Welcome to The Infatuation’s Boston Greatest Hits List.
Obviously you’re familiar with the concept of a “greatest hits” album, but to be clear, this is not just a list of our highest-rated spots. This guide is a carefully-selected collection of the places we think every Bostonian should try at least once - and the restaurants you should prioritize if you’re new to town.
Just like you wouldn’t introduce someone to The Eagles without starting with “Hotel California,” or to The Steve Miller band by playing them that one song they didn’t put on a greatest hits album, we wouldn’t send someone to a new Boston hotspot without sending them to one of these restaurants first. You shouldn’t either.
If you are looking for what’s new, check out our Hit List, a guide to the brand new, recently-opened restaurants worth your time.
Rumor has it that when humanity goes to Mars to build a replica Earth after we destroy the original, Space Boston will be so small that we’ll only have room for one seafood restaurant. Island Creek Oyster Bar, which represents the platonic ideal of New England seafood, is going to be that restaurant. The Kenmore Square spot was opened by the people behind the Island Creek Oyster Farm, who probably know more about what it takes to make great seafood than just about anyone else currently alive. The expansive menu, brunch offerings, and big space that feels like an oyster-themed art museum make this place a go-to for just about any occasion you can think of.
Ask enough people, and you’ll start to realize like this colorful Winter Hill Mediterranean spot is everyone’s favorite restaurant. We don’t give in to peer pressure, but in this case, there might be something to the wisdom of the crowd. This is one of the longest menus in Boston, but ironically, you’ll be thrilled with just a few of the Middle Eastern small plates here - they punch you in the face with flavor. But that just gives you a reason to come back a few weeks later to try something completely different. Keep in mind that, even though this place is in an empty part of Somerville behind the high school, it’s insanely hard to get a table. If you don’t have a reservation, get there before 7pm and grab seats at the bar, where you can watch over the prep station and ask the bartenders to make you whatever they feel like making.
Toro will make you wish you had more friends, just so you could try as many dishes as possible at this South End tapas place. With a bunch of high top tables and plenty of great stuff to drink, it hits the sweet spot between bar and restaurant, and if it weren’t so hard to get in, we’d try to be there at least once a week. If you’re not leaving work early on every 80-degree day to claim one of Toro’s sidewalk tables, you’re doing summer wrong.
This half-nightclub/half-izakaya is one of Boston’s flashiest restaurants. And for once, we mean that in a good way. You can come here just for the sushi and sashimi and have a great meal, but you’re better off focusing on the small plates and ordering as many as you can. Don’t be afraid to order the things that may seem like gimmick dishes: tableside hot rocks for cooking wagyu beef, nitrogen cocktails, and $16 spoonfuls of quail egg, sea urchin, and caviar. All of it is incredible, and yes, that spoon is worth it.
To be clear, we’re not talking about any of the food court offshoots you can find throughout Greater Boston. We’re talking only about the original Regina’s on Thatcher Street in the North End, which has been around since before the Great Depression. Age alone doesn’t guarantee greatness (as evidenced by the Green Line) but for a pizza place, it’s a pretty good start. You can’t get slices here, but that’s fine because you won’t mind lingering with a whole pie and a pitcher of beer in a place that’s as comfortably worn-in as your Saturday morning hoodie. This is the best pizza joint in the city, and every time you come here, you’ll wonder why you ever get pizza anywhere else.
Pagu is Japanese-Spanish fusion. But once you sit down here, you stop thinking of it as fusion food. You just think of it as really, really good food. This is a small plates place that’s ideal for tackling with a group before heading out in Central Square. Especially if you opt for one of the greatest group dining experiences in the city: the whole suckling pig roast. We’re not the first ones to realize this place is great, so you should plan on booking in advance.
Walk into Kava Neo Taverna in the South End, and the first thing you’ll probably notice will be the giant mural of what appears to be an old fisherman watching over the dining room. He’s got a full white beard, a weathered face, and a look of resignation in his eyes. Take a seat, order a few small plates, and you’ll soon understand him: he’s sad that he’s stuck on drywall while you get to eat Kava’s perfect octopus. This little living room of a spot on Shawmut Ave. might be the best Greek restaurant in Boston, and is definitely going to be the place where you’ll want to come to every midweek night when you don’t feel like cooking. Raise a glass to the old fisherman before you leave - not to say goodbye, but to tell him you’ll be back.
We’re not going to tell you to blow your entire paycheck in one night at O Ya, but if you have access to a corporate credit card and/or something big to celebrate, let’s just say this Leather District sushi restaurant is about the best you can do in Boston. Expect lots of things like truffles, caviar, and gold leaf to go with perfect cuts of fish. The omakase at O Ya will be one of the most memorable meals of your life.
If we could live inside Coppa, we would. But since this Italian restaurant doesn’t have a shower, a Netflix subscription, or a couch to pass out on after stuffing your face with tagliatelle, we’ll have to settle for going here for dinner as much as we can. We could recommend almost all of the small dishes (get the meatballs and the oysters), and there are a few truly excellent pizzas on the menu as well (the one with the bone marrow, in particular). But it’s the pastas that really make this place special. Come to Coppa, sit on the sidewalk on a warm summer evening or with a date inside when it’s freezing, and see why this is one of our all-time favorite Italian restaurants in the city.
Juliet makes this list because - even though there’s a prose poem on the menu - it’s somehow the least pretentious fine-dining restaurant we’ve ever experienced. This tiny Union Square spot feels less like a fancy French restaurant and more like a casual get-together in your friend’s endearingly messy apartment. Your friend’s probably not capable of serving up a five-course tasting menu with hyper-local ingredients, though, let alone one that changes up every few weeks and is put together with a unified theme. Bonus points because, if you want to impress a date, it’s actually affordable (about $65 per person for a three course meal, gratuity included).
You already know that Neptune Oyster is nearly impossible to get into. And you also know that it’s cramped and filled with tourists. What you might need to remember, though, is that it’s the type of oyster bar that makes you wonder why we don’t just make every restaurant an oyster bar. If you’re walking by and happen to notice an empty seat at the bar, take it. We don’t care if you just downed a beer and ate a bowl of bolognese by yourself, snag that bar seat and buckle up for round two. The johnnycake, crudi, and lobster roll are worth walking home without being able to button your pants.
Myers & Chang gives you every flavor on the spectrum, along with a couple more that haven’t been identified by taste scientists yet. (Is there such a thing as a taste scientist? If so, we’re submitting our applicating to MIT.) The South End Asian fusion small plates place is tiny and almost always packed with people having a good time, eating charred noodles and dumplings. This is the dinner party you wish you could throw - but don’t have to, because there’s Myers & Chang.
With a menu of dishes like Duxbury oysters, Essex clams, and Maine lamb, Craigie on Main is about as New England as a restaurant can get (assuming Dunks doesn’t start selling codfish munchkins). But more importantly, it’s proof that fine dining doesn’t have to be fussy. Settle in with great cocktails and the tasting menu for your next small-group birthday dinner or date night.
There are a lot of great oyster bars in Boston, but Saltie Girl might be the only one where you can get Japanese, Italian, Spanish, or classic New England seafood in the same place. It’s tiny and almost always packed, so it’s hard to get in here, but the plus side of that is that it almost always feels like a cocktail party. The small but varied menu makes it a particularly good option when you can’t make up your mind about what you want to eat. After you’ve been there once, though, there’s a decent chance that your answer to the what do you want to eat question will almost always be “Saltie Girl.”
Before you die, tell your loved ones you want to be buried at Mount Auburn - not because it’s one of the most beautiful and historic cemeteries in the country, but because if you’re interred there, you’ll be close to Sofra. From the same people as Sarma and Oleana, Sofra is a counter-service Mediterranean cafe/bakery in West Cambridge that makes perfect breakfast and lunch mezzes. If you’re in a breakfast mood, get the shakshuka or Turkish breakfast, but it’ll be hard to leave without trying the chicken wings, which aren’t remotely close to what you normally eat in a bar on Sunday. Pick up some baklava for dessert, too, because lunch dessert misses you.
Sitting at the bar for a fancy omakase is like getting a private gallery show - hours of sushi that looks like it belongs in a museum, and tastes even better. But we can’t always afford it, and that’s why we need Cafe Sushi in Harvard Square. The simple name is appropriate here, because it’s a low-key spot in a multi-level retail strip, but this place isn’t just for a midweek meal. Cafe Sushi is the type of food you’ll want have on a special occasion (even if you wouldn’t normally want to spend your anniversary next to a few undergrads who don’t quite know what omakase means). The omakase here will likely include some nigiri you’ve never had before - like Bluefish, which is rarely anyone’s favorite kind of seafood, but the pickled version here has the power to change a lot of minds. You can save O Ya for that Powerball jackpot you’re definitely going to hit one day. Cafe Sushi is here with a $100 omakase and even more reasonable a la carte options.
We’re not exactly sure what makes a place a neighborhood restaurant, but judging by the fact that it seems like everyone who goes to Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain knows each other, it probably qualifies. If we lived nearby, we’d be in here nearly every night, too. The regular menu is always worth it for perfectly cooked chicken and an excellent pasta dish or two. But you should also try to come for a themed prix fixe night, which they do frequently. Our favorite is the Tuesday night wine dinner, which gives you a themed menu, paired wines, and tasting notes longer than a Russian novel.
If we were to open a restaurant, we’d want it to have a big outdoor space, a great bar with regulars on one end and awkward first dates to laugh at on the other, 30 crystal decanters turned into light fixtures, and, oh yeah, outstanding Italian food. But we don’t need to open a restaurant, because SRV has already done it for us. If all of this isn’t enough for SRV to be your ideal restaurant, then you can open up your own damn place. But we’re betting your squid ink bucatini won’t be quite as good.