There’s a lot going on in downtown Boston. Tour groups. Bucket drummers. People sweating through ten pounds of wool pretending to be 18th-century British soldiers. And a bunch of skyscrapers on a maze of narrow streets that were laid out by people who thought that being out after nightfall meant you’re a witch.
And then there’s you. You take the T in every day, you push your way through families from Omaha who refuse to cross the street on red even though there’s no traffic, and you spend the next eight hours in a cube pretending to be interested in what your boss did last night. It can be a rough day-to-day experience, working downtown, and that’s why getting lunch right is so important. Lunch is your time, a brief moment to enjoy yourself before heading back to the office to sleepwalk through a 2 o’clock all-hands. Check out one of the 15 places below to make sure you do it right.
fast-Casual and Takeout Spots
We don’t know why Gene’s chose to name itself after its sandwiches. They’re really good - filled with ground pork and so greasy that they should be wearing headbands - but the noodle dishes are the reason you need to come here. Everything is hand-pulled at this tiny cash-only spot, and you’ll see and hear them slapping the noodles on the counter as you wait. The result is some really thick, chewy noodles that you would eat with just about anything, but which are absolutely perfect when topped with a peppery sauce.
Attention vegans: the broth in most of the bowls at Oisa Ramen, a tiny closet of a noodle shop, is vegetable-based. If you entirely missed the ramen moment because you were avoiding all the pork bone broths, here’s your chance to catch up. These bowls are made with a lot of interesting side ingredients like burnt shallot oil and truffled mushrooms, so if you think you’re bored of ramen, you might find something a little more exciting here.
Boston Public Market
Yes, it’s really crowded between 11:30-1. But if you’ve been avoiding the Boston Public Market because you can only stand in line and stare at your phone for so long, know that it’s really crowded because it’s really good. From crepes to smoked fish tacos and shakshuka, there is something for everyone here. Hell, you can even buy some fresh produce and make yourself a salad if you want, though we’d much prefer the people at Inna’s Kitchen make us a skakalatke - a latke topped with egg, tomato sauce, and avocado labne that’s probably technically a breakfast food, but that we’d gladly eat for lunch, dinner, or at 3 in the afternoon just because.
Unless you fix busted umbrellas for a living (or are really into kites), working in a neighborhood that’s built directly on the harbor really sucks from November through March. But being that close to a windswept sea has one major advantage: really fresh seafood. James Hook is a lobster wholesaler with a small counter that serves up lobster rolls, crab cakes, stuffed quahogs, and chowder. Like all lobster-based products, it’s a little pricey, but since you’ll be ordering right next to a bunch of lobster tanks, you at least don’t need to worry about whether the shellfish in your $24 roll was in a freezer that morning.
What was it about the ’80s that made people enjoy eating in windowless food courts that were decked out with neon lights and kind felt like a cafeteria on a spaceship? We don’t know, and we generally avoid the Corner Mall food court in Downtown Crossing like all the tourists who ask us to pronounce words for their amusement. But there is at least one reason to go down here: Xi’an Rougamo. This placed is named for its really flaky meat sandwiches (our favorite is the one filled with pork stew) but the noodle dishes are great, as well. Go for the really saucy, spicy dan dan noodles if you can handle a little heat.
Admit it, you’re kind of always in the mood for a burger. We are, too, which is why it’s a shame that lunch tends to be dominated by salads and deli sandwiches. If you give in to your impulses, though, head to Wheelhouse, a counter-service place on Broad that makes some really good short-order burgers. These are the type of burgers with charred, crispy patties, lots of cheese, and a bun that’s there to keep your hands clean as much as it is to actually be eaten.
Green beans aren’t really thought of as a traditional sandwich component. But that’s what you get when you order a chacarero, a giant Chilean sandwich filled with your choice of chicken or beef, unmelted muenster cheese, tomato, avocado spread, and those beans. To be honest, it doesn’t look too appetizing, but don’t judge it on how it looks, because it is really good, thanks in large part to the soft, fluffy fresh bread with just a little crunch that it’s served on. There isn’t much else on the menu, but when you take some simple ingredients and turn them into one of the best sandwiches in the neighborhood, you don’t need much else.
Foumami bills itself as an “Asian sandwich bar.” Those are three great words, and the result is sandwiches served on some really good, flaky bread filled with everything from chicken katsu to jalapeno cheddar brisket. They’re actually a little on the lighter side, too, so keep this place in mind when you have a two o’clock meeting coming up and you’ll need to at least appear to be awake.
Italian take-out should be a thing. Sure, obviously there’s pizza, but for some reason we’ve created a social construct where it’s acceptable to get noodles delivered to your apartment three times a week if they’re topped with garlic soy sauce, but not so much if they’re topped with pesto. Casa Razdora, a tiny counter-service spot on Water Street, is working to rectify that. Most people in line here (and there usually is a line) will be getting a sandwich. Both the paninis and piadinas are great - lightly toasted sandwiches with fresh bread that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of it. But this place also quickly serves up homemade pasta made with your choice of 26 different sauces. Get the gnocchi topped with a campagnola sauce, made from sausage, shallots, white wine, and mushrooms, and rebel against the dark forces conspiring to limit our take-out options.
Sam LaGrassa’s claims to be home to “the world’s number one sandwiches.” We checked with the UN, and it turns out that ranking culturally important sandwiches isn’t something they do, so we can’t completely verify that. But what we can tell you, is that the giant pastrami travelers sandwich on pumpernickel is pretty close to perfect. This old school deli is only open for lunch and it gets very, very busy, but you can order ahead and you should, because eating these meaty sandwiches on the Common is close to an ideal Boston lunch experience.
A Few Places For A Proper Sit-Down Lunch
The Merchant kind of looks and feels like a standard brasserie that could be in any downtown area of any American city. You know the kind - soft globe lighting, lots of wood, tile floors, and big crowds of people that materialize from every office in a ten-block radius between the hours of 12-2 and 5-8pm. The menu is pretty decent, a mix of everything from housemade pappardelle, to burgers and ramen. Stay away from the sandwiches, which are just okay, and split as much from the appetizer section of the menu as you can.
The Marliave was probably awesome back in the day when it was socially acceptable to have a couple of trays of oysters and multiple martinis for lunch. But if you want it badly enough, who’s to say you still can’t have a boozy lunch today? Wait till the boss is on vacation and then come to this old school French-ish place in Downtown Crossing for the raw bar, a bowl of pasta, and some well-earned day drinking.
A steakhouse always feels important. It probably has something to do with the big leather booths, the little table lamps that look like the kind you see in old-timey libraries, and the guys in pin-stripped suits joking about the Kawalski deal. So the next time you have room in your schedule and want to feel like a 1960s businessman who made a fortune importing spices from French Indochina, head to Boston Chops, a big, dark steakhouse in Downtown Crossing. The steaks are obviously the star here, but there are plenty of lighter things too, like fish tacos and a good cobb salad. We’re also fans of the burger with crispy onions, which is only available at lunch.
Bar Mercato says it’s a “Euro-centric” kitchen and bar. We have no idea what that means, other than to guess that they thought “new American” sounded too boring. But regardless, this is a good spot to get everything from shareable tuna poke, to a charcuterie plate and a spinach strawberry salad that will impress people who feel like ordering salad at a restaurant is a waste. It’s a bright, kind of post-industrial spot with a bar in the middle and some good cocktails if you want to linger a little bit.