.
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